EMPTY streets across Scotland could be transformed into space for cafes and bars to reopen while allowing people to socially distance, under proposed changes to emergency laws.

Nicola Sturgeon is yet to set out a timetable for allowing pubs, restaurants and cafes to reopen to the public as Scotland emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown – but will next week outline any “minor changes” that could be made. However, the First Minister stressed this would be done “on a very careful and gradual basis”.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have drawn up changes to the latest coronavirus emergency legislation that, if approved, would allow more cafes, restaurants and bars to use closed roads to enable social distancing between customers, once they are given permission to reopen.

Businesses have welcomed the principle of handing over more space to allow traders to reopen – but have warned there could be practical issues that would need to be dealt with.

The amendment would mean that it would not be an offence to place tables and chairs on the road outside a premises, provided it is done with the local council’s approval and doesn’t cause an obstruction to disabled people.

LibDems will also ask the Scottish Government to publish advice to alert businesses to these opportunities and help local councils prepare their own plans for the reopening of these businesses when the time comes.

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Once it is safe and they are permitted to reopen, it seems inevitable that cafes, restaurants and bars will need to operate at a much-reduced capacity to enable social distancing.

“Embracing a new street cafe culture with more covers outside could for many make the difference between their business being viable or not.”

He added: “Temporarily allowing these businesses to use nearby streets and other open-air spaces would help them lift the shutters when the time is right, protecting jobs and keeping people safe.

“This proposal builds on the progress that LibDems have already helped secure towards widening pavements and closing selected roads to traffic except for local residents and emergency vehicles – something councils across the country are already drawing up plans for.

“There needs to be local discretion so the plans are suitable for each area and local residents too. But I want this Bill to give businesses and councils the confidence to work together and plan for the creation of a new street cafe culture.”

Some parts of Australia have allowed restaurants and cafes to reopen, initially limited to 10 people dining inside at any one time – leading to some traders claiming it isn’t worth their while reopening.

But Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, has revealed proposals to turn space into open-air cafes and bars by allowing business owners to put their tables outdoors in a bid to comply with social distancing rules.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has supported the idea, but urged caution over a one-size-fits-all approach.

A spokesman for the FSB in Scotland said: “A move which would allow hospitality firms additional space to serve their customers, while social distancing is still in place, is something we’d like to explore.

“There would need to be a careful balance struck to ensure no inconvenience for pedestrians – including those with mobility issues – as well as other local businesses and employers. For example, this change might not make sense in an area where shops required space to allow their customers to stand outside. And all sorts of operators are likely to require ongoing vehicle access to their premises.

“It looks inevitable that this crisis is provoking a rethink about how we use our town and city centres. We’d urge local and national policymakers to make any changes in partnership with the local independents that are critically important to the success of these communities.”

The Scottish Government was approached for comment.