For eight consecutive days, central London has been gridlocked by Extinction Rebellion protesters at Oxford Circus and Marble Arch. While we support the right to peaceful protests, businesses have been deeply concerned by the additional pressures bought upon them by the current activity.
I was invited to talk to BBC London to discuss the impact the protesters have had on businesses and retailers in the West End.
We have called on the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police to take control of the situation and enable companies and their employees to get back to business as usual ahead of the bank holiday weekend. The West End is resilient, and as discussed on the Vanessa Feltz show on BBC London News, we know people will still come out over the Easter period to enjoy the shopping and culture, but we want their experience here to be a positive one. Listen to the full interview below:
Further coverage on our response to the protests was picked up in a number of news outlets, including the Evening Standard, on Sky News, and in the Financial Times, where you can read the full article below:
Police move to contain London environmental protesters
Businesses in capital claim £12m in losses to date from climate demonstrations
Myles McCormick and Elliott Kime in London APRIL 17, 2019
Police on Wednesday evening appeared to be moving in in strength to contain the thousands of environmental protesters who have been blocking key London thoroughfares since Monday.
Dozens of officers moved into Parliament Square in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament after the commuter rush had died down at around 7pm. The demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion, which wants the government to declare a climate emergency, have blocked Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, two prominent junctions in London’s West End shopping district, in addition to Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square. In what appeared to be the largest orchestrated manoeuvre from the combined forces of the Metropolitan and City of London police yet, protesters were removed one by one as they lay flat in the middle of the road in Westminster. Police taped off the road from commuters on the south side of the Houses of Parliament as a trail of over 100 police officers increased their efforts to remove demonstrators.
Sam Knights, 22, from London, an organiser for Extinction Rebellion said: “We thought that police were concentrating their efforts on other areas, so we left Westminster thin on the ground. “There is an incredible spirit here. Our energy cannot be contained. We will be on the street day after day.” As time wore on, more protesters arrived from other Extinction Rebellion sites, and the banging of drums got louder as did cries of “Climate justice now” as both police and protesters manoeuvred round the square The Met said that as of 5pm on Wednesday a total of 340 arrests had been made in the capital since Monday.
A statement said the force had imposed conditions on several protest sites and was trying to limit the demonstrations to Marble Arch due to the disruption to local communities. Late in the evening, the protesters’ Twitter feed was claiming they maintained a presence at all four of the main demonstration sites. There had been calls for the police to take firmer action from businesses across the centre of the capital.
Disruption caused by the protesters was claimed to have cost West End companies £12m over the past two days, according to a business lobby group. Stores have seen declines in footfall and spending of up to 25 per cent and have been hit by difficulties receiving deliveries, Peter Rogers, chairman of the New West End Company, said in a letter to Sadiq Khan, the London mayor. “We ask, as a matter of urgency, that you take control of the situation, provide means for people to protest peacefully and supervised in the many open spaces in London and allow companies and employees go about their lawful business without threat,” he wrote.
Asked about the protests on the BBC, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “I think it’s appropriate for people to make their feelings known but I also think, we’ve got the message, we understand that action needs to be taken.” But he went on: “I do worry sometimes about some of the scenes we’ve seen and some of the activity that goes on.” On Wednesday the group extended its action to the public transport network. Several demonstrators occupied a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf; two unfurled a banner on the roof while another glued himself to the outside of a carriage. Police took about 90 minutes to clear them from the train.
Police officers talk with climate activists who have glued themselves together outside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s home © Kirsty O’Connor/PA Four protesters also attached themselves to the fence outside the north London home of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to pressure him to be more proactive on climate-related issues. The protesters who attached themselves to the fence outside Mr Corbyn’s house left voluntarily after his team said he agreed to meet them next week. David Lambert, 60, from Stroud said: “We were glad of the chance to state our hope that Jeremy Corbyn can finally break through this government’s criminal negligence of its principal duty which is to keep us safe.”
Extinction Rebellion is calling on the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a net level of zero by 2025, and create a “citizens’ assembly” to develop policies to reach this target. The Metropolitan Police said that as of Wednesday lunchtime more than 300 protesters had been arrested. Dozens were detained at Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge but police failed to disperse the activists and reopen the roads. Organisers have said they want to continue protesting for two weeks or until the government, which has been largely silent regarding the unrest, agrees to talks.
Activists block London roads and bridges in climate change protest Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company — whose members include retailers Selfridges, John Lewis and Primark, called on the police to remove the protesters before the Easter holiday weekend, a key period for retailers. “If this carries on over Easter and the next few days, there could be a really significant hit to business,” he said. “We were at £12m yesterday. If it carries on for a week we could be looking at £100m in loss of trade.” Sir Peter added in the letter that he feared the situation could replicate that of Paris, where many shops in the French capital have been damaged by “gilets jaunes” protests in recent months. “We have seen that the failure of police in Paris to take early action against the protests has resulted in weeks of unrest in that city centre, driving away international and domestic visitors, and hitting shops, restaurants and hotels hard,” the letter said.
Gail Bradbrook, one of the Extinction Rebellion organisers, was unrepentant about the losses businesses were suffering, saying the shops were “relatively large companies that can take a hit in their profit”. She added: “The fashion industry is the second-biggest contributor to global warming and I hope they use this as a chance to reflect.”
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of London First, another London lobby group, warned that any escalation of the protests could affect the city’s international reputation. “We’ve all these visitors in London,” she said. “We need them. We need this economic injection. And at some point it could become off-putting.” London’s taxi drivers also complained about the largely gentle police response. “The Met Police have failed in their duty to keep London open for all, and its leadership have some real questions to answer,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association.
David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and a leading figure in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, said as he joined the protest that he had not expected the demonstrations to last as long as they had. “The police were clearly unprepared and the government need to realise that this is a crisis and they have been utterly useless,” he said. “The only way to deal with the political class is to say to hell with them The Met said that 55 bus routes and 500,000 people had been affected as a result of the protests.