Sadiq Khan has said he is “ready” to work with Westminster Council and local residents to maintain traffic-free roads in Soho.
Cars have been barred from much of the capital’s oldest entertainment hub since the end of the first Covid-19 lockdown, with bars and restaurants setting up on the pedestrianised streets.
But Westminster City Council has announced it is set to end the scheme on September 30, bringing to an end what many Londoners regard as one of the most positive changes to have come out of the pandemic.
The Mayor of London said “traffic-free roads have been a lifeline to hopitality businesses in Soho.
“As London recovers, I’m determined to see bars and restaurants flourish once again, and I stand ready to work with Westminster and the local community to ensure they do.”
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.
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.”