London’s cafe culture has left a sour taste for stressed residents

The continent has arrived in the United Kingdom — at least when the sun shines. Alfresco dining has surged in towns and cities across the country, with thousands of additional outdoor seats being licenced.

Many in the hospitality industry claim that the move prevented their company from going bankrupt after suffering catastrophic losses during the pandemic. Despite the lifting of Covid restrictions, the government is considering making alfresco dining a permanent feature rather than a crisis solution.

Not everybody is content. Residents in Soho, London’s entertainment epicentre, claim that alfresco dining and drinking has impeded access and caused intolerable noise. According to the Soho Society, residents who have lived there for decades are considering moving.

Because of the noise, Samar Zia, who has lived in subsidised housing in Soho with her husband and two children since 2016, keeps her windows closed some evenings. “People are singing at the top of their lungs, and some are using my patio as a toilet,” she explained.

She has seen or heard “drunk males” urinating outside her living room windows on numerous occasions. “I yell at them and threaten to call the cops, but it’s too late,” she says. We’ll need buckets of water to wash it away.”

The government introduced pavement licences in July of last year to assist hospitality enterprises in increasing client numbers while social distancing limited interior seating. According to a PwC analysis, restaurants, cafes, and bars in England submitted over 3,300 fast track applications for outdoor seating in the year leading up to June 2021.

The city council of Westminster, which includes Soho, said it built over 16,000 extra outdoor chairs for the restaurant industry and restricted several roads to allow for alfresco dining. Over the last year, Liverpool has received around 350 licence applications and Newcastle has received more than 100. Licences were set to expire on September 30, but the government has confirmed a 12-month extension, with the possibility of a permanent extension.

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