Almost three years since Covid-19 shut much of the world down, there are green shoots of hope among the West End’s businesses.
Here are 10 examples from across this iconic district for which we should be optimistic.
• International visitors: figures for the six months from the start of August show international footfall up 26% for Leicester Square, Piccadilly and St Martin’s Lane compared with the same period in the previous year – that’s about another 4.6 million international travellers.
• Domestic visitors: The West End’s role in promoting London as a leading world city cannot be overstated. Initiatives like Art of London and the Mayor’s ‘Let’s Do London’ campaign have captivated Londoners, helping to bring domestic tourists back.
• Spending: While the Monday-to-Friday office week is far from back, the amount of money people are spending is holding up. Despite a slowing recovery, according to the New West End Company, the West End looks set to hit annual turnover of £10bn by 2025, with sales up 109% year on year in 2022 as “spend continues to outperform footfall”.
• The Elizabeth Line: Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road stations have opened, the latter being London’s busiest station, enabling millions more journeys into the West End. The Elizabeth Line continues London’s tradition of world-class engineering, and with its step-free design it marks a leap forward for accessibility in central London.
• Hospitality: Despite an acute shortage of labour, great strides are being made to stem a further decline of trading conditions. Recruitment schemes such as Westminster Works show hospitality and leisure businesses are adapting to the changing ways people want to work.
The Elizabeth Line continues London’s tradition of world-class engineering, and with its step-free design it marks a leap forward for accessibility in central London.
• The night-time economy: The GVA of the West End’s evening and night-time economy is almost £1bn a year and growing. The West End’s promotion as a safe and vibrant 24-hour destination in which to live, work, trade and invest has seen this sector again boosting London’s economy.
• Offices: Central London office demand has held firm despite the work-from-home trend and economic downturn risking upending the capital’s market. The challenge is how to curate office and amenity offerings for staff to increase journeys to work on Mondays and Fridays.
But London’s super-sustainable, smart workplaces remain in demand, delivering the potential for prime rental growth and attracting billions in global capital to London real estate assets.
• Investment: Improvements to the public realm are planned across the West End to preserve and enhance central London’s unique character and provide high-quality spaces for workers, visitors and residents. Projects include the creation of an Arts Quarter in streets behind the National Gallery, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, which is expected to boost rental values by 35% and jobs by 13%, and generate £420m in GVA.
• Art: A £1.75bn support package has been secured for the arts and culture sector, allowing for the retention of art galleries, cultural institutions and theatres. These are our greatest assets, the backbone of our global standing and place in the national psyche.
• London has bounced back: Its economy has powered ahead of other regions, posting the fastest recovery from the impact of the pandemic, according to official data from the Office for National Statistics. This is good news, because when London does well, so does the rest of the UK, showing the importance of the capital to the levelling-up agenda.
Ros Morgan is chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance
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