Barking shisha bar was wrongly shut down for Covid breaches, owner claims
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The owner of a Barking restaurant and shisha bar shut down for breaking Covid rules claims the council wrongly believed he was not allowed to open.
Barking and Dagenham Council enforcement officers visited Sweet London in Longbridge Road for “a routine inspection” last month and found about 25 to 30 customers gathered in “a wooden structure" sharing shisha and food.
A rear extension to the restaurant was recently built for use as a shisha bar and smoking area after planning permission was granted last year.
The town hall says social distancing was not being enforced and venues are banned from providing smoking equipment, such as shisha pipes, for use on the premises under current Covid rules.
On April 27, four days after the visit, the council issued a direction order to close the business for two weeks from that date.
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But this is subject to continual review and the venue may be allowed to open sooner if certain requirements are met.
When contacted by the Post, venue owner Rraman Gjana did not deny shisha was being smoked but insisted the venue was complying with social distancing rules.
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However, he claimed the reason he was ordered to close was because the space was wrongly deemed to not meet a ventilation requirement to be considered an outdoors area.
“They’ve picked on us saying that it’s not 50pc open and we shouldn’t have been open, when the truth is on (the planning permission),” Mr Gjana said.
A council spokesperson told the Post the notice was issued for "serving food in a substantially enclosed area" as well as the service of shisha and of communal food, rather than at individual tables with no more than six people.
Met Police officers also attended during the council officers' visit on April 23.
The council says it was advised by police that a £10,000 fixed penalty notice was served on that date, but Mr Gjana strongly denied this.
Met Police has not responded to requests to clarify.
The council’s operational director for enforcement and community safety Andy Opie said: “It’s a shame that this business has decided to go against the rules, especially as they can now operate with a bit more leniency.
“As restrictions ease, we will continue to work with closely with local businesses to make sure they’re following the rules and operating safely by providing advice and guidance.
“But if they don’t work with us, we will take the necessary enforcement action.”