The ‘streatery’ licence ought simply to cease
13 August, 2021
• THE results of the Camden Council consultation about the extension of the Belsize streatery licence have been reported in a manner worthy of Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus.
A 91.5 per cent vote in favour, we are told. What we are not told, of course, is that barely half the people consulted bothered to reply.
Leaving aside the matter of what question the council asked, my question would be: do the people consulted know that they are, in fact, giving their support to something that is a lot murkier and wider in ambition than simply the organisation of al fresco dining in Belsize village?
The streatery is a protean creature. Sometimes it speaks of itself as the keeper of the soul and purse of Belsize village.
Other times it seems to merge with the Belsize Village Business Association with – one might almost say – global ambitions of leading a universal movement to revive high streets, champion a universal living wage, organise private security patrols to rid the city of spray-can vandals, criminals, and low-life recidivists who persist in smoking.
It has numerous social media voices where it loudly vaunts its achievements and protests that it is motivated entirely by love – the “products of our love,” as it proclaims, a love which it hopes will be “contagious” (sic).
The streatery is not a business. It is a street trader’s licence, authorising the licensee to organise the deployment of tables and chairs along pavements and in what we call our village square, Belsize Terrace; its purpose to help restaurants struggling with the loss of interior space due to Covid-19 social-distancing measures.
The licence says nothing about uprooting and repositioning the benches that the council’s own urban designers installed some 20 years ago; nothing about creating a cramped little corral of oversized planters that, in effect, excludes the public; nothing about installing CCTV to survey this space; nothing about attacking anyone daring to object to the manner of the management of the streatery.
Logic would suggest that with the lifting of these restrictions this special licence allowing private business to occupy a public space ought simply to cease.
Of about 30 businesses / shops on Belsize Lane and Terrace, 10 are restaurant / cafés. They are the main beneficiaries.
I can’t see that the streatery has in any way helped the gym, solicitor, vet, dry cleaners, laundrette; not to mention the unseen therapists, writers, designers, artists, who work and live here, unlike the restaurateurs, shopkeepers and the organisers themselves, who boast endlessly about their dedication to the community they love.
Like Brexit the case for the streatery is built on falsehoods, half-truths, and exaggerations. Its success largely due, as its organisers openly state with uncharacteristic perspicacity, to social media.
I have lived within 100 yards of the village square for 40 years. I have never noticed the “historic mounds of rubbish” restricting access, the rampant criminal activity, the almost terminal economic decline of the village, from which the streatery in its various manifestations has rescued us.
The Trumpian message is clear: say it often enough and you can turn falsehood into truth.
TIM SALMON, NW3