London restaurateurs slammed Mayor Ken Livingstone's plans to enlarge the congestion zone this week, saying it would make an already tough market even tougher.
Despite heavy opposition from businesses and residents, the mayor last week gave the green light for expansion of the £5 pay-to-enter area, which would be extended westwards along the embankment to include Chelsea and northwards to Notting Hill.
About two-thirds of 10,000 people who responded to Transport for London's consultation paper said they opposed enlargement, but while admitting it was a "controversial" decision, Livingstone said he still hoped to push ahead.
But restaurateurs in the threatened areas hit back, saying business in the current zone had already suffered - particularly at lunchtime and pre-theatre - and they feared theirs would be similarly affected if the area were extended.
Head receptionist Jomo Carter at Babylon, Kensington Roof Gardens, said the restaurant, which has benefited from being outside the zone, strongly opposed the extension. "An enlargement is bound to damage business and push up supplier costs," he said.
Arun Harnal, director of operations at the Bombay Brasserie in Chelsea and Quilon at Buckingham Gate, was also concerned about the mayor's plans. "We know the extension of the zone will impact negatively on business because it has done so at Quilon, which is inside the current zone - especially at lunchtime. It's already tough out there for businesses and this will just make it tougher."
Daphne's restaurant on Draycott Avenue in Chelsea also feared the proposals. General manager Kerian Terry said: "There will be no advantages in an enlargement of the zone for us. We serve a lot of local people and ladies who lunch who are a very important source of business. We say no to the enlargement."
The British Hospitality Association said political reasons were the driving factor behind the extension. Chief executive Bob Cotton said a detailed analysis of the impact of the current congestion zone had yet to be undertaken.
"The industry as a whole has not felt an impact," he said. "But the charge has redistributed turnover outside the zone and outside of London."
The mayor's one concession to the industry was to end charging at 6pm instead of 6.30pm.