Bermondsey Street businesses have been told to “go elsewhere” if they don’t feel they’re making enough money, after residents raised fears of anti-social behaviour if the road were to be closed to traffic.
Locals, businesses and Liberal Democrat councillor Damian O’Brien met last week over a proposal to close Bermondsey Street to traffic to let bars and restaurants seat customers in the road.
The plans, which would mimic steps taken by streets in Soho to increase the number of people restaurants can serve after lockdown, were put forward by local bars and restaurants after months of punishing closure.
But Cllr O’Brien, who as a Lib Dem is in opposition, told businesses that it would not be possible to close the road fully because of the disruption to residents and difficulties for local drivers, for whom Bermondsey Street is an important thoroughfare.
He later told the News: “A carte blanche closing of Bermondsey Street is just not possible.
“I was quite forthright with them. If you’re struggling to make any money out of your venues, as a business you have the opportunity to not renew your lease, and go elsewhere. In my mind the highest priority is the people who live there.
“I’m not trying to say we don’t want them. The reality is businesses are not as important as the residents.”
O’Brien said the reaction from businesses to his comments “was actually very positive”.
Locals are worried that a full road closure could cause a repeat of the bad behaviour Shad Thames residents have complained of a few minutes’ walk away in Potters Fields.
“There’s always going to be a natural conflict between the nighttime economy and the people who live there,” O’Brien added. “You have people who have a few beers or a few glasses of wine and get a bit lairy.
“It does affect the quality of life for the people who live there. Obviously the traders have been doing some hard yards and we want to support them too, but people who live in the area can’t just up and move.”
A spokesperson for The Last Talisman, one of the Bermondsey Street bars and restaurants that put forward the proposals, said: “Following the difficult year for the hospitality industry, we have approached Southwark Council to see what options might be possible to help the recovery of the local economy with increased outdoor dining space for the businesses along Bermondsey Street. Southwark Council have been extremely supportive in listening to our ideas to help businesses bounce back from this pandemic.
“We would like to work alongside the local community and residents and create an environment that is safe for all and welcomes people back to the fantastic businesses on this much loved street.’
Southwark Council was contacted for comment.