A MOVE has been approved to help cafes, bars and restaurants hit by coronavirus survive the coming months by fast-tracking free applications to serve food and drinks outside.

It has been forecast that Darlington will see dozens of al fresco drinking and dining options, many of them in the town centre, launched in the coming weeks.

Darlington Borough Council’s licensing committee chairman Councillor Brian Jones said the authority wanted to help as many businesses that had been affected by lockdown and the subsequent social distancing rules as it could.

The council is aiming to encourage the consumption of food and drink outdoors, where the process of making an application for a licence has been slimlined, enabling businesses to get a licence to place temporary furniture, such as tables and chairs outside of cafes, bars and restaurants quickly.

Catalin Cirimpei, of Influence Cafe, on Skinnergate, said the authority’s decision was “very helpful” as he would not have to pay fees for eight outside tables. However, Mr Cirimpei said before social distancing rules he had 12 tables outside.

He said: “We have had a lot of support from the council. The footfall is not the same and the trading is not the same, so not having to pay for the fees is good.”

The authority’s decision to grant free applications came ahead of the launch of the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which will run on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week until August 31.

The government will pay for half of the bill, excluding alcoholic drinks and up to £10 per head, to boost the hospitality industry post-coronavirus lockdown.

A meeting of the authority heard while the authority was not about to promote beer gardens, pavement cafes attracted families and created a vibrancy for town centres provided they were well operated.

Councillors were told the hospitality industry had been particularly badly affected by the pandemic and was in need of stimulation to attract customers, but was also facing reduced capacity.

Members heard restaurants and cafes were facing increased costs by having to employ extra staff, and protective equipment, at a time when there were fewer town centre visitors. To overcome this, the government has passed legislation to enable al fresco dining space applications to be rapidly considered and set a cap of £100 for applications.

Recently, Darlington council had charged firms £200 for applications for ten or more covers, but members agreed there should be no charges for the coming year to encourage businesses whose futures remained uncertain. The meeting was told the borough had nine pavement cafes, but early indications were that there will be at least 18 premises not currently licensed that will apply to take advantage of the scheme which will be in place until September next year.