New legislation threatens to turn streets into ‘large outside bars’ say West End community groups

New legislation making its way through Parliament this week could turn streets into “large outside bars” if it is not amended says the organisation representing community groups in London’s West End.

The Business and Planning Bill is being rushed through Parliament.

The Business and Planning Bill includes a range of measures to help businesses recover from disruption caused by Covid-19 and will make it easier for bars, restaurants and pubs to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and alcohol licensing.

But the legislation will also “deregulate off-sales of alcohol” allowing venues that have a current on-sales licence to also sell booze to takeaway with little restriction.

David Bieda, from the West End Community Network (WECN) has warned that the legislation as proposed “will have serious consequences” for the thousands of residents in the West End.

“Unless any new legislation is crystal clear as to how relaxation will work we will end up with a host of negative unintended consequences,” he says.

“The legislation will enable late-night bars to sell outside until their licence ends at, say, 3am. What impact will this have?” he asks.

“The Licensing Act 2003 has as one of its objectives to ‘prevent public nuisance’. But when all the streets have become large outside bars, just how will this be done, and by whom?”

All of Soho and parts of Bloomsbury, Covent Garden and Fitzrovia are already designated as “Cumulative Impact Areas” by Camden and Westminster councils because the large number of alcohol-led premises has led to crime, disorder and public nuisance.

Advice given to the WECN warns that Clause 11 of the Business and Planning Bill will mean that conditions on off-sales imposed by any licensing authority to prevent public nuisance will be effectively suspended. The lack of a cut-off time such as 10pm or 11pm in the legislation is also a surprising omission states the advice.

The WECN has now written to local MPs Nickie Aiken and Keir Starmer asking for support to get Clause 11 amended to prevent outside drinking late at night and into the early hours.

“As the Government is proceeding with the Bill at speed, this is an urgent matter,” says Bieda.

“The Alcohol Licensing section of the Bill goes much further than is needed to achieve business recovery, will harm residents and create problems for both the police and local authorities,” he says.

The Soho Society released a statement saying: “The Government appears to be unaware that the West End Ward (which includes Soho) has 294 late night licences, including 126 to 1 am, 29 to 2am and 79 to 3am.

“At present, outdoor drinking finishes when the pubs close at 11pm. Once this legislation takes effect outdoor drinking will persist well into the night every night of the week with numbers unrestrained by the physical size of the premises.

“Some 3,000 people live in Soho including over 100 families with children and a number of key workers in the NHS. The carefully maintained balance allowing Soho to support multiple uses will be destroyed.

“The police, Westminster Council and our MP share our concerns but the Government is refusing to budge,” they said.

Hospitality groups have been lobbying the government to ease restrictions on licensed premises and want to see the new legislation ready for when bars and restaurants re-open on Saturday 4 July.

Due to the speed at which the Bill is being rushed through Parliament Fitzrovia News understands that it may not be possible to achieve an amendment to the legislation in the Commons but that it could still be altered at the committee stage or in the House of Lords.

The West End Community Network represents Bloomsbury Association; Covent Garden Community Association; Charlotte Street Association; Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association; Leicester Square Association; Marylebone Association; Mayfair Residents Group; Residents’ Society of Mayfair & St James’s; Soho Society; and Seven Dials Trust.

Documents: Business and Planning Bill 2019-2020.

This news article was updated at 4.20pm Monday 29 June to include a statement by The Soho Society.