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New outdoor spaces at Belfast bars will help breathe life into NI economy, says owner Willie Jack

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Optimistic: Willie Jack

Optimistic: Willie Jack

Optimistic: Willie Jack

Outdoor spaces at two of Belfast's most popular pubs could be on their way following a planning bid by the venues' owner.

Publican Willie Jack, who owns a number of well-known pubs around Belfast, has said he believes the proposed enhancements for The Harp Bar and The Dark Horse - both located in the city's Cathedral Quarter - "will help to breathe life back into the economy".

He has submitted a planning application for a licensed outdoor art installation at The Harp and requested permission to transform the courtyard at the back of The Dark Horse into an outdoor licensed dining area.

He hopes the improvements will help to showcase Belfast as a thriving, fashionable and safe tourist destination.

"Once Belfast City Airport is up and running fully, we want to be in a position to encourage people to come and visit the country," he explained.

"The airports are so important to us because they bring people into the city who book into the hotels, they eat a meal at a restaurant, they go out for a drink and end up at The Harp Bar or The Duke of York.

"We want people to see that Belfast is a happening city, we have to keep pushing Belfast forward.

"Belfast is going to be the driver for the rest of the province, it has good hotels, pubs and restaurants and we all feed into each other.

"I understand that people are less comfortable about going out and we want to encourage them to come back out.

"Throughout the Troubles, a lot of people didn't think that Belfast was safe, but the police are doing a great job and we want to encourage people to come out again.

"We know some people feel safer outside which is why we are making efforts to create more spaces outdoors where people can go out and enjoy themselves."

Mr Jack said he hopes the applications will be approved by November, which will allow customers to enjoy the spaces from next year.

It comes as a licensing law solicitor warns the hospitality sector about the importance of securing permission to trade outdoors.

Pubs and restaurants have been looking at alternative ways to do business as they cope with the restrictions put in place to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

John Finnegan, partner at the Belfast-based Millar McCall Wylie, spoke out about some of the licensing issues faced by the hospitality sector as it adapts to the demands of Covid-19.

"Pubs, hotels and restaurants have, understandably and commendably, been doing all they can to keep trading during these difficult times and that has often meant using outside areas to increase capacity safely," he said.

"Given the pace of events, it hasn't been possible for all businesses to take the necessary steps to protect their liquor licences.

"It has been reassuring to see a common sense approach taken by the authorities so far, but there is now clear communication that trading outside without permission won't be tolerated long term. The risk here is that fines and even forced closures may happen if business owners don't take action."

Belfast Telegraph