Restaurant owners in London's Brick Lane have slammed a midnight curfew, arguing that it would destroy their businesses.
The 60 Indian restaurants were visited by council official in recent days who warned the owners that they must stop serving at midnight or face a £20,000 fine.
Tower Hamlets Council told the businesses that even those with licenses to serve food and drink beyond midnight must now adhere to local planning regulations that aim to curb anti-social behaviour and close at midnight.
But the restaurant owners argued that late-night trade accounts for around a third of their total income and that a midnight curfew could force many to close for good, reported the Evening Standard.
Azmal Hussain, owner of four Brick Lane restaurants licensed to sell alcohol and food to either 1am or 2am and vice-chair of the Brick Lane Restaurateurs Association, said the curfew came completely out of the blue.
"We get a lot of customers during 12pm and 2am. We have no lunch trade so if we have no late night trade how can we survive?" he added. "I predict 30 per cent of the restaurants will be gone within three months. They can't pay their rent. If there are no restaurants, Brick Lane will be nothing."
Hussain's views were echoed by Curry Bazaar owner Mohammad Ahmed, who described the situation as a "crisis".
He said: "Our late-night curry houses are established. We have been here for 18 years and our late-night customers are good people. I don't think my business can survive without those hours.
"About one third of our profit comes through during those hours. I run the business with my two younger brothers and I have just had twins. This is really troubling us."
In its letter to Brick Lane business owners, Tower Hamlets council said: "It may be your licensing hours are not the same as the opening hours specified by the planning condition. In cases such as this it is the earlier closing time that you must adhere to."
Those who do not comply face fines of up to £20,000 at a magistrates' court or an unlimited fine at a Crown Court.
A council spokesman said: "This enforcement action relates to the normal opening hours of businesses down Brick Lane. Planning enforcement officers visited all licensed premises in January, as part of partnership work with the police to reduce anti-social behaviour.
"Bar owners and restaurants were reminded of their responsibility to operate within their official opening hours, which are restricted by official planning conditions. Formal planning enforcement notices would be served to any premises that continue to open beyond their approved opening hours."
But the council's concentrated efforts to enforce planning conditions were criticised by Labour councillor Helal Abbas, who said: "These restaurants have been operating these hours for 15 to 20 years.
"We should be working with small businesses rather than taking a sledgehammer to them. The council has decided to come down heavy-handed in an area that is suffering. This is going to hit hard on a very small group of people."