Soho, the gay heart of London, may not be part of this year’s London Pride celebrations because of fire safety concerns.
The area, home to dozens of gay bars, cafes and shops, is currently surrounded by a number of roadworks and waterworks and the council is refusing to let normal celebrations go ahead on the advice of the fire brigade.
Soho Square is billed to host the dance stage on July 3rd while Trafalgar Square hosts the main London Pride stage. However, all usual routes away from the North Soho area are currently blocked, leaving only one road clear for access.
At a meeting yesterday, Soho gay businesses were told of three options – to take Pride out of Soho completely, to erect barriers to restrict only 7,000 people to the north area at a time or to keep a small area open for a ‘street party’ but ask local bars to subsidise the £20,500 cost of Pride losing some sponsorship deals.
Colm Howard-Lloyd, Pride’s media director, said the festival was “very reluctant” to restrict crowds in the area.
He added that local bars could find it “very expensive” to have to compensate the festival for sponsorship loses if a small street-party style event was held in one area.
He told PinkNews.co.uk: “We have two options – to heavily restrict crowds in Soho, which the Soho Society says will damage businesses, or to not have stages in Soho.
“It looks like Soho is just not viable.
“It is sad. But it would be even sadder to restrict businesses to only having 7,000 people in the area. Roadworks are roadworks and fire safety is fire safety. If the fire officers says no, he says no.”
He said it was most likely that the dance stage would be moved to Leicester Square, with performance times at Trafalgar Square “rejigged” to fit everyone in.
He dismissed suggestions that bar owners had been left in the lurch, saying: “It’s been an ongoing process. It’s not an unusual time to have objections raised.”
If Soho is not an official part of Pride, the festival will be obliged to heavily advertise the fact to discourage Pride’s 800,000 revellers from being in the area.
Bars will also have to reapply for their extended licences, as they will no longer be covered by the temporary events licence.
If Pride takes the option of erecting barriers to let only 7,000 people in to the area at a time, bag searches will have to be in operation.
Michele Cremona, who represents KU Bars and is the co-chair of the Westminster LGBT Business Forum, said the issue had risen at “terribly short notice”.
She said: “It is very sad Soho is not going to be part of Pride. But for some of the small bars [in the area where the street party would be], it is a lot of money.”
Ms Cremona said many business owners were currently on holiday and were not able to make decisions about paying out money to compensate Pride.
The festival has given local business owners until tomorrow afternoon to decide which option they support.
Ms Cremona also suggested that with the day held on the semi-finals of the World Cup, the area could descend into chaos if fans and gay revellers were not allowed into one of the most popular drinking areas in the city.
She said: “There would be a real danger if that happened. It would be a risky step to take.”
London Fire Brigade was unable to respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but a Westminster council spokeswoman said the council had “bent over backwards” to make Pride London aware of the security measures it needed to take.
She said: “We’ve said we welcome Pride, we’re happy for it to take place, but ultimately safety comes first. If something was to happen, we’d want to evacuate the area as soon as possible. We are acting on the fire service’s advice.”