Soho residents revolt over plans for al-fresco drinking and dining

Locals living in Soho are revolting over plans for al-fresco drinking and dining, as they claim they will be forced to move out due to noise when Covid rules ease on Monday.  

Westminster City Council is allowing pubs and restaurants to open tables on the pavement so venues can start operating again under the relaxed coronavirus restrictions.

From April 12, firms can welcome customers back for outdoor service and businesses have been boosted by local authority plans to convert 60 streets into al-fresco dining hubs. 

The scheme proved hugely popular when it was first introduced last summer, but furious residents now say the council has failed to consult them about its return, and the noise from outdoor eating could drive them out of the area. 

The al-fresco drinking and dining scheme in Soho proved hugely popular last summer

The al-fresco drinking and dining scheme in Soho proved hugely popular last summer

The al-fresco drinking and dining scheme in Soho proved hugely popular last summer 

How lockdown rules will be relaxed from April 12 

  • All non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen, as will hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms.
  • Pubs, restaurants and cafes can reopen for outdoor service, but will have to wait until at least May 17 to serve customers indoors.
  • Mass testing to be available, with everyone urged to take two tests per week.
  • New care home rules will allow residents to have two visitors, rather than just one.
  • Self-catering accommodation, including campsites, can reopen, but hotels and B&Bs must remain closed until at least May 17.
  • Shops will be allowed to stay open until 10pm, six days a week, in a bid to reduce crowding.
  • The maximum number of people allowed to attend weddings and wakes will rise from six to 15.
  • Public buildings can reopen, as can outdoor attractions such as theme parks and zoos.
  • Controversial hospitality rules such as the 10pm curfew and requirement to buy a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol will be dropped.
  • Clothes shops will be allowed to reopen their changing rooms for the first time in more than a year.
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The Soho Society – an influential community group – has held a survey of locals who have blasted the council for its handling of the situation.

The society’s Tim Lord said: ‘We understood that there would not be any extension of the scheme without the council getting in contact directly.

‘The council says it doesn’t want it to turn Soho into a transient community, but a lot of its decisions are completely in contrast to that.’

Almost a third of residents have said they will leave the neighbourhood – some of which have lived there for more than 20 years.

More than half have noise and access issues, which children reportedly being kept up late at night.

And 55 per cent think the scheme should be abandoned due to Covid risks.

But the council says it is essential to keep hospitality businesses afloat. 

It means modest West End pubs without beer gardens will still be able to open at the earliest possible point by applying for these pavement licences.

Restaurants being allowed to make use of the street proved a lifeline to hundreds of businesses last year amid tight restrictions on indoor gatherings. 

Of Westminster’s 3,700 restaurants and bars, 560 took advantage of the scheme – which overlapped with Eat Out To Help Out – and the council is encouraging more to take up the offer. 

Cllr Rachael Robathan, Westminster City Council leader, said: ‘Hospitality is a major employer in Westminster supporting around 80,000 jobs and a big part of the reason people visit the West End.

‘But with shutters down and doors barred, this sector has been amongst the hardest hit during lockdown.

‘We know how hard this has been, which is why we are relaunching our al-fresco scheme as soon as the easing of restrictions allows help to struggling businesses as much as we can.

‘We have more pubs, restaurants and bars than any other local authority area – around 3,700 – and we want to see them welcoming back customers in a safe way.

Diners sitting on tables outside a restaurant in Soho on a balmy evening in November last year

Diners sitting on tables outside a restaurant in Soho on a balmy evening in November last year

Diners sitting on tables outside a restaurant in Soho on a balmy evening in November last year

Tim Lord, chair of the Soho Society, an influential community group which has surveyed locals over the decision

Tim Lord, chair of the Soho Society, an influential community group which has surveyed locals over the decision

Tim Lord, chair of the Soho Society, an influential community group which has surveyed locals over the decision

‘The majority of our residents have supported these schemes in the past and we hope they will understand the need to continue the temporary measures until the end of September.

‘We stand ready to back our hospitality trade and continue to fight for the financial support they need to survive this period.’

Council chiefs’ plan for al-fresco dining to spring up right across the borough, including vibrant social hubs such as Soho’s Dean Street, Old Compton Street and Greek Street.

City inspectors will be deployed to police social distancing, the local authority said. 

It also said it would ‘consider the possibility of what a longer-term al fresco provision could look like’ amid calls for the changes to be made permanent by businesses.

It comes after the council recently unveiled a bumper blueprint to coax tourists back to the West End as lockdown is relaxed.

A £150million regeneration of Oxford Street featured an 80ft artificial mound on Marble Arch for tourists to enjoy sweeping views of the capital. 

West End businesses are desperate to start welcoming back customers after months of lockdown, starving them of footfall. 

As well as outdoor hospitality, non-essential shops, gyms and hairdressers will reopen on Monday, before the next stage of lockdown easing on May 17 will allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to serve customers indoors once again. 

Link hienalouca.com

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