The streets of Soho, normally alive with tourists cramming themselves into bars and restaurants, have resembled a ghost town for months.
Once thriving hospitality businesses were forced shut in March, and it’s feared many will stay closed when the lockdown is eventually lifted.
But with restaurants, bars and cafes expected to reopen in July, a local landlord has hatched a plan to pedestrianise the streets and keep social distancing measures in place.
John James, the managing director of Soho Estates, hopes to transform the area into a temporary ‘summer festival’, similar to the alfresco dining enjoyed in cities across Europe.
As so many of Soho’s small and independent businesses are short on inside space, moving into the streets would help customers stay the required two metres apart.
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The ‘Soho plan’ will see people spill out onto the narrow streets in spaced out tables, up until 11pm. Deliveries and rubbish collections would then be restricted to specific times of the day.
Soho Estates has launched a campaign online to attract public backing and convince Westminster Council to approve the plan.
‘Soho is world famous for being the cultural and vibrant heart of London, and we are immensely proud of the community that we have cultivated here,’ the campaigners state.
‘We need to be given the strongest chance of survival, so that when we are through this atrocious time, we can still attract people from all over the world to come and enjoy the area we know and love.’
The Soho Society, which campaigns for the conservation of the area, said that while they ‘broadly’ like the scheme, the idea of a ‘festival’ could encourage unruly behaviour.
In an extensive response online, the society said there ‘must be minimal noise nuisance’ for residents, and strong and clear rules to prevent drunkenness, otherwise ‘it’s not going to be safe, for them or anyone near.’
But it’s not just Soho that has big post-lockdown plans. Similar ideas are taking shape across London and the UK.
The landlord of the King’s Cross development is considering opening up more outside space, and the Southbank is also looking at freeing up areas beside the Thames, the Guardian reports.
Manchester has pedestrianised its vibrant Northern Quarter to allow more space for cyclists and people queueing outside businesses.
And in Liverpool, mayor Joe Anderson has announced a £450,000 project to redesign the city’s outdoor spaces, creating covered seating areas to compensate for the loss space inside.
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