Sidmouth café owner left ‘dumbfounded’ after losing outdoor seating permit

Owners of a family-run café in the heart of Sidmouth have expressed their frustration at losing permission for an outdoor seating area, after it was allowed for three months over the summer.

Hannah Corfield 

'Street café' connected to The Dairy Shop

‘Street café’ connected to The Dairy Shop

The Dairy Shop on Church Street was issued a temporary pavement license by Devon County Council back in July, as a Covid-19 measure introduced to support local businesses.

“It saved the business; without it the café would not have survived,” Owner John Hammond explained.

“Our business model centres on sharing tables, with limited space available in the café. Obviously, with one person to each table we’ve reached full capacity with about three people. It’s just not sustainable.

“The extra seating outside got us through a busy summer; meaning our staff could come back full-time and didn’t have to rely on the furlough scheme.

“All things considered, it has been a good summer.”

Until September 10, when John received a letter from Devon County Council stating that he would need to reapply for a license to continue with the set up of three tables and six chairs on the pavement opposite The Dairy Shop.

“Initially, the letter seemed to imply that there would be no issue reapplying for a license. But when I did, my application to extend the permit was rejected,” John continued.

“With the arrangement having worked perfectly fine for the the past three months, I don’t understand why there is an issue with it now. We feel quite dumbfounded by the whole situation.”

Sidmouth Town Council has shown full support to The Diary Shop, requesting that ‘common sense prevail’ and the permit be re-granted to enable the business to continue operating.

Chair Ian Barlow commented: “The reasons for refusing to renew the license appear unsubstantiated and rather petty in my opinion.

“To say that Church Street is a ‘busy road’ is ridiculous. The café opposite The Dairy Shop has an outdoor seating area with no problems.”

Cabinet Member for Highways Management, who also lives in Sidmouth, Stuart Hughes said: “A permit to have tables and chairs on the pavement where they were previously located is not viable and will not be granted on the grounds of posing a risk to pedestrians.

“There is a way forward though, and that would be for Sidmouth Town Council to apply for the road closure to include Chapel Street, which runs next to The Dairy Shop.

“This would make a suitable space for an outdoor seating area. It might take some time – probably until January to secure – but it would be a lasting solution.”

When asked why the outdoor seating area couldn’t remain as it was, he responded: “There were objections made by members of the public who were unhappy about how social distancing was being adhered to and restrictions to pavement access.

“Devon County Council granted the initial three-month permit, designed to help businesses through the pandemic, with the proviso that it could be renewed if no one objected. Once complaints have been made, they have to be investigated and in this case it has been deemed unsafe.”