New cafe set to replace only public toilet in busy road that ‘smells like urine in summer’

By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Reporter

A busy Central London road that “smells like urine in the summer” because so many people pee on the street is set to lose another public toilet.

LIFT Coffee has submitted a proposal to turn the underground loos in Broadwick Street in Soho, which have been shut since 2021 after becoming a popular hangout for public sex, into a café and events space.

The operator secured a 25-year lease two years ago and could pour as much as £2million into replacing the basement toilets with a coffee-themed workspace and a takeaway kiosk. But businesses in nearby Berwick Street Market said Soho can’t afford to lose another public toilet.

A map provided by Westminster council shows there are public toilets available at ground level in Broadwick Street operating 24-hours-a-day and a number of facilities nearby.

Robin Smith and Keith Bickel pose at their coffee stand in Soho (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

Mohammed Mtour, 36, said the stench of urine in Berwick Street is starting to affect his business.

He said: “If you’re a customer and standing there and smell bad smells, you think it’s coming from the business. Customers don’t think it’s coming from behind them.”

He believes drunken late-night revellers are to blame and claims people urinate “every 30 minutes” in nearby Peter Street.

James Hughes, 47, who lives with his family at Trenchard House in Broadwick Street, also said it’s mostly drunk people doing the urinating.

He said: “When people have to go, they just go anywhere.” His daughter, Mia, said she can hear people peeing from her first floor bedroom.

According to data from a Soho neighbourhood forum research project, to be published later this year, 64 per cent of weekly visitors to the area have witnessed public urination or defecation. London ranks 24th in the world for the number of public toilets per square kilometre, according to a global study.

Broadwick Street underground toilets have been closed since 2021 (Picture: Google Street View)

The lack of a vital public service is turning Berwick Street into an “open sewer”, according to Robin Smith, 63, who runs Soho Dairy – a coffee and cheese market stall.

But Mr Smith and his co-founder Keith Bickel, 65, say people aren’t to blame.

He said: “We aren’t against the night time economy. People are having a good time but there should be toilets.”

The men agree addressing London’s public toilet problem will take long-term planning, acknowledging that public toilets have become popular spots for drug taking and sex, but feel shutting them down isn’t the right idea.

People are urinating and defecating in a small alleyway in Blore Court off Berwick Street (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

He said: “We need toilets, we don’t need more cafés. There are cafés up and down the street.”

Tim Lord, chairman of the Soho Society, said the partying hotspot has the highest concentration of licensed premises in London, a figure he said has grown every year since he moved to the area three decades ago. He said Soho has significantly fewer public toilets than it did in 1990.

He said: “The council accepts that public urination is a health hazard.

“In 2022 the council decided to close the underground public toilets in Broadwick Street and to make them unavailable for public use by granting a lease to a coffee shop chain. No one at the council can explain why.”

Special anti-pee paint has now been put all around Soho which will splash back anyone who sprays on it. The “Don’t Pee Off Soho” campaign is set to clear up the streets of the famous area after residents complained.

LIFT Coffee has been contacted for comment.

Pictured top: James Hughes poses for photos with his daughter Mia in Soho in in Britain 15 May 2024 (Picture: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

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