Outdoor regulations 'causing chaos' ahead of reopening of Northern Ireland hospitality

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Outdoor regulations 'causing chaos' ahead of reopening of Northern Ireland hospitality Hospitality Ulster

Related tags: Northern ireland, Coronavirus, Alfresco dining

Hospitality Ulster has accused the Northern Ireland Executive of failing to engage properly with the sector ahead of the country's planned reopening of outdoor hospitality settings tomorrow (30 April).

The trade body says that despite repeated calls since Christmas for the Executive Office to engage with the industry, the late clarification of regulations for outdoor hospitality has 'caused chaos' and left many businesses unable to open and out of pocket unnecessarily.

It estimates that only 10% to 15% of hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland have access to outdoor space, but that the current regulations outlined, which have been described as 'misguided and draconian', will mean even fewer premises will be able to reopen.

Some venues have taken to social media after being told by their local council that they cannot reopen as their outdoor seating areas do not adhere to regulations from the Executive.

In a tweet on Tuesday (27 April), Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast said it had been told by Belfast City Council it would be unable to reopen on Friday unless changes were made.

"We have just been told by [Belfast City Council] that we have to remove the cover or the sides of our outside area," the tweet read.

The venue said it spent £25,000 on the outdoor set up and that the same one was used last summer.

The Department of Health told the BBC​ the general rule of thumb was that outdoor premises should not be more than 50% enclosed.

"The definition of enclosed and substantially enclosed comes from the smoke-free legislation from 2007 and is directly referenced in the restriction regulations," a spokesperson said.

"This was the same definition that was in place since last July and is not part of the recent amendments which will allow outdoor hospitality to open from 30 April."

Hospitality Ulster says this is a critical moment for hundreds of business owners across Northern Ireland and that the regulations need to be adapted as they are not conducive to the proper reopening that the sector was promised.

It adds that its members are being forced to accept a set of rules that have not been consulted upon with the industry and, once again, expectations of what the Executive want to see and what the sector need to do to get their doors open, are mismatched.

“As we get closer to the first wave of reopening outdoor, our members are getting in contact in their droves, worried that they won’t be able to get back to business as the regulations and their interpretation are far too stringent,” says Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster chief executive. 

“In reality, the idea of outdoor being opened again is meaningless if only a relatively small number of venues can actually make it work.

"Many will have prepared for reopening by buying thousands of pounds worth of stock to replenish their empty bars, only to be told that their set up does not meet the regulations, despite being open to the same standard in previous failed reopening phases.”

“This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the Executive intervenes and remedies this.

"A level of common sense needs to be brought to this problem as the sector has worked so hard and taken every precaution to get the outdoor element open this weekend.

"We need the Executive to engage with us and be pragmatic about this real and present issue that we are facing in the next couple of days.”

It has been agreed by the Executive earlier this month that outdoor licensed and unlicensed premises like beer gardens, cafés, pubs and restaurants serving outside could reopen as soon as 30 April.

May 24 has been marked as the indicative date for the reopening of indoor hospitality settings, including hotels.

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