Westminster City Council has scrapped plans to charge hospitality firms thousands of pounds to keep trading outside through the coming months.
Earlier today City A.M. revealed that the Council was set to charge businesses £7 per square metre of outside space, per day, once the existing ‘al fresco’ scheme comes to an end on October 31.
The plans were met with uproar from restaurants and bars, which have already been hammered by the enhanced coronavirus restrictions forced on the capital.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the plans, telling City A.M. that the “excessive charges” were “short-sighted and counter-productive”.
He urged the council to axe the scheme in order to “keep the centre of London vibrant and open throughout this challenging time.”
The Council u-turned on the decision this evening. Council leader, Rachael Robathan said:
“We recognise that restaurants are facing desperate times – that’s why we introduced the summer al fresco dining scheme and have extended it to the winter.
“In view of additional central government funding, announced on Thursday, we are able to cover costs of the winter scheme so that restaurants and bars can serve customers without any extra cost being charged by the council.”
Some businesses said that they could face a bill of between £50- to £100,000 a year under the plans. Anxious owners labelled the scheme a “kick in the guts”.
The fees were revealed in a document called “Supporting Westminster’s hospitality sector during the winter”, a copy of which City A.M. has seen.
Westminster Council, which covers Soho and much of the surrounding area, allowed ‘al fresco’ seating over the summer, with some streets closed to allow small restaurants to flow out into the streets.
Bars and restaurants in the pedestrianised areas were asked to contribute to security costs, which come to an end on 31 October.
The Council – who issued the new guidance on October 20 – acknowledge in the document that “there may be… a period of time between the ending of the temporary al fresco summer dining schemes at the end of October and installation of new ‘winter appropriate’ ones,” leaving businesses in limbo.