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Call for clarity over rules as pub gardens reopen in snow

Confusing guidelines and plummeting temperatures threaten to keep customers away despite lockdown easing

Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

Pub and restaurant owners have been left scratching their heads over government guidance that may mean outside seating prepared for the return of customers from today “do not count as outdoors”. 

To be considered as such, any shelters, marquees or other structures need to have at least half of their walls “open at all times” while in use, according to government rules. The guidance is reportedly based on legislation linked to the indoor smoking ban that defined what constituted being outdoors. 

But local authorities across the country are “interpreting the rules differently”, and some landlords and restaurant owners “have only just been told they supposedly fall foul”, reports The Telegraph.

A pub owner in Lancashire has written to Boris Johnson after being told his walled garden is not compliant with government guidance, meaning “he cannot reopen despite taking bookings for 1,000 meals”, the newspaper continues. Another in Brighton was told his pub garden “did not have sufficient air flow to be allowed”. 

Across England, pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating areas are set to reopen today under the latest step the government's “roadmap to freedom”, as lockdown measures to control the spread of Covid-19 are gradually lifted. 

But the ambiguity surrounding the rules is a further headache for landlords already worried that customers will stay away as a result of plummeting temperatures, with much of the country hit by snow and rain showers. 

Labour MP Toby Perkins, deputy chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Beer, has called for clarity from the government on how local authorities should interpret the guidelines.

“Neither local authorities nor publicans are epidemiology experts. It really is for the government to make clear what the rules are,” he told The Telegraph.

Rules aside, “only about 40% of pubs have sufficient outdoor space to reopen”, with most expected to stay close until indoor mixing is permitted on 17 May, says The Times

This week's lockdown easing celebrations may also be dampened by the death of the 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh on Friday, with eight days of national mourning that ends next Sunday. 

As struggling venues face the latest setbacks, Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, has warned that a strict approach to the rules could mean losing “community assets” such as pubs and restaurants “for good”. 

“We have overzealous local authorities that rather than approaching our publicans in the spirit of assisting us in reopening safe trading spaces are coming in specifically to look for things to perhaps pull us up on,” she told The Telegraph. “It is a bit frustrating.”

In response to the criticism, a Downing Street spokesperson insisted that the government had published “clear guidance to help hospitality businesses reopen safely”.

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