Hitchin’s Market Place could become outdoor dining area for summer months

Market Place, Hitchin could soon become an outdoor eating area. Picture: DANNY LOO

Market Place, Hitchin could soon become an outdoor eating area. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Plans are under way to transform Hitchin’s market square into an outdoor dining area for the summer.

Hitchin’s Market Place could soon host up to five restaurants and eateries, in a bid to encourage customers back and build confidence again.

There will be chairs and tables, separated by a 2m social distance, and waiters on hand to deliver food and drink from their premises to customers.

If all goes to plan, the outdoor dining area is expected to first open on Monday, July 13 – with a rolling rota in place to allow for variety throughout the summer.

Tom Hardy, Hitchin town centre manager, has been central in the planning of the ‘Eat Alfresco’ project.

He has been speaking with Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, and North Hertfordshire District Council to ensure the plan goes ahead smoothly.

Tom said: “It’s so exciting. Personally, I would love to be able to sit in the market square and enjoy an evening meal.

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“The project is to encourage social distancing, and is a good and safe solution for business without the necessary space to reopen with coronavirus safety measures.

“Although this will be a trial, we are also working with the MP to fast track road closures to allow restaurants to safely and responsibly put chairs and tables out in other streets in the town centre.”

These businesses operating on Market Place will still need to comply with standard Environmental Health requirements – such as personal hygiene practices, cleaning, temperature control and more.

In ‘normal’ times, you would need planning permission from the local council to place tables, chairs and temporary furniture on pavements in England.

However, it is believed the government will tweak planning laws to enable more food businesses to use outdoor spaces as eating areas, and planning permission will be advisory rather than mandatory.

Cllr Paul Clark, NHDC’s executive member for planning and transport, said: “We are working closely with the town centre manager to assess how we manage applications for temporary street café licenses in order to help local businesses reopen.”

Restaurants, cafes and eateries in Hitchin’s town centre are encouraged to apply for their spot in the outdoor dining area by emailing marketing@hitchinherts.com.