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Hospitality leaders warn of West End collapse as they demand 'urgent action' from Boris and Sadiq

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 4 days ago David Ellis, Jonathan Prynn
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Dozens of leading figures from London’s restaurants and clubs have written to Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan demanding urgent action to save the capital from remaining a “ghost town” for the rest of the year.

In a strongly worded letter, they warn that “immediate action must be taken” to prevent huge job losses and help the capital to lead the national economic recovery out of the worst recession on record.

The letter is signed by more than 30 high-profile chefs and restaurateurs including Murano’s Michelin-starred Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of St. John, Chris and Jeff Galvin of Galvin at Windows, Oliver Milburn, Tom Mullion and Tim Steel of Kitty Fisher’s, Anthony Demetre of Wild Honey St James, Des Gunewardena and David Loewi of D&D Restaurants and Geoff Leong of Dumpling Legend, as well as the Soho House clubs boss Nick Jones.

While Westminster council unveiled its own plans to try to attract diners and drinkers back earlier this month – which include closing roads in Soho and Covent Garden and making it easier to obtain a licence for outdoor tables and chairs – and the City of London Corporation says it is looking at similar measures, the letter includes a 10 point emergency plan of action to help central London draw back the visitors that make it one of the world’s most popular destinations.

They including stronger encouragement from the Government for workers to return to their offices, scrapping the quarantine for all foreign visitors, suspending the congestion charge and reducing public transport fares for three months, setting up a network of temporary cycle lanes, and employing an army of "beat the virus" guides similar to the Olympic "Games Makers" volunteers.

The letter, which has also gone to the Lord Mayors of the City of London and of Westminster, says: ”Without the 21 million tourists and without the 4 million commuters that visit and work in London each year, what will London become?

"The government’s message is a confusing one. The dithering is not helping the economy get back on its feet, and it is not instilling confidence in the public to visit the attractions, theatres, museums, galleries, cinemas, hotels, restaurants and bars that we are so proud of and that makes London the greatest of capitals.

“While scenes of mobbed urban parks and packed seaside towns fill our screens, the centre of London remains a ghost town.

“Theatres are closed until 2021, the Arts are trying to come out of hibernation, restrictions remain for cinema and visitor attractions, no sport can be attended, there are no public gatherings, concerts or events to attend.

“The hotels have been closed and are expecting a lethargic recovery, there is no long distance tourism and those looking for cheap flights are leaving the country, not coming to it.

“Without tourism, without millions of visitors spending millions of pounds, without office workers and daily commuters, our favourite places will close; Chinatown will shut down, Covent Garden will be empty and there will be no hustle and bustle on the streets of the City.

London will not be able to lead a national recovery this time, as it has in the past, and many operators won’t make it to the end of the year
The strongly worded letter warns of stark danger for the economy without action

“London will not be able to lead a national recovery this time, as it has in the past, and many operators won’t make it to the end of the year.”

St John co-founder Trevor Gulliver, who penned the letter and helped collect the signatures, told the Standard: "When you start thinking about this, the buses are empty, the theatres are empty, people don’t want to come into inner London, London Town.

"When people talk about the one-metre plus rule, it's a red herring – if there are no customers, there are no customers. What does a metre matter?

"This is an impending disaster; the danger is the next three or four months. The jobs are going in their thousands already – places need people to come."

The 10-point planis quoted as it appears in the letter below:

  • Clear and succinct messaging from the government – Be alert, stay safe but return to the workplace and return to London’s city centre. This should start with government office staff and local council workers leading the way, it is either safe or it isn’t.
  • Encourage UK tourism, encourage families from around the UK to come to central London and to visit ALL its great attractions or simply enjoy the city.
  • Forgo the 14 day quarantine and TEST those entering the country at every airport and every port and station.
  • Employ ‘Beat the Virus Guides’ (in a similar vein to those who volunteered for the London Olympics) to be present throughout Westminster and the City and handout free facemasks as they do in Berlin. Those on furlough (or worse, laid off) are ideal candidates.
  • Promote London’s greatest hotels while they offer the lowest rates they have ever given. Imagine a stay of a lifetime at the St James Sofitel Hotel!
  • Cycle routes, both new routes and further temporary ones for the next 3 months to encourage travel into the centre. In addition, erect good and secure parking facilities and bicycle repair tents and more. (This could be reviewed after 3 months.)
  • Congestion Charge, rather than making it more expensive and extending its hours and days to 7 days a week, suspend the charge for 3 months then review. Offer further parking facilities.
  • Public Transport should be increased, more carriages and trains on the Underground and Overground as confidence grows, and of course with continued safety and hygiene measures, and lower prices for 3 months.
  • London Mayors – we want to see you! Support your city and encourage it back to life. Get together on the platform, put aside your differences! Invite great Londoners to join you!
  • Government – don’t sit on the fence about VAT rates, make your mind up on this and other national incentives so that they can be used now and not when it’s too late or indeed hanging out false hope.
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