News & Insights: Licensing


24 June 2020

On 15 June, the Executive announced Northern Ireland’s hotels, bars, restaurants and cafés can conditionally reopen from 3rd July. This is a much welcomed decision during an incredibly difficult time for the hospitality industry.


The Economy Minister Diane Dodds stated the developments were an important step on the road to recovery. The dates provided by the Department are subject to controlling the rate of transmission of COVID-19 and social distancing measures remaining in place.


The conditional reopening of key sectors from 3rd July include:


  • Restaurants, cafés and coffee shops;
  • Public houses and bars will be permitted to re-open for the purposes of selling food and alcohol on a table service basis. Public houses and bars with outside spaces, such as beer gardens, will be allowed to use such spaces to serve alcohol on a table service basis;
  • The relaxations also apply to hotel restaurants, bars and outdoor areas. However, spas and leisure facilities will not be permitted to open at this stage.


The announcement only applies to bars that are serving food or which have outside areas and social distancing must be maintained. While further clarity at government level would be welcome, The Hospitality Industry Response Group, comprising Hospitality Ulster, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and UK Hospitality, has just published its own guidance entitled ‘A Practical Guide to the Hospitality Industry’ which should be of some assistance to operators.


In addition, on Monday 22nd June,  Belfast City Council announced the opening of a new and temporary ‘pavement café’ application process, whereby traders would be able to apply to extend their business onto public pavements or privately owned areas (with consent of the land owner). The Council confirmed they would be waiving their application fee until further notice. It is now up to the other Local Councils to follow suit and get their application procedures in place.


This ‘pavement café’ legislation has until now been an underused opportunity for traders, with only one Local Council having successfully implemented the scheme before now. The councils’ powers are listed in the Licensing of Pavement Cafés Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 and associated regulations. Councils are entitled to grant Pavement Café Licences on such terms and conditions and subject to such restrictions as may be reasonably specified in the Licence.


The Licence permits a person who conducts a business which involves the supply of food or drink either in or from premises to place furniture including tables and chairs on a public area (or privately owned area) to allow for outdoor dining by customers.. It is applicable to cafés, restaurants, pubs, retail outlets providing refreshments, takeaways and supermarkets with a deli counter.


The council will take into account factors such as the suitability of an area to be used for a pavement café, including pedestrian and vehicular access, size and layout, the likely disturbance to other businesses or residents, furniture design or safety issues when considering the application.. Licences will normally be granted for set hours and reflective of normal operating hours of the business.


Belfast City Council have advised applicants to contact them prior to submitting their application for a Pavement Café Licence. Applications must include the following documents:


  • Site location plan – Preferably an ordinance survey map outlining the proposed pavement café area and the adjoining streets and properties;
  • Proposed café plan – A plan detailing the proposed pavement café area, the streetscape and all utilities and services and any items of street furniture within the immediate vicinity. The dimensions of the proposed pavement café area must also be provided;
  • Details of the furniture including the number, materials and types of furniture to be used in the café;
  • Public liability insurance cover with the requirement of a minimum indemnity of £5m.

The Licensee must provide proof of insurance cover upon demand by the council;

  • Liquor Licence – In respect of licensed premises, applicants will be required to provide details of their liquor licence, given that the pavement café area will be treated as part of the licensed premises for the purpose of the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.


Therefore, if licensed premises are successful in obtaining a Pavement Café Licence, their liquor licence is automatically extended into the pavement café area. This will prove valuable in allowing businesses with liquor licences to now serve alcohol outdoors.


Where an outdoor area belongs to someone other than the business owner and it is not adopted by DfI Roads, applicants will be required to provide a copy of the landlord’s consent, lease or licence. Early dialogue with relevant landowners is therefore imperative.


As part of the application process, a public notice must be fixed to the premises which enables interested parties to make representations to the council relating to the application. The council will also consult with DfI Roads, the PSNI in relation to premises licensed to sell alcohol and may confer with other applicable council departments, organisations or individuals before the decide on whether to grant the application.


Please note that this advice is provided as general guidance only. If you require specific legal advice in respect of your business requirements, please contact our Licensing Team.

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