Council's Street Trading Policy 'Undermines Local Businesses'

Accused of raising fees when other boroughs have waived them altogether

Owners of the Albertine in Shepherd's Bush who have benefitted from their borough's policy

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Hounslow Council has been accused of undermining local businesses fighting for their existence by failing to introduce policies to make it easier and cheaper to get licences to put tables and chairs outside their premises.

In many other boroughs, cafes and restaurants have been actively encouraged by local authorities to spread out onto the pavement in oreder to bolster their revenues while allowing them to maintain social distancing.

Hammersmith & Fulham have launched a special programme "Our Space is Your Space" to facilitate this for businesses, Westminster are charging a flat fee of £100 for licences and granting them within a week and Wandsworth have waived some licensing charges altogether.

However, Hounslow Council is accused of not taking any action and actually increasing the cost of applying for licences making it uneconomic. As the space required to serve customers has been increased due to Covid-19, this means that the cost has effectively risen for businesses.

David Lesniak of Outsider Tart café in Chiswick says he first raised this matter with the council nearly two months ago and no progress was made.

The latest government guidance is that hospitality businesses should be issued a licence for outdoor seating with a flat fee of just £100 and an expedited 5-day consultation period for applications for a license to remain in place until September 2021.

Hounslow still requires a full price fee of £462 and a 28-day consultation period for a 6-month licence for the use of two square meters of pavement. Mr Lesniak points out that with social distancing requirements, far more than two square meters is required for his café to operate economically by offering outdoor seating. He says to provide outdoor, socially-distanced seating for ten requires a minimum of 20 square meters. Fees in Hounslow currently were £123 for the application (6-month licence) and £54/square meter used which would mean the annual cost of a licence would be £2406 compared to £100 in Westminster.

The Council replied to Mr Lesniak’s complaint saying they were committed to supporting business and that they have reduced the consultation period for tables and chairs licences to seven days. It was claimed that they were waiting for the government to enact the Business and Planning Bill before making this change but its passage was delayed. Mr Lesniak was told that there was a ‘lack of clarity’ about which fees still need to be paid under government guidance and the council was still applying fees based on the area of pavement to be used.

Mr Lesniak’s said that he was going to place tables outside and pay the council’s application fee but not any additional charges for the amount of spaced used. The tables were to be made available for the customers of other businesses in the area to use.

Subsequently the Business and Planning Bill was enacted which will oblige councils to charge reduced fees.

Mr Lesniak said, “Still regrettable Hounslow Labour Council led by Steve Curran put businesses throughout the borough three weeks behind as other boroughs demonstrated true leadership and put this into effect 3 July.”

We have asked Hounslow Council for a comment.

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July 24, 2020

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