York cafés ignore rules on pavement seating – and could be prosecuted
There has been a drop in the number of pavement café licence applications in York – but some businesses are continuing to flout the rules, a meeting heard.
Councillors were given an update on the issue after rules around their use was changed at the end of last year.
Restrictions on pavement cafes were relaxed during the height of the Covid pandemic to help businesses trade outside, but this provoked a backlash from disability rights campaigners in York who argued the growth in outdoor furniture was blocking the highway.
All licences expired in 2022 and businesses reapplying had to allow for at least 1.5 metres of space to remain open on the footway to gain approval.
Helene Vergereau, traffic and highway development manager, said that – as expected – there had been a drop in the number of applications as some businesses realised they could not meet the new requirements.
There were 36 licences granted by the end of February, compared to 114 in place as of July last year, though more applications are expected as the weather warms up.
Ten applications have been refused, with several of those in Fossgate, but Ms Vergereau said the main problem was coming from businesses who were setting up pavement cafes without applying for a licence at all.
She added: “In some cases, I think this is because they know they will not get a licence. Some of these have had several warnings, so we are looking at the legal team at the next steps in terms of prosecution – I would rather avoid that but we will have to issue notices.”
Legislation currently making its way through parliament would give councils more powers to enforce rules, such as by seizing pavement furniture, but Ms Vergereau said she would prefer the council to have London-style fining powers instead.
She added: “It’s not a good way to deal with businesses. Imagine if a council team had to go in the street and seize furniture in the middle of the day – I don’t think it works.
“We would much rather have the enforcement powers London has where we can just issue penalty notices at £60 or £70 every time – at some point I think the businesses will listen.”
Several businesses criticised the council’s decision to tighten the rules last year, with York BID saying there was a “very real possibility” businesses would close down as a result.
James Gilchrist, director of environment, transport and planning, told councillors the affected businesses were “obviously somewhat disgruntled”.
Cllr Ashley Mason, executive member for economy and strategic planning, said: “I think people have accepted that’s what the policy is and they either work with or they don’t.”
The council banned A-boards in 2016, but Cllr Janet Looker said she had noticed them “creeping back”.
Ms Vergereau said city centre inspections were carried out several times a week, but that enforcement ultimately had to be carried out via the courts.
Well some business will comply and some will not
But the council could just spend all the licenses and then let the business go down the pan by letting the police find the business for obstruction of the highway under the road traffic act that way the business would be in court and big fines as well