As the international property world gathers at Mipim, those visiting the London Stand may expect uncertainty to be the prevailing mood as Brexit looms on the horizon.
But in reality, there are many grounds for optimism and positivity when it comes to the capital’s long-term future. London has been resilient throughout history and will continue to evolve to remain a world-leading business and investment hub beyond Brexit. The Square Mile is at the heart of this transformation as it becomes an increasingly dynamic, 24/7 City fuelled by a changing occupier base and workforce.
The capital is starting from a strong base. Recent research published by the City of London Corporation and City Property Association revealed that London was seen as the best destination for large companies to locate global teams and innovate – ahead of New York, Paris and Singapore – despite the ongoing Brexit saga.
This is a strong vote of confidence, but we cannot afford to be complacent. That is why the City of London Corporation is working hard to future-proof the Square Mile for the next generation of workers, residents and visitors.
The City of London Corporation is working hard to future-proof the Square Mile for the next generation of workers, residents and visitors
When I took this role three years ago, around 480,000 commuters came to work in the City every day. This has swelled to 513,000 and is expected to rise further when the Elizabeth line opens. To meet this growing demand, our draft local plan and first-ever transport strategy put forward innovative proposals to reshape the City while protecting our heritage assets.
The City Plan 2036 outlines seven key areas of change, including the City Cluster, which is set to grow to close the gap between the Walkie-Talkie and other nearby towers.
The additional commuters bring a challenge – particularly when it comes to overcrowding on our medieval streets. This is part of the reason we are focusing on making the City a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists. For example, the 1960s Aldgate gyratory is now home to drinking fountains, trees, flowing traffic and cycling facilities at Aldgate Square, one of the Square Mile’s largest public spaces.
Our local plan proposals take this innovative approach even further, so walking routes will be available between new buildings. As showcased by the existing routes through One New Change, Bloomberg and Fen Court and the future 100 Leadenhall Street, when workers pour out of their offices, they will be able to cut through the incredible architecture across the Square Mile.
We also want to make our streets safer, as we have already done at Bank junction. That is why one of the transport strategy’s proposals is for a new City-wide 15mph speed limit.
It is also crucial for the City to provide floorspace that meets the demands of our increasingly diverse occupier base. The City Plan 2036 will encourage support for our continued evolution. Our research found tech firms were playing an increasingly important role across London – as demonstrated by Google, Amazon and Apple basing their European HQs here. This trend is reflected by the City’s expanding fintech cluster.
With 99% of City firms being SMEs, there are growing demands for flexible floorspace to support start-ups, incubators and other fast-growing firms. WeWork is one example of an occupier that is providing collaborative spaces that foster innovation and creativity across the City.
The transport strategy and local plan are expected to be finalised in the coming months to ensure that the Square Mile remains attractive to business, investment and talent well beyond 29 March. So my message to those coming to Mipim is that despite the immediate Brexit uncertainty, London’s long-term future has never looked brighter.
Chris Hayward is chairman of the City of London Corporation’s planning and transportation committee