Aberdeen City Council committed to supporting businesses impacted by Covid-19

In recognition of the ongoing difficulties caused by Covid-19, Aberdeen City Council yesterday [Monday 12 April] agreed arrangements to support businesses reopening, with a particular emphasis on trading in outdoor spaces.

The Urgent Business Committee agreed that the Chief Officer of Capital, following consultation with the Chief Officer of Strategic Place Planning and the Chief Officer of Operations and Protective Services, will determine requests from businesses for outdoor trading.

The aim is to be able to adapt quickly to any changes in Covid restrictions so as not to delay businesses being able to open.

Any approvals granted will be on a temporary basis and subject to any such conditions as the authorising Chief Officer of Capital considers appropriate.

The authorisation by officers relates purely to the public realm, meaning any space that is free and open to everyone. However, officers will give advice on private space if asked. The Scottish Government’s advice is that council officers should not take enforcement action against privately owned business spaces.

The Urgent Business Committee noted the ongoing support provided to hospitality businesses by the local authority over the last year in line with guidance from Scottish Government in relation to temporary outdoor trading and structures.

In 2020 Aberdeen City Council publicly set out its intention to support the reopening of all shops and businesses when appropriate to do so.

In February 2021, a report was brought to the City Growth and Resources Committee to update members on Spaces for People interventions, which included an update on the cross-service officer group, set up at the start of the Covid-19 public health emergency. The group supports businesses with proposals for outdoor trading given the internal capacities of premises being reduced due to the need for physical distancing.

Officers have aimed to accommodate all requests for outdoor trading where this can be achieved safely. To date this group has dealt with over 100 proposals from businesses for outdoor trading with the majority being independent traders, cafes, restaurants and bars. The group has also prepared and kept updated an online Guide for Businesses interested in outdoor trading which, as well as signposting businesses to relevant legislation, sets out the principles where outdoor trading can be supported.

On 16 March 2021, the Scottish Government published its timetable for easing restrictions. The target date for the reopening of shops and hospitality venues is 26 April 2021, with alcohol only permitted in outdoor areas until the next expected relaxation date on 17 May 2021. Given the continued need for physical distancing, officers are aware of a significant number of businesses across the city who wish to continue utilising opportunities for temporary outdoor space when they reopen.

It is expected that these businesses will require ongoing support for a further period to assist with recovery once physical distancing restrictions are removed. Since March 2021, the Council has received more than 100 queries from the business sector seeking approval to utilise outdoor spaces for trading purposes.

Advice from the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning and Scotland’s Chief Planning Officer is that local authorities take a supportive, pragmatic and flexible approach to assisting businesses to diversify and continue to operate during the pandemic, with a key example being in respect of outdoor areas.

This has been expressed both by encouraging local authorities to temporarily relax planning controls, but also by extending the period for exemptions from building warrants (currently to 30 September 2021).

On this basis, no formal applications or fees would be requested for outdoor trading proposals, with the only exception being fees for Occasional Licenses where alcohol is to be sold within an outdoor area. The fee for this is currently £10 per application.

This pragmatic way to manage the fluid changing environment in which applications will support the provision of relatively quick responses in order to provide confidence for business investment.

Councillor Douglas Lumsden, Co-Leader of Aberdeen City Council and vice convener of Urgent Business Committee said: “We recognise the ongoing difficulties caused by Covid-19 which is why we agreed arrangements to support businesses reopening, with a particular emphasis on trading in outdoor spaces. The focus must be on a swift turn around for businesses looking to make changes to their outdoor arrangements in line with Scottish Government guidelines.”

By adopting this approach, the Council aims to continue its support for businesses over the summer months, in line with advice from the Scottish Government. This will also be in line with the Council’s Socio-Economic Rescue Plan 2020/2021, which specifically refers to supporting space for outdoor trading.

The process for determining requests from businesses for outside trading will be via a dedicated group set up to offer advice to the Chief Officer of Capital. This advice will be based on the Guidance for Business document available on the Councils website, along with the advice of officers from Environmental Health, Trading Standards, Planning, Building Standards and Road Safety. The process for applying for an Occasional Licence is managed separately through the pre-existing process but in consultation with this group.

A report will go to the next City Growth and Resources Committee with an update of the requirement or otherwise for the measures to assist businesses to remain in place.

The Scottish Government’s latest advice for the easing of restrictions is contained within its Covid-19 Timetable for Easing Restrictions (March 2021).