'A disaster for Bristol' - pubs fear closure amid outdoor seating ban

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A pub owner in Bristol is calling to be allowed to re-install outdoor seating in time for the summer, after he was made to remove it last year.

Ben Cheshire has run The Coronation in Southville for more than five years. For two and a half of those, he was permitted to serve customers on seats placed in the road.

It was part of a measure introduced during the pandemic to support independent businesses, with dozens of bars, restaurants and cafes in the city creating pop-up outdoor seating in converted parking spaces.

But despite businesses continuing to struggle with soaring bills and rising food and drink costs, owners were told by the council to remove their outdoor spaces last year.

Ben had to cut his number of staff from 11 to four when the seating was removed, leading to 60 hours of work being scrapped.

Ben's pub used to be able to cater for several dozen punters by adapting two parking spaces - and now he wants to be able to do it again Credit: Ben Cheshire

Ben says having to reduce the number of punters he could serve has also left him facing a turbulent time.

He told ITV News West Country: "We're struggling. Some months, we're not making a profit. People's spending is down and the bills are up more than ever.

"It's really, really hit us and we can't just pass that onto the customers either. It makes me worried big time. Is it financially viable anymore?"

Now he has joined owners around the city in calling for permission to reinstall outdoor seating, to support struggling independents.

"The whole culture has changed, you know, people seek out an outside space now," he said. "Especially as it's getting warmer and hotter.

"And when we are busy, we don't have room to put people - it's either everyone's down to standing room or there's not enough standing room and they spill out on the streets and the pavement," Ben said.

Pubs owners in Bristol are warning that without being able to seat more customers outside, they face huge challenges to continue operating

Despite being willing to finance any measures necessary to be given permission to install outdoor seating and having repeatedly contacted Bristol City Council about it, Ben has said he has been given no option to reinstall it.

He believes the council has not allowed small businesses to put their seating back because it does not view them as 'important'.

Ben said: "We're not a big enough priority, me and my small, little pub; The Garden of Easton in Easton; we're put on the backburner. Unfortunately, we get swept under the rug and not looked at, but we're just as important."

But even in the city centre, some in the hospitality industry feel they are not being supported by the council.

In the Old City, many pubs and bars have had seating on the pavement for years, with roads such as St Nicholas Street semi-pedestrianised, only allowing deliveries and emergency vehicles through.

But last week, enforcement officers told owners on the road that they must bring their tables and chairs inside by 11pm, despite many having always traded until 2am in the area, which has a busy nightlife.

Pubs on St Nicholas Street have been told they need to bring their seating inside by 11pm

Marc Griffiths, who owns a late-night bar on St Nicholas Street, said: "If that trade, between 11pm and 2am, was to diminish in the way that we think it is, it will be over £500,000 a year. Half a million pounds in turnover lost - we'd have to cut jobs.

"Economically and financially, it's a disaster for the whole of Bristol. If everybody has to bring their tables and chairs inside, then there will be an economic hit to this town that is severe and people will lose their jobs."

Last year, more than 4,500 people unsuccessfully petitioned Bristol City Council to protect outdoor seating. The campaign was organised by the British Association of Bars and Restaurants in Bristol (BARBI).

The director of BARBI, Brendan Murphy, has said the new restrictions in the Old City are the latest measure to hurt hospitality.

"Venues have found it really hard, post-covid, to get their revenue back. They need every opportunity they can to get money in the till, get staff employed and utilising outdoor space is something that has been really beneficial in covid.

"For it to be taken away now by the council just seems a ridiculous thing to do in the middle of a cost of living crisis."

Bristol City Council has said it's hands are tied by government legislation

Bristol City Council has said its hands are tied and that it cannot help small businesses recreate their outdoor spaces.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: "Under temporary legislation introduced by the government in July 2020, the council was able to change areas of the carriageway, such as parking bays, into footways to make them eligible for a pavement licence.

"These temporary changes to the carriageway expired in October last year and the temporary legislation used to make the changes ceased in April 2021, so no new Temporary Traffic Orders can now be produced without new powers being granted by Westminster."

The spokesperson denied the measures in the Old City are new, but said council officers had contacted businesses "to remind them of the conditions they signed up to when they applied for outdoor seating/pavement licences at their venues" following "noise complaints by residents in the Old City".

“We have produced an information booklet which outlines the wide range of support available to businesses from across the council and partner organisations," they concluded.