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Street closures as ‘al fresco’ overhaul aims to save businesses

Labour questions choice of West End roads as recovery plan sets out to save restaurants, cafés and bars hit by lockdown

19 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Deserted streets in Soho during the coronavirus lockdown

A RADICAL overhaul of West End streets was unveiled this week to help restaurants, cafés and bars facing financial ruin from the Covid-19 lockdown.

The West End Recovery Plan will see dozens of roads in Soho, Covent Garden, Marylebone, Mayfair and Oxford Street shut to traffic so customers can sit outside.

The hope is that bringing a “continental sheen” to central London will boost trade and save businesses from going bust.

Waiters will serve alcohol to street tables but “vertical drinking” will only be allowed outside premises that already have the appropriate licences.

Customers will be allowed to go inside premises to use toilets and the council says there are no plans to provide any additional facilities.

Across Westminster, there are plans in place for 50 streets, with temporary or “timed” closures between 11am and 11pm.

Restaurant, café and pub owners are among the worst affected by the coronavirus lockdown and are among the last businesses being allowed to reopen by the government.

Despite the crisis hitting revenue, many are being pursued for rent and are threatened with going bust.

It is hoped that Westminster’s proposed “al fresco” revolution will help them to survive.

The project has been criticised for “picking winners and losers” by rand­omly leaving some streets open to cars as normal.

Residents, who will have to put up with more noise and drunken behaviour, have been given little time to respond, with a July 4 start envisaged.

Labour West End ward councillor Pancho Lewis questioned how decisions were made.

He said: “There is no explanation in the current proposals as to why some streets have been left out. Those businesses which have been left out will experience greater financial hardship, some could go bust… as the council is effectively picking ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

“It is critical that there is an explanation about the rationale behind the proposals. It’s disappointing there hasn’t been a proper consultation with all West End ward councillors.

“The first that Labour saw about the council’s plan was hours before it was launched on the website.

“It still isn’t clear how emergency vehicles will be expected to get in and out of temporary streets. Then there is the issue of how vehicles carrying elderly and disabled people will be able to get in and out – not mentioned at all in the plans.

“Improved and increased provision of public toilets is also needed. The proposals say this isn’t needed, but we disagree.”

Over the toilet concerns, the recovery document says: “The council has reviewed the government Covid guidance and can see no reason why existing toilet facilities inside licensed premises can’t be used by customers. On this basis the council does not propose to provide additional facilities at this time. However should the situation change then consideration would be given to the provision of additional temporary toilets for patrons.”

On emergency access, the council said it was up to the landowners and businesses “to put in place measures to allow continued access for emergency services as well as certain deliveries to non-hospitality businesses, which can require access at the times being proposed for closures”.

It added the council “will look sympathetically on applications for tables and chairs to be used outside premises”.

Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “The residents’ groups we have spoken to have been very supportive as they know this is a temporary measure for the benefit of all of Westminster.

“The West End in particular is a unique global draw, and I am confident we can give it, and our ­other famous locations, a continental sheen that ­visitors, residents and ­regulars alike will enjoy.”

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