Clarence Park deckchairs banned following council concerns

Youngsters enjoy the deckchairs in Clarence Park which Verdi's provided free of charge.

Youngsters enjoy the deckchairs in Clarence Park which Verdi's provided free of charge. - Credit: Submitted

Oversized deckchairs which have proved a summer smash for users of a St Albans park have been pulled from use by council bosses..

The giant seats were introduced by Italian restaurant and café Verdi's at Clarence Park during the heart of the pandemic back in summer 2020.

After the eatery was given the go-ahead to sell takeaway alcohol in the park, it then provided free picnic tables and deckchairs for park users to enjoy even if they weren't using the restaurant's services.

Owner Terry Di Francesco said many people discovered Clarence Park for the first time during the initial lockdown and continued visiting afterwards: "We see many more families than we used to," he told the Herts Ad last year. "The free deckchairs we provide have proved hugely popular - and the park looks amazing with the coloured chairs scattered about on the grass as far as the eye can see."

But the deckchairs have now been pulled from use by St Albans district council, which says their location breached the restaurant's licence, and there was not sufficient due diligence over related health and safety. Warnings had been given to Verdi's in 2020 and 2021 over their continued use, but the deckchairs returned again this summer.

Cllr Josie Madoc, chair of the Clarence Park Consultative Forum, said it was a complicated issue.

She explained: "Verdi's have a certain set area outside their restaurant which is their licensed area and where they are permitted to put tables and chairs. The deckchairs were placed far and wide outside of this area. This means it's a breach of their license by quite a long way. 

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"This is a problem because of a couple of reasons. Firstly, the customer perception and understanding is that the deckchairs belong to Verdi's, as that is where the bulk of them originate from... and therefore that they should buy something from Verdi's to be able to sit in them.

"Secondly, anything outside of their licensed area is not their legal responsibility. The chairs therefore become the responsibility of the council and the park, however, their health and safety cannot be verified.

"Anything, as you can imagine, that is in the park has to be carefully checked and maintained on a regular basis and if these chairs have not been checked then the risk is that there will be a nasty accident involving little fingers, as we all know deckchairs can be a bit vicious.

"We'd like to know we are comfortable with the quality and safety of them before allowing them into the wider park, or that Verdi's take full responsibility for them but keep them within their licensed area."

But Cllr Madoc also offered hope for their return: "However, having said all that, it's not insurmountable to get past these issues. If Verdi's wanted to discuss with us the possibility of doing this with proper process and due diligence, it's a definite possibility that we might see the deckchairs come back.

"It just needs to be done the right way to ensure the license is not being breached, and that more importantly, we are happy with the safety of them.

"There are polar views from many camps on the deckchairs, but to ensure that the right outcome is arrived at, and everyone has been satisfied of the fairest way to do it, once this request has been put in place it will come to the Consultative Forum, and potentially then to one of the council committees for discussion and decision. It's not something that is simply in the hands of any restaurant to implement themselves."

However, Charlotte Chesrye from Verdi's refutes the claims made by SADC.

"We are absolutely not in breach of our licence or lease and as such Cllr Madoc is misinformed

"There is nothing in our lease or license that states we cannot lend anyone a chair for use in the park - what we can’t do is extend our tables and chairs for serving outside our allocated park seating area. Furthermore no formal approach has been made to us requesting us to stop for that reason.

"With regards to health and safety there has been absolutely no reference to this until they instructed us to stop - and then only after the event - so no discussion, no negotiation and certainly no solution offered.

"The chairs are covered by our own Public Liability insurance in any event but even that hasn’t been explored, and again no approach has been made to us requesting we stop providing the chairs for that reason.

"One solution might be that we rent them for £1 and donate the money to charity - this would mean the hirer then has the overall responsibility/liability for the chair."

A petition has been set up in support of maintaining the deckchairs - see change.org/p/clarence-park-deck-chairs to sign.