Bureaucrats are often said to lack common sense; some district councillors seem to have none. Inexplicably, Central and Western District Council has banned outdoor dining in public open spaces in Central and Sheung Wan. Gaia Ristorante, the Italian restaurant that is to be the ban's first casualty, is appealing against the decision. We hope councillors come to their senses and reverse their misconceived stance. If not, the council risks becoming a laughing stock. Where appropriate, alfresco dining deserves support, not obstruction, by district councils. The public is generally in favour of it. The government wants to promote it for helping bring vibrancy to neighbourhoods. The council was initially concerned about last year's row over public space outside Causeway Bay's Times Square being exploited for commercial purposes by the developer while restricting public access. This is a legitimate concern, but it does not mean all commercial activities should be banned. Gaia takes up only a small area of the public open space outside the Grand Millennium Plaza in Sheung Wan. It pays an annual fee of HK$180,000 to the Lands Department for the privilege, and its chairs and tables in the open area are available for public use when it is closed. For public relations purposes, it also sometimes gives out free drinks to passers-by. The situation is completely different from that in Times Square, whose owners had, until they were exposed, commercially exploited an open public area without paying anything to the government. The council's decision will not only stop Gaia serving diners outdoors; it will hit other popular restaurants with plans to expand into outdoor dining. Chan Hok-fung, chairman of the council's food, environment and hygiene committee which made the decision, has argued no one should be allowed to profit from public open areas. He also thinks it would be unfair to let some restaurants, but not others, operate in them. This does not make sense. Where the public interest can benefit, there is no reason not to allow commercial enterprises to operate. The issue is how to select appropriate businesses. Hong Kong has long had alfresco dinning - in the form of dai pai dong. Concerns that they are unhygienic and unsightly have led to most of them being outlawed and put out of business. What is needed is a licensing office to enforce and monitor hygiene, service and aesthetic standards for restaurants that wish to operate in public open space. The purpose should be to promote them instead of banning them.