Agenda item


            The Building Control Manager provided an overview of the review of the Pavement Café Licence and requested that the Members consider representations from DfI-Roads in relation to City Picnic’s temporary Pavement Café Licence which had been impacted by the re-opening of Fountain Street at its junction with Castle Street. 


The Committee was reminded that the Council, in June 2020, decided to introduce a temporary process for considering pavement café applications to assist the hospitality sector during the pandemic. The temporary Pavement Café Licensing Scheme was extended by the Council in September 2022 and would expire on 30th September 2023.


City Picnic restaurant had been granted a temporary Pavement Café Licence in Fountain Street, close to the junction with Castle Street. When this licence was granted this portion of Fountain Street was closed to vehicular traffic.  DfI-Roads had advised the licensee that pavement café space may be available on Castle Street in the portion that would remain closed to traffic and that they would also consider any other proposals for alternative locations to which the café could be relocated.


Council Officers had met with the licensee for City Picnic and had advised him to engage with DfI-Roads about potential options for relocation of his pavement cafe and that revised site plans based on these discussions should then be submitted to the Council for formal consultation with DfI-Roads thereafter.


Mr. Arthur McAnerney the licensee for the Temporary Pavement Café Licence had submitted new plans for the relocation to Castle Street in the remaining closed portion between the junction of Fountain Street and Castle Junction. Mr McAnerney was engaging with DfI and Building Control staff to ensure that all documentation and technical information was in place.


The Building Control Manager advised that should the Committee decide to revoke the licence, the Council was required to notify the licensee of its intention, stating the grounds for doing so and that representations may be made by the licence holder.


                 It was reported that Mr. D. McFarlane, Divisional Roads Manager and Mr. G. Lawther, Development Control Manager were in attendance on behalf of DfI-Roads, as were Mr. A. McAnerney, the Licensee and his business partner Mr G. Gregg.  The Chairman invited DfI to deliver their representation.


Mr. McFarlane provided the Committee with a timeline from 2017 and referred to the situation caused by the Primark fire which had turned Fountain Street into a temporary cul-de-sac.  He also referred to the temporary Pavement Café Licence Scheme which arose out of the Covid-19 pandemic in which DfI had been a consultee. He advised that City Picnic and Voodoo had been granted applications on the basis that they were operating not in the middle of public road but on a temporary cul-de-sac.  Therefore, DfI had worked with the Council and the 2 applications had been approved based on the fact that they were temporary, and when Primark reopened it would revert back to being a public road.  Mr. McFarlane informed the Committee that he was not aware of any other pavement café in Belfast being located on a public road.  He stated that unknown to DfI the temporary licences were extended by the Council in September this year.  He added that when Primark opened on 1st November the hoarding had been removed and the road reverted back to being a live public road.  At this point, Council and DfI met with City Picnic and Voodoo. He explained that DfI were in a position to offer an alternative arrangement to City Picnic whereby they could move the pavement café to Castle Street.  Mr McFarlane stated that it was his understanding that there had been no formal application made for this but DfI were content to work with City Picnic on the matter.  He explained that the issue arising from the pavement cafés not relocating would introduce the need for service vehicles servicing Fountain Street to reverse which would create a significant probability of a serious accident occurring and DfI could not accept that risk. 


A Member asked DfI if any other businesses in the area had complained in relation to deliveries.  Mr. McFarlane replied that there had been no other complaints and reiterated that the current arrangement was dangerous and it was a safety issue caused by the blocking of a public road. Another Member asked if the reverting of this arrangement was to facilitate Primark alone.  Mr McFarlane stated that it was a case of returning the road network to pre-Primark fire arrangements.  In response to a question from a Member as to which businesses were being serviced by the deliveries, Mr. McFarlane could not confirm but stated he had observed 9 vehicles reversing in one day. He provided details of previous servicing arrangements for deliveries whereby there was no need for vehicles to reverse in that part of Fountain Street.  He stated that access to the Norwich Union car park was proving difficult too because of the location of the pavement cafés.


A Member asked Mr. McFarlane if there was vehicular access from Fountain Street to Wellington Place.  He confirmed that traffic can reverse from that area as it was wider and was an open public road.  Another Member asked if there was data available in relation to increased traffic for the Council to examine.  Mr. McFarlane reiterated the fact that large vehicles were reversing in Fountain Street and DfI would not accept the risk. 


A Member voiced concerns in relation to the reversing of the reported 9 vehicles in Fountain Street given the level of footfall in the area and would like to hear the views from other traders in the area before any decision was reached.  Mr. McFarlane referred to vacant shop frontages at Norwich Union House which could provide a solution and maintain the safe passage of vehicles.


A Member expressed empathy with City Picnic and Voodoo and recognised the complex situation and asked who would be liable if a pedestrian was hit by a reversing vehicle. The Member referred to stakeholder conversations to date and asked if the objective of the conversations was to find a solution that suited all whilst keeping pedestrians safe.  Mr. Lawther responded that good progress had been made to date and reiterated that from a DfI perspective the current Pavement Café Licence arrangement in Fountain Street would never have been acceptable albeit the road was temporarily closed and formalised by DfI to facilitate it, and that Fountain Street now had no need to be closed.


The Chairperson welcomed Mr. A. McAnerney and Mr. G. Gregg from City Picnic and invited them to make their representation.


Mr. Gregg welcomed the opportunity to put City Picnic’s case across and informed the Committee that the process had been started to move the pavement café from Fountain Street to Castle Street given it was pedestrianised and would bring vibrancy to that area.  He stated that they had been coerced and put under pressure to move to Castle Street.  Mr. Gregg referred to DfI’s position of reverting to the original road network and added that the world had changed over the last 4 years since the Primark fire and the pandemic in terms of looking at pedestrianisation and the vibrancy of the city specifically in relation to Fountain Street.  Although he agreed with the safety issues, Mr. Gregg questioned the need to revert to the original road network and suggested arriving at a solution that fits all such as a one-way system.  He explained that before the Primark fire he had claimed 6 times for ripped awnings caused by reversing lorries.  He referred to the access to the Norwich Union carpark and expressed his concerns about the safety of the building.  Mr. Gregg informed the Committee that he would welcome further consultation with DfI and described the matter as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to get the road open quickly.


A Member referred to her recent engagement with City Picnic, Voodoo, DfI and with Council Officers as it was of great concern. The Member expressed frustration as to how the matter had been handled by DfI and described how the Department’s approach had been unreasonable.  The Member asked the Committee to look favourably on City Picnic’s new licence application when it came forward as the business needed certainty.


Another Member stated she didn’t agree with the licence being revoked as the pavement café had created vibrancy in the area which had helped the business and in turn boosted the economy.  The Member stated that if properly managed, the pavement café and the servicing arrangements could operate together safely and agreed with other speakers that there should be more conversations to find an alternative plan.


The Chair stated he agreed with the sentiment of all the speakers and asked City Picnic if they were content to move to Castle Street.  Mr. Gregg confirmed he was content to move but needed certainty in relation to whether or not Castle Street would remain pedestrianised or not.  Discussion ensued in relation to pedestrianisation, finding a safe and holistic solution and to ‘build back better’.  A Member referred to the thousands of students that were now in the area which had created a moving population so there was a need to think differently in a more innovative and creative way.


            A Member raised the matter of liability which had not been answered. The Interim City Solicitor/Director of Legal and Civic Services confirmed that ultimately liability would be with the driver.


            A Member referred to the Council’s vision for the city and noted the frustration with DfI in this regard. The Member asked if the matter was deferred would the responsibility lie with DfI to look at the safety of pedestrians in that area.  Mr. McFarlane replied that it had been looked at and DfI had made the Council aware of the risk and the only safe option was to provide circular movement for vehicles.  Mr. Lawther advised that DfI had started to consider the larger picture of pedestrianisation in the city and there was a commitment to discuss this further.  He reiterated that his concern was that Fountain Street was a public road and the pavement café licence was sat on a public road and it was not for the Council to decide whether it was closed or not. 


            The Committee agreed to defer the review of the Pavement Café Licence to enable all stakeholders to discuss the matter further to find a solution and mutual consensus.

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