The Irish Times view on outdoor dining: think differently

Financial assistance will go some way to support businesses devastated by the pandemic, but invention is as important as investment

Pedestrianised Princes Street in Cork: the Government is to invest €17 million in supports to help create “European-style”. Photograph: Clare Keogh

Pedestrianised Princes Street in Cork: the Government is to invest €17 million in supports to help create “European-style”. Photograph: Clare Keogh

 

While many businesses are suffering deeply as a result of lockdown, the hospitality sector is surely amongst the hardest hit. It needs help like never before and it is in all our interests to ensure help is on hand. Not least because hospitality, in its many forms, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs and injects close to €10 billion into local economies each year.

The news that the Government is to invest €17 million in supports to help create “European-style” outdoor dining spaces ahead of a crucial – although uncertain – summer season is therefore welcome. However, something more is required. Under the new Outdoor Dining Enhancement Scheme, businesses can avail of grants of up to €4,000 for permanent weatherproofing including parasols, electric heaters, wind breakers and outdoor seating. Funding of up to €200,000 is on the table for local authorities to spend on weatherproofing. The scheme aims “to transform appropriate outdoor spaces within our cities and towns [INTO]welcoming, vibrant places that will help support economic recovery”.

The financial assistance will go some way to support businesses devastated by the pandemic. But invention is as important as investment. Restaurants, bars and cafes must be encouraged to think differently and to use the footpaths near their premises, even if on-street parking spaces are sacrificed as a result. Streets in the commercial centre of every town and city must be pedestrianised and casual trading encouraged.

In short, there needs to be less heed paid to the needs of cars and more to those who access our lived spaces on foot. We know there is an appetite for pedestrianisation. It was demonstrated in a trial run by Dublin City Council involving roads off Grafton Street last summer. All told, 96 per cent of those who took part in the trial said it improved their experience while a strong majority favoured pedestrianising streets permanently. This is the way forward. The pandemic has given us a chance to re-imagine our urban spaces. It must not be squandered.

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