CAFE culture is set to become a reality in Hull as a result of ambitious plans to give one of its best-known waterfront streets a more Continental feel.
For years, city fathers have tried to encourage the development of pavement cafes but they have never taken off – largely because of the weather.
That could now be about to change as glass screens go up outside coffee houses and cafe bars on Princes Dock Street.
Owners of the venues who are paying for the extras – parasols, plants and new tables and chairs – themselves are planning an Easter launch and hope it will bring in an influx of visitors, attracted as much by the culture on offer in the Old Town, as the shopping.
Paul Gregory, of Leonardo’s bistro, championed the idea of the screens after seeing them transform a cold, blustery street in Norway.
His seating area will have heaters, lighting and large fancy parasols, recalling the pavement cafes of Bruges or Brussels.
He said: “It’s a new concept, Continental in its approach, and I think the site is perfect for it. This side of town is definitely the cultural side of town and we want to maximise on leisure and culture, it’s not all about retail.
“We have a fantastic museums quarter, the Fish Trail and the Deep and they are committed to the new bridge (over the River Hull).
“This is a catalyst to other things. It’s good for the city – we need to get rid of the stereotypical reporting that Hull is a dingy horrible place full of crime.
“We need to work on that perception but it will be a long slog over many years.”
The screens, which cost £84,000, were paid for by the now-defunct Hull Forward, the owners of Princes Quay CIT, Hull Council, with the businesses paying extra for the rental of the space.
Princes Quay general manager Mike Killoran said the initiative would complement the opening of five new dining brands in the shopping centre, which open in the early summer, and will operate from noon to midnight.
He said: “Over the last year we have been working on the evening economy, with Half Past the Weekend and Festive Thursdays, so we are very pleased that this will be in operation to coincide with the new food offer in Princes Quay. It’s all part of making the Quay a distinct area for people to visit.”
Despite the city council last week agreeing cuts of £65m, which will see the city’s museums and art gallery reducing opening hours, Liberal Democrat councillor Rick Welton said visitors should not notice a difference in terms of cultural and arts events.
Despite Labour condemnation, the council is continuing to put £200,000 into the annual Freedom Festival, which attracted about 150,000 visitors to the city centre over the festival weekend in September. Figures released by Visit Hull and East Yorkshire said numbers were up 28,000, and the event generated £5.27m for the local economy.
Coun Welton, who holds the portfolio for regeneration, said: “I don’t think people will see an awful lot of difference, we have managed to protect the arts budget reasonably well.
“A lot of arts organisations will get funded – not everybody – but there’s enough money in the kitty to ensure there’s a lively cultural life.
“It’s important not only for the people of the city but to make it an attractive place for people to come in and invest.”
However, Hull North Labour MP Diana Johnson said the Lib Dems had “bizarre priorities”. She said: “While closing day centres, £200,000 is still available for the Freedom Festival. This is the same amount they wanted to waste on plastic model toads a year ago – until Labour protested.”