It has been one of the few positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, but as the virus recedes it appears so will Soho’s al fresco revival.
Westminster City Council has informed businesses that traffic will be re-introduced to Soho’s streets at the end of September, bringing to an end the weekend and evening pedestrian takeover of the capital’s oldest entertainment district.
The Council had already banned gazebos and umbrellas on public roads from July 19, which combined with a miserable few weeks of weather has hit Soho’s hospitality businesses hard.
Restaurants with existing licences will still be able to use pavements, but roads will be off-limits.
The streets affected by the ending of the temporary road closures include Frith St, Greek St, Dean St, Moor St and the buzzing Old Compton Street.
City A.M. understands the Council are open to the idea of extending al fresco schemes where residents are keen.
A petition organised by Westminster’s Labour Party circulated amongst residents on social media called for a re-think of the schemes due to “extreme noise” and the “repeated violaton of social distancing rules.”
Businesses had hoped that the al fresco summer would be extended into an outdoor winter, with gazebos and heaters doing the work the sun has notably failed to deliver over the last few weeks.
John James, Managing Director of Soho Estates and a member of the Soho Business Alliance said removing the area’s al fresco permissions would send the streets back into effective lockdown.
“History tells us that hospitality can be a leading force in driving economic recovery. Soho needs al fresco to survive, and we simply wouldn’t be here without it.”
John Devitt, who owns Koya restaurant on Frith Street, said the world had not returned to normal after the pandemic and that business was still to bounce back.
“We need the Council to reverse their decision and allow for some flexibility here.”
Pubs, bars and restaurants have also been hit by the ongoing ‘pingdemic’ and associated staff shortages.
Last year the Council reversed a plan to charge for pavement licences after a public outcry.
A Westminster City Council spokesperson said:
“We introduced al fresco dining after lockdown to enable residents and visitors back to enjoy safer outdoor dining and in, April and May this year, to allow businesses to reopen when indoor dining wasn’t permitted. This has been a huge success, supporting around 80,000 jobs and creating more than 16,000 additional covers across the city – the highest number in London – saving countless businesses and jobs in Soho and across the West End.
“We always said interventions such as road closures and barriers were temporary and would end on 30 September. The end of temporary measures does not mean that all al fresco dining cannot continue; businesses can still apply for pavement licenses where there is space on the footway. Additionally, we are consulting residents in six areas across the city, including Covent Garden, on whether some of the temporary measures should be transitioned into new long-term schemes. If residents approve these new schemes, they will be able to begin on 1 October. Furthermore, we are working with Soho residents and businesses to co-design a Vision for Soho that will go out to consultation towards the end of this year.”