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The art and craft of al-fresco dining

The problem

Café culture, the Mediterranean dream of sitting outside in the sun watching the world go by, can be as appealing in Nantwich as it is in Nantes. Unfortunately, the legal pitfalls in obtaining such permission can be off-putting. With no set process for obtaining permission, operators are often left not knowing where to turn.

The law

The Highways Act 1980 put the matter in the hands of local authorities. Originally it was the county councils that dealt with any applications; but nowadays it can be the highways, planning or licensing departments that process applications. Such licences are often referred to as 'pavement licences' or 'tables and chairs licences'. To complicate matters further, additional permissions such as planning, premises licences, or even over-sailing licences may be required. For the lucky few, a small number of authorities require nothing at all.

Expert advice

The first port of call should be your council highways department. With any luck, if they don't deal with applications any more, they should be able to direct you to who does. Many council websites will provide the information, however, be prepared to spend time searching.
If a pavement licence is required, your are likely to have to provide:

  • Detailed plans of the area to be licensed, with dimensions, pavement widths and reference to street furniture (lampposts etc, bins, bus stops etc);
  • Photos of the area, proposed furniture and barriers and the furniture manufacturer specifications;
  • Copy of your public liability insurance; and
  • The appropriate fee;

Each authority has different requirements and different fees on application, so it's always worth reading them carefully. For instance, the widths of pavement required to be kept clear differs between authorities. Fees can be quite high in certain city centres.

A pavement licence is granted for a set period, usually between six months and four years and will require renewal prior to it expiring. There is no set time for councils to determine applications and it can take a very long time (3-4 months) if objections are received, so apply early to ensure your licence is in place for spring.

Other licences that can be required include:

Planning permission

This is to allow a change of use of the adopted highway. Most permissions are for a set period, usually a year or two, but can be permanent. If planning is required, it is often necessary to get it before the pavement licence. 

Premises licence variation

It is worth checking your premises licence to ensure no restrictions are on it that would prevent you using the pavement licence. Some authorities require off-sales for alcohol to be permitted before customers can take alcoholic drinks outside; others require the area to be shown on the plans. Often it is a simple minor variation to make the required change. 

Over-sailing licences

These regulate awnings or other materials overhanging the highway. Again, some authorities require them, although this is rare, as you will need to get planning permission for any awnings

To do checklist

Unless you are lucky and putting furniture on the street does not require a licence, you will need to:

  • Establish which council department deals with the process;
  • Establish which licences/ permissions will be required and fees payable;
  • Ensure that the area to be licensed leaves the specified width for pedestrians on the pavement;
  • Ensure the application has all the information required to avoid delay; and
  • Make a note of the renewal dates and ensure renewals are submitted in good time.


There are costly penalties for placing furniture on the highway without permission. Most authorities will offer a warning for setting out furniture without a licence, but prosecutions can be brought.

First published by The Caterer on 16 October 2015.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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