COVID-19: outdoor events guidance

There has been some uncertainty about the extent to which outdoor events are currently permitted to take place. This note brings together relevant guidance on outdoor events and provides an overview of the current position.


Background

We know that there has been some uncertainty about the extent to which outdoor events, particularly large events, are currently permitted to take place, with both councils and business organisations raising this issue with the LGA. We also know of concerns among councils at the prospect of festival type or very large events being organised in their areas. These notes are intended to bring together relevant guidance on this, given the different regimes that apply and sectors that are affected, and set out what we understand to be Government’s overall approach towards events. Please note that this sets out the current position as it applies to parts of the country not impacted by specific local regulations and is subject to change depending on the prevalence of the virus in a particular area.

Overall position

We have liaised with the Business for Energy, Innovation and Skills (BEIS) who have confirmed that the Government’s intention is that outdoor events should go ahead where they can do so safely – recognising that some planned easing of the lockdown (eg, weddings etc) were paused on 1 August. Many outdoor events are already permitted provided they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of transmission in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance (see guidance published for performing arts and sports and recreation). Outdoor events, that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations, and public bodies, may have more than 30 attendees provided (i) they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and (ii) taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of viral transmission, taking into account that risk assessment, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance. It is illegal for other outdoor events to have more than 30 people attending unless one of the exceptions set out in the relevant regulations applies.

Event organisers should always speak to local authorities as soon as possible to discuss plans for outdoor events and how they can be managed safely. Through this process, councils can advise on safe working practices, support events to comply with relevant requirements and help address any concerns early on and advise on any local restrictions. 

Most councils will have a Safety Advisory Group (SAG) which brings together representatives from the LA, emergency services and other relevant bodies who can help advise event organisers on the safety of very large events taking place in their areas. Given the current impact of COVID-19, it will be helpful to include environmental health services in these discussions. This is an important step especially for larger events.

COVID-19 secure guidelines

With the exceptions of large sporting events, current government guidelines allow for outdoor events that are organised by businesses, charitable organisations, and public bodies to take place provided they have carried out a thorough risk assessment and taken all reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of viral transmission, taking into account that risk assessment, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidance.

This includes ensuring that social distancing between different households or support bubbles, and between those working at events and customers is maintained. The Events Industry Forum has published some useful guidance on outdoor events which has been developed with input from DCMS.

Although the COVID-19 Secure guidance itself is not legally enforceable, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) provides a framework for considering the steps businesses should take to ensure they are operating in a way that is safe and can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During an event as enforcing authorities under the HSWA councils have powers to act if there are concerns about the extent to which an event is compliant with the guidance on being COVID-19 secure. The approach to doing so will mirror how businesses manage other health and safety risks in the workplace usually starting with advice and guidance to support compliance, but could also mean a fine, prohibition notice or prosecution.  

Licensing Act 2003

Large outdoor events may apply foror have an existing licence under the Licensing Act 2003. In the absence of a health objective councils’ powers to refuse or revoke a premises licence on the basis of concerns about COVID-19 may be limited, as the refusal would need to relate to one of the Act’s licensing objectives: 

  • the prevention of crime and disorder
  • public safety
  • the prevention of public nuisance and
  • the protection of children from harm.

In some cases, event organisers have applied for Temporary Event Notices (TENs). While this gives councils the opportunity to review an application for an event, the short timescales present a challenge for authorities. Environmental Health and the police can object to a TEN, although as set out above, objections would need to relate to the four licensing objectives.

Situations where councils may be able to refuse permission/request cancellation of an event

There are limited circumstances where a council can clearly refuse permission for or request organisers to cancel an event.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 give county, unitary and metropolitan councils powers to restrict access to, or close, individual premises or public outdoor places as well as prohibit certain events from taking place where there is a serious or imminent threat of transmission of coronavirus, for example where there is a local spike and a large event going ahead would risk further transmission of the virus. Regulations set out three conditions which need to be met before a direction can be issued. These are:

  • That giving a direction responds to a serious and imminent threat to public health,
  • That the direction is necessary for the purpose of preventing, protecting against, controlling or providing a public health response to the incidence or spread of infection by coronavirus in the local authority’s area, and
  • That the prohibitions, requirements or restrictions imposed by the direction are a proportionate means of achieving that purpose.

The Secretary of State needs to be notified of any directions made by councils and they  must be reviewed every seven days. There are also rights of appeal to a Magistrates’ Court and the Secretary of State also has power to intervene, both to require an authority to make a direction but also to require the authority to revoke a direction.

Directions should therefore only be issued where councils can successfully demonstrate it has met relevant criteria in order to resist any challenges. When considering whether this power could be applied in relation to a planned event, councils will clearly need to discuss this with local public health leads, and potentially the police.

Where the council is the landowner, they could refuse permission to allow the use of the land for an event without the need to issue a direction.  

Beyond this, however, it seems broadly that the intention is that outdoor events should take place where it is safe to do so with the focus on these being supported to operate safely, rather than blocked.