London’s West End in for a £5 billion post-pandemic investment windfall
As London gradually recovers from the pandemic but footfall remains well below pre-Covid levels, London’s West End shopping district is in for a £5 billion investment windfall.
In what it calls “unprecedented funding”, The New West End Company (NWEC), which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and in Mayfair, said the five-year investment programme will be spread across 22 existing and new developments. The aim is to “diversify the district’s offerings and cement its place as the world’s leading cultural, retail and leisure hub”.
As the area looks to “bounce back” from a pandemic that ravaged the retail, hospitality and commercial property sectors, the capital injection will also help it “evolve into the destination of choice for the modern consumer”.
While NWEC said the onus will be on public realm projects - with over £220 million of the total investment dedicated to this open public space - it will be accompanied by a “marked shift in the makeup of the high street”.
Traditional bricks and mortar stores are to be complemented with brands that “fulfil the needs of a consumer looking for a more diversified and immersive experience from their city centres”.
In one of the “most ambitious overhauls of a high street to date”, 76% of the West End developments listed will be mixed use.
It includes the launch of Outernet London - the first of a global network of the world's most advanced immersive media, entertainment and culture districts. And there are also plans to turn Cavendish Square into a health and wellbeing destination.
James Raynor, CEO of property giant Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, said: "Over the last year, we’ve seen an incredible response to interventions like outdoor dining, pavement widening and public art schemes. But to secure the West End’s future we need to think bigger and bolder.
“Only continued investment in the evolution of the place and political support to entice back international visitors will see it able to contribute to the UK economy as it has in past years”.
He said Mayfair’s development pipeline alone represents around £1 billion of future investment in the destination’s recovery and resilience to climate change.
“Our commitment to net zero and schemes like the redesign of Grosvenor Square and South Molton Triangle will play a major part in re-establishing the area’s draw to climate conscious and experience-driven consumers”.
Initiatives will also include reducing traffic pollution and enhancing air quality, he noted.
He added: “If the West End is to reach its full potential and once more become the beating heart of London, it needs to be attractive enough to welcome back international tourists en masse from key markets. Only then can it realise its goal to deliver £10 billion in annual turnover with 200 million visitors a year”.
On the important subject of tourism, Raynor noted that the West End “is currently at a significant disadvantage compared with other international shopping destinations, such as Paris, which offers visitors preferable visa terms”.
He noted that “visas for visitors to the UK are currently less attractive or flexible than their Schengen equivalent, which allows entry into 26 countries. As a result, Britain is often missed off multi-country European tours”.
He warned: “Coupled with the eradication of tax free shopping in the UK, London is becoming much less appealing to the high net worth shoppers, diners and holidaymakers that contribute so much to the district and country’s economy”.
Jace Tyrell, chief executive at NWEC, added: “This unprecedented level of billions in capital investment will cement our spot as the most iconic and diverse consumer district in the world. As Covid restrictions ease, we are now looking ahead to a high street that aligns to our 21st century customer.
“With support from the Government, we need to make the West End as attractive as possible to both domestic and international visitors, showing them why London is the place to shop, dine, explore and experience over alternatives such as Paris or Milan. This means exploring a simplified visa process to entice overseas visitors back to British shores.
“We truly believe that we are building back better and more sustainably, but - if we want consumers to flock back to our high street and continue to support one in ten London jobs that benefits both the Capital and country - we must clear a path for them.”
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