CONTINENTAL-STYLE café culture could be heading to Morpeth, with plans to liven up the Market Place.
National chain Pizza Express is preparing to move into the Aruba premises and it is believed that part of its plan is to have an outdoor dining area.
Northumberland County Council is likely to look favourably on the bid as it is keen to encourage more pavement cafés throughout the county and two businesses in Alnwick have already secured the necessary licences.
Council Network Manager Dick Philips said: “Throughout Northumberland we are allowing people to use the highway for these business ventures.
“Right now we are suffering from a lot of problems of people just setting tables and chairs out willy-nilly, along with A-boards. We are trying to make sure these people are responsible by licensing them.
“There would be a properly marked out area that would be cordoned off for the street café. It would be managing the area, rather than having tables and chairs just thrown out anywhere on the pavement and causing serious problems.
“We are in favour of street cafés and people using the highway as much as possible.”
Various conditions could be applied to the licence to state the layout and size of the outdoor facilities, the type of furniture to be used and opening hours, which could see the Market Place cleared by 6pm.
And Pizza Express would not be permitted to use the area during market days or local events.
A maximum of six outdoor tables is envisaged.
Mr Philips said there could be a number of benefits from the venture and he encouraged other local businesses to apply for licenses of their own.
“We are all in favour of this,” he said.
“We hope it will bring tourism to the area and make the place look pleasant. Businesses would have much more interest in keeping the place clean and tidy, and perhaps they could put out flower boxes around their areas.
“From our point of view it is a good idea. We will be meeting with anyone who is interested in doing this and we are happy to discuss it with them.”
He added: “These street cafés aren’t going to cover the Market Place. There would still be room for other events and activities.
“We are looking at using the area as much as possible, but still leaving it as a public open space that can be enjoyed by everyone.”
Members of Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee have given a cautious welcome to the plans, but say firm controls must be in place and enforced.
Coun David Parker said: “I’m not against this on the pavement, but the Market Place is a particular physical setting that is used for other purposes already. To start with there are two days a week when the café could not use it at all.
“Having listened to what has been said about licensing and enforcement, and the fact that the licence is only for a year, I think I will support it.”
Coun Nic Best, who is Chairman of the Morpeth Markets Partnership, said the group would object to the proposal if the outdoor café was set up on market days, but if this could be prevented under the terms of the licence there should not be a problem.
He said: “The Markets Partnership is quite clear that there should be no café at all when there is a market on. It wouldn’t want a pavement café to be running at the same time as a market for health and safety reasons and there would be concern over the practicality.
“The conditions being talked about, however, would mean that we wouldn’t have a pavement café on a Wednesday or when there is a farmers’ market on Saturdays.”
He added that he was concerned that event organisers would have to give two months’ notice if they wanted the café to be closed during their sessions, saying a shorter notice period would be better.
And he was keen to ensure that local businesses are aware of the county council’s support for such ventures as a nearby restaurant had applied for a licence from the former borough council and was put off.
“I can see it working, particularly if it is finished by 6pm. However, I’m disappointed that a national company is planning this and not one of the local businesses, especially when a local business was refused permission in the past.
“It is a pity they weren’t aware of the council’s policy of promoting pavement cafés,” he said.
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade spokesman Charles Robinson said the group had no specific policies on the issue, but would probably welcome the initiative as long as it is adequately controlled.
“I think if this doesn’t impinge on any events, it is something we would welcome as trying to create a café-style culture,” he said.
“The weather is always going to be a big issue for something like this, but I think it is something members would support provided it is properly done and properly policed and that the place is kept clean and tidy.”
No one from Pizza Express was available for comment.