TO bolster the city's pretensions to having a Mediterranean cafe culture, the civic authorities changed the rules to encourage al fresco wining and dining.

Now, though, Scotland’s largest city has abandoned its laissez-faire policy in a move which has prompted court action against council chiefs.

Recently, a number of high-profile eateries in Glasgow city centre have had applications to serve wines and beers to customers dining outside refused by the licensing board, largely on the grounds that it will lead to public nuisance.

In just one meeting of the board in early autumn, Yo! Sushi was denied permission to serve alcohol to patrons eating outside the House of Fraser on Buchanan Street, while new Italian restaurant Barolo was refused an outside licence for some tables on Gordon Street, where TGI Friday’s and the Bier Halle Republic already enjoy such privileges.

The award-winning Indian restaurant, The Dhabba, in the Merchant City, was also refused an outside licence.

Unhappy that a satisfactory reason was not provided for the refusal, The Dhabba has now appealed the decision to the sheriff court.

There has also been some unhappiness within the retail sector that attempts by the trade to generate some vibrancy in the city centre in the midst of an unprecedented economic slump has been hindered by the board’s decisions.

During the previous administration, the chairman of the board, Gordon MacDiarmid, cut through much of the red tape and planning obstacles to make more outside dining areas possible.

But while some applications have still been approved, the inconsistency has been picked up by the trade as a clear indication that a cafe culture is not being actively promoted.

Many of those venues with outside licences have carried over the privilege from the previous licensing laws.

Barolo owner Mario Gizzi, who heads the Di Maggio chain of restaurants, said his application had been approved by the council’s planning department, meaning even now he can serve food on the street, only for the board to take a different view.

He added: “There seems to be a totally different view and approach within the board to serving alcoholic refreshments with outside dining now, and it seems we’re going back to the dark old draconian days rather than doing what we can to promote a cafe culture in 21st century Glasgow.

“People are more widely travelled these days. They have different expectations. When we get whatever little sun we do they want to eat and drink outside like people do in other European cities.”

The Barolo application even received support from neighbouring businesses, including city centre institution Greaves Sports, which wrote to the board stating: “It is important to note that we deem this a positive move not just for our business but for the street as a whole both in terms of commerce and image.

“This will undoubtedly attract more much-needed footfall to the street and due to the calibre of restaurant involved will help further improve the appeal of Gordon Street as a quality shopping and dining destination.”

A city council spokesman said the authority could not discuss The Dhabba case while it is subject to an appeal to the sheriff court. He added: “Every case is decided upon its individual merits and against the policies of the board. Outside drinking areas can be an attractive feature and they can add to the general vibrancy of the city.

“But we also fully appreciate the wish to have these areas balanced against the needs of residents and communities. The licensing objective of preventing public nuisance is something the board must take into account when making its decisions.”

A spokesman for The Dhabba said: “As we’ve a court hearing scheduled for the end of the year it would be inappropriate to comment.”