http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/topst ... 4070861.jp
RESTAURANTS and cafes in the Capital are being forced to scrap outdoor seating areas after being hit with soaring licence costs.
The city council's new charging system has led to up to eight-fold price increases.
Independent traders said they cannot afford to put tables and chairs outside, when a licence that was less than £200 last year can now cost up to £1600.
The city council today said it was forced to respond to the huge demand for outdoor drinking and dining in the wake of the smoking ban, which has led to higher administration and enforcement costs. But restaurateurs attacked the local authority for wanting to encourage a continental-style atmosphere in the city, while at the same time penalising businesses.
The new pricing system replaces a confusing set-up based on the time taken to assess an application. Now, traders are charged £65 for each square metre of outdoor space, or £85 in the world heritage site.
Campbell Barrie, owner of the Two Thin Laddies cafe in Tollcross, said his six-month licence for four sets of tables and chairs cost £110 last year, but has soared to £780 this year.
"Given the recent increases in fuel and utility charges, food stocks and almost every related business cost, these are hard times for small independent cafes like mine – a fact which clearly does not concern this council," he said.
"When the figure of £780 was quoted, my jaw hit the ground. I can't think of anything else in the world which has risen in price by nearly 700 per cent in just one year. The council's expressed aim is to adopt a more cosmopolitan approach to eating and drinking outside, but then they do stuff to us like this.
"As an independently run business, with nearby competition from multinational and national chains far more able, perhaps, to absorb such an increase, there must surely be a fairer system pro-rated to income and profit."
The council has agreed to extend the operating hours of outdoor seating areas from 9pm until 11pm, however, this includes an additional one-off charge of £150 per hour per year. Tony Crolla, who runs Vittoria on Leith Walk, said his 12-month licence has risen from £175 to £1600.
"This is just about revenue earning," he said. "The licence for our restaurant on George IV Bridge is due for renewal this week, but we're not going to bother."
Green councillor Alison Johnstone, who visited the Two Thin Laddies to discuss the issue, said: "This isn't Starbucks we are talking about – this is an independent local business, which just can't afford this sort of increase."
Nigel Duncan, vice-chairman of Edinburgh's Federation of Small Businesses, also said the prices are too high.
But a council spokeswoman said: "The popularity of outdoor seating has grown immensely over the past two years. The council has had to put provisions in place to make sure that the system works not only for businesses, but for the public too. There is now a clear, unambiguous system in place which sets out pricing, procedures for applications, complaints and appeals."
"Businesses are now in a position to decide how much space they want to occupy for commercial purposes depending on the available space."