Three Coleraine cafes due in court next month for placing furniture in a public place without a licence will not be prosecuted, the Belfast Telegraph understands.
While rules around such licences were relaxed and fees temporarily waived between July and September last year, representatives for the businesses were ordered to appear at the town’s Magistrates Court on March 5.
However, independent councillor William McCandless said he had received assurances from council officers that the prosecution would not proceed.
“On Monday, I was advised that three premises in town were to be prosecuted by the council for refusal to engage in the Licensing of Pavement Cafes Act,” he explained.
“The background to this Act is that pavement cafes are becoming more popular.
“The Roads (NI) order 1993 states it is unlawful to block a road and that cafe, restaurant and bar owners must apply to their local councils to place tables and chairs on the pavements outside their premises.
“Council officers come under pressure from members of the public who have disabilities or a visual impairment. These needs must be considered.
“Across the area, council officers have been engaging with cafes to comply with the legislation. When I consulted with our chief executive in 2020, a deferment was placed on this from June until the end of December.
“I appreciate that in the majority of cases there is a cost to the local business as it is advisable to consult with an architect to ensure legalities are observed.
“This can cost up to £1,000. In these times of financial constraint, that is a heavy burden to consider.
“I can assure everyone that our council officers are not unsympathetic to the commercial plight cafe owners face on the high street.
“I can advise those concerned at this time that no legal action will be pursued by council.
“In consultation with senior officers and the chief executive, I would strongly advocate that the implementation of the licensing is deferred until March 2022.
“I would recommend our senior officers bring this motion forward to our environmental services committee in March, where it will hopefully be agreed at committee level and then ratified at the full council in April by all councillors. Hopefully, by that stage, we will be through the worst of this pandemic.
“Further discussions will ensue with council officers and restaurants over this period.
“In these unprecedented times of Covid-19 and the economic disaster that has befallen our high streets, we need to demonstrate sympathy and compassion to those who are holding on by their fingernails to keep their businesses afloat.
“For the general public as well, many are enjoying a cuppa while they have their daily walk and appreciate the cafes being open.
“It is our hope that as many businesses as possible will survive these trying times to enjoy better days ahead.”
Bob & Berts, one of the companies affected, criticised the council’s handling of the matter.
“As a business, we are surprised that a local council would be so aggressive, given it was our position that we had complied with all regulations,” a spokesperson said.
“As it’s such a difficult and stressful time for business owners, I should be concentrating on saving 120 jobs whilst navigating a pandemic, not dealing with legal action by our local council.
“They should be supporting businesses at a time like this, not looking to haul them before the courts.
“It is my understanding that we had provided planners with all documentation. After reviewing their file, the council decided to withdraw all legal action.”