Published: 13:07, 11 June 2020
| Updated: 16:47, 11 June 2020
Café and pub owners will not have to immediately pay a fee to put seating outside their premises, as businesses hope to begin trading under new social distancing guidelines.
Under the old rules, traders would be expected to pay £190 in advance along with a licence application, to place temporary furniture or seating outside their premises.
But Kent County Council (KCC) has bowed to pressure from traders and councillors to temporarily waived the fee for six weeks, in a bid to help businesses that have struggled to raise income during lockdown.
They have also agreed businesses that have applied for the licence but have not yet received a decision will be able to place chairs and tables outside their premises, once government announce a further relaxing of restrictions on pubs and cafes serving food and drink.
Michael Payne, KCC member for highways and transport, said: "We appreciate that businesses will have challenges complying with government social distancing measures and outdoor tables and chairs will help ensure customers are kept safe.
"Accordingly, as a licence has to be obtained from KCC before businesses can place tables, chairs and temporary street furniture on the highway, we have agreed to waive the normal fee for six weeks."
Under the new licence rules which take into account government social distancing guidelines, traders hoping to use furniture outdoors must keep a clear footway of 2 metres available, which could be increased to 2.5 metres in busy locations.
If businesses are not able to prove to KCC they can achieve the distance, they will not be granted the licence.
Traders are being asked to lay out detailed plans in their licence, such as the dimensions of the intended furniture and the footpath width that would remain after furniture is added.
The council have also said licences will be revoked if traders to not keep to the conditions set out.
Mr Payne added: "This is an unprecedented time for the county’s retailers, and we intend to do what we can to help their financial recovery.
"In addition to this, we are awaiting a government decision on our bid for funding for Active Travel Schemes, an important part of our overall support for the safe and successful reopening of high streets across Kent.
"If funding is approved, we will be looking into the possibility of reallocating road space for walking and cycling, encouraging people to take part in active travel and reducing speed limits where appropriate."
It comes after a craft pub owner said he would not be able to survive without being able to utilise the space outside of his premises.
Steve Sitton, manager of The Made Inn in Ashford, said the council should provide a much quicker process and waive fees if they want independent cafés and pubs to survive.
He said: "In a time where the hospitality sector is crawling on its knees, more fees and red tape is not what it needs."
Under the government's guidelines, Mr Sitton's craft beer pub would only be able to fit around 20 people inside, so use of outside seating is essential for the business to make a profit.
Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), KCC's main opposition leader, described the £190 licence fee as 'ill-judged' and said: "It should never have been considered.
"KCC should be encouraging businesses to re-open, not putting up barriers. This rapid u-turn is entirely appropriate."