The Daily Mail reports:

“England is set to go al fresco to combat coronavirus as ministers unveil plans to turn streets into outdoor markets and allow pubs to use car parks as beer gardens today.

New laws being published today will loosen restrictions on drinking, dining and shopping outdoors – where the risk of transmission is regarded as much lower.

The Business and Planning Bill, which should be fast-tracked through Parliament in time for lockdown easing on July 4, will make it easier for local authorities to pedestrianise streets to help struggling businesses.”

It adds:

“The focus of the legislation, which will allow outdoor trading without the need for planning permission, is on creating a much more permissive business environment outdoors, where scientists believe the virus spreads much less easily.

Temporary changes to licensing laws will allow many more licensed premises, such as pubs and restaurants, to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to convert outside space such as car parks and terraces into seated areas as well.”

What is not mentioned is the inspiration behind these reforms. Step forward, Nicholas Boys Smith, the Director of Create Streets. Last month he wrote for this site proposing to “allow eating out to mean eating out.”

“Let’s make it far, far easier for shops, restaurants and cafés to trade on the pavements outside their premises. This is possible now – but it’s a bit of schlep. At present, shops or restaurants wishing to make use of the pavement need to apply to their local authority under Section 115E of the 1980 Highways Act. Each applicant must ensure that pedestrians’ rights are not affected, and councils need to consider the width of the pavement, if it is a street where street trading is specifically prohibited, sight lines and whether the pavement is on a public highway or not.”

He concluded:

“The twentieth century killed that richness of street life, and sacrificed our daily freedom of movement. If, climbing collectively out of this crisis, if helping tempt those too nervous to squeeze into cramped restaurants we helped town centres rediscover their true purpose as a place for people profitably to congregate for business and pleasure then that would be a modest silver lining to these strange times.”

So while Boys Smith is to be commended for his proposal being adopted, with all due modesty we also note our own role in ensuring that this came to the attention of the relevant decision makers. It would not have been much use as an idea if it had not been noticed. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? But as it is, the words passed from Boys Smith’s laptop, to this site, and thence on to the statute book all within a few weeks. It means we have every chance that the streets and squares of our villages, towns, and cities will not feel dead this summer but more alive than ever before.

As you embrace cafe society, remember that it is this website that won you your new found freedom. You will have a greater chance to sit at a table outside a favourite local restaurant and enjoy the sun and fresh air, basking in the low risk of transmission and nodding at passing aquaintances. So raise a glass of Chianti or San Miguel to Boys Smith – and to us.