Why outdoor measures for Leeds businesses must be made permanent to keep al fresco boost - YEP Opinion
Sitting al fresco under a shaded canopy, sheltering from the blazing sunshine with a chilled espresso martini in hand, I wondered if life could get any better.
No, I wasn't on holiday (I wish). I was out for a cheeky post-work tipple in the bustling Greek Street, which has been transformed this year as some of Leeds' finest bars and restaurants spilled onto the newly-pedestrianised street.
That extra seating in the fresh air has been a lifeline for venues over the last 18 months - not just at my favourite haunt, but across the city.
Eight Merrion Street institutions joined together to host an epic Bank Holiday street party, street food vendors and takeaways have set up outdoor tables for their customers to perch on, and the new-concept, entirely al fresco rooftop venue, Mulitistories, launched earlier this summer.
In the face of social distancing requirements and the 1metre plus rule, these measures were at first about survival for businesses, which had indoor capacity slashed to unsustainable numbers.
But even now as restrictions have eased, the demand for al fresco dining hasn't wavered - particularly during this glorious September heat.
Streets have been packed with people dining and drinking outdoors, soaking up the welcome sunshine, and street food markets have found a permanent home in Leeds.
Marques have appeared in some of the city's most beautiful grounds, revitalising historical tourist spots, and Grade II listed pubs have been able to set up extra seating without the usual restrictions.
And this has only been possible because of temporary measures on permitted development rights (PDRs) to allow venues to make use of outdoor spaces during the pandemic.
The once long and drawn-out process to allow businesses to spill onto pavements and terraces has been made more accessible, and there are now plans to make these temporary measures permanent.
The public are being asked to give their views on two proposed reforms - the first to permanently allow local councils to hold outdoor markets for an unlimited number of days, and the second to allow moveable structures such as marquees and additional seating in the grounds of listed buildings.
It's vital these plans are put in motion.
Businesses aren't out of the woods yet. There's a long climb ahead to return pre-Covid revenue and sadly, not all of them have made it out of the pandemic.
The transformation of outdoor spaces in Leeds has been one positive to come out of the pandemic, sitting among a seemingly never-ending list of negatives.
And if these reforms are passed through, the boost to the hospitality and tourism sectors in Leeds will enable that transformation to continue for many summers to come.
Long may al fresco continue.
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