Cafe owner in row over outdoor seating after being hit hard by lockdown
A cafe owner has hit out at council bosses after being told they couldn’t place seating outside their premises.
Coffee & Co on Church Street in Seaham has been told by Durham County Council that it is currently unable to have tables and chairs outside the premises due to social distancing concerns.
Owner Phillipa Bell, who has run the business with mum Hazel Bell, says the decision came as a shock as she has seen businesses on smaller streets in the area have had theirs out since they reopened in early July.
The cafe says it has already been hit hard financially by lockdown.
Having been closed since March, the business has been hoping to recover some of its losses over the summer by offering customers the option to sit outside.
But Coffee & Co – which has already paid in full for its annual outdoor seating licence – says that it was told by council officials earlier in July that it was not permitted to have outdoor seating due to the Government’s two metre social distancing guidance.
The council said that it would restrict the width of the footpath to below the current guidance standards, meaning that people would not be able to pass safely.
Phillipa, 30, said: "It’s annoyed me as business along the seafront have had their chairs outside and it is a very narrow street.
“Whereas Church Street is huge. I'm not asking for a lot – just for one or two tables outside.
“We are trying to build money back up from being closed, so it’s not helping not being able to have outdoor seating.”
Poppies Cafe on Church Street also says it has also been affected. Staff member Stephanie Turner, 30, said: "With the businesses on the seafront being allowed their outdoor dining areas, it feels like Church Street has been forgotten about.”
Durham County Council has said it is proposing outdoor seating is placed on the central area of Church Street.
Coffee & Co said they would welcome the compromise, but feel let down by the council for taking so long to approve any outdoor seating measures.
Brian Buckley, Durham County Council’s strategic highways manager, said: “Every business in County Durham with a table and chairs licence has had to be assessed to establish whether they can meet current social distancing guidelines, which have been issued by the government.
"To do this, we had to take a number of factors into account, including passing members of the public, queues to businesses, customers being sat at tables and any footpath obstructions such as street furniture.
“We contacted those businesses on Church Street last week, asking that they work with us in order to be able to safely use tables and chairs outside and we are proposing that they’re placed on the central, pedestrianised area of Church Street.
"In many cases, this will significantly increase the capacity of outside tables and chairs and allow for pedestrians to safely pass.
"We will be consulting with officers and the Town Council to assess the suitability of these plans and ensure the best outcome for everyone.”