Claims plan to ban cars from back street is bid to create ‘Westfield Soho’
Concern proposal to stop vehicles using Beak Street will push the traffic elsewhere
25 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Soho Society chairman Tim Lord: ‘We are pretty firmly against it’
BANNING cars from a Soho back street under new plans drawn up by Westminster Council have been criticised amid claims the scheme would push traffic elsewhere.
Soho Society chairman Tim Lord warned that blocking vehicles from using Beak Street appeared to be pandering to business interests, with little advantages for residents.
He said: “There is scepticism and grave concerns. We are pretty firmly against it. We would agree with anything that removes traffic, but this sounds an odd proposal.”
The society consulted its members and two-thirds are against the plan, with primary reasons being how traffic will be displaced.
They claim surrounding streets would take on the burden if the key east-west route through Soho was cut off.
Under the plan, which is being put out to public consultation, there would be limited access for delivery vehicles before 11am each day.
Mr Lord told the Extra that they had asked developers Shaftesbury, who own large tracts of land in Beak Street, and the council three times for access to the traffic modelling, but despite the plan being considered for the past 12 months, no information had been made available and they had to use the Freedom of Information Act to read the findings.
He said: “We have one of the reports but we still need more information. Their estimate of the closure of Beak Street means traffic will go elsewhere, and 60 per cent of traffic on Beak Street use it as a rat-run. But we have no way of knowing how they reached that figure.”
If there was no reduction in traffic numbers, it would force cars into Denham Street, Great Marlborough Street and Golden Square and therefore not solve the problem, he said.
“This a conservation area and it has a narrow street structure,” he said. “We do not think it is historically appropriate. This is just about footfall. They simply want more and more people to walk past their shops. It appears they want the area to become ‘Westfield’ Soho.”
He also cited a previous plan to permanently pedestrianise Old Compton Street and how it led to a rise in anti-social behaviour while traffic-free periods were tested.
He said: “If they simply want to turn Soho into a tourist and entertainment place, then we need to ask if that is right.”
Property owner Shaftesbury, who first suggested the scheme, said: “We are supportive of Westminster City Council’s aspiration to improve Beak Street, which is currently used as a traffic rat-run.
“We understand the city council will be launching a public consultation on its proposals to reduce traffic on the street and we look forward to working with the council on any scheme that they decide to take forward.”
Traffic chief, Conservative councillor Tim Mitchell added: “The part-pedestrianisation of Beak Street is an early proposal, one of a number of ideas to make Soho’s streets cleaner, greener and safer.
“This is still in the very early planning stages and any clear proposals will be put out for public consultation, where we welcome feedback from residents and business owners.”