UK Screen Alliance has issued a response to a plan for al-fresco dining in the streets of Soho, central London, which could result in disruption to the area’s prestigious VFX and post production facilities.
Westminster City Council (WCC) has announced their plans for “Reopening Westminster’s hospitality sector”, detailing street closures in the Soho, Covent Garden and Oxford Street areas to allow restaurants to set dining tables in the roadway. The restaurants have claimed that they would not be viable with a limited number of tables within the bounds of their current premises due to Covid-19 social distancing requirements.
The announcement of the council’s proposals followed the ‘Soho Summer Street Festival’ campaign led by landlords, Soho Estates, which called for temporary pedestrianisation of Dean St, Old Compton Street, Greek Street, Frith Street, Soho Square and a number of connecting streets from 9am to 11pm each day.
News of the proposal has caused concern among post-production businesses and the hire companies that supply them, as they need easy access for deliveries of technical equipment and raw materials throughout the day. In addition, sound studios are regularly visited by well-known clients – actors, producers, and directors – who come to record voiceovers, ADR sessions or to view the progress of their films, and who would prefer drop-offs and pick-ups at the front door rather than in Shaftesbury Avenue and then having to run the gauntlet of diners to get to the post-house.
WCC announced their proposal for road closures late on Thursday 18th June and gave businesses an unduly short window to respond of just 3 days. Following the Soho Estates campaign, However, UK Screen Alliance had already been in touch with Westminster councillors to raise the concerns of the post-production community and were able to respond to the tight deadline.
The WCC plan proposes street closure hours in Soho from 5pm to 11pm rather than the longer hours preferred by Soho Estates, but additionally includes Marshall St, Berwick St, Broadwick St, Golden Square, Market Place and parts of Covent Garden.
Nick Long, MD of Salon, an editing equipment hire company said, ““Soho represents a vibrant blend of both creative and hospitality industries (as well as many residents). The two thrive and survive off each other and have done for decades. Both sectors have been hit hard by the recent pandemic so a workable solution which can drive forward a recovery for all is more than welcomed. Achieving a fair balance will be key.”
UK Screen Alliance has asked WCC to clarify if this plan is an emergency measure for this summer only, as it is not clear from their published plan. Whilst many local post-production companies are willing to help the restaurants by supporting a temporary concession, UK Screen Alliance has insisted that any suggestion of an open-ended or permanent arrangement ought to be subject to a much deeper consultation to ensure continual easy access for businesses of all sectors.
Carol Humphrey, MD, Grand Central Recording Studios said, “Soho Estates seem to be the only people that WCC has bothered to consult with – Grand Central hasn’t heard from WCC. Why not? This policy should have a start and end date and currently it doesn’t. It is obviously pedestrianisation of Soho by stealth.”
Neil Hatton, CEO UK Screen Alliance said “We fully appreciate the seemingly impossible position of the hospitality industry during the Covid-19 lockdown and we want to be supportive neighbours by finding an acceptable temporary compromise that helps everyone stay in business. The TV and film industry is very image conscious and for our companies to be flanked by boarded-up premises is not a good look. The buzz of Soho is one of the reasons why the film and TV companies choose to be based there and we are keen to see normal life and business return as soon as possible.”