We have written to the following letter to John James, Managing Director of Soho Estates Ltd, regarding the West End Recovery proposals. We will be writing similar letters to other West End landowners:
As you are aware, Westminster City Council have now brought forward plans to temporarily close some streets in Soho to traffic from 4 July onwards to support hospitality businesses to reopen.
There is a tremendous amount of goodwill in the local Soho community to make this initiative work. The Soho community want to support businesses because they know the enormous financial challenges they face, and value them as important members of the community.
However, we should not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. If this scheme is to work as intended, the Council and stakeholders in the business community are going to have to think through a whole range of potential issues and operational challenges which still haven’t been addressed. Time is tight – the 4 July is eleven days from now.
One of the most pressing challenges is to ensure there are proper resources so that the rules are enforced. This includes stopping large groups of people gathering near each other (thereby flouting the social distancing rules), vertical drinking, and noisy and anti-social behaviour. So far, the evidence is that insufficient thought has gone into working out how the rules will be enforced and how anti-social behaviour will be prevented. Indeed, we are already seeing disorderly scenes in Soho as restaurants and bars have begun to reopen selling alcohol, with large groups of people congregating to drink on the streets. Despite the best efforts of officers, these scenes have been met with little enforcement and have by and large continued. We are worried that these issues will become increasingly prevalent in the coming days and weeks.
The solution we’re advocating is to assemble a Soho enforcement team with a remit to tackle anti-social behaviour including dispersing large crowds, stepping in to prevent loud noisy activities like busking, and stepping in where rules around vertical drinking are not followed. We cannot expect staff working in businesses that have reopened to do this properly as has been suggested because their attention will naturally be focused elsewhere.
However, putting together a Soho enforcement team will require resources and proper funding. We are therefore asking that as a major landowner you invest in this initiative. We would be happy to organise a virtual meeting to discuss further. We are taking up this idea with officers in the Council.