Covid Edinburgh: Bars, cafes and restaurants ask to keep outdoor areas despite September deadline for dismantling them

Cafe, bar and restaurant owners in Edinburgh’s Cockburn Street are asking council bosses to let them continue serving customers outside despite an order to dismantle their al-fresco areas by the end of September.
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Their plea comes as the UK government announced outdoor dining would be extended for a year in England as part of a new strategy to help the hospitality sector recover from the pandemic.

Daniel McNally, who runs the Scotsman Lounge, said his and other businesses in Cockburn Street were grateful to the council for giving the go-ahead for the outdoor decking areas, but officials were currently insisting they had to be off the street by September 30.

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He said: “At the minute at the Scotsman we're only allowed 18 people inside because of social distancing so if we didn’t have that outdoor space we would never have survived and obviously we've been very lucky with the weather.

The Scotsman Lounge has had its outdoor decking area since AprilThe Scotsman Lounge has had its outdoor decking area since April
The Scotsman Lounge has had its outdoor decking area since April

“But come May, the council sent us letters saying things are starting to ease, you'll have to stop using the outdoor space from the end of September but if you can stop using it now and take it down that would good.

“We're all trying to get a petition together to try to keep it open because it's kept all our businesses open.”

He said the Scotsman Lounge had been the first business in the High Street area to get its decking back in April, but others had quickly followed and they had proved a great success.

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“Our argument is this has been a lifeline, people feel more comfortable outside and we're just hoping to get it extended for a wee bit.

"I sent an email to the council asking for it to be extended, saying I'd spoken to the other owners in the area and they'd be willing to spend more money on the outdoor spaces if they knew it was a long term thing to improve them. But the reply was it was a council decision and it had to come down at the end of September.”

With uncertainty surrounding the Scottish Government’s plans to move beyond Level 0 on August 9 and no clear idea how the Covid situation will look later in the year, Mr McNally is still hoping there will be a rethink by the council.

"What they gave us was fantastic. Now we're just asking for an extension or why it can't go on for the next year until people are feeling more comfortable.

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"If someone is going to tell me there'll be no coronavirus at the end of September that's fantastic, but the cases are going up – there's no end game at the minute.”

The weather may not be so favourable in a few months’ time, but there are ways to keep customers warm, Mr McNally insists.

He said: "We wanted to put in heaters but that wasn’t allowed because it’s on a public footpath. But back in April when it was still a wee bit chilly we had little hot water bottles we rented out to people and tartan blankets so people still felt comfortable sitting outside.

"In other European cities like Copenhagen that's the kind of thing they do all year round.”

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Depute council leader Cammy Day said the issue was being kept under review.

He said: “No decision has been taken on future arrangements yet. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government on measures and support to help local businesses.”

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