Al fresco dining - but only for a fee

STEPHEN PULLINGER Plans to give Yarmouth's famous Golden Mile a continental feel are in trouble as councillors seek to charge "unrealistic" fees for those who put out tables ansd chairs to attract customers to wine and dine.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It's a seaside resort with big ambitions.

With millions of pounds pouring into Yarmouth in the last few years, there have been plenty of ideas for how it can throw off its faded past and create a bright new image that will attract more visitors.

Yarmouth's seafront has been placed at the centre of the transformation plans - including giving it more of a continental feel.

It has long been affectionately known as the Golden Mile but now irate traders fear councillors may be starting to believe the street is paved with gold.

Anyone interested in putting tables and chairs out on Yarmouth seafront, as somewhere new and exciting for customers to wine and dine, could soon be paying several thousand pounds for the al fresco privilege.

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And that is more than double the fee for a prime site in London's Covent Garden or Soho - and over 20 times the £495-a-year charge in Blackpool.

Mike Butcher, owner of the large seafront Longbar, said his intention had been to create a 100sq m pavement café, but under draft borough council guidelines that would cost him no less than £10,250 a year.

Though the fee structure of £100 per sq m for licensed premises and £30 per sq m for non-licensed premises has still to be ratified by cabinet, Yarmouth council regeneration officer David Stannard believes any change to the figures is unlikely because the prices had been carefully looked at and there had been significant input from the tourist authority.

The council has been counting on pavement cafés becoming an important feature of its revamped, continental-style seafront - but all the traders polled by the EDP said such pricing would make it a complete non-starter.

Mr Butcher said: “For £15,000 I could rent the same area of office space in Canary Wharf and this is just the pavement outside.

“We had been discussing the possibility with council officers of using part of the new pedestrianised area since 2004 and we had plans drawn up for an enclosed area with large umbrellas and heating and lighting.

“However, that would cost us £30,000 and then we would have the £10,000 on top of that, as well as the cost of the tables and chairs.”

He said that kind of investment was unrealistic for what was essentially an eight-week season dependent on the weather.

Mr Butcher added that other aspects of the council's guidelines, expected to be ratified within two weeks, compounded the difficulty for traders.

For example, they demanded good quality, non-flimsy furniture and solid barriers around pavement cafes, yet expected everything to be put out and taken in every day.

Dilip Agarwala, who runs the Atlantis fish restaurant, said: “I would have to pay £900 a year for tables and chairs and that makes it a complete non-starter. I have spoken to other traders and no one is going to pay that.”

Michael Papachristou, who runs Othello restaurant and who only opens during the evening but had been hoping to open all day if the price were right, said: “I would be faced with paying £5,000 and that's a complete, 100pc, no hoper. We would never get the revenue back.”

Anastasios Maltezos, who runs Peppinos ice cream parlour in Regent Road which is covered by the same new guidelines as the seafront, said he would face an unrealistic bill of £720 for just four tables.

Alf Robinson, who runs Hamburger, also in Regent Road, said: “The pricing has got to be fair, especially considering the short season we have.”

Bert Collins, the council's cabinet member for tourism, said the pricing had yet to be confirmed and they would be having “a good final look at everything”.

He said he had already experienced positive feedback from the seafront, with several inquiries being made about tables and chairs. Mr Collins said the guidelines' quality provisions were essential so the seafront had the right, smart image.