Plans put in to close city street for outdoor dining as restaurants seek coronavirus boost
Pubs and restaurants in Norwich are calling for the pedestrianisation of St Benedicts Street so that they can use the outdoor space to seat more customers.
Hannah Springham of the Farmyard in St Benedicts Street is proposing the road should be closed to cars from July to September, with temporary outdoor table licenses given to eateries.
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The move would give restaurants more room for covers - giving their revenue streams a lift.
Ms Springham said: “Trade always drops off for the restaurants along this road in summer anyway because people want to sit outdoors and we don’t have capacity to do that.
“Currently social distancing means that we’d have to reduce our covers by half. For bigger places like us we’d still manage to get by, but the smaller places would be trying to run a business on ten tables. Al fresco dining could mean saving some of the independent restaurants that are so important to this city.”
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The proposal was backed by Russell Evans, chairman of Bullards distillery which runs the Ten Bells pub on the street. “It’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “It’d be absolutely brilliant to have people sitting out there like we did for the Norwich Lanes event. We’ve got a tiny beer garden and it’d be difficult to socially distance inside the pub. “Commercially it’s tricky because we’d still have to have the same amount of staff but potentially with half the customers.” He added: “It’s a good idea to begin it as a temporary measure, because then the public and businesses could get used to it. Then, if they decide it’s something they enjoy it gives them a basis to consider making it permanent without doing it overnight.”
Richard Bainbridge, chef patron of Benedicts which is also on the road, said: “We are 100% behind this as in the long run it would be fantastic for Norwich and the future of the city.” However Mr Bainbridge was cautious of doing so without proper planning in place. “As a quick fix I’m not sure how beneficial it would be in terms of putting it into place, given the cost of barriers when money is not flowing,” he said. “But of course any support from the council and help in terms of getting people back out and eating I back 100%.”
Ms Springham, who also runs the Dial House at Reepham, has contacted Norwich City Council and Norwich South MP Clive Lewis about the idea.
Mr Lewis said: “Recent reports and polling shows it’s the retail and hospitality sectors that have been hardest hit and the slowest to recover because of public worries about going back to gathering indoors.
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“To protect jobs and the local economy, restaurants, shops and bars are going to need all the help we can give them to get back on their feet. In the wake of this pandemic, cities across the globe are already remaking their streets to prefer people to vehicles. So I am very sympathetic to suggestions like this.” He added: “But only if and when it’s shown to be safe for people to gather again socially and after consultation with the local community.”
Norfolk County Council has been handed the responsibility for planning changes to support businesses following the coronavirus crisis.
A spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing a number of requests for temporary covid-19 measures from across the county. No decisions have been made at present and we are currently awaiting further guidance from central government but we are working closely with the city council and Norwich BID (Business Improvement District) to ensure the city centre is a safe environment for both leisure and retail.”
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