In light of the restrictions on movement imposed by the Public Health (Coronavirus) (England) Regulations 2020, last week the government issued some guidance aimed primarily at owners and operators of public places in England (Coronavirus (COVID-19): Safer Public Places – Urban Centres and Green Spaces (13 May 2020)). The guidance has no legal impact and applies to England only, but nevertheless outlines how such owners and operators might keep people safe as the restrictions are relaxed and urban centres and green spaces become busier again.

The guidance defines an “urban centre” as a publicly accessible area in an urban centre, such as high streets, transport hubs and shopping areas and aims to identify the key design issues and potential temporary interventions that may be needed to allow for social distancing. A decision tree suggesting some steps that could be taken to achieve this can be found here, but the key points for consideration are utilisation of pedestrian space, movement of people, queuing requirements and traffic management.

  1. How will this guidance dovetail with existing contractual obligations?
    Each location will have its own issues to contend with depending on its location and layout.  As an example, the guidance suggests a widening of footways and removing unnecessary obstacles to maintain a safe distance. Landowners will need to be careful not to impinge on the demise of any particular tenant where their property adjoins a footway or thoroughfare and, if necessary, may need to agree a short term suspension of any exterior seating licences or similar arrangements to allow sufficient space for pedestrians to safely navigate the urban centre.

    However, as restrictions are further relaxed there will be an obvious tension between the need to accommodate pedestrians and the desire for restaurants and cafés to provide outdoor seating areas.

  2. How long are the temporary measures likely to last?
    This guidance will no doubt continue to be modified and updated as restrictions over movement are gradually relaxed, which in turn will necessitate further interventions on the part of landowners to reflect these changes. Where possible, it may be sensible to agree a timeline for a phased return to normality so that all stakeholders have some reassurance that once restrictions are lifted, the status quo will apply.

If you would like to request a copy of our full briefing note on the guidance, please contact us here.

For further information please contact:

Jeremy Walden
Jeremy Walden
Partner and head of real estate, London
+44 20 7466 2198
Kate Wilson
Kate Wilson
Professional support lawyer, real estate, London
+44 20 7466 2650