“Tables and chairs on the highway”

The phrase “Tables and chairs on the highway” has a uniformly accepted meaning in all of England and Wales. That meaning is legalistic, deriving, we are told, from part VIIA, section 115 (A to K) of the Highways Act 1980, a chunk of parliamentary prose that has the title Provision of Amenities on Certain Highways. In describing those amenities, though, it makes no mention – none at all – of chairs or tables or any other kind of common furniture. The phrase “Tables and chairs on the highway” appears nowhere – nowhere – in Highways Act 1980.

Nevertheless, many regional and local authorities proclaim that part VIIA, section 115 (A to K) of the Highways Act 1980 – devoid though it is of tables and chairs – gives them authority to regulate all aspects of civic life that are covered by the phrase “Tables and chairs on the highway”.

Regulate it they do.

Chelmsford borough council publishes a document called Guidelines for Placing Tables and Chairs on the Highway under Section 115 Part VIIA of the Highways Act 1980….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

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