A High Court ruling over two Greggs stores could see even the smallest cafés and bakeries having to install customer toilet facilities.
Until now, only establishments with 10 or more seats are required to provide facilities, but the latest round in a battle between Hull City Council and Newcastle City Council, the Department of Innovation & Skills and Greggs could change all of this.
The dispute started when Hull City Council took exception to advice from Newcastle City Council relating to toilet provision in food outlets. Approved by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ (BIS) Better Regulation Delivery Office, the advice said that toilets did not need to be provided where “simple takeaway food was sold”, even when some seating was provided for customers who wanted to eat on site.
Hull City Council disagreed with the advice, focusing its complaint on two Greggs shops in Hull. It said that allowing them not to provide toilet facilities gave them an “unlawful and unfair” commercial advantage.
At a High Court hearing in Leeds, Mr Justice Kerr ruled in favour of Hull City Council and against lawyers representing Newcastle City Council, the BIS and Greggs, saying its claim was “well-founded” and that the advice of Newcastle City Council was flawed.
Both of the Hull Greggs in question have fewer than 10 seats each, meaning that the case could set a precedent over the provision of toilets which could affect up to 21,500 takeaways and 5,230 coffee shops in the UK. However, the debate is not over yet, with a BIS spokesman saying: “We have lodged an appeal.”
Mr Justice Kerr said: “It is obvious that if a person sits down in a Greggs outlet at the seats provided and proceeds to eat a pasty and a fizzy drink just purchased at the counter for that purpose, that is a normal use of the premises. The fact that most customers take away their purchases, and those who stay do not normally stay long, does not change that.
“The construction which looks to the predominant type of trade (sit-down or takeaway) is obviously wrong. It would mean that a cafe with, say, 25 tables, which also does a roaring takeaway trade, doing more business for off-site than on-site consumption, could not be required to install toilets for those brave enough to sit down for a drink.”