Following representations from London’s lesbian and gay community, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has voiced his opposition to plans by Westminster City council to remove rainbow flags from business premises in Soho. The flags are used by gay owned and targeted bars and retail outlets to identify them to members of London’s sizeable gay community.
Under section 224 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, businesses that display the flag face possible
prosecution as displaying the flags is viewed as advertising. However the Mayor has written to Simon Milton leader of Westminster City Council pointing out that the rainbow flag is not an advertisement but an international emblem which “symbolises pride, unity and solidarity.”
Ken Livingstone said:
“London is home to one of the largest lesbian and gay communities in Europe, and is rated by tourists, who make a substantial economic contribution to London, as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
A large number of thriving gay businesses in the Soho area have flown a rainbow flag over their premises for many years, including the Admiral Duncan pub. Proudly flying the community flag visibly strengthens London’s welcome to lesbian and gay society, and allows gay visitors and tourists to instantly identify where gay premises are located. It is remarkable that Westminster City Council has decided to attack a key element of the cultural identity of Soho, the heart of London’s gay community, a major entertainment zone and a key area for gay business.
The removal of these flags will be seen as deeply offensive to lesbian and gay people, at a time when the Government is finally granting this community equal civil rights. I would like to see all rainbow flags restored to their rightful place as soon as possible.”
Westminster Development Planning Services recently wrote to gay businesses in Soho informing them that planning consent to display the flag outside premises is unlikely to be granted on the grounds of the “negative
visual impact it has on the surrounding area”.