Sitting outdoors at a café or restaurant this winter promises to be a chilly affair after the Brussels government announced on Wednesday plans to ban patio heaters in its 19 municipalities.
Some bars and restaurants have already opted not to turn on their outdoor patio heaters due to the rising cost of energy. To avoid feuds between competing establishments, the Brussels government wants to harmonise regulations.
"At the beginning of September, the Brussels government adopted additional measures to contribute to European commitments to reduce consumption and act on these high energy prices," said Brussels energy minister Alain Maron (Ecolo).
"In addition to the measures used by public authorities, the government has officially launched consultations on sobriety measures aimed at saving energy. In this context, the environmental and energy impact of heated terraces is a serious concern. To this end, one measure proposed by the government is to ban the use of heaters in public spaces."
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The move will alleviate the environmental impact of outdoor patio heaters and also reduce energy consumption during a crisis. For café and restaurant managers, it is an opportunity to cut costs.
"All parties concerned take energy issues seriously," Maron stressed. "You have to admit: a lot of businesses are facing unsustainable energy bills."
The Brussels government will first hold a consultation between Brupartners (Economic and Social Council of the Brussels-Capital Region) and Horeca (the organisation that represents the restaurant sector). Regional authorities will then make a final decision on whether to ban terrace heaters as one of their energy-saving measures.
In France, heaters have been banned this year due so cafe and restaurant owners are installing outdoor partitions to block the wind and prevent heat loss. Providing blankets for customers sitting outside is another option.
Despite the potential environmental and energy-saving benefits of a ban, Brussels MP Geoffroy Coomans de Brachène (MR) expressed some surprise at the decision: "Over the past two years, we have promoted terraces, notably heated terraces, to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. With another form of crisis, we are now calling for the opposite," he told RTBF.
"To this end, sometimes considerable investments were made by the hotel and catering industry. We must support them, understand their grievances and not push them down even more at a time when the crisis affects them."