Proposed business licence charge the source of local authority debate

A draft proposal pertaining to the licencing of outdoor seating and signage was the source of much debate amongst local authority elected representatives and the council executive during the monthly meeting of Athlone Municipal District.

The detailed document, outlines the costs, to the local trading community, of installing street furniture outside their premises in compliance with the national planning and development regulations.

Upon scrutinisation, the Councillors present noted that the costs detailed, were not favourable to local traders, focusing in particular on the possible imposition of a €630 per annum street space rental charge.

The placing of a table outside of a business for public use will incur a €125 per annum cost with an application fee of €100.

Welcoming the document publication, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke noted its infinite detail but baulked at the suggestion that traders pay €630 to rent street space in front of their business.

“This figure is just too much and needs to be reviewed and clarified immediately. The Church Street traders, in particular, have endured much upheaval during the enhancement scheme and do not need this unnecessary cost coming their way,” Cllr. O’Rourke remarked.

Echoing similar sentiments, Cllr. Michael O’Brien, noted that the local authority needed to maintain a healthy relationship with local traders and not go “overboard” with charges in terms of streetscape furniture usage.

Continuing in a similar vein, Cllr. John Dolan emphasised the need for a cohesive unity of spirit between the local authority and traders.

“The Church Street traders have really stood with us during the enhancement scheme works and a charge for street space rental outside their premises is not welcome. If we opted for a nominal fee of €100 in this regard, it would be best and we can then see how such a charge is received,” Cllr. Dolan commented.

Noting that it is an ideal scenario to witness the town’s main thoroughfare evolve in a vibrant manner with the installation of on street furniture adding to the atmosphere, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, spoke of the need to recognise those in wheelchairs when utilising infrastructure to the front of businesses.

“A charge of €630 is completely exhorbitant and I would be of the opinion that a fee of €100 would be quite enough in this regard,” Cllr. Keena stated.

Responding, Barry Kehoe, Director of Services, Westmeath County Council, acknowledged the concerns of the elected representatives, but noted that the Executive was bound by the charges detailed in the Planning and Development Regulations 2001-2006.

“We are in no way, and let me make that clear, setting out to gain finance in this regard, but we have to regulate the use of public spaces. It is incumbent upon us as a local authority to apply national legislation and we simply cannot continue with a ‘free for all’ attitude,” Mr. Kehoe emphasised.

Confirming that streetscape furniture in the public domain requires payment of a licence fee, the Director of Services, noted the €630 per annum charge related in the main to a business who elected to place an advertising structure consisting of any text, symbol, emblem, model, device or logo outside of their business.

Prior to the proposed implementation of the relevant outdoor seating and signage licencing policy, the draft procedure will be subject to public consultation for a four week period, allowing business owners and operators the opportunity to examine the document and present their views to the local authority before formal finalisation.

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