Lancashire landlord's anger after being told his outdoor seating area does not qualify under coronavirus rules

A Lancashire publican has written to PM Boris Johnson, calling on him to “urgently apply common sense” by clarifying the new government guidance on beer gardens, which he says is costing the hospitality sector millions of pounds.

Saturday, 10th April 2021, 3:45 pm

Last year thousands of pubs around the UK installed Covid shelters to allow family bubbles of up to six people to dine safely outdoors during the last two lockdowns.

Now the government’s latest guidance for large marquees in pub gardens has thrown the hard-hit industry into chaos, just days ahead of the long-awaited re-opening of outdoor dining.

On Monday, the government announced that all outdoor roofed structures, such as large tents and marquees, had to have at least 50 per cent of their walls open when in use.

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The outdoor seating area at the Cube Bar in Poulton which the landlord Paul Mellor says he has been told is not coronavirus compliant
The outdoor seating area at the Cube Bar in Poulton which the landlord Paul Mellor says he has been told is not coronavirus compliant

However, most of the Covid shelters – which include beach huts, sheds, greenhouses and specially-built structures and were compliant during the lockdowns last year – weren’t mentioned and only have one open side.

Long-serving publican Paul Mellor runs the Cube Bar in Poulton-le-Fylde, with his daughter, Danielle, who is general manager.

The bar employs 50 staff who have been on furlough.

He said, “The situation is crazy. We’ve fully stocked up to serve more than 1,000 meals that we’ve got booked in.

The Cube in Poulton

“People can’t wait to go out to eat together again, after such a tough few months.

“We have spent the last two weeks ordering beverage and food stock, bringing employees off furlough and advertising beer gardens as opening from Monday April 12.”

However, council officials, have told him the outdoor area is not compliant now and, as a result, the bar cannot open.

“We have looked how other councils, particularly in the big cities, are adopting the guidelines and they are applying the 50 per cent rule to big structures, such as marquees, which cover beer gardens rather than individual Covid-secure booths and seating, as had been used both successfully and safely last year.

“We’re asking Boris Johnson to urgently apply some common sense and issue some further clarification on the guidelines, as we don’t think these apply to our individual six-person booths.

“Due to each booth having three open sides, separated by Perspex screens, we feel these booths adhere to these guidelines and are just as compliant as they were last year.

“Other venues from across the country with similar booths to ours are opening from Monday.

“The new guidelines, which allow marquees and tents for beer gardens, with two open sides, will be great for businesses in our industry which have been struggling over the last year.

“However, the council has interpreted this guidance to mean all structures and individual booths would require two open sides.

“We spent £150,000 last year to make our beer garden safe and Covid-secure, with fixed individual six-person booths installed, separated by Perspex screens and with a 2.5ft space above each screen for ventilation.

“This means each booth has three ventilated sides and we feel is the most Covid-secure way for us to operate.

“We are a small family-run business and we have all individually had to personally fund the business through the lockdowns to support our 50 employees on the Job Retention Scheme and to keep the rent payments up to date.”

A spokesman from Wyre Council said: “We have explained to the Cube and other businesses opening for outside sales from the 12 April that the guidance states – ‘Some venues may wish to erect outdoor shelters.

"To be considered ‘outdoors’, shelters, marquees and other structures can have a roof but need to have at least 50 per cent of the area of their walls open at all times whilst in use. These venues may allow customers to use toilets located inside. At any premises serving alcohol, customers will be required to order, be served and eat/drink while seated (“table service”).’

"Wyre council has provided advice to the Cube about specific changes they need to make to ensure their outdoor seating areas comply with the guidance, which will reduce the capacity of numbers being able to attend. We have not said that they cannot reopen.

"We expect all businesses opening at this time to comply with Government guidance in order to reduce the infection rate of COVID-19.”