By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent’s 12 district and borough councils, including Thanet, will be given new powers allowing them to impose a £100 charge on food and drink businesses seeking to obtain an outdoor licence.
A new law is being introduced by the government this week to temporarily “fast-track” licensing applications for companies wanting to place tables and chairs outside their premises, such as pubs, cafes and restaurants, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The law has to go to the House of Lords on Monday and then could be up to three weeks until it is in place.
Kent County Council (KCC), which was initially dealing with these applications as the local highways authority, had waived the £190 licence fee until the end of July. This followed pressure from cash-strapped local business owners who were keen to reopen safely as soon as they were allowed to.
But the new Whitehall law passes the responsibility of handing out permits from KCC to the county’s 12 district and borough councils until September 30, 2021. The authorities are likely to meet in the coming days to discuss the new law, including the licence fee cost.
Under the legislation, the licences will be needed to put removable furniture outside businesses’ premises in order to sell or serve food and drink or allow people to sit outside to consume food and drink.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council leader Nicholas Heslop (Con) raised concerns and said: “I can see some issues arising where residents complain about anti-social behaviour and while local authorities have the ability to take action, they have not got a timescale for being able to do that.”
His comments came during a virtual meeting yesterday involving Tonbridge and Malling council’s six-person cabinet. Cllr Heslop’s cabinet agreed to set the fee at a maximum value of £100.
Larkfield councillor Trudy Dean (Lib Dem), who is also a Kent county councillor, said: “I welcome this move as the county council has struggled to keep abreast of local applications and this move is sensible.”
However, she warned that the county council has found it difficult to “enforce” the outdoor licence regulations. Cllr Dean added that there could be a risk of a surge in anti-social behaviour crimes outside premises in towns and near residential areas.
The 12 councils, who together are suffering a £155m deficit from Covid, will be required to process pavement licences within two weeks, including a seven-day consultation period. The licences must be approved for at least three months but can be revoked.
KCC will remain as a consultant before any application is decided. County Hall’s guidelines state that street furniture must allow for a 2m clearance with 2.5m in busy locations to ensure social distancing can be maintained.