‘Scrap charges on West Sussex eateries for outdoor tables and chairs’

Calls to scrap charges on West Sussex eateries for outdoor seating have been backed by around 3,000 people.

Labour county councillor Karen Sudan, Mike Barrett, Roger Elkins and Michael Jones
Labour county councillor Karen Sudan, Mike Barrett, Roger Elkins and Michael Jones

Last year West Sussex County Council’s decision to start actively enforcing fees for seating placed on town centre pavements caused uproar among traders.

Businesses were told they had to fork out £520 a year irrespective of how many outdoor tables and chairs they had.

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At the time the county council said it was a legal requirement for businesses to have a licence for seating on the highway but it had not historically actively enforced this requirement.

Since then the authority had a partial rethink and consulted on plans to introduce a sliding-scale charging regime.

Businesses would pay a one-off, £150 initial application fee and then £20 per cover (usually a single chair) per annum.

Last year Labour councillors from across West Sussex launched a campaign against the charges and a petition signed by around 3,000 people was handed in at County Hall last week.

It was received by Roger Elkins, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, who is set to make a decision in the coming weeks after the issue was discussed by the environment and communities select committee earlier this month.

Labour group leader Michael Jones said: “I appreciate the county council has financial pressures, particularly with regards to highways. We all know this.

“But it is not right that the council invents these things as an excuse to get more money out of people. It is little more than a cynical revenue raising wheeze and in the present economic climate it could prove disastrous for these local businesses.

“It is not their fault that the Tory Government isn’t giving the council the money it needs and the council has no right in taking it out on them.

“This petition which the traders and councillors organised has nigh on three thousand signatures calling on the council to abandon these charges. We believe they should not be ignored and it will be pretty disgraceful if they are.”

The petition has been spearheaded by Adur district councillor Lavinia O’Connor and Worthing borough councillor Mike Barrett.

Cllr Barrett added: “Labour councillors across the county have consistently spoken against the introduction of this charge, on any basis. This is not something you should be doing to these small and medium sized businesses who have tight enough margins without the county council inventing new charges.

“This is an unfair charge that does not take into account whether the business is a sole trader or a big multinational like Costa or Starbucks. We have too many small businesses, particularly along the coast, who simply don’t need this extra expense.

“The fact it wasn’t charged for over two decades makes it even more unacceptable that the county council is trying to resurrect it.

“The Tories have to listen, they are simply hurting local businesses in a totally unjustifiable way.”

Back in January, Cllr Elkins said: “We have listened to people’s comments about the current flat fee. Most suggested that a sliding-scale approach would be preferable so smaller establishments would pay less compared to businesses which want to place a larger number of covers on the pavement.”

The revised charges were supported by the environment and communities select committee earlier this month.

At that meeting, officers explained there were 31 businesses with a licence and around 70 with outdoor seating currently without one.

Although around 150 responses had been received during the consultation only a dozen were from eateries with tables and chairs on the highway.

They also described how the process was owned by the council’s legal services team until last year when highways took over.

Meanwhile they had stopped being quite as active in pursuing businesses to obtain a licence until the new charging rules come into force.

There would be an inspection regime to make sure tables and chairs were managed ‘in a safe way’.