Worthing and Adur traders facing 'extortionate' licence fees for outdoor seating

Worthing's Warwick Street relies heavily on outdoor seating. Pic: Google
Worthing's Warwick Street relies heavily on outdoor seating. Pic: Google

Bars, restaurants and cafés in Worthing and Adur have been told they must pay significantly increased licences for their outdoor seating areas.

In a letter from West Sussex County Council distributed to local businesses, owners were told if they did not pay the £520 annual fee, tables and chairs would be considered an 'unlawful obstruction' and removed at their own cost.

The annual charge is a flat fee regardless of the size of each seating area, meaning small businesses with two or three tables would be forced to pay the same as businesses with larger outdoor areas.

East Worthing and Shoreham's prospective Labour parliamentary candidate, Lavinia O'Connor, has called the prices 'extortionate' and an attack on small businesses.

”The Conservative-run county council is thumping local small businesses with a £520 charge if they want to continue to have tables and chairs on the pavement," she said.

"That’s much more than other councils charge. Those tables and chairs are vital for many of our cafes, pubs and restaurants. These businesses are a vital part of our economy and bring life to Worthing, Shoreham, Lancing and Southwick. The Conservative-led county council should be supporting local businesses, not attacking them."

West Sussex businesses are currently charged an initial fee of £412 for a tables and chairs licence, which then drops to £200 a year for subsequent years.

The new charge would be a flat £520 a year - a 260 per cent increase that the council said 'is a result of benchmarking with similar local authorities and includes a realignment of charges to ensure there is a single charge for all years'.

In comparison, East Sussex businesses are charged £260 a year for licences, while Brighton and Hove operates on a sliding scale - £176 for a small number of tables and £360 for large cafés in busy streets, with additional charges for the amount of highway space taken up.

West Sussex's charge, Ms O'Connor said, was similar to the cost for cafés in Westminster, Central London, where cafés of one to four tables are charged £325 a year, five to nine tables are charged at £500 and businesses with more than 37 tables are forced to pay £2,400 a year (the maximum amount).

The 'extortionate' charges would hit smaller cafés hardest, she said, and called on the council to reduce the charges.

A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said 'ongoing financial pressures' meant the licences had to be enforced. The letter distributed to businesses said the fee must be paid, or tables removed, within 28 days of receipt.

“It has been a legal requirement for businesses to have a licence for tables and chairs to be positioned on the highway for many years," said the spokesman.

"A licence is required so the county council can assess each location for its suitability to ensure granting it would not pose an unreasonable risk to either highway users or customers, and is also important for the public liability of any business in the event of an accident.

“While the county council has not historically, actively enforced this requirement, the ever-increasing amount of tables and chairs now on the highway means intervention is now required in order to provide a fair and consistent approach across the county. Feedback from user groups such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind has highlighted some of the risks involved to visually impaired highway users.

“Ongoing financial pressures on the council’s budget mean that we do need to charge a fee to process applications and it is for individual businesses to decide if they now wish to pay to position tables and chairs outside their premises. We have delivered a number of letters across the county and we already received a significant amount of licence applications which are currently being processed.”