Hackney cafe culture under threat from council

Bar Kick, Shoreditch pic: Sophie Zeldin O'Neill

Eateries in Hackney have reported that police have asked them to remove chairs and tables from their outdoor seating areas.

It comes just months after the council made major changes to their fees regulations for external tables, resulting in fears from locals that the burgeoning café culture of the borough is under threat.

“In one case, police told a chic hair salon to take its chairs inside… Betty’s Coffee said council official had ordered the pavement cleared or a permit bought,” reported local blog ‘Loving Dalston’.

This follows the July fee changes, which replaced the flat rate fee with a ‘sliding scale’ fee dependent on the amount of pavement space occupied.

A six-month permit for outdoor seating now costs up to £592, depending on the size of the seating area.

When asked why the changes were necessary, a council spokesperson said: “We have a responsibility to manage and licence all Shop Front Trading activities, which includes chairs and tables on the pavement.

“The police may occasionally ask for table and chairs to be moved inside in the public interest – for example, there may be times at night when it is not appropriate to have people using table and chairs outside shops.”

Staff at local restaurants are concerned about what they have heard.

Chloe Stubbings, 28, a waitress at Juno on Shoreditch High Street said: “We’ve had to get rid of one lot of seating recently. The design of the interior means it’s quite dark inside the premises so people don’t know we’re here unless they see our outdoor seating.”

Apostrophe, a patisserie located on Great Eastern Street, is also concerned about the council’s action.

Sylia, manager of Apostrophe said: “We are part of a chain but there are only a few of us and business is certainly boosted by having space where people can take their coffee outside.

“It’s not just the smokers that go outside. People enjoy their drinks outside all year round.”

Juno and Apostrophe are just two businesses to have adopted the Parisian-style pavement culture to attract business to the area and aid the transformation of Hackney’s  ‘greasy spoon’ identity into a hipster hotspot over recent years.

In their plans for forthcoming changes to Dalston, Hackney Council insisted “the wealth of small-scale independent retailers is considered intrinsic to the community’s sense of identity.”

Bar Kick has managed to remain popular despite the economic climate and will pay the new rates for external seating.

Manuel Mariguetti, 25, a barman, said: “Our outdoor area is packed in summer, and it stays busy throughout winter.

“I think it’s worth paying the extra money if it means we can retain this popular part of our business.”

Staff at Toto’s, a busy lunchtime venue for nearby workers, disagree. Ozzie Yelken, 26, a senior waiter said: “We’re already paying rent. Why should we pay extra?”

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