Westminster Council plans to charge venues 'thousands of pounds' for pavement space branded 'a kick in the teeth' by businesses

David Ellis, Naomi Ackerman
·4-min read
Jeremy Selwyn
Jeremy Selwyn

Hospitality businesses have labelled Westminster Council plans to charge venues for outdoor seating space this winter as "unconscionable" and "a kick in the teeth".

The local authority - which administers prime destinations including Soho and Mayfair - is set to demand venues pay £7 per square metre of street space taken up, per day, after October 31.

This would see a minimum five square metre pavement space cost a venue £1,085 per month.

Like other London councils, Westminster had previously offered a free "Al Fresco" scheme. It has seen some streets in the area pedestrianised, with licensed restaurants and pubs allowed to provide open-air dining and drinking spaces on the streets outside their premises.

Soho restaurants have benefited from the use of pavement space since the summer (AFP via Getty Images)
Soho restaurants have benefited from the use of pavement space since the summer (AFP via Getty Images)

The council's new proposal, released online earlier this week, said: "Businesses that benefit will be expected to pay any rental costs for barriers as well as a fee for the use the street space given over to approved temporary winter al fresco dining schemes. This will equate to a flat fee of £35 per day for each 5m space, which will be billed monthly."

Soho institution The French House, which is currently utilising just over 10 square metres of outside space, would have to pay around £2,200 per month. Ice cream store Amorino is facing charges of around £5,100 per month, and Russian restaurant Zima, based on Frith Street, is facing a bill of £3,400, according to calculations provided by The Soho Business Alliance.

Lukas Rackauskas, director of operations at ZIMA, told the Standard he may have to close his outdoor space as a result of the charges.

He said: “The proposed format is yet another burden for struggling hospitality businesses.

Central London venues are already facing a lower customer base due to Tier 2 restrictions (Nigel Howard)
Central London venues are already facing a lower customer base due to Tier 2 restrictions (Nigel Howard)

"Even basic calculations show to me that I will never be able to make enough sales outside to cover the cost of just having those few tables outside. We are already seeing cancellations and reduced levels of customers visiting our restaurant due to strict restrictions imposed by Tier 2."

Ruben Maza, co-founder of Borough High Street restaurant Lobos Tapas, is facing a £5,500 bill.

He said he was disappointed in the move as the council's Al Fresco scheme had been a lifeline for venues.

"This gave businesses an opportunity to survive," he said. "We are trying to figure out how to survive what looks like a very difficult winter, and we get slapped with a cost that surpasses by a long way the potential business we might have. I find it impossible to understand this agenda."

He added: "Expecting businesses to consider this kind of price for outside seating this winter would be completely out of touch with the current situation."

Operators at Fitzrovia brunch spot, Kaffeine London, vented their frustration at the situation online. They wrote on Twitter: "How many more battles do we need to fight? This applies to every restaurant in Westminster."

Restaurateurs also pointed out the irony of these new fees outstripping the grants of up to £2,100 per month announced by the Chancellor on Thursday, aimed at helping venues struggling under Tier 2 restrictions.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, told the Standard the move "is a real kick in the teeth to pubs in Westminster who are already wrestling with tier two restrictions, the 10pm curfew, table service only and significantly lower levels of footfall from workers and tourists".

She called on the council to scrap the move, saying: "The Council must reconsider and not squeeze pubs for cash they simply don’t have right now.”

A restaurateur and founding board member of The Soho Business Alliance, who wished to remain unnamed, labelled the move "unconscionable".

The council did acknowledge the extra charge would be a burden at a difficult time, and said it is "proactively seeking to identify support funds that can be accessed" to help cover the costs.

A Westminster Council spokesperson told the Standard: “The council has already spent well over £2m on supporting al fresco dining across the city and we will continue to invest in projects which support hospitality in the West End.

“We are asking businesses to make a contribution to cover part of the costs of running these schemes. We think this is the right way to help our world-famous hospitality sector while also being fair to our residents who have to pick up the bill for the remaining costs of these schemes through their council tax.”

The spokesperson said that the council intends "to work with the restaurants" on the issue.

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