We want a healthy vibrant local economy and for businesses to be able to open up in a way that protects the community from coronavirus. But it's important this happens in a way that is accessible for everyone.
As our World Upside Down campaign is highlighting, social distancing is much more difficult for people with sight loss, and with the need to keep our distance it's more important than ever that we have wide walkways clear of obstacles.
Under the new rules, businesses may apply to local authorities for a licence to put tables, chairs or stalls on the pavement near their premises. It’s a speeded-up process, so the consultation period now lasts for five days, and most licences approved are likely to be in place until September 2021.
As the law on pavement dining was going through Parliament, we lobbied MPs and Peers (Members of the House of Lords) about the importance of maintaining the accessibility of our streets. As a result, we were given the chance to feed into the guidance for local authorities that is issued along with the law. We weren’t able to make every change we wanted to, but we were able to make sure the guidance emphasised how important it is local authorities consider the effect of these changes on disabled people.
The guidance is clear that local authorities will need to “have regard to” the Public Sector Equality Duty, under the Equality Act 2010, when devising and implementing plans for the new licensing scheme. Any businesses applying for pavement licenses will also have to consider their own duties under the Equality Act.
Local authorities should consider any “local conditions” they want to impose on businesses applying to use pavements in this way. Suggested local conditions include how accessibility might be affected by local queuing systems or road reallocation schemes. They should also aim to publish consultation on applications online as well as on notices, to make them more accessible.
There is a “no-obstruction condition” which means that schemes should ensure that a clear route is maintained at all times. When setting up their schemes, approving licenses or deciding whether enforcement action is needed, local authorities are told to consider:
The guidance also requires businesses to put a notice to the premises on the day they submit the application to the local authority. It also encourages them to consult with disability organisations or care homes in the area that may be affected by the proposals.
Unfortunately, the consultation period remains very short - five working days starting the day after the application is submitted – so it will be likely to be difficult to object to proposals before they are approved. There is also a presumption of automatic approval if local authorities do not get back to individual businesses applying for these licences within 10 days of application. We think it is likely that local authorities will receive a lot of applications at once and so a lot of them may be approved automatically.
Working with Guide Dogs, we’ve sent a letter to every local authority in England outlining the importance of obstacle-free pavements and asking local authorities to use their powers to set local conditions for licenses to ensure that high streets remain accessible. We recommend that furniture be located on the carriageway where possible to enable social distancing, and where furniture is approved, other obstacles, such as A-boards, are removed.
If pavement dining is introduced near you affecting your journey or access, it might be as easy as explaining the situation to the business and asking them gently to change. We're created guidance for hospitality businesses which you could share with them.
Alternatively you could contact your local councillor. The local authority can revoke a licence when the use of the highway is causing “an unacceptable obstruction”, for example, when “the arrangement of street furniture prevents disabled people, older people or a wheelchair users to pass along the highway or have normal access to the premises along side the highway”.
Please also consider feeding back your experiences, whether positive or negative, to us at RNIB so we can tell politicians and decision-makers about any impact these schemes are having.