Boss of Northern Quarter bar Alvarium fears for future as extra outdoor seating won’t be back this summer
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A Manchester bar boss has spoken out about his fears for the future of his business and the hospitality sector after being told he would not be able to have outdoor tables on the road outside the venue this year.
Emergency Covid legislation meant that during the pandemic roads could easily be closed and pop-up spaces given fast-track premises licences to help bars and restaurants cope with the difficulties posed by coronavirus.
However, the council says that has now been repealed, leaving people facing the arduous road closure process that was in place pre-pandemic.
And with hospitality nowhere near recovered from two years of Covid-19 and the cost of living and doing business spiralling, that is causing concern in the sector.
What has the owner of Alvarium said?
Braddan said he was told that it would not be possible to get a licence to have tables on Dorsey Street, which last summer was closed off and shared with the nearby Tib Street Tavern venue.
He is all the more irritated about this as he claims that prior to the bombshell news he had been led to believe it would be possible for the cul-de-sac to be shut and used for tables again this summer.
He said allowing more people to sit outdoors had been a huge boost during the pandemic.
Braddan said: “Having the outside area was quite beneficial. It’s a dead end with double yellow lines, no parking, no loading bays, it’s just a side street. You can’t even use it as a turning point because Tib Street is one-way.
“We thought it was going to be a case of when, not if, we were going to get it again for this year.
“To be told there were going to be no more road closures going forward was a blow. We might be towards the end of the health effects of Covid but we are in no way, shape or form recovered financially from it. Even Omicron in November and December had an impact.
“We need everything we can get at our disposal to make sure we still bring in enough revenue to make sure we’re not having to cut back on things or make people redundant.”
What is the situation facing hospitality businesses without the road closures and extra seating?
The emergency road closures and premises licensing allowed Alvarium to double in size last year.
It has 16 indoor tables seating just under 50 people, but last year a further 20 tables for another 60 drinkers were outside on Dorsey Street.
Braddan said the cost of living crisis is already starting to bite, with bin collection costs going up 17% and a energy bill rise of 43%.
Alvarium has already had to close its basement vegan restaurant Black Leaf for the forseeable future and Braddan said the outlook for the whole business is not entirely secure.
He said: “I’m looking at 25 people’s jobs and my livelihood here. We’re looking at trying to rent the basement space out to reduce my costs and we’re focusing on our wet revenue.
“The good weather recently has shown the real difference outdoor space makes. Outside areas are really full with people queuing for them whileplaces that don’t have outside areas are just dead. We’re unfortunately part of the latter description.
“It’s just a lot of frustration. It feels like we were told by multiple sources through the pandemic and after that they would look after us, but now we’re having to fend for ourselves.”
Braddan says he has spoken to Greater Manchester’s night-time economy advisor Sacha Lord as well as his local ward councillors and is hoping politicians and prominent figures might take up the issue.
What has the council said?
Manchester City Council said that as the emergency Covid-19 legislation has now been repealed by parliament the temporary legal alterations that made it much easier to trade outdoors as a hospitality venue have gone too.
That means businesses wanting to have outdoor seating must now apply for a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) or Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) and then apply for a licence at cost. This is all subject to full consultation and the planning process.
To compound the issue for bars like Alvarium, some Northern Quarter venues on Edge Street and Thomas Street and in Stevenson Square are able to continue having outdoor seating as a TRO is in place as part of the PicVic cycling route.
Manchester City Council said this pre-dated the Covid-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson at the council said: “During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic laws were brought in by the Government which allowed the council to expedite road closures and provide temporary licences for premises wanting to trade outside.
“This was vital in allowing the council to expedite planning and licensing law in order to save countless businesses that would not have been able to trade due to Covid restrictions.
“However, the temporary powers granted to the council were revoked by Parliament and can no longer be used more expeditiously support businesses who want to install outdoor seating that required a road closure.
“General applications for road closures and permanent outside seating licences would have to be directed to the council’s Highways Department, as was the case before the pandemic.”