Councillors failed to reach a decision on proposals designed to encourage a cafe culture on the region’s high streets this week, instead calling for further consultation on the matter.
Members of Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee welcomed plans to help create a more consistent approach to allowing eateries to feature outdoor eating areas, but at the same time they felt there should be more consultation with businesses before moving forward.
If the three-year trial scheme is introduced, it would insist businesses apply for a free permit allowing them to temporarily put tables and chairs outside their premises.
Presenting the report to councillors on Tuesday, network place team leader Philippa Gilhooly explained that while some sites already have planning permission for permanent outdoor seating areas, there is a need for a more consistent approach.
She said: “We are keen to encourage a cafe culture in the high streets but have to bear in mind the needs of pedestrians, people with buggies and those who are disabled or visually impaired. At present, some catering establishments have sought permission for tables and chairs on a temporary basis, and some have not.
“This has led to a mishmash of tables and chairs on high streets of varying qualities and in various locations.
“Some have appropriate safety barriers with tapping rails for the visually impaired and others do not.
“Some are at the back of footways, others are at the front of footways and there is an overall lack of consistency.”
The free permit system hopes to create this consistency by imposing a number of conditions including a 1m-high barrier around the area, that food must be the main business of the establishment and that permit holders must keep the area clean and tidy, ensuring customers leave by 9pm.
While councillors welcomed the news that the permit would be free, concerns over the 1m-high barrier condition were raised.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Ron Smith said: “I very much support this proposal and am pleased to see the fee proposal for the permit has been dropped, but I think the 1m-high barrier proposal could be problematic.
“It could impinge on people’s viewing, and I would urge you to think again about the height of the barrier.”
The council’s executive member for economic development, Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, raised the question of how this would affect those businesses who already have permission for permanent outdoor eating areas and barriers of a different height already in place.
He said: “It would mean that some businesses who have had barriers for years would be affected. It would not be practical.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor Donald Moffat said: “Who decides how many terms and conditions are applied, such as how many tables establishments can have and how much room they can take up?
“One size doesn’t necessarily fit all.”
Noting that the report did not feature any opinions or feedback from shopkeepers in the area, Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson called for a consultation with affected businesses before any changes are implemented.
Echoing that view, council leader David Parker said: “We have not visited the businesses, and we don’t know how it is going to affect them as this progresses.
“We should visit those businesses and find out what we change for them.”
The Leaderdale and Melrose councillor also suggested that it would be useful to see what happens in other local authority areas.
A formal motion calling for further consultation was moved by Tweeddale West councillor Catriona Bhatia who said: “It is a bit of a mish mash at the moment and we have to do something. But my question is how do we enforce it?
“I think rather than making a decision we should call for a period of consultation.”
A consultation will now be carried out with the businesses likely to be affected, local community council’s and the local access panel to garner their comments.
Mr Parker added: “The paper, when it returns before us, should give us information on how other local authorities are doing this and should share the comments of those businesses currently already using tables and chairs outside.”
Premises looking to have permanent tables, chairs and barriers would still need to apply for formal planning consent from the council as this can be viewed as a change of use.