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Draft Business and Planning Act 2020 (Pavement Licences) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Debated on Tuesday 6 July 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Sir Christopher Chope

† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)

Davies, David T. C. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)

Duguid, David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland)

Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)

† Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab)

Jarvis, Dan (Barnsley Central) (Lab)

Jenkyns, Andrea (Morley and Outwood) (Con)

† Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Pincher, Christopher (Minister for Housing)

Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

Richardson, Angela (Guildford) (Con)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

† Throup, Maggie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

Whitley, Mick (Birkenhead) (Lab)

Jack Dent, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 6 July 2021

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Draft Business and Planning Act 2020 (Pavement Licences) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Business and Planning Act 2020 (Pavement Licences) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

The regulations were laid in draft before the House on 8 June. If approved, the regulations will extend the temporary pavement licence provisions for 12 months until 30 September 2022, and will come into effect the day after the regulations are made.

The temporary pavement provisions create a faster, cheaper and more streamlined consenting regime for the placement of removable furniture, including tables and chairs, on pavements outside premises such as cafes, bars, restaurants and pubs. The measures have been popular and very successful in supporting businesses, making it easier for pubs, restaurants and cafes to facilitate alfresco dining with outside seating. It is vital that we continue to support the hospitality sector by extending the provisions for 12 months, as it has been one of the hardest hit as a result of coronavirus.

Part 7A of the Highways Act 1980 sets out a permanent local authority licensing regime for the placement of furniture, such as tables and chairs, on the highway. However, licences under part 7A are subject to a legal minimum 28 days’ consultation, and there is no statutory cap on the fee that a local authority may charge. Hon. Members may recall that we made changes to the law on 22 July 2020 to provide for temporary pavement licencing provisions, which were part of the Business and Planning Act 2020. They enabled the hospitality sector to reopen safely and supported the sector through the economic recovery when the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased. The proposed regulations will enable powers in the 2020 Act, which allow the Secretary of State to extend the temporary provisions, subject to parliamentary approval.

The sole purpose of the regulations before the Committee is to change the four references to the expiry date in the legislation from 30 September 2021 to 30 September 2022. The regulations do not change any other part of the pavement licence provisions, so the process for applying for a licence during the extended period will not change. The regulations do not automatically extend licences that have been granted under the current provisions, so businesses will need to apply for a new licence if they wish to have one in place during the extended period.

Local authorities are encouraged by guidance to take a pragmatic approach in applying the extended provisions so that it is as convenient as possible for businesses to apply for a licence during the extended period. All licences are subject to a 10-working day determination period, including a five-working day—excluding public holidays—public consultation period, starting the day after the application is sent electronically to the local authority. If the authority does not determine the application before the end of the determination period, the licence will be deemed to have been granted for a year, or sooner, until 30 September 2022. They are no changes beyond the four changes to the date of expiry of the legislation.

Licence application fees will continue to be set locally, but are capped at a maximum of £100. Those fees are unchanged from those introduced under the July 2020 regime. All licences are subject to a national no- obstruction condition and a smoke-free seating condition, as well as any local conditions that may be set by local authorities.

The effect of the regulations will enable food and drink hospitality businesses to continue to obtain a licence to place furniture on the highway outside their premises quickly and cheaply. To explain just how hard the hospitality sector has been hit, it is probably worth while noting some evidence from trade organisations and other sources. They have indicated to us how significant the financial losses and other wider economic pressures have been on the hospitality industry. The Office for National Statistics reports that in July more than half of businesses in the accommodation and food services industry had experienced a fall in turnover compared to normal expectations for this time of year—losses more than any other industry.

We firmly believe that the regulations will offer essential economic support out of the pandemic for many food and drink businesses by enabling them to extend outdoor capacity to serve food and drink. We support the regulations and trust that all hon. Members will do so. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

The Opposition will not oppose the extension to the current regulations, which grant pavement licences to allow for the placement wof outdoor furniture by businesses selling food and drink. We believe that it is a common-sense extension. From eating out in my constituency, I know that the measure will be welcomed by the relevant businesses, neighbouring retail business that benefit from additional footfall and trade, and obviously by people who have enjoyed eating and drinking outdoors, particularly when the weather is nice. The benefit of pavement-based eating and drinking to all sales is the type of boost and support that high streets have needed, and will continue to need. It is ironic that that benefit runs alongside the changes that the Government have made to permitted development rights, which mean that planning permission is not required to turn a commercial business into housing, thus threatening the viability of some more vulnerable high streets and town and village centres.

On the regulations, the Minister will have read the briefing from the Local Government Association. Although it greatly welcomes the proposed extension of the regulations, it has raised some concerns about the fixed and expedited process for issuing pavement licences brought in as a result of the covid pandemic. The Minister will be aware that the process has raised operational challenges for councils, particularly for inner-city and inner-London local authorities, where there are a large number of such businesses. The process has imposed new burdens on authorities, such as when road or footway closures result in additional costs for barriers, road closures and marshals. Those additional costs to local authorities account for far more than the £100 cap charged for such licences. Figures from Westminster City Council for April this year show that the implementation costs to the authority were more than £2 million, and some councils have estimated that they lose around £700 per licence application.

Has the Minister carried out any assessment of the financial impact on local authorities of the proposed extension of the regulations? Has he any plans to provide additional support to local authorities that are particularly subject to a significant net cost arising from implementation of the regulations? Local authorities request that the regulations are brought into effect before the summer recess, and are concerned that they apply only until September 2022. Has the Minister any comments about that proposed timing? Will he commit to working with the LGA and local authorities on a fundamental long-term review of pavement licensing, for which they have asked, which blends the best of the original regulations with the new? They want the proposed extension to last beyond September 2022 because such a review will take longer than the proposed year extension.

I hope that the Minister can address those important issues in his response.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the Opposition’s broad support for the regulations. We believe that they are important to efforts to support the accommodation and hospitality sector businesses to recover effectively from the coronavirus epidemic, given that they have been hit disproportionately by its effects.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. One of the reasons we are introducing the PDR changes is to ensure that people are living and working closer to high streets and services that they may use, because that extra footfall may benefit those high street businesses.

I will say, as I have said before, that one does not need permitted development rights; the planning permission is perfectly adequate for dealing with issues connected with people living and working in town centres, to ensure that a core is retained around the centre of a town and village, even where retail generally is declining.

I will not dwell on that matter, Sir Christopher, because you would soon direct me to do otherwise. We believe, however, that the changes we have introduced will ensure that more properties can benefit from residential accommodation in towns and urban spaces. Some 72,000 new homes have been created thanks to the introduction of PDR, homes that probably would not have been built on brownfield and urban spaces without that change.

On the hon. Lady’s specific questions, she asked me quite properly about the burdens that may be placed on local authorities as businesses unlock, and as a result of requirements to process speedier applications for licences. We will undertake a burdens assessment, as we ordinarily and properly do, of the effect the regulatory changes may have on local authorities. That will be done by September, in accordance with the new burdens doctrine. We will make sure that local authorities will receive the appropriate support to expedite applications in the extended period.

The hon. Lady asked why the date of 30 September 2022 was chosen for the conclusion of the extension period. The answer is simple: this is a statutory instrument, and other changes would require primary legislation. Within the scope of the 2020 Act, all we are able to do with the SI is to increase the date on which the regulations expire. We believe that a 12-month extension that takes us to the end of the next summer season is a sensible date for local authorities to plan for.

We will study the data to assess the effect of the regulations in supporting businesses and the wider effect they may have on consumer behaviour and, of course, local authorities. We will contract to work with local authorities, the LGA, the District Councils Network and other appropriate bodies to see what further and possibly permanent regime changes we may wish to introduce in future. For now, we think that a year’s extension to the current regulations is right and appropriate. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.