By Alistair Grant

PLANS to pedestrianise streets and pave the way for a new “street cafe culture” of outdoor drinking and dining are gaining momentum as Scotland looks to ease the lockdown.

Council chiefs in Glasgow said they want to see “new and innovative ideas” and will look seriously at proposals.

Willie Macleod, the executive director in Scotland of UK Hospitality, said moves to extend outdoor areas would be a “welcome start” and warned businesses are “past the critical point”.

It comes after Nicola Sturgeon unveiled a four-stage plan for easing coronavirus restrictions. 

Phase two, which could come into force by late June, would see pubs and restaurants allowed to open outdoor spaces.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats previously proposed amending emergency coronavirus laws to help pave the way for more cafes, restaurants and bars to use closed roads.

This would allow them to place tables and chairs in the road, provided it is done with the local authority’s consent and doesn’t cause an obstruction to disabled people. 

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Going forward it seems inevitable that cafes, restaurants and bars will need to operate at a much reduced capacity to enable social distancing.

“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.

“The Scottish Government have accepted the principles behind these proposals and agreed to work with us to ensure that businesses and councils have the confidence to work together and plan for the creation of a new street cafe culture.”

Architect John MacLeod, owner of the Crabshakk restaurant in Finnieston, has already suggested constructing a £1 million glass house over a section of Argyle Street in Glasgow’s west end to allow adjacent bars and restaurants to re-open under social distancing measures.

And Edinburgh has long had ambitions to pedestrianise parts of the city centre.

Chris McEleny, leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, said temporary pedestrianisation may be the solution to get small businesses back up and running. 

He called for the creation of a new task force to look at outdoor spaces for bars and restaurants.

Mr Macleod said Scottish weather is unpredictable but people can cope with umbrellas and outdoor heaters and such arrangements have worked well in winter.

“I wouldn’t put the weather as some major issue,” he said. “But the weather would be an intermittent interference in daily operations, if you like.”

He said arrangements would need to be put in place for staff working inside, while toilets would also be an issue. Pubs and restaurants would need two or three weeks to prepare for opening.

He added: “I think pedestrianising streets is another issue altogether, and provided that it was existing operators and existing licensees that were allowed to operate in these areas, and not pop-up restaurants and bars that suddenly appear out of the woodwork, I think that could be made to work and could be welcome.”

He added: “I’m hearing stories of pubs that will not reopen. I’m hearing stories of restaurants that won’t reopen because they’ve just run out of cash.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “We are acutely aware of the challenges facing restaurants, bars and other venues and we want to provide the trade with whatever assistance we can as we emerge from lockdown.

“We want to see new and innovative ideas that are intended to help businesses in the city and we will look seriously at proposals that are put before us.

“The city has also brought together an economic recovery group, which includes strong representation from Glasgow’s business community.”

Elsewhere, Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to be cautious when considering whether to visit loved ones as the lockdown is eased.

Under the Scottish Government’s new route map, people will be able to meet up with others from another household outdoors potentially as early as this Thursday.

The First Minister confirmed there is no limit on how far people can travel to visit friends and family.

But she urged everyone to “use judgement” when considering such trips.