Red tape wrangle over outdoor seating area threatens future of historic Edinburgh Old Town pub

A furious pub boss has blasted council officials he says have cost him thousands of pounds in a wrangle over outdoor seating – sparked by a single killjoy complaint.

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Daniel McNally – who leases The Scotsman’s Lounge with his brother Finbarr – has been left counting the cost after he was ordered to dismantle a seating area he believed had been given the green light by council officials.

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Workmen spent days on and off-site constructing and installing a raised wooden platform on Cockburn Street with seven tables and seating for 28 customers.

Mr McNally, already £90,000 in debt due to the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, was ordered to tear it down on Friday – just 72 hours before he expected to be serving up drinks to customers when easing measures come into force on Monday.

As he prepared to open the doors for the first time in months, Mr McNally was told by an Edinburgh City Council official that there had been a single objection to the wooden structure and that it would need to come down.

Mr McNally said: “ln February we put in for permission from licensing for a raised platform, a 13m by 2.5m structure. We were asked for length and width but not height. Cockburn Street is on a slope so has to be 1m high to offer a level platform and be safe.

“The official permit came through on April 1 with permission to keep it in place until September 30. But today a council official came out and said they had received a complaint and it had to come down.

The platform at the centre of the red tape wrangle

“This platform is the only way we are going to be able to survive – this was to be our lifeline. Now we have been told to take it down less than 72 hours before we were due to open. It was our lifeline after lockdown. This could signal the end of our business."

He fumed: “It has been a shambles. The whole thing is a nonsense. We have wasted thousands of pounds and now we have to start again.

"The council now want us to build five pods instead of a single structure which has already cost me more than £4,500.

"We are not putting a bar outside and cannot serve customers inside because of how restricted the Lounge in terms of internal space

Future under threat: The Scotsman Lounge on Cockburn Street

"It was a tables and chair license and it was all in the application form. The council rung me in March and asked a whole lot of questions. Their only stipulation was that we were not to drill into the cobbles, which we have not done.

"I placed a notice about the application in the front window and no one objected until today. Other businesses nearby have been up talking to our workmen asking for similar structures - one has told me they’ve already applied for one.

"We have been furloughed for the last year and are ninety thousand pounds in debt with staff furloughed. We took on staff for the reopening who lost their jobs elsewhere. This was their lifesaver too.”

Mr McNally, who took over the lease of The Scotsman’s Lounge with his brother in 2016, said the wrangle had caused “nothing but stress”, adding: “I like a lot of what the council is doing. George Street looks great, it has a real European feel to it. We were trying to do the same here and have been left with no option but to postpone opening. I have had to tell the staff I took on that we cannot open yet. It’s a proper blow to a 110 year old pub. It will probably be another full week before we can open now.”

Out of pocket: Daniel McNally

A council spokesperson said: “As we ease out of lockdown, we’re acutely aware of the need to be as flexible as possible with businesses across the city to allow them to recover, working with them to provide additional space for tables and chairs wherever possible.

“We’ve provided guidance which includes making it clear that any structures adjacent to businesses would need to be approved to make sure they are safe.

“We weren’t made aware of some aspects of this structure and it would need a building warrant to remain in place. We’re working urgently with the owner to help them find a solution going forward to make sure they can safely reopen as early as possible.”

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