For some time, I have argued that the corona cure is worse than the disease. To keep overweight septuagenarians like me alive, the next generation is paying an awfully high price. And closer to home, the damage to our economy is utterly unimaginable.
The idea that we should be facing a worse slump than the Great Depression is utterly appalling. I do not lay the blame for this at the door of this government, nor governments elsewhere that have taken similar decisions with similar consequences. It is yet to be proven whether Sweden has made the right choice, but in any event, population density in Sweden is massively less than here in the UK.
Democratically elected governments, as I can attest only too well having been a member of one myself, simply cannot have a public debate on the cost of a life for fear of a media backlash that would destroy any career and kill any possible progress.
And yet that conversation must be had. It is still the case that the vast majority of fatalities attributable to Covid-19 occur among elderly people with pre-existing health conditions. The percentage of the population who have so far succumbed to the virus is a fraction of 1%.
It will take years for many places to get back to anything like normality
I am not arguing that we should relax completely. I might point to the fact that most countries believe that two metres is more than enough for adequate social distancing and many have legislated for one metre. But somehow or other, we have to stop the bleeding.
In Soho, John James, who runs Soho Estates and knows the area better than anyone, has proposed a really exciting way to bring some life back to an area that has been devastated by the virus. Virtually every shop, pub, club, bar, restaurant, theatre or hotel is closed. We’re fortunate that as a family-owned business, we can see this awful time through, but many of our neighbours and tenants are not so lucky.
So John has proposed the temporary closure to traffic of some of those famous Soho streets, starting with Soho Square and including Greek Street, Old Compton Street, Frith Street and a few others. You get the idea. Traffic – not that there’s much of it these days – will still be able to go north up Wardour Street and south via Shaftesbury Avenue.
All this would free up the pavements for restaurants, bars and cafés to be able to use the space to set tables at distances that might just make the operations financially viable. Otherwise all these places are condemned to be shut for a very long time and, despite all the government assistance, many simply won’t survive.
For the Soho Summer Street Festival, as we’re calling it, to actually happen during the warm summer months needs the co-operation of Westminster City Council and Transport for London. We obviously need to ensure that refuse can still be collected and emergency service vehicles can still gain access. These things are never as easy to bring about as they seem. From what I understand, Westminster is not hostile, which is a good start.
We don’t know where London’s mayor stands on this, but we assume he too will be positively supportive. It will frankly be a test of just how agile and committed our local authorities are as to whether this great initiative gets off the ground.
And if it can happen in Soho, then why not in towns and cities all over the country? No industries are harder hit than leisure and entertainment. It will take years for many places to get back to anything like normality even if the lockdown were somehow lifted tomorrow, which sadly we know it won’t be.
Up and down the land, local authorities should be taking initiatives like this seriously.
Ours won’t save Soho on its own. But it’s damn well worth a try.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land