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London’s new street scene


By Alina Haritonova, Consultant

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the look of one of the neighbouring streets I often walk past had changed – it suddenly seemed much livelier. Then I noticed a newly installed terrace outside a local cafe. Despite it being a workday lunchtime, it was filled with people (in a socially distanced manner, of course), sipping on chilled drinks while being served Instagram-worthy lunches. For a brief moment, I felt like I was on holiday in some Mediterranean country.

After spotting that terrace, I started noticing outdoor seating areas popping up left, right and centre and to my surprise, they were often full.

I’m sure many other Londoners have noticed the same thing following the relaxation of planning laws announced by the Government at the end of last month. As part of the temporary measure, pubs and restaurants have been allowed to use car parks and terraces as dining and drinking areas with their existing seating licences. Application review times for pavement licences have shrunk from 28 calendar days to just five working days, making it easier for businesses to obtain the necessary permissions swiftly. 

There aren’t a hundred positive things to come out of COVID-19, but this change is definitely one of them. In addition to helping the hospitality industry get back on its feet, having more outdoor cafes and restaurants across London will make the streetscape much more cheerful and inviting. 

I often go to Paris, and my favourite thing about this city, apart from the winning combination of incredible architecture and stinky cheeses, is its outdoor cafe culture, which makes streets brim with life wherever you go. London needs more of that, especially given that homes with outdoor spaces are so scarce (and desirable, as we were recently reminded by Zoopla). Let’s not forget that many people across all age groups are still uncomfortable with the idea of being stuck indoors with a bunch of strangers and existing outdoor terraces and beer gardens have very limited capacity. 

I feel very optimistic about another Government initiative – the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – as part of which those who eat/drink out between Monday and Wednesday will be able to get 50 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks (up to £10 pounds) per person. Restaurants and pubs will then be able to reclaim the reimbursement for the discount from the Government. For now, it is a temporary measure running until the end of August but I hope a month will be enough time for the nation to get re-accustomed to eating out – they say it’s one of those skills you never forget, much like riding a bike…