Huge attention has been paid to the future of the City of London as the premier office location, but core to that world-leading offer and continuing confidence is leadership on environmental, social and governance issues.
In terms of office demand, I believe the City is like the “coiled spring” that the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane famously forecast at the depths of the lockdown in February.
The City of London Corporation’s planning department is seeing strong confidence among developers, and that upbeat mood is driven by the reality that people want to work in the best and most sustainable offices. During the first two months of 2021, our Planning and Transportation Committee granted consent to applications equivalent to almost 80% of the total office floorspace that was approved for the whole of last year.
So it is gratifying that in polling carried out by FTI Consulting on 30 March, 250 global investors with an average of £40bn of assets under management said London was leading the world in acceleration and adoption of the ESG agenda.
With ESG at the forefront of investors’ and corporates’ minds in the lead-up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, 66% of investors said London was world-leading or one of the world’s best cities in tackling ESG issues.
Among North American investors, London ranked even more highly on ESG. London also came a close second to New York City in terms of ‘Covid resilience’, with 41% selecting it as the most resilient city since the start of the pandemic, compared with 44% who chose New York.
Those returning to City workplaces want not only to work in the best, most sustainable buildings, but also in developments that benefit people across London and the UK.
Our planning department is exploring ways to invert what were once seen as the City’s defensive walls to look outwards, creating space that is useful for local communities, such as the fabulous roof garden at Fenchurch Street’s Fen Court.
We are also exploring ways to help the City adapt to post-pandemic economic and social trends to continue to be a world-leading ecosystem, and outlined these in ‘The Square Mile: Future City’, produced by the City Corporation’s Recovery Taskforce in partnership with Oliver Wyman.
We have made a number of commitments, including curating a network of high-potential tech-led businesses not usually located in the Square Mile; ensuring the City is a global test-bed for data-driven technologies; and launching a Small Business Research and Enterprise Centre.
To maintain our position as a world-leading business hub, we must also deliver a vibrant cultural offer to attract people to work in, visit and live in the City. We will provide more low-cost, long-term lets for creative businesses in empty and low-use spaces; explore opportunities to enable and animate the City’s growing weekend and night-time offer; and promote a series of weekday events to further boost the wellbeing of the City’s workforce.
We want to work closely with business to enable and promote only truly sustainable new buildings; provide new and improved public spaces that include enhanced opportunities for culture and exercise; and future-proof the City’s communications, energy and transport infrastructure.
The last 12 months have been among the most tumultuous in the City’s 1,000-year history, but as ever, the Square Mile will rebound and reinvent itself to build upon its well-established global status.
Maintaining our leadership in ESG and working even more closely with the property industry will be critical to the City’s future success.
Alastair Moss is chair of the City of London’s Planning & Transportation Committee