Cllr Johnny Thalassites is the Cabinet Member for Planning, Place and the Environment on Kensington and Chelsea Council.

The outdoor cafe culture that has sprung up during the pandemic is set to stay in Kensington and Chelsea. We are proud to become the first place to commit to new local policies to make al fresco dining an ongoing attraction across our borough.

From Sloane Square to Westbourne Grove, and from Bute Street to Golborne Road, businesses will be able to continue offering outdoor dining after temporary national legislation ends in 2022. Our new policy will see businesses offered licenses to operate from March to October, in line with British Summer Time. New licenses make it easier to trade on pavements, suspended parking bays, and pedestrianized streets. They may also be granted for up to five years.

The standard conditions associated with new licenses include commentary on the visual appearance of new terraces (all sides of new terraces must be open above waist height, not blocking shopfront views), on management and operational matters (structures must be demountable, so as not to frustrate essential highway maintenance; there must be consideration of minimum footway widths and accessibility; and waste management plans must be agreed), as well as regular operating hours (8am-10pm; 8am-8pm on Sundays).

New licenses must also contribute towards the borough’s air quality and climate emergency goals. We require applicants to include new greenery in site plans, and we will accept neither plastic and/or perspex, nor electric heaters. Adjusting our long-term policy around licensing means we can take successful interventions from the pandemic forward to benefit our businesses, residents, and visitors. More people visit Kensington and Chelsea every day than any other borough or district in the country, and we want to enhance our status as a place of culture to visit and explore.

This policy gives certainty to business, residents and visitors. Individual applications made by businesses are assessed on a case-by-case basis against guidance and conditions. Good operators will win new customers. Bad operators may have licenses refused, reviewed, or revoked, if local people identify persistent breaches of guidance or conditions.

As we do not know the contours of Government’s post Covid-19 approach to outdoor dining, the policy framework applies to the existing planning, licensing and street-trading regimes. It also features in the Council’s draft New Local Plan, so as to become a material consideration at committee hearings. But we are confident its principles can be applied to a fast-changing national context.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Council has granted 114 outdoor licenses on temporary footway extensions and more than 450 pavement licenses in streets and public spaces. Some residents may have feared poor quality terraces and antisocial behaviour would plague new street structures. In a minority of cases, they have been right and we have refused applications. Indeed, we know street closures to support the hospitality sector have presented challenges in some places. For example – motor traffic has been reintroduced and al fresco dining rolled back somewhat from its pandemic-era high-watermark in Soho, just over our eastern boundary in Westminster.

However, a large majority of residents in our central London borough – the capital’s smallest and one of its most densely populated – have embraced the changes. 74 per cent of residents polled in our (demographically weighted) Citizen’s Panel supported making outdoor dining permanent. Around 70 per cent of respondents backed our plan in a recent formal consultation. And local people have been voting with their feet: you have to book early to get an al fresco table on newly pedestrianized streets – such as Portobello, home to a world-famous market, and Pavilion Road.

Although the past two years have brought about many challenges, there have been some unique opportunities to look at new ways of utilizing our high streets and supporting local business. The introduction of pavement licenses in the borough has been examined by researchers at the Centre for London, whose work has helped to inform our approach. Nearly three-quarters of residents in Kensington and Chelsea live within 200 meters of a high street – and the importance of local centres has been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic.

Now our goal is for high-quality public realm interventions to follow the new al fresco dining policy, so that we produce healthy and vibrant places. It is our job to consider the longer-term trends that will change people’s habits, many of them accelerated by Covid-19.  The Council recently launched a public realm design competition to improve Notting Hill Gate. Place-shaping schemes have been approved at Chelsea Green and St. Helen’s Gardens, involving single-surface feature paving, more greenery, and new tree-planting. A Placeshaping Investment Strategy will follow.

Seeing our streets buzzing with people enjoying our world-class bars and restaurants has been a real positive during a difficult couple of years. We want it to be a lasting legacy following the pandemic.

It’s a no-brainer to keep outdoor licensing on the menu when it’s proven so popular with restaurants, residents, and visitors. This is a way to support our businesses to get back on their feet, whilst adding to Kensington and Chelsea’s reputation as a destination.