Hospitality industry businesses that would like to avail of a Pavement Licence for their Cafe, bar or Restaurant to help them deal with social distancing regulations as part of the Coronavirus crisis, will not now have to pay any charge for the first 12 Months.

That decision was made at yesterdays special Strategy, Policy and Resources committee meeting and it goes to July's full council meeting for ratification. The proposal to waive the fee was brought forward by Slieve Gullion Councillor, Pete Byrne and it received cross party support.

Byrne said: “I am delighted my proposal to waive the fee for applications for pavement licences for 12 months has been unanimously accepted at Strategy, Policy & Resources Committee. This will be a welcome boost to businesses in my hometown of Crossmaglen and across the Newry Mourne and Down District.”

“On top of inviting expressions of interest from businesses to use pavement space outside their premises (which falls under Dept for Infrastructure), I have proposed that businesses that are near to council owned public sites (squares etc) can apply for a licence on such sites and these applications will be assessed in parallel to council officers compiling a list of said sites.”

“This proposal was to ensure businesses have all the support needed to avail of outdoor space over the summer period, while not allowing the issue to get bogged down in paperwork. I send my thanks to all parties who got behind this proposal.”

Already ten businesses have expressed  an interest in obtaining the licence and one application has been submitted.

At the meeting Conor Mallon, Director Enterprise Regeneration and Tourism said "Council have applied to the Department for Communities who have released a Covid revitalisation fund of £860K for the district and it's hoped that fund would be released in July to be used to provide some new permanent infrastructure along our public realm and our council owned assets to try and provide that infrastructure for outdoor activities, and to try and provide space for people to gather outdoors in a socially distanced manner."

Cllr McMurray spoke of the need to be mindful of people with mobility difficulties and those who are visually impaired when some of these structures are being put in place.

Newry City Cllr Michael Savage said "I'd like to see a period of work over the coming days and weeks, hand's on with the hospitality sector, not just within the cafes but also the bars who are going to be opening up with some degree of trepidation. I know some of the bars in Newry for example, there are low ceilings, there's not a lot of space. Some have the luxury of beer gardens and I think we should be looking to develop things through ERT over the coming weeks whereby we can allow for open air sales of alcohol where it is safer, and social distancing is easier and that we work with the hospitality and licence trade to see if we can add further dimensions to their ability to claw back a lot of lost revenue.

"We have a domestic tourism market that we need to tap into here over the coming weeks. I think this is a very positive step. I've seen some of the proposals coming from the cafes in particular. They are very professionally done, they've taken this seriously and I commend Conor on the work that's been done. We've got to send a very clear message to businesses. We are here to support you. These are unprecedented times. We need to take unprecedented steps and do it on a large scale and roll it out in a way that we show that we have an intent to work with businesses, to help them grow their businesses again and claw back a lot of very badly lost revenue and help secure the most vulnerable jobs in business at the moment and that's within the hospitality sector"

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