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Now it’s like Soho-on-Sea, warns priest

Al fresco dining ‘a good idea’ but needs better regulation, says cleric

02 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Barriers prevent vehicles entering Frith Street in Soho

A PARISH priest has warned against “blinkered euphoria” over the West End’s al fresco dining street closures programme that he said was causing chaos for residents and in need of better regulation.

Rev Simon Buckley, rector of St Anne’s church, said Soho had been transformed into a “seaside town” since the measures were introduced in July with dangerous overcrowding and “screaming and hollering” until 2am.

New rules allowing standing drinking in the street had become the “scourge of the police” and had transformed the Old Compton Street crossroads into “the dance floor of a nightclub”.

Dozens of roads have been closed to traffic to allow businesses struggling for survival after the lockdown to trade outdoors.

Rev Buckley said: “The al fresco dining proposal was a good idea that many residents in Soho supported. But we were led to believe that the council would manage, supervise and regulate it. There’s been little evidence of that from what I and others have seen.

“While some establishments have been exemplary in their use of the outdoor space, others have not and crammed as many people together in pens, filling the street, as they poss­ibly could.”

Rev Simon Buckley

Rev Buckley added that the Soho Society, which has criticised the scheme, was right “not to join in the blinkered euphoria with which some have hailed the closure of streets in Soho”

The West End’s night-life industry has been devastated by the pandemic. But it is facing a new challenge after the government imposed a 10pm curfew.

Venue managers have warned they are being unfairly targeted and held responsible for rocketing infection rates.

Soho’s Jazz After Dark boss, Sam Shaker, said the trouble on the streets was being caused by people queueing up at the off-licences to buy alcohol to drink after the pubs shut. He said: “Statistics show that pubs and restaurants caused less than three per cent of infections in the week before curfew. With the curfew we are losing 75 per cent of our income.”

The al fresco dining scheme, which was originally supposed to end in September, has been extended until the end of October.

Westminster Council said it was working closely with the community “to ensure the hos­pitality ind­ustry remains good neighbours” and leader Cllr Rachael Rob­athan added: “This popular scheme has been a lifeline for the hospitality sector. We recognise the importance of our business community as being key to the successful economic life of the city.

“That’s why we have decided to allow the extension of the schemes that we have in place to support al fresco hospitality for all businesses that wish to continue using them until the end of October.”

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