Hospitality industry to get a boost under government plans for open air drinking and dining

Southend’s biggest industry is set for a major boost under government plans to allow pubs to serve takeaway alcohol and restaurants to expand open air dining.

The new Business and Planning Bill – dubbed the Covid Bill – was revealed by ministers on Thursday and promises to introduce changes that will allow pubs and restaurants to turn car parks into seating areas and licensed premises to serve take away booze to avoid crowding indoor areas.

Joan Tiney, Seafront Traders Association chair and owner of The Borough Hotel, on Marine Parade, welcomed the bill.

She said: “We have been closed all this time, since March 20, so every little helps.

“For our pub we already have a terrace area so it won’t make too much difference to us directly but I know other businesses will welcome this, anything that helps the industry is a good thing.”

She added that other new regulations that will include pubs taking names and addresses of customers and storing them for up to 21 days will be a “nightmare”, but she is optimistic it can be worked out.

Independent councillor Martin Terry, who oversees community safety, was less positive about the changes due to fears that on-street drinking could result in more anti-social behaviour.

He said: “We are already seeing problems with this now and these measures will only encourage people to buy drinks and take them to the beach. People drinking alcohol in the sun, on the beach is often not a good mix.

“It can be a contributing factor to anti-social behaviour and can also lead to more litter which is a problem we are already seeing.”

He also said he disagreed with the Government’s plan to re-open pubs on July 4 due to it being a Saturday. He said the better alternative would have been to allow it from Monday, July 6.

The period following July 4, he added, will be a “testing time”.

Other measures in the bill, include outdoor markets, summer fairs and car boot sales no longer needing planning permission, meaning their hours can be extended without prior approval.

Councillor Matt Dent (Lab) said the bill appeared positive providing it is only in place for a short period of time.

He said: “I can see this as a sensible approach as temporary measure to help the hospitality industry to get back on its feet after coronavirus. It will encourage more al fresco dining which is something Southend has been pursuing with interest for some time, such as in London Road by the High Street.

“However, I would express concern if this was a permanent change as it is tearing up generations of planning and licencing law without necessarily the scrutiny it would warrant.

“As a permanent, shift you run the risk of unintended consequences and serious problems may need to be addressed further down the line.”

The Bill was laid before Parliament on Thursday and will be debated by MPs on Monday, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter