During lockdown, when restrictions meant sitting inside bars and eateries was banned, the al-fresco culture boomed across Manchester. It saw councils given the chance to essentially 'fast track' road closures, meaning they were able to swiftly pedestrianise roads outside so they could stay open and seat customers on the street.
However, last year, these were revoked again, meaning venues were forced to apply for Traffic Protection Orders (TPOs) a process that comes at a cost and can take 18 months or more to be approved. Today, (May 10), pubs and restaurants were given the green light to make outdoor eating and drinking a permanent fixture.
But, the announcement made in the Queen's Speech only lets councils grant 'pavement licenses' on a permanent basis. For many, seating customers on the pavements outside was something they had introduced long before the global virus emerged.
The Government said it would be 'ensuring everyone can continue to benefit from al fresco dining', with the The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill aiming to 'drive local growth' in a bid to further regenerate local authority areas. Under the plans the Government said it was 'simplifying and standardising the process for local plans so that they are produced more quickly and are easier for communities to influence'.
Manchester's hospitality venues have today reacted to the news, with many claiming Tuesday's announcement will 'do nothing to help' as they continue to call for permanent road closures to increase outdoor seating capacity. One of those is Alvarium owner Braddan Quayle, who has previously spoken out about his worries for the future of his popular Northern Quarter venue after he was refused the right to seat his customers on the road outside.
The new announcement provides no further support to his business, as he already hosted two tables on the pavement directly outside long before the pandemic. Due to the pavement measuring 2 x 2 metres, legally he was only able to fit two tables outside to make sure there was still ample room for disabled access and pedestrians.
More recently, he has applied for an extended Temporary Traffic Regulation Order to close the dead-end road for up to four days over the Queen's Jubilee weekend. If Braddan was granted the chance to pedestrianise Dorsey Street, he could seat an additional 90 customers outside throughout summer.
He said: "We have been discussing with the council the potential of a trial closure to pedestrianise the area outside, much like has already been seen at Edge Street and in Stevenson Square, which has gone through the process, giving rival businesses there an unfair advantage
"On the surface these pavement licensings are fantastic and appear great for businesses, but we don't have the luxury of being able to really see the benefits because of the size of the pavement outside.
"Business like ours would really only benefit from full road closures to make the most of outside dining. If you don't have a big frontage, then today's news really does nothing at all to help us. There has to be so much space for pedestrians and disabled access, and for many streets in the UK, they are just too narrow and it significantly reduces the area.
"It doesn't make sense that council's aren't granted the right to close their own roads. I am already fearful that footfall will be so much less than last summer without the road closure, and have already had to let some staff go and close my kitchen because I just can't afford the running costs."
Andy Young, part of the team behind the massively successful Black Milk, on the corner of Oldham Street and Houldsworth Street in Northern Quarter, face the same problem. They recently made headlines after launching a government petition to bring back outdoor seating and make the relaxed covid rules a permanent fixture.
He was also able to seat up to 24 customers outside on the wide pavement outside - but could seat up to 100 on Houldsworth Street - yet another dead end - if it was pedestrianised. Speaking to the M.E.N , he said: "I've lived in Italy and Spain and outdoor seating is standard over there, if its nice, outside tables are so busy with customers. It is a shame it took covid to get to that point in the UK, but I want it to continue and thrive as much as possible.
"What has been announced today has brought no change at all for us. Manchester City Council has always been incredibly helpful, and we have always had benches outside whilst still being considerate and allowing for a clear walkway along the pavement. During Covid we got a taste of how pedestrianising the roads could be for business, and we want that to return."
As part of their new proposals, Black Milk are calling for a small area of Houldsworth Street to be pedestrianised, in a bid to encourage the al-fresco dining that boomed during the pandemic and enable a fruitful summer. Andy, a Northern Quarter local, added: "Covid has shown us so many people in apartments and in cities just don't have outdoor spaces. We want that to continue so the Northern Quarter can remain the beating heart of Manchester's culture."
UKHospitality's CEO Kate Nicholls said: “Making pavement licences permanent is a really positive move. They were vital during the pandemic enabling businesses to trade, when they would otherwise be forced to close or restrict their opening hours. These outdoor spaces also benefit town and city centres, enabling them to enjoy the sort of outdoor experiences available elsewhere, and helping local economies recover faster, contributing to levelling up.
“Pavement licences also revealed the hospitality industry’s ingenuity and creativity, and significant levels of investment which will now continue to return value. That same innovation must also ensure that this opportunity for venues pays due regard to accessibility, so that all customers can benefit.”