Reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector

The challenges in reopening hospitality in Westminster are very similar to those faced by local authorities across the country. This case study summarises how Westminster Council responded to these challenges in a coordinated way.

Case study synopsis

Westminster City Council oversees probably the biggest and most vibrant hospitality sector in the country. Although the scale may be different, the challenges in reopening hospitality in Westminster are very similar to those faced by local authorities across the country. This case study summarises how Westminster Council responded to these challenges in a coordinated way by offering practical approaches for closing roads temporarily and streamlining licensing for outdoor seating to enable the area’s safe and welcoming reopening.

The challenge

The hospitality industry is the lifeblood of Westminster’s economy. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown have meant that hospitality businesses are some of the last to reopen. Westminster City Council recognises that the area’s hospitality sector is the biggest and most vibrant in the country. The Council, therefore, deemed it vital to work with other partners such as Business Improvement Districts and the police, to help the hospitality sector to reopen safely from July. 

Although the scale may be different, the challenges in reopening hospitality in Westminster are very similar to those faced by local authorities across the country. Meeting these challenges requires a coordinated response that streamlines administrative procedures within current legislation backed by the necessary resources. The response taken needs to offer practical approaches for closing roads temporarily, providing more tables and chairs outside businesses and managing marshalling to maintain social distancing.

The solution

Westminster City Council’s solution is clearly and comprehensively summarised in its published plan for reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector. The plan covers: details about which streets and areas are affected including timed road closures; licensing procedures; how residents are at the heart of the plan; additional concierge, security and cleansing services.

Road closures: A key part of the plan is the zoned closure of roads to traffic at certain times of the day and of pavements in appropriate areas of the city. This create the space needed for restaurants, cafes and similar businesses to put tables and chairs outside. Roads are closed using ‘soft’ measures which can be installed and removed at the beginning and end of each timed period such as barriers and cones. These areas will be marshalled as required.

In order to achieve the necessary balance between helping businesses recover, provide more capacity to support cycling and walking as well as the critical need to protect residents’ interests, the Council has developed criteria to apply to decisions for timed street closures. These criteria include: that there is a heavy concentration of food and drink retailers; extra space is needed for the use of table and chairs; security and safety has been considered, including appropriate access for emergency vehicles.

Outdoor seating: A second key strand of this plan for reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector is flexible licensing policies for enabling the safe use of tables and chairs outside. To ensure the smooth reopening of hospitality from early July, these policies operate within the constrains of existing national legislation, and will be updated in line with changes brought in by the Business and Planning Bill. They apply across the whole area, including areas where roads remain open, provided adequate space exists on the pavement and government guidance for maintaining social distancing can be operated. 

This new fast track process to assess applications for outdoor tables and chairs, is applied flexibly depending on a businesses’ existing licensing status. If businesses wish to sell alcohol to seated customers in an outside area, they will require following authorisation to permit those sales:

  • businesses holding an existing a premises licence authorising the sale of alcohol off the premises, will be able to supply alcohol to these customers.
  • where a licence authorises the sale of alcohol inside a venue only, a variation is required.
  • premises with a licence that does not authorise the sale of alcohol will also need to apply for a variation that will permit off sales.
  • Where there is no existing licence, businesses will either need to apply for a Temporary Event Notice or a new premises licence.

Marshalling and social distancing measures: Westminster Council recognises that there may be a need for additional marshalling to help ensure that people remain within the government guidance on social distancing. The Council will look to landowners, BIDs and businesses to achieve this either through the application of signage or through marshalling. The council can provide some pavement stencils and signage to help with this.

Partners such as Marble Arch London BID are delighted that their proposals to support hospitality clusters that are part of their Recovery Plan, have been included, enabling cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels to provide additional external seating for customers and guests with social distancing measures in place.

The impact

Westminster Council plans for reopening hospitality have importantly put residents at the heart of the approach. In doing so, it recognises that during the temporary measures there will need to be some give and take between everyone affected. The Council proposes that the following measures and reassurances are put in place to protect local amenity:

  • The Council will prioritise businesses that already use tables and chairs to be used outside use them and carefully consider the impact any new proposals might have on those living nearby or other businesses.
  • Whilst parking will be removed in certain streets, the council recognises that these schemes cannot take up all kerbside parking in an area.
  • The area customers can use must be clearly defined both on a pre-agreed plan and on the street. The area must normally be in front of the premises which is intending to trade.
  • Premises must keep the area used for trading and adjacent areas free from waste during trading and at the end of trading they must sweep and wash this area.
  • At the end time for the use of tables and chairs they must be brought inside the premises or they must be folded and placed in nominated parking/loading bays in the usually closed section of the street.
  • Businesses are asked to provide or manage themselves the necessary marshalling, social distancing measures and toilet facilities.
  • Premises must check and confirm that their use of the outside area is covered by appropriate insurance, including public liability insurance to the same extent as would be the case for their normal operation.
  • If sustained complaints are received from residents which the Council deems are justified on either public health or nuisance grounds, they will review any scheme or particular premises.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Westminster’s approach will be supported by relaxations being introduced by the new Business and Planning Bill in July 2020. The Bill introduces a new more streamlined framework for issuing pavement licenses and will amend the Licensing Act 2003 so that any premises whose licence currently only permits drinks to be consumed on the premises will be permitted to allow sales for consumption off the premises as off sales without the need for an application. In effect this will standardise the approach already being taken in Westminster. 

The government has published draft guidance on the application of such temporary pavement licenses. The LGA is developing an advice note for councils on the changes being brought in by the Business and Planning Bill which will be available on the LGAs COVID-19 hub.

Discussion and updates relating to this and other case studies in this series relating to COVID-19 recovery planning, will be shared on LinkedIn as part of the ‘Talk of the Town’ group managed by the People & Places Partnership.

Lessons learned

Published lessons learned by Westminster Council from the approach outlined in this case study will be shared as part of an updated case study as part of the ‘success stories’ section of the People & Places’ talk of the town web site. 

Links to relevant documents

Read the brochure explaining the plan prepared by Westminster City Council for reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector.

An up-to-date summary of national guidance on managing streets and public spaces is available from the People & Places Partnership who helped prepare the revised version of LGA’srevitalising town centre toolkit.