Fury as Westminster Council axes Soho al-fresco dining

One visitor to the area, Rosa Carbo-Mascarell said: ‘The al-fresco tables were the best thing to happen to Soho in decades.’

<p>Cars and vans parked up in Soho’s narrow streets which earlier in the summer was filled with Londoners eating and drinking. Credit: Jacob Phillips</p>

Cars and vans parked up in Soho’s narrow streets which earlier in the summer was filled with Londoners eating and drinking. Credit: Jacob Phillips

Tourists and businesses have been mourning al-fresco dining in Soho as streets become traffic-clogged rat-runs once again.

Picnic benches and long dining tables have been swapped for parked vans and motorbikes screeching down small streets as roads reopened to vehicles on October 1.

Westminster City Council told Soho businesses to remove their outdoor dining to allow roads to reopen in the area.

However, al-fresco dining has remained at a number of locations in Covent Garden, St John’s Wood and Pimlico.

Outdoor dining has also been made a permanent part of pedestrianised areas in the borough, including in Chinatown.

During the summer, around 60 streets benefited from either pavement widening, temporary closure of roads and parking bays to allow tables and chairs to be set-up for outdoor dining.

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For businesses and visitors, the introduction to outdoor dining in the region completely revitalised the area.

One visitor to the area, Rosa Carbo-Mascarell said: “The al-fresco tables were the best thing to happen to Soho in decades.

“We should be working towards making all of central London primarily pedestrian like Barcelona, not the other way around.”

On Twitter, political commentator Tom Harwood added: “Just walked through Soho on this sunny Saturday and I have to say what a shame it is that the al-fresco revolution has been quashed.

“Places that used to have bountiful street tables are now reduced to cramming in the world smallest furniture on a fraction of the pavement. Sad.”

TV critic Scott Bryan said on Twitter: “It’s such a shame to see Soho without its outdoor seating areas anymore. a long-term opportunity lost.”

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But the outdoor dining revolution has proven controversial in Soho with many residents upset by noise and anti-social behaviour they perceived as associated with it.

Robin Smith, who runs Soho Dairy in Berwick Street Market, described the area as being turned into an “al-fresco loo” by the scheme.

He claims partygoers regularly had sex and went to the toilet by his industrial fridge.

Since the outdoor dining was removed Robin explained life has been returning to normal.

He said: “Our sales have lifted so we are feeling better.

“Still a good way to go but it is great to hear the banter of working people again.”

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Chair of the Soho Society Tim Lord added: “Broadly residents are relieved that al-fresco is over as the streets have now gone back to public use.

“This was always a temporary scheme.”

Cllr Matthew Green, Westminster City Council cabinet member for business, licensing and planning, said: “Westminster was the first local authority in the country to allow businesses to use its streets for al-fresco.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that outdoor dining saved many businesses from closure as we created more than 17,000 additional covers across Westminster, which supported 80,000 jobs

“We’ve always said that we’ll only continue al-fresco in areas of the city where there is resident support, and this has been seen in Covent Garden, St John’s Wood, Pimlico, parts of Belgravia and Mayfair and it’s been extended in already pedestrianised parts of the city such as Chinatown.

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“We have so far processed 400 pavement licences which will allow businesses to place tables and chairs outside their premises, an increase from 315 during the autumn and winter period last year.

“In Soho, we need a version of al-fresco that works for businesses and residents alike.

“We have already brought stakeholders together for two rounds of discussions on whether appropriate al-fresco dining can be incorporated into Soho in a way that is acceptable to everyone.

“We hope to be able to take a jointly agreed scheme out for final consultation before the end of the year.”