Worthing café forced to close as traders hit with outdoor seating restrictions

Worthing’s town centre hospitality businesses have hit out at outdoor seating restrictions imposed by Worthing Borough Council.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 3:26 pm

Since lockdown restrictions eased on April 12, allowing hospitality businesses to welcome back customers outdoors, Warwick Street and Montague Street have been hives of activity.

It came as a breath of fresh air to struggling businesses forced to close since Boxing Day, aided by the council’s decision to waive fees for pavement seating licences.

But traders were ordered to significantly reduce the size of their seating areas by the council, the day before the much-needed May bank holiday.

Warwick Street, Worthing SUS-210405-155508001
Warwick Street, Worthing SUS-210405-155508001

Louise Bristow’s family has owned The Continental café in Warwick Street for more than 30 years, but the move had made their business ‘financially unworkable’.

She said they had been left ‘utterly disappointed by the lack of thought’ that has seen their outdoor space halved to just 12 seats.

“The impact of Covid was really felt by small businesses like ours but we have spent the past year getting creative with our resources and our time and were in a position, despite mandated business closures, to keep on all our staff and maintain our business where so many others were forced to close permanently,” said Louise.

“With the recent reopening, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but sadly it seems the council isn’t interested in making decisions that support the businesses that are the lifeblood of the town.”

She said operating at half capacity is not financially viable and the café would close until indoor dining returns on May 17.

“What’s really frustrating for us is that this decision was taken so close to the upcoming May bank holiday – typically a huge trading day for us and indeed the rest of the businesses in Warwick Street which get to kick off summer with this extended weekend,” Louise added.

“The impact on our trade will be felt hard and we’re just so saddened by the lack of support or empathy by the council on this.”

Thomas Lines runs Finch Bar and Eatery in Worthing and has seen his seating area slashed back to just one table.

“Considering the situation, I would think they would be a bit more lenient,” said Tom.

“It’s a shame they’ve brought it in just before the bank holiday weekend, which could’ve been the first time when we could have actually made some money for about a year.

“I understand it’s for health and safety reasons and there has to be rules, but the space we get already is so narrow.”

Tom said customers had loved having the extra outdoor space, which had created a bustling, continental feel around Warwick Street.

Responsibility for outdoor seating licences moved from West Sussex County Council to local councils last year.

The change meant some traders still have pavement licences under county council terms, but not with Worthing council.

A spokesman for the council said it had been taking steps to work ‘positively and proactively’ with town centre businesses as lockdown ends, to ensure they can trade freely while keeping people safe.

“One of those key measures is encouraging hospitality businesses to apply for a pavement licence to allow them to place tables and chairs on the pavements outside their premises, which contributes to a more vibrant town centre environment while reducing the risk of the spread of Covid,” the spokesman said.

“The licence application is a simple process. Approval takes a few days and, for the second year running, we have waived all associated fees to support local businesses.

“However, since the reopening of the town centre, we have received complaints that a small number of businesses have outdoor seating without licences. We are also aware that some have increased their operating area substantially. This is causing access issues to pedestrians, especially those who are visually impaired, are in wheelchairs or with pushchairs, and having a negative impact on other businesses operating alongside.

“As part of our efforts to assist businesses reopen, our teams visited a number of premises in Warwick Street and Montague Place this week (Wednesday) to discuss and offer advice on the safe opening up of hospitality, how to remain Covid compliant and the availability of Covid Business grants.

“As part of these conversations, we explained the legal requirement for a pavement licence and how to apply for this free licence, which will enable us to ensure our town centres can be enjoyed safely by all.

“Businesses can apply for a licence via www.adur-worthing.gov.uk/aboards-tables-chairs.”