PLANS to make Cork city centre a safer environment for members of the public and for businesses after Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease are being worked on by Cork City Council along with various stakeholders in the city centre.
New measures are expected to be introduced to ensure that social distancing can be adhered to efficiently by those coming into the city centre when restrictions begin to lift.
The plans will see some streets pedestrianised and one-way systems exercised on footpaths. Sections of bike lanes and car park spaces may also be sacrificed in order to allow businesses to spill out onto the streets in an effort to increase capacity and cater for more customers.
City officials have been surveying the city street by street in order to put plans in place on what needs to be done to ensure a safe space for people to navigate and business to operate in.
A meeting of the CORE group of stakeholders, including Cork Chamber, Cork Business Association (CBA), An Garda Síochána, Bus Éireann, as well as representatives from the city’s retail and hospitality sector is due to take place today where plans will be further discussed and decided upon.
The CBA is calling on the council to help businesses get back on their feet with some “key asks”.
President Eoin O’Sullivan said that the CBA would like to see commercial rates and water charges abolished until 2021 and a reduction on VAT rates down to 0%.
He said that the idea of expanding businesses’ seating space is “extremely positive” and something that he thinks people will be excited about.
He said that the city council has been “very proactive” in figuring out how to get this plan over the line but said that the cost of reopening businesses needs to be considered.
“There is going to be additional costs and you’ll have your same rent, and at the moment you’re still expected to pay commercial rates and expected to pay VAT so we need extra support to help these businesses get back on their feet.
“If we can work hand in hand with the city council and come up with a positive strategy to move things forward in a safe way to protect the general public as well as protecting businesses, there’s a common good there to get Cork back to business,” he said.
Businesses in the city centre have welcomed the plans and said that the measures could improve city centre trade but that support is needed from city council when businesses reopen their doors to the public.
Owners of Idaho Café on Caroline Street, Richard and Mairéad Jacob were operating on an already pedestrianised street between the hours of 11am to 5pm before the virus forced the café to temporarily close. Mr Jacob said that this created “a lovely calm, quiet and safe, child-friendly shopping environment” on both Caroline Street and Maylor Street.
He said that although the city council already licence outdoor seating, it is “very restrictive in what is allowed”.
Mr Jacob said there is a charge of €125 per outdoor table annually plus a €110 admin charge.
He said that businesses with outdoor seating areas must also indemnify the council by insuring the area themselves to cover claims of up to €13 million.
“When we reopen, we will have 60% less seating inside due to social distancing. The only way that our business will be viable is by replacing those lost seats outside.
“Outside our café is a 25-metre wide road, currently the council only allows us to use one metre of this width.
“I see no reason why we should not be able to emulate continental cafés and fill the space with tables, leaving clear space for pedestrians and emergency vehicles.” He said that all charges should be abolished until social distancing is relaxed and that city council should waive fees.
Idaho Café has been closed since mid-March and Mr Jacob hopes to reopen with six indoor tables and a further 10 outdoor tables when the sun shines.
Asian street food restaurant Koto opened on Carey’s Lane in 2017. Managing director of the restaurant, Jeffrey Safar Hamidi, said business on the pedestrian street had been “very good” before the virus forced it to temporarily close.
Mr Hamidi said that he welcomes the idea of outdoor seating as part of the city’s wider plans but said that businesses will have to be responsible and “play their part in the upkeep and maintenance of such areas.”
He said that the city council needs to support the hospitality sector in its requirement to operate differently after Covid-19.
“City Council must support this through any means necessary and with direct consultation with business owners if we want Cork city to be a vibrant place of business in the future.
“We are very lucky in Cork city that we have such a wonderful base of people supporting local business. Cork has so many wonderful family-owned and operated companies and it is so important to support them.”
He said the strong sense of comradery among businesses in the city needs to be harnessed and sustained going forward.
Publican and owner of Kinsale Gin, Ernest Cantillon owns a popular pub in Cork city that would normally attract people in search of a relaxed outdoor atmosphere.
The owner of Electric on South Mall, situated by the River Lee, said that allowing businesses to operate outdoors is something the city has been edging toward. He said that the outdoor seating area at Electric has proved successful for business and attracts a “respectable and relaxed” crowd.
He said that he is always conscious that crowds spill out onto the green next to Electric which is a public park but said that in 10 years of business he has never had any trouble due to the nature of the socialising that occurs.
“There isn’t any hassle, probably because people are spaced out, they have their own space as opposed to being on top of each other in a very busy bar which is maybe more of an intense environment.”
He said that the most challenging time for businesses will be when they first reopen as it will be difficult not to lose money for a period of time while social distancing measures remain in place. “I just don’t see a restaurant with five tables being viable so the shorter that period is the better because businesses can run out of money very easily,” he said.