Coronavirus: Outdoor seating could be trade’s greatest asset during transition

Calls for authorities to offer up public spaces and roads for the provision of café culture may happen to varying degrees of success but operators should consider their own options now, writes architect Michael Kelman

MOVING into the summer months usually brings a wave of external seating projects to us however, with the impact of COVID-19, we are looking more at robust large coverings as well to enable operators to have the comfort to deliver more structured dining covers outside as well.

Outdoor seating, as with any project, brings with it a host of processes, statutory consents, timeframes and costs. Many of you will have outdoor seating varying in type, licensed or non-licensed, covered or non-covered. I will therefore look at all aspects based on traditional procurement, notwithstanding the benefit that local or national drives to take over road space may bring.

An outdoor seating area can provide a great long-term benefit and any relaxations that may be put in place in the coming months will most likely have to be formalised in the future if they are to be retained or varied schemes will need to be agreed.


The first matter to look at is the ownership of the land or structure that you want to locate your outdoor seating area on. This normally falls into private (owned or leased by you), private (part of a mall development) or local authority in the case of the footpath. If the land is privately owned or leased by you then then planning permission is typically required for a ‘change of use’ as the proposed outdoor seating area is considered an intensification of use so comprises development. Internal mall seating does not require planning, however external seating within mall or leisure centre grounds will usually require planning permission unless there is a holistic outdoor seating strategy agreed as part of the developments original or later consent.

ADV, LBC and Building Warrants

If any part of your proposal contains corporate branding, for example on screens or umbrellas, then you will also require Express Advertisement Consent in addition to planning permission. Listed Building Consent will also be required where awnings and other items physically connected to a listed building are being proposed. Awnings were traditionally installed to protect perishable goods from the effects of sunlight and both their installation on the shopfront and design need to be carefully considered for listed buildings. For more extravagant outdoor covered solutions, such as large aluminium framed pergolas with retractable roofs, there will be a requirement for a Building Warrant as well. Whilst many of these are proprietary factory made and tested products, they still require fixings to foundation pads and or the building and calculations produced for local site and wind conditions.

Pavement Café Permit

All outdoor seating located on the public footpath will require a Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 Section 59 Pavement Café Permit. Applications require a number of supporting documents, including a location plan, seating plan, information on the tables, chairs, barriers and any umbrellas, heating or other installations along with the application fee. The requirement for planning permission in addition to the Pavement Café Permit varies between local authorities and early dialogue with your agent or the local authority will establish the position.


Those who wish to apply for or enhance their existing outdoor seating areas should take action now to benefit from mid to late summer trade. Major licence variations aside, the longest process is planning, which has a target determination timescale of eight weeks and this would be after an approximate two-week period to survey, draw up and agree a scheme. Simple applications with little to no objections decided by delegated authority can be processed faster, however it is not uncommon for more complex applications with multiple objections to take far longer. A planning application can’t be determined until the statutory consultee period of a minimum three weeks is over. Pavement Café Permits are typically determined within two to four weeks and for many operators this will be sufficient if the local authority does not require planning and there are no fixing of items to a listed building. The lead-in time for non-standard items such as umbrellas ordered to size and colour is typically three weeks at present, however expect demand to increase and impact on these delivery times. The longest timescale is typically going to be the major licence variation if the inclusion of a licensed external area on the premises layout plan results in an inconsistency with the operating plan. Of course, the area does not have to initially be licensed and your licensing solicitor will be able to advise on other options such as occasional licences whilst an application for a major variation is pending.


In addition to architectural and licensing agent fees there is a typical statutory planning change of use fee of £401 for such applications and £202 for advertisement consent applications. A simple application for an awning to an existing outdoor seating area would be in the £202 category and there is no statutory fee for listed building consent applications. Pavement café permit costs vary significantly by local authority and range from similar fees noted above to Edinburgh’s £132 per msq in the world heritage site. This is not exhaustive and there may be other small fees such as press notices for planning in some local authorities. The largest cost outlay is typically going to be the acquisition of external furniture, screening and weather protection. Every operator will have their price point on tables and chairs, however costs for high quality robust coverings and screening do tend to fall into a general range. We are seeing robust ground-fixed or weight- based umbrellas covering 20msq around £3000 each, wind screening at around £225 per linear meter and large 6m long electric awnings projecting 3m at £4000 as a guide range.

Drives to have local authorities offer up public spaces and roads for the provision of café culture may happen to varying degrees of success. Uptake may be limited to those within very close proximity and the solutions may have duration limits and require monetary contributions, we simply don’t know yet.

For most operators the solutions may have to be self-explored and there is no time like the present to consult and get your plans underway.

Michael Kelman is director at Leask Architects, Edinburgh.