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Executive guidance on outdoor dining 'has caused chaos' - Hospitality Ulster

Mourne Seafood's outdoor dining area on Bank Street last summer.
Ryan McAleer

The executive’s lack of engagement over outdoor dining has resulted in “chaos” ahead of Friday’s reopening, Hospitality Ulster has claimed.

The trade body said the late clarification of regulations has left many businesses unable to open and out of pocket unnecessarily.

One of Belfast’s best known hospitality figures Bob McCoubrey revealed on Tuesday evening that he has been instructed by Belfast City Council officials to partially dismantle a £25,000 outdoor dining area at the Mourne Seafood Bar on Bank Street.

In a tweet, the restaurateur said the instructions were that if he did not remove an overhead cover or side wind breakers, the venue cannot reopen on Friday.

Mr McCoubrey said the setup was the same he had deployed last summer.

It’s understood that Communities Minister Deidre Hargey and Economy Minister Diane Dodds have been become involved in the case.

Hospitality Ulster initially said around 10-15 per cent of venues would be able to open for outdoor dining on April 30. Indoor hospitality around the north is provisionally set to reopen from May 24.

Chief executive Colin Neill said its members are now contacting the body in droves, concerned that they will not be able to open on Friday due to the stringent interpretation of regulations.

“In reality, the idea of outdoor being opened again is meaningless if only a relatively small number of venues can actually make it work,” said Mr Neill.

“Many will have prepared for reopening by buying thousands of pounds worth of stock to replenish their empty bars, only to be told that their set up does not meet the regulations, despite being open to the same standard in previous failed reopening phases.

“This is not the time to be playing with the livelihoods of business owners and we are demanding that the executive intervenes and remedies this.

“A level of common sense needs to be brought to this problem as the sector has worked so hard and taken every precaution to get the outdoor element open this weekend.

“We need the executive to engage with us and be pragmatic about this real and present issue that we are facing in the next couple of days.”

The Executive Office has been contacted for comment.

In a statement, Belfast City Council said it has a statutory obligation to ensure the compliance with the regulations set by the execuitive.

Full statement from Belfast City Council:

“Throughout the last year, Council has been working with businesses and engaging with owners to provide support and advice in relation to the regulations set out by the NI Executive.

“While we very much welcome the easing of restrictions which will allow licensed and unlicensed premises to reopen, council has a statutory obligation to ensure compliance within the coronavirus restrictions, set by the NI Executive.

“We recognise that the regulations are complex and appreciate that businesses will need support and guidance on how they can operate safely, in a way which meets the requirements of the regulations.

“We will continue to work with business owners to try to address any concerns and give them the assistance they need. Now that the latest regulations are in place, we are also writing to businesses, alongside our face-to-face visits, to clarify how the latest regulations impact on them, and to ensure they have all the information they need to provide a safe environment for their staff and customers.

“Our advice line is also open to deal with any queries from businesses ahead of reopening 028 9027 0565 or via email covid19businessadvice@belfastcity.gov.uk.”

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