Seafront traders offered al fresco deal

Yarmouth's seafront traders were last night offered a limited deal over swingeing charges being proposed for new pavement cafes - but they immediately rejected the offer as not going far enough.

Yarmouth's seafront traders were last night offered a limited deal over swingeing charges being proposed for new pavement cafés - but they immediately rejected the offer as not going far enough.

The EDP revealed earlier this week that the borough council's draft charges for bars and restaurants to offer al fresco dining on the seafront were 20 times more than cafés, bars and restaurants in Blackpool, and considerably more than prime London sites such as Covent Garden and Soho.

Facing a backlash from traders, who said the steep charges made pavement cafes on the newly revamped sea-front a non-starter, Bert Collins, the council's cabinet member for tourism, yester-day announced a limited concession.

He said: "After reviewing the situation, we are proposing a 40pc discount on the charges this summer in recognition of the fact that businesses will have to buy the tables and chairs."

The council had calculated that for businesses paying the charge for licensed premises, this would work out at £1.25 per table per day over a 20-week season.

At the end of the season they would review the situation again, determining costs incurred for administering the scheme, before fixing next year's charges.

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"What we want to avoid is any extra expense for council tax payers," he said.

The council has been counting on pavement cafés as an important feature of its new-look continental-style Golden Mile, but seafront traders polled by the EDP over the weekend were all adamant they could not afford to pay the proposed annual charges of £100 per square metre for licensed premises and £30 per sq m for unlicensed cafés.

Reacting to yesterday's concession, Mike Butcher, who runs the Longbar, said: "Even with a 40pc reduction this year, businesses are not going to go for that, and I fear the council will miss a golden opportunity."

Mr Butcher, who would have faced an annual bill of £10,000 under the original draft charges, suggested the council should offer traders two seasons rent free to help cover the cost of the high quality tables and chairs that were being demanded.

Peter Jay, who runs the Hippodrome Circus and several other businesses on the seafront, said the charges were still "way too much".

He said: "It is crackers for the council to calculate things on a 20-week season with the weather we get in this country."

Mr Jay has called a traders' meeting at the Hippodrome for 11am next Tuesday to discuss what they can do to fight the charges.

He said: "It will be a terrible shame if pavement cafés are not up and running by the start of the summer school holidays and the new expanse of pavement we have got has nothing on it."