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COVID-19: Street markets and pub marquees could open all year round to help hospitality

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Street markets and pub marquees could become permanent features for the hospitality industry, under an extension of the pandemic regulations planned by the government.

Additional seating for cafes and restaurants would also be part of a new government consultation, with hospitality venues forced to increase outdoor capacity earlier in the year in an effort to welcome people back after the lockdown.

The plans have been welcomed by the industry, but some want the government to go further, and restrict inner city and town traffic to encourage people to dine and drink in outdoor seating.

Many places are fully booked for weeks to come
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The hospitality sector wants ministers to go further to retain outdoor seating in the streets by restricting traffic

Only some of the rules brought in during the pandemic will be looked at in the consultation, with an announcement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government excluding al fresco street dining, with many councils ending the schemes – despite the government extending their ability to grant them until next September.

One such example is Westminster, where roads around Soho will begin to soon reopen after being closed off to create a large outdoor seating area.

Supporting communities to hold outdoor markets are also part of the plans, by giving powers to local councils to grant permission for an unlimited number of days.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “The simple reforms we made during the pandemic to help hospitality businesses, markets and historic visitor attractions make use of outdoor spaces more easily, made a massive impact.

“As part of our vision to transform high streets into thriving places to work, visit and live, we intend to make as many of these measures permanent fixtures of British life as possible.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The proposal to make outdoor measures permanent is a welcome boost for the hospitality sector, its customers and local communities.

“It has provided a vital lifeline to venues all over the country during an extraordinarily difficult period and allowing operators to provide extra outside seating has been a key driver of survival and recovery since reopening.”

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However, she added that businesses “face huge hurdles going into the autumn and winter”.

“The move by some councils to restrict outdoor seating and return traffic to these areas is a significant blow to our city centres and threatens a huge number of businesses and jobs.

“It is in the interest of the country to have a thriving, dynamic and properly-supported hospitality sector and retaining these outdoor measures would help secure the recovery of a large and vital part of the UK economy.”

Iain Hoskins, the owner of the Ma Pub Group in Liverpool, added that outdoor hospitality has been a way to allow people safely back in to venues, and would want to see it extended.

He told Sky News: “People are still very, very nervous, and I think it gives people a reassurance or it gives people options if they know if the bar’s too busy or they don’t think it’s well ventilated enough.

“There’s always the option of eating outside or working outside, so I think it’s been a good thing, and I think definitely this is something which should be continued to go forward.”

Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said: “Measures to help businesses recover after the pandemic are welcome but this is a Conservative government which is undermining the high street by allowing retail spaces to be turned into low quality housing and failing to level the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses and online retailers.

“The Conservatives have left our high streets and British businesses behind, blocking them out when they should have been listening to them the most, and actively watering down a global deal to tackle major tax-dodging and stop online giants undercutting our high streets.”

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