Last week, I became aware of a protest group on the Facebook website which is protesting against plans by Westminster Council to ban outdoor drinking in Soho. The facebook group says “this petition has been created by the licensee’s of Soho” – and apparently has been set up by the licensee of The Endurance pub in Berwick St.
A ban on outdoor drinking sounded a bit odd though, especially following the ban on smoking indoors and also based on the recent lecture I attended on drinking culture in cities where Westminster Council was praised for its forward thinking approach.
So, this peeked my interest and I started to try and read up on the subject – only I couldn’t really find any websites that confirmed the claims. I did indeed find lots of websites talking about the ban, but when you read them, it turned out that they all cited the same facebook group as their source. I wandered over to The Publican website, which is an industry trade magazine and again nothing was to be found about this proposed ban. Odd considering that it would, in theory affect dozens (if not hundreds) of venues, so they of all people should know about it.
I then wandered over to the Westminster Council website and couldn’t really find anything there to support the claims, and a (very) brief reading of their 2008 licensing policy didn’t mention plans for an outdoor drinking ban – other than the usual comments about noise and complaints. Indeed, the policy document had a section about how to secure planning permission for outdoor seating!
I posted a message on the facebook group – which now has over 3,800 supporters – asking if anyone had actually managed to verify the claims yet. I also note that a petition on the 10 Downing St website now have over 7,200 signatures. Thousands of people are protesting about the ban and yet I hadn’t heard a thing about it. Considering my passion for news, this seemed a bit odd.
At the weekend, I fired off an email to Westminster Council asking for verification of the claims, and got a reply this morning.
The claims of a Soho outdoor drinking ban are utterly false.
Cllr Daniel Astaire, Cabinet Member for Community Protection, said: â€œWestminster has no plans to ban outside drinking in Soho or in the city as a whole. These are ridiculous rumours that are totally inaccurate and wholly misleading. â€œIndeed, the council is actively trying to promote responsible alfresco-style dining and drinking in certain parts of the city by creating calm oases away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets.
It actually seems that The Endurance pub has alone been subject to complaints from local residents (it sits under a council block tower) and its license is being reviewed. A bit more trawling suggests that actually just one person is complaining – although I haven’t been able to verify this. It should also be noted that Berwick St has a noisy and dynamic street market every day, so a pub would have to be staggeringly loud to even be noticeable above the shouts of the traders offering potatoes for a pound.
I make no observation on the validity of the complaint(s) – but for a pub to blatantly lie about an outdoor drinking ban in a desperate attempt to cling on to its own license is downright mischievous. It probably doesn’t help their appeal when it is heard later this month either.
However, what does that say about the many thousands of people who blindly sign up to petition website without even checking the facts first?