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Unprecedented Outdoor Dining Scheme Could Transform West End Through Summer

With government legislation not expected until late summer, temporary events notices would allow restaurants, cafes and bars to trade outside

Restaurants in Soho could reopen for outdoor dining under coronavirus lockdown
Soho restaurants could repurpose their roads for diners under the proposals
Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images

New plans from Westminster City Council — whose catchment covers just under 4,000 licensed premises, spanning cafes, restaurants, pubs, and bars in central London — would allow outdoor trading in streets, and, with some closures, on roads throughout summer. The plans, designed to mitigate any delay on national legislation, would use temporary event notices (TEN) to let restaurants trade outside their front doors through July and August, according to the Financial Times, with widening of pavements and timed street closures part of the proposal.

The closures will cover 47 streets across Soho, Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, Paddington, and Marylebone, according to the Evening Standard, a forerunner to national legislation covering the use of car parks, rooftops, and terraces for dining with no additional planning permission or licensing required. The Westminster plans do require a TEN, but it says they can be turned round in “a matter of days.” Closures vary by area, from 11 a.m — 11 p.m. in Covent Garden to 5p.m. — 11 p.m. in Soho on weekdays. Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster city council, said: “The West End is a unique global draw, and I am confident we can give it and our other famous locations a continental sheen that visitors, residents and regulars alike will enjoy.”

While designed to mitigate the impracticality and, for some, impossibility of social distancing inside, the rules attached would both mandate table service and prohibit drinking outside pubs if standing up, memorably translated as “vertical drinking.” This may blunt the plans’ impact on both capacity and worker safety, particularly for pubs. In making these caveats it goes further than the government plan for outdoor trade that the council believes to be too far away to make a difference; that proposal was more likely to resemble a street food market than it is an Italian piazza. Both are predicated on evidence that the transmission rate of coronavirus is lower outside.

U.K. Hospitality, which has continually lobbied the government for clarity and consistency on restaurant reopening, said that “We are going to need a dynamic and supportive approach to reopening hospitality businesses and Westminster council is showing positivity in its plans to get businesses back up and running.”

The plans, as with all restaurant reopening initiatives, seek to balance the risk to public health with allowing restaurants, which have to pay rent 10 days before they can — maybe — reopen, to pull in much-needed revenue. While they might offer some hope, they remain, like the future of social distancing in restaurants, and of restaurants themselves, somewhat unclear. They also remain under consultation until Sunday 21 June, three days before rent is due.