IT IS now easier for Winchester restaurants to offer al-fresco dining.

The Business and Planning Act 2020 from Central Government has been activated – making it quicker and cheaper to obtain a pavement licence.

For those seeking council permission for outdoor furniture, it will take 14 days and no more than £100 to apply. Before, it would take around 35 days and cost £225.

Officer Briony Appletree told a licensing committee on Tuesday: "This is a more cost-effective way of licensing outdoor seating areas. It will be very helpful for restaurants wanting to offer well-ventilated, socially distanced seating areas.

"This will allow many eateries to make room for just as many customers as they could pre-coronavirus."

Cllr Russell Gordon-Smith asked: "We have been talking about extra lighting. But, in relation to our drive to become carbon neutral, what I also want to know is will these restaurants be allowed to install space heaters in the colder months?"

Ms Appletree said that additional items can be included on the application forms and will be reviewed by the council.

The policy introduces local conditions which will be applied to all licences.

An example is that restaurants will be responsible for their own furniture – it must not be blocking a highway and customers must not move the tables to a position that will do so.

But Cllr David McLean asked how this will be enforced.

He said: "In Bishop's Waltham, the pavements are not much wider than medieval. Customers often have to pull the tables out of the way for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

"I just don't see how we are going to enforce this. People in Britain are strange and just accept these things, but no – they need enforcing."

Ms Appletree said the council relies on reports from the public due to "limited resources and officers" in the licensing department.

Application fees for the licences are capped at a maximum of £100.

This will fully cover the cost of administrating any application, including the consultation and determination periods.

But this fee will not necessarily cover costs incurred for any enforcement action taken; for example, sending notices and conducting compliance checks.

Cllr Lucille Thompson, leader of the council, said: “We are doing all we can to support our local businesses and we welcome this new legislation which will make it easier and quicker for cafés, restaurants and pubs to have outdoor seating. We hope to see more businesses making use of Pavement Licences to help them welcome more customers and maintain social distancing.”

Any licence granted or deemed granted will be valid for a period of 12 months, or until September 30 2021 depending on which comes sooner.