IT'S emerged that Wexford County Council had given written permission for a controversial new outdoor seating area on South Main Street over a year ago, despite now informing the owners that they have 48 hours to scale it down or remove it.
The new enclosed space outside Stable Diet sparked some controversy when it was erected, with many taking to social media to express annoyance that it had “taken over the entire footpath”.
While seating outside the café previously had largely passed without concern, the addition of large windbreakers to enclose the space has completely blocked off the footpath making it impossible for wheelchair users or parents with buggies to pass without moving onto or crossing the road.
One annoyed pedestrian said: “While I am all on for outdoor dining etc, why is the whole path now blocked and forcing people to walk on the road?”
However, now the management of Stable Diet have revealed that Wexford County Council had not only approved the seating area, but had also approved an outdoor dining funding application to cover some of the costs involved.
Having seen a delay in the delivery of the screens, the café were told as recently as a week before they were installed that they had permission, which is why it came as a shock when the local authority sent a notice to remove the screens within 48 hours.
“Last year we were given permission for the screens and were told by the council that we could come out right to the drain at the edge of the footpath," a spokesperson for the café said. “The council had said that they were going to take out two parking spaces to allow a space for pedestrians to pass safely.
"When the screens arrived, we actually contacted the council about putting in the bollards to block off the spaces and allow people to pass safely. We were actually very concerned about it ourselves, but the council told us they wouldn’t be able to do anything until the following Tuesday. So in the meantime, we put out cones ourselves. We were very concerned about pedestrians having to go out on the road.”
A similar setup had been approved further up South Main Street at Crust Pizzeria which saw spaces removed and a walkway created around an outdoor dining area on the footpath. Questions are now being asked around a lack of firm and transparent policy from Wexford County Council around outdoor dining areas.
Meanwhile, Stable Diet feel they've been left in limbo.
"It was suggested that we remove one panel,” the spokesperson said. “But realistically, that won't work at all. Either it all stays or it all goes. But it cost us quite a bit of money to do this and we're a small business that cannot afford that kind of expense.”
Meanwhile, local Fianna Fáil Minister James Browne described the setup as “totally unacceptable” while Minister of State for Disabilities agreed with her government colleague stating: “This action speaks volumes and does not reflect well on Wexford County Council and needs to be addressed TODAY! Public space is for all, not for the few. I am no engineer, but the term universal design and inclusion should assist all planning decisions.”
Having been approached by members of the public who expressed concerns and spoken with the owners of Stable Diet, Cllr George Lawlor conceded that there had been a communication breakdown between the local authority and the business.
"In this case it seems there was a breakdown of communication somewhere along the line," he said. “It was also a timing issue in terms of concessions that were granted during Covid that are no longer applicable.
"Stable Diet is a long-standing business with a terrific reputation and we will have to come to some kind of amicable arrangement until the end of the year. But I don’t think the current situation can remain.”