Private pub: Public space

POSTED ON April 23, 2021

As the numbers of outdoor licensed areas grow rapidly the Cockburn highlights some issues

Across Edinburgh, joiners are busy erecting outdoor seating areas and external beer gardens as part of the Edinburgh Council’s business recovery initiative for the hospitality sector.

Table licenses and open beer gardens are a bit of a mixed blessing in city.  They can add vibrancy and vitality to city centre streets with a real and positive “continental” feel valued by residents and visitors alike.  However, if poorly located or managed, they can also be areas of considerable strife bringing drinkers and diners into direct conflict with residents and other businesses who are nearby and have their amenity compromised.

The list of applications to the City of Edinburgh Council for occasional licenses, to sell food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages outdoors, grows steadily by the day and are to be found right across the city (see the map below). Local residents and neighbours, who may miss the small posters advertising these applications, have a very short window to send their comments on them to

The Cockburn is very conscious of the need to support local business recovery as we emerge from Covid lockdown. Our own Cockburn “asks” for prospective candidates in the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections emphasises this.  We also support a residential city centre and the right of residents across the city to the peaceful enjoyment of their neighbourhoods and safe access to public spaces of all types.

The Council has streamlined the application process for using outdoor spaces for tables and chairs and introduced a quicker and clearer four step process.  This includes the requirement to speak to neighbours, asking if they are content with the proposals, as well requiring conformity to statutory permissions – for example, a tables and chairs permit, an occasional licence to sell alcohol, permission to use the road or planning permission.

On George Street, areas of the carriageway have been repurposed as private pub and restaurant premises. Here, street-side parking is being used for outdoor seating space, especially on the north side which gets the full sun.  This has been a feature of the street during Festival times, and the proposed George Street transformation project, which we support, will make this a more permanent feature.


However, sites notices indicate that consent for table licenses has been given “Until Further Notice”.  Such ill-defined parameters for occasional use cannot be right.  It creates uncertainty .  The Cockburn believes that all occasional licenses or variances granted under the business recovery programme must be time-limited and subject to open review.

In addition, the narrow pavements in parts of the city where there are licensed establishments could create additional conflicts if the very limited pavement space is given over to restrictive private uses, as was recently highlighted at the top of Broughton Street (see below). Before a license is granted, we ask the Council to take very careful cognisance of active travel requirements in these neighbourhoods.

Whilst supporting the recovery of the hospitality in the city, it must not come at the price of poor planning or laissez-faire deregulation of important processes aimed at ensuring public safety and well-being.  On Cockburn Street, a new structure akin to a mini-Christmas Market space deck has been erected on the historic street. Where one appears others are sure to follow as other pubs, cafes and restaurants on the street look on:

  (Images credit: Dr Ross Green)

Two issues arise:

  1. Even if temporary, we suggest that these are formal structures that require planning consent;
  2. In the interests of public safety, they need to be properly built, therefore suggesting that a Building Warrant is required.

Okay, this might be seen as an inconvenience, but the Council’s own policies require conformity to statutory permissions.  We have seen no applications registered so far and it is essential that we avoid the fiasco that Underbelly created with the Christmas Market space deck.

The loss of parking spaces requires careful consideration, as people still live here, and businesses need to operate.  Although we acknowledge and agree with the need to conceptually shift traffic corridors to public spaces, ad hoc arrangements with no design control will not serve the city well and will undermine the essential qualities of the World Heritage Site.

Finally, the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 makes licensed premises owners and operators responsible for the behaviour of their clients whilst on the premises and as they ingress and egress from it. It also established five key objectives in licensing –

  • preventing crime and disorder;
  • securing public safety;
  • preventing public nuisance;
  • protecting and improving public health;
  • protecting children from harm.

The police have a duty to report anti-social behaviour that has been recorded in or “in the vicinity” of the licensed premises to the licensing board within 21 days, so residents really need to dial 101 and report what they regard as a “public nuisance” again and again for this to have an effect on problem mitigation.  Do we really want to over-stretch our already over-stretched police force when effective management by public authorities could deal with many potential problems up front?  In this regard, we question the 10pm license limit.

As we introduce more and more drinking into open spaces across the city, a Wild West approach under the cover of Covid recovery will not serve the city well.

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