Westminster council has published its latest plans to allow cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars in the West End to set out tables and chairs to increase trading capacity from 4 July when lockdown is eased but while social distancing continues.
The temporary proposals which will last until the end of September include widening of the pavements for outside seating, adapting car parking spaces for dining, timed street closures, and bladder control.
In Fitzrovia, the council suggests that Market Place and Great Castle Street (38 on map) could be closed to traffic to allow restaurant and bar seating in the street between 11am and 7pm.
And in Charlotte Street south of Goodge Street (55 on map) there is a plan to widen the pavement and use part of the carriageway to accommodate outside seating and tables. As the street is on the borough boundary the proposal is to be confirmed with Camden council.
Most of the published plans cover the districts of Soho and Covent Garden where the greatest concentration of food and drink venues are.
Residents like to support local businesses, and recognise that relaxation of trading arrangements is needed for them in the short term. But there is concern that these activities can lead to noise and disturbance on the street, especially in the later part of the evening. Already there have been reports from parts of the West End where pubs and bars have been bending the rules, selling alcohol out of the door and large groups have been gathering in the streets.
Conservative Westminster is leading the way in putting forward proposals for controlling outside eating and drinking but Labour Camden could follow in a similar way after being put under pressure from businesses in its part of the West End.
“This policy will apply across the city, including areas where roads remain open, provided adequate space exists on the pavement and businesses want to bring forward proposals for their premises. We will introduce a fast track process to assess applications for tables and chairs,” says Westminster council.
“Those businesses that already have outside trading with tables and chairs can operate without applying for a licence as long as waiter service is provided. It is expected that existing arrangements will have to be reviewed to ensure safe queueing and social distancing. Table service should be used to avoid social distancing being compromised and so we will look to businesses to implement this as a condition of the use of tables and chairs,” says the council.
Pubs and bars will also need to ensure they have a licence for tables and chairs if they wish to have patrons outside of their venue, and again premises may only operate with table service.
People won’t be allowed to stand drinking outside in the new temporary spaces as it would be difficult to control, would contravene government guidance on social distancing, and could cause significant harm to local residential amenity.
The council is still wary of the nuisance caused by crowds of people standing outside pubs blocking pavements, shouting into their phones and at each other. But “where a licence already allows for customers to stand outside drinking, this will still be permitted and will not change, as long as social distancing rules can be maintained”.
Westminster says that if it receives “sustained complaints” about the operation of premises that are justified on either public health or nuisance grounds they will “review any scheme or particular premises”.
While there are no public toilets in Fitzrovia and many of the streets already stink of urine between summer showers Westminster council — and no doubt Camden — has no plans to open any.
“The council has reviewed the government COVID guidance and can see no reason why existing toilet facilities inside licensed premises can’t be used by customers,” says Westminster.
It looks like it will be easy to get a drink but more challenging to take a slash or a shit. The queue for the ladies is likely to be even longer than usual. No-one has bothered to do an equality impact assessment on this al fresco eating and drinking farmyard.
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.
But with most employees still sitting at their kitchen table with a laptop and snacking from the fridge, and restrictions on public transport still in place, there may not be such a long wait for the ladies after all.
Westminster council: Reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector.