Businesses are losing their outdoor spaces across the city - what's going on?
This week you may have noticed an outcry on your social media feed, one which involves one of the Northern Quarter’s best outdoor terraces and the very survival of one of our city’s most innovative and interesting independent businesses.
I am of course referring to the decision of Manchester City Council to revoke the outside terrace of Alvarium on Dorsey Street, one which was granted in response to the unwavering restrictions that were thrown about by the government during the COVID pandemic.
The team at Alvarium took to Facebook to explain in more detail:
“Last year we were given the road outside Alvarium as a space for extra seating to accommodate for the COVID restrictions in place. This was pivotal for us after a catastrophic 2 years for hospitality and we were able to absorb some of the economic shock through this extension of our venue.”
When this was initially all set up in the height of the pandemic, Alvarium were told by their local MP Jon Connor Lyons that there’d be no problem obtaining the road again due to the fact that Dorsey Street is a no-through road, is lined with double yellow lines and is off a one-way street.
“We have reached out to our licensing officers who previously informed us that we were a leading example in how these outside spaces should be run and the local residents were happy with how it was managed. However, since then, @ManCityCouncil revoked the grant and our appeals have been ignored.”
The extension outside meant that during the severely damaging restrictions during the pandemic, Alvarium could survive. However, with the uncertainty regarding the terrace – plus the ending of other helpful measures set in place – “the consequences could be detrimental.”
“We are looking to our community for support in order to continue surviving and eventually start thriving again.”
Similarly, over in Ancoats, the businesses on Cutting Room Square have had their outdoor spaces reduced considerably as the through road comes back into action.
We spoke to Nam Tram, owner of NAM who explained that the extra space afforded to them on the road has been taken away, but he’s hoping that it will come back – although the Council is “taking a while, and there’s a lot of red tape to cross”.
So, what’s happening?
In response to the Alvarium case, we spoke to a Manchester City Council spokesperson who explained the situation in more detail.
Unfortunately, the emergency powers that the Council were granted to have roads closed quickly during COVID “no longer exist” and “so to officially close the road outside Alvarium and allow their outdoor seating is a much longer process which involves consultation with local residents which can take up to 18 months.”
In the wake of the huge furore over the noise complaints from a resident living above Night & Day back in November, this is certainly a hot topic and something that will likely arise again many times in the future, especially considering the historic growth and development of areas such as the Northern Quarter and Ancoats.
The redevelopment of these neighbourhoods began with the introduction of (mainly for rent) apartments, and thus are inexplicably bound to the severe regulations and licensing laws that go with that. We’ve seen what this can do with somewhere like Night & Day, and unfortunately it looks like it’ll be the same for Alvarium and businesses on Cutting Room Square.
So, what can we do?
The Council is keen to stress that the licensing team is “bound by the regulations” imposed on them by central government, so that’s likely to be the first place to start.
The government’s already lacklustre response for hospitality throughout the COVID pandemic continues – as schemes designed to help them survive are quickly taken away, even though independent businesses are still feeling the impact of the pandemic.
With the rise of VAT back to 20% in April, the cost of living crisis, itself a direct result of the pandemic, and now this – Manchester’s independent hospitality operators are increasingly finding it difficult to survive – with most of the issues only able to be rectified with a change in government policy at the top.
What can we do about it though?! First of all, you can do something directly – support your independents by popping into NAM for some food and drinks, or head to Alvarium – Lazy Tony’s have just moved in.
Unless there’s change at the very top though, our councils don’t have the power to enforce most of the things that are needed to help local businesses, so, write to your local MP to see what they can do. If they’re half-decent and actually want hospitality to survive and flourish in the city – they’ll get behind this.