Non-food pub owners in Derry are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of clarity from the government about reopening their businesses.
A body which represents the industry, Hospitality Ulster, has told the Executive that non-food or ‘wet pubs’ have been left ‘without any hope’.
A financial package from the Executive is now ‘urgently needed’ to save many businesses employing dozens of people in Derry despite hotels, restaurants, and pubs serving food operating safely since July 3, says Hospitality Ulster Chief Executive Colin Neill.
Pubs were set to reopen on August 10 but a decision has now been pushed back for a number of weeks.
However, further easing of the lockdown - including the reopening of pubs - depends on the rate at which the virus is spreading in the community.
Mr Neill said the Executive needs to support pubs: “Although we have an indicative date of 1 September, that is an eternity away and there is no guarantee that this date will even be met.
“I have pressed the case for non-food pubs to be open as soon as possible, and if not, then a bespoke financial package must be delivered immediately.
“The consequences of no support will mean that many jobs will be at risk, on top of those who have already been made redundant.
“We now need to take a pragmatic approach and raised with the Executive Office Ministers, a number of ways in which we can get non-food pubs open in a safe way, just like the rest of the hospitality sector.”
As preparations were made to come out of lockdown in May ideas were floated such as making use of Guildhall Square and outdoor spaces in the city centre, however, those plans for the most part have not come to fruition.
Derry City and Strabane District Council said it continues to meet with representatives from various government departments and key stakeholders to proactively bring forward a number of positive initiatives aimed at assisting with the ‘safe recovery and reopening’ of the city centre.
A council spokesperson said stakeholders have looked at a number of new creative and innovative ways at providing more space and a safe environment that will enhance the city centre visitor experience.
She continued: “Council is very supportive of Department for Infrastructure’s desire to put measures into place within the Walled City to reduce traffic and to improve conditions for pedestrians.
“We believe that this will provide assurance to the public and will assist our businesses in planning for social distancing as part of their recovery plans.”
They say work is ongoing to assist with this process and to also look at how such pilot schemes could possibly be extended to Strabane and other parts of the district over time.
In terms of street trading and licensing, the council is looking at ways of resolving the challenges that exist and ensuring that government guidelines and health advice are being adhered to.
A temporary Pavement Café Licencing scheme has been introduced to assist hospitality retail businesses and agreed to temporarily waiver all fees associated with granting a temporary licence for a period of six months.
Although pavement cafes may not be suitable for all businesses or streets, it is believed that pavement cafes may help some hospitality retail premises during the recovery phase and assist with adhering to current social distancing guidelines when they reopen.
The council is currently processing 22 pavement café licence applications.
A spokesperson added: “The council will continue to work in partnership with the department in the coming weeks to engage with businesses and the public to ensure that whatever measures are put in place are reflective of the needs of all our local stakeholders.”
The council added that any changes in relation to the pedestrianisation of streets would have to be agreed by the relevant government departments and key stakeholders and in consultation with the local businesses.
The Department for Infrastructure said the minister is committed to working towards reimagining and reshaping spaces as part of an ambitious Executive recovery plan.
As part of this recovery phase, there is a need to provide additional temporary pedestrian space in urban centres to accommodate social distancing.
The department is working to identify where measures to re-allocate road space may be appropriate to facilitate local footway widening and social distancing.
A spokesperson commented: “The department has been working closely with Derry City and Strabane District Council to devise projects in order to adapt to a new way of living, driven in part by the ongoing Covid-19 emergency.
“Together we have already initiated a project to provide widened and pop-up cycle lanes on the Foyle Riverside in the city centre.
“The department is also a member of the City Centre Economic Stakeholder Group, which is chaired by Derry City & Strabane District Council, and is focused on co-ordinating the phased and safe recovery of Derry’s city centre.
“The group is exploring schemes such as footway widening, timed traffic exclusions, temporary traffic management measures and streetspace repurposing.
“Further details will be announced in due course.”
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