Despite the gloom of the lockdown, with the vaccine rollout well under way, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel.
And the City of London Corporation has already set its sights on life after Covid-19 and how to harness the opportunities that will come with the recovery from these tough times.
We know that developer confidence in the future of the Square Mile has remained high, and in planning terms, we ended 2020 on an upward trajectory.
More planning applications were submitted in November than in the same month the previous year, meaning we had surpassed pre-pandemic levels. We also made more decisions during that same timeframe.
So far this year, we have added extra planning and transportation committee meetings to the calendar to keep up with demand and have reinforced the ranks of our planning team.
Continuing demand for space is a vote of confidence in the City’s future, which will be reflected when workers eventually return safely in large numbers, in line with government guidance.
It is not only the quantity of development that is increasing, but quality as we push for more sustainable development. Initiatives such as our radical climate action strategy are putting a greater emphasis on health and wellbeing than ever before.
The City Corporation recently adopted world-first technical guidance on thermal comfort, to better understand the impact a development will have on the feel of an area. This approach seasonally analyses data on wind, sunlight, temperature and humidity to predict how the microclimatic character of a place will feel to the public once a scheme is put in place.
These thermal comfort guidelines will also inform how we make the Square Mile more resilient to the effects of climate change and map ‘heat stress’ areas where measures such as tree planting and vertical greening should be considered.
Meanwhile, the City’s transportation team has ensured that our streets will be a safe and welcoming space to return to after the pandemic. The City’s Transport Recovery Plan has been designed to maximise the space available for pedestrians and cyclists to get to their destination in a socially distanced and comfortable way.
These measures have been welcomed by key workers and those who have come back to the office at various times since the start of the pandemic.
To tackle the longer-term revival of the Square Mile, the City Corporation is setting up a Recovery Task Force. In time, it will deliver a blueprint for the City to remain internationally competitive and locally vibrant.
The mission of this group is to ensure that the Square Mile is the world’s most innovative, inclusive and sustainable business location and continues to be an attractive place to work in, live in and visit.
This is a crucial moment for London and we remain confident in the enduring strengths of the City. We look forward to welcoming people back to a vibrant Square Mile – just as soon as it is safe to do so.
Alastair Moss is chair of the planning and transportation committee at the City of London Corporation