Published: Friday, 19 March 2021

Oxford City Council has provided new funding to help restaurants, cafes and pubs open outdoor seating areas across the city.

On 12 April, the Government will enable hospitality businesses to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, but only to serve customers sitting outside.

This means many businesses in Oxford – particularly in and around the city centre – will not be able to reopen because they do not have outdoor dining areas.

The Government will not allow indoor dining areas to reopen until 17 May at the earliest.

The City Council, working with the highway authority Oxfordshire County Council, has been pedestrianising and part-pedestrianising streets across Oxford over the last year to provide space for certain types of outdoor dining areas as a temporary measure to contribute to the recovery.

These outdoor dining areas – including in Cornmarket Street, St Michael’s Street, Broad Street, Dawson Street, Observatory Street and North Parade Avenue, plus a number of individual areas on wider pavements – will be able to reopen on 12 April.

The City Council has also launched a new £65,000 funding pot to allow hospitality businesses to apply for grants of up to £3,250 to help with the cost of partially closing roads or buying and/or moving street furniture to enable them to reopen on 12 April – or as close to this as possible.

The City Council and County Council are also continuing to consider whether schemes for outdoor seating can be accommodated on other key city centre roads where there are significant competing demands.

Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, wrote to councils to urge them “to do everything possible to help [hospitality] businesses reopen safely and prosper again” from 12 April.

New funding for businesses

Over the last year the City Council has been acting on behalf of many businesses and applying to the County Council to pedestrianise and part-pedestrianise streets across Oxford to create outdoor dining areas.

To enable more businesses to apply, the City Council has now created a funding pot to provide grants of up to £3,250 to enable businesses to recoup the costs incurred in establishing outdoor dining areas.

Individual schemes may need road closures, changes to car parking or loading bays, relocating existing infrastructure such as bike racks, installing protection measures, and the payment of fees for road closures.

The City Council and County Council have also created a streamlined application process, and both organisations will work together to continue to provide guidance for businesses to help them make their applications.

Businesses aiming to reopen on 12 April must register their interest in accessing funds from the grant pot by Sunday 28 March. Expressions of interest are welcome after this point, but will not be considered as part of this initial round and future rounds will be dependent on the amount of funding remaining in the pot.

The funding for the outdoor seating grants will come from the Additional Restrictions Grant, which the Government provided to local authorities as a discretionary pot of money to support businesses in their local area.

Support Oxford’s businesses

Over the last year the City Council has supported restaurants, cafes and pubs across Oxford by pedestrianising or part-pedestrianising roads to create space for outdoor seating.

At least four businesses have told the City Council that they could not have opened after the coronavirus lockdown if it were not for the City Council providing the additional seating areas.

Others have said that having outside tables and chairs has been the difference between them being able to operate commercially and stay open, and having to close and lay off staff.

In addition to pedestrianising or part-pedestrianising roads to create space for outdoor dining areas, the City Council and County Council have also given permission for businesses to operate outside seating areas on pavements that are wide enough to accommodate tables and chairs, and pedestrians maintaining social distancing.                                 

This has been carried out in a range of places including Friars Entry, High Street, Banbury Road, Park End Street, and Walton Street.

The City Council has also facilitated more than £33m of grants to help Oxford’s businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, alongside a further £57.5m of rates relief.

“The Government’s decision to allow restaurants, cafes and pubs to reopen outdoor dining areas on 12 April is fantastic for rural pubs with large gardens, but could be a challenge for businesses in Oxford, particularly in the city centre.

“We want to do what we can to support Oxford’s restaurants, cafes and pubs to reopen on 12 April if they feel they can, so, where possible, we are reinstating the schemes listed to create outdoor dining areas and we will also be launching funding to help businesses create seating areas themselves.

“Last summer a number of businesses told us that they would not have reopened after the first lockdown without the City Council, and County Council as highway authority, creating space for outdoor seating areas.

“Oxford’s restaurants, cafes and pubs are a vital part of the city’s economy, atmosphere and culture, and provide thousands of jobs for Oxford and Oxfordshire residents, so it is extremely important that we do what we can to support them opening and get our economy moving again.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford

“Oxford City Council has been incredibly supportive and helpful over the past year.

“Because of their initiative in pedestrianising several areas throughout our beautiful city, come April 12th many businesses, including ours, will be able to open in a meaningful way and get back to doing what we do best.

“We can’t wait to start welcoming and serving people amazing coffees, gently and carefully creating a buzz in St Michael’s Street whilst the city slowly re-emerges.

“The City Council has really thought outside of the box in envisaging the best way to get Oxford back on its feet and in this oddly lonely and unsettling time, to have felt the weight of their support and to be able to easily reach real people on the phone or via email has been hugely comforting.”

Jane Campbell-Howard, owner of Society Café in St Michael’s Street

“Last summer Oxford City Council supported our application for a street licence so that we could create an outdoor dining area for our customers on the Observatory Street side of our business.

“There is very little space for outside seating along Walton Street and without the support and help of the City Council we would still be unable to function as a viable business for many more weeks to come as cafes and restaurants are not able to open for inside dining until 17 May at the earliest. 

“The City Council was very helpful during the application process and we feel incredibly grateful to have had this lifeline thrown to us as it will enable us to reopen earlier than would otherwise be the case and, even after 17 May, will mitigate the loss of so many of our inside tables that we have removed to allow for social distancing and to keep our staff and customers safe. 

“We can’t wait to welcome our amazing customers back to the café again and hope that they will enjoy their brunches on our new terrace whilst soaking up some much needed spring sunshine.”

Ruth Dorso, owner of The Jericho Café

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