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Road closures as ‘al fresco revolution’ gets go-ahead

West End restaurants and cafés to get temporary permission to set up tables and chairs outdoors in bid to spark coronavirus crisis recovery for businesses

05 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot

THE council has officially approved its own plans to transform roads across the West End into outdoor dining spaces to help the struggling hospitality sector.

Restaurants and cafés are being given temporary permission to set up tables and chairs from tomorrow, Saturday July 4, when it is hoped a continental al fresco dining revolution will emerge in Soho, Chinatown, Covent Garden, and Mayfair.

Fifty roads have individual plans in place and many, including Frith Street, Old Compton Street and Dean Street, for example, will be shut until 11pm.

The plans were first published a fortnight ago and – following a blink-and-you-missed-it consultation – they were rubber-stamped by the council on Friday.

Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “It’s important to note that these plans are fluid and residents and our local business are at the heart of our approach, so we will continue to listen to feedback and will not hesitate to make changes if things are not working for everyone.

“This includes – as a last resort – withdrawing permissions if there are ongoing issues.”

Businesses have to apply for permission to move services outdoors. The council is looking at setting up “delivery hubs” to help drop-offs and waste collections. There will be no standing up and drinking in the street, unless outside a premises that is licensed for this.

On a typical day (pre-Covid-19) around a million people commute into or visit West End shops, offices, theatres, restaurants, art galleries, museums and monuments.

West End ward councillors have been inundated with concerns about marshalling, provision of public toilets, and anti-social behaviour.

Labour councillor Geoff Barraclough said the council needed to focus more on the cultural centre to maintain the West End as attractive for tourists.

He added: “These plans have been ill-thought through, with consultations of as little as 48 hours.

“A pedestrianised Soho with deregulated drinking – what could possibly go wrong?

“Let’s focus a bit less on drinking and a bit more on getting the cultural sector up and running, outdoors. Close Regent Street and put on a selection of street theatres and circus performers.

“Don’t cancel West End Live. Put it on every week. Pack our public squares and pocket parks with jazz bands and buskers. Let’s revitalise the street markets. Don’t increase the pitch prices at Berwick Street, cut them in half to attract traders and customers from all over London. Take over Hyde Park for a weekly flea ­market.”

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