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Planning matters

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Permanent fast-tracked pavement licensing – regeneration, one patio set at a time
What is the fast-tracked system? In late-June 2020, as we emerged from the first lockdown, I wrote a blog reflecting on the provisions of the Business and Planning Act 2020, which included new legislation for fast-tracked pavement licences with application fees capped at £100. This was intended to be a temporary lifeline for pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafes, and presented an opportunity for businesses in the hospitality sector to quickly replace lost indoor capacity during lockdown and then increase capacity to help businesses to thrive once restrictions ended. The pavement licensing system introduced two years ago allows licence holders to place removable furniture (counters, stalls, tables, chairs, benches, umbrellas, heaters etc) over certain highways adjacent to the premises which the application was made for, for the selling, serving and/or consumption of food or drink. These licences remain valid for between 3-12 months (depending on the local authority’s decision). It also introduced a reduced public consultation period (7 days) and low application fees (capped at £100). Clear access routes on highways need to be maintained in all cases to take account of the needs of pedestrians and disabled people. Figure 1: The Tyne Bar, Ouseburn, Newcastle Why is it being made permanent? In July 2021, the Government extended the temporary pavement licence provisions until September 2022 as they had been found to be both popular and successful in supporting pubs, restaurants and cafes during the pandemic. This extension was also supported by local authorities, who in some cases offered subsidised, or free, fast-tracked pavement licences. By March 2022, UK Hospitality (UKH) was calling for the Government to make the fast-track pavement licensing system permanent to help the hospitality sector make a stronger post-pandemic recovery. The Government has listened, and its new Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill proposes to make the pavement licensing system permanent to support its long-term regeneration of town centres and ‘levelling up’ strategy. Boris Johnson commented: “to support vibrant high streets…pavement licensing red-tape will be permanently scrapped, freeing up businesses to serve food al fresco and attract diners all year round.”[1] Earlier this month, Lichfields published a blog reviewing the government’s approach to achieving regeneration in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which identified greater flexibility on the high street, including permanent fast-tracked pavement licensing. The Government clearly believe it can continue to contribute to the vitality and viability of our town centres. This blog looks at the outcomes of fast-tracked pavement licensing since July 2020 and what a permanent al fresco dining and drinking culture could mean for our high streets and town centres in the future.   From pubs to Parliament, pavement licences have widespread support Fast-tracked pavement licences have proven to be immensely popular, as evidenced by the massive increase in the number of outdoor seating areas in towns and cities across the country since July 2020. When the temporary measures were introduced, the hospitality sector responded quickly, creating thousands of new outdoor dining and drinking spaces where there had previously been none. Many businesses have invested heavily to set up heated, well-lit, and covered seating areas, with some going as far as to install dining pods and yurts. Although, in the case of dining pods and yurts in particular, separate planning permission may also be required. Figure 2: Camden Market, London These new spaces have remained popular, have brought visible signs of vitality and life to the high street, and are often seen as a vast improvement to formerly dreary and underused spaces dominated by parked cars and traffic noise. This has boosted the visibility and appeal of many bars, cafes, and restaurants which can now bring a new offer to customers, and in some cases, it has allowed businesses to double their capacity. Is the permanent fast-tracked system exactly the same as the original? There will be some changes to the original system with local authorities able to grant longer licenses lasting up to 24 months. The charges for license renewals will also rise from £100 to £350 and applicants for new licenses will be expected to pay £500. Are there any potential issues? Although there has been a great deal of support for making fast-track pavement licensing measures permanent, there have been concerns raised about the impact on accessibility for wheelchair users and the loss of public space. The Local Government Association (‘LGA’) has called for better enforcement powers in the new legislation so that Councils can act against businesses that flout the rules and block pavements. The proposed increase in application fees for future pavement license applications may be manageable for larger businesses but could prove to be a significant burden for smaller, independent businesses. What role can pavement licensing play in levelling-up, regeneration and town centres of the future? It has been widely reported that each outdoor seat created by businesses in the hospitality sector could boost their revenue by up to £6,000[2] a year, and that a third of restaurants, cafes and bars have the space to apply for a pavement license. This could provide a significant financial boost to restaurants, bars and cafes by permanently increasing their capacity and turnover. It is hoped that greater use of such businesses will have a spill over effect by helping high streets and other local economies recover from the pandemic and supporting their long-term regeneration. The last two years has shown that these new outdoor spaces have the potential to bring active uses to the streets themselves and improve the overall vitality and appeal of town centres – all of which is vital in supporting the Government’s wider regeneration strategy. Fast-track pavement licensing has been seen to drive forward the growth of al fresco dining and a ‘café culture’ over the last two years, which was far less common prior to the pandemic and has changed the way we use outdoor spaces in town centres and high streets. This has coincided with the emergence of ‘streateries’ (outdoor dining areas located in spaces previously dedicated to vehicles), which began to appear in towns and cities across the country in 2020. In some places these are set to stay, recognising both their popularity and the economic boost they have delivered to local businesses. In Manchester’s Northern Quarter, parts of Thomas Street and Edge Street are now closed for most of the day, allowing bars and restaurants to set out seating areas along the road. Similar measures have been taken in parts of London, where councillors recently voted in February to support the continuation of the Belsize Village ‘streatery’ scheme. It received popular support from residents and councillors, in part, because of the contribution the scheme is considered to have made to driving up footfall and reducing the number of empty commercial premises. This also fits neatly with wider economic and environmental strategies aimed at revitalising high streets, whilst making them greener and more sustainable. This is at the crux of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. Figure 3: Edge Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester Figure 4: Belsize Park, London Where can Lichfields help? Lichfields is continuing to identify changes and emerging opportunities on the High Street and is closely monitoring the progress and content of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. Until the permanent measures are adopted, business can continue to benefit from the lower application fees that are currently in place. Businesses with a pavement licence that is due to expire before the end of September 2022, or businesses without a licence, should consider whether to apply for one soon to benefit from the lower fees whilst they remain in place. Lichfields is well placed to prepare and manage applications for pavement licences on behalf of pub, bar, restaurant and café operators, and any related planning applications. We have good relationships with local authorities across the country and are ready to liaise with officers to achieve swift, positive outcomes.     [1] [2] Header image: Outdoor dining in Soho, London, during the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme  


Historic Opportunities: How heritage-led regeneration can drive town centre change
Our historic high streets and town centres have been dominated for decades by retail uses, and while retailing is still an integral part of what they offer, the pressures facing traditional retail have resulted in the average vacancy rate nationally rising to just under 14%. This has left many high streets and town centres in need of regeneration and investment. Fortunately, they have huge potential for improvement, adaptation and reuse, and many benefit from heritage assets that can serve as focal points for regeneration.  Historically, high streets and town centres were places where communities would live, congregate, learn and work, not just shop. They were built to support a diverse range of uses and they are very well positioned to do the same in future if investments are made in restoration and reuse. Indeed, repurposing redundant floorspace offers exciting opportunities to rebalance what our high streets and town centres have to offer. It appears that things are about to come full circle as the high streets of the future, as envisaged by Government, are places where more people live and work and where community uses are more prominent, as was the case in the past. The Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda is primed to support this vision with significant amounts of funding, which could result in some of the most positive changes to our town centres seen in generations.  In July, Lichfields published ‘Moving on up?’, an Insight that reviewed the initiatives for levelling-up of town centres in the north of England. It analysed over 100 bids to three key funding streams aimed at achieving town centre regeneration, including the £3.6bn Towns Fund, the £1bn Future High Streets Fund (of which £95m is set aside for High Street Heritage Action Zones) and most recently the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund. This revealed six key themes underpinning these bids; unsurprisingly heritage-led regeneration was one of them. To understand why there is such interest in heritage-led regeneration in our town centres, it is worth noting that almost half of buildings in retail use and 33% of office buildings were built before 1919. Many of these buildings have been neglected or poorly adapted in response to various cycles of economic and social change. The idea behind heritage-led regeneration is that targeted investment in the restoration and reuse of heritage assets can deliver wider economic and social benefits. This is not a new-fangled idea, but the way that heritage-led regeneration is being implemented has evolved over time and is now far more complex and multi-layered.  For many years there was a tendency to think that simply restoring historic buildings and providing new shopfronts and usable floorspace would be enough to deliver regeneration and attract new occupiers, despite there being little empirical evidence to support that assumption. Now, following studies into the effectiveness of heritage-led regeneration projects, such projects are increasingly based on clearer business and investment strategies and form an embedded part of wider programmes aimed at improving local economies through investment in infrastructure, new industries and technologies. Embedding heritage-led regeneration in this way can both harness heritage investment’s potential to inspire action and promote initiatives, as well ensure that it produces more effective, sustainable and long-lasting regeneration results. Heritage-led regeneration projects are also focused more than ever on reusing heritage assets in ambitious and creative ways to respond to changes in the way that people live, work and shop. For the high street, this means adapting historic buildings to respond to changes in retail and growing demand for leisure activities, creative and flexible workspaces, and housing in sustainable and accessible locations. It is also about bringing the history of places to the surface, engaging communities in heritage projects and enhancing places with the aim of attracting new businesses, visitors and residents.  The role of heritage-led regeneration in reimagining and repurposing our high streets for the future is reflected in the literature produced around the latest rounds of Government funding aimed at levelling-up towns across the country. Lichfields has been at the forefront of Government funding activity in the north of England, inputting into various Towns Fund bids. We were involved in preparing the Future High Streets Fund bid for Bishop Auckland and we are currently involved in supporting the development of several potential Levelling-Up Fund bids. We have also been appointed to develop business cases for schemes in Blyth, which have secured in principle funding from the Towns Fund. Bringing together our combined expertise in planning, heritage and economics, Lichfields is well placed to assist with high street and town centre regeneration in a variety of ways, including navigating the planning policies that cover heritage-related works, developing evidence-based investment strategies and business cases, and preparing Statements of Significance, Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans. Lichfields’ Insight, ‘Historic Opportunities’ aims to shed light on the environmental, economic and social contributions that heritage-led regeneration can make. It looks at how this is being achieved across the country in areas benefitting from the various funding streams designed to support the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda.