Covid-19 presents unprecedented challenges for all of us, but at the City of London Corporation we are emphatically open for business.
Our remit is to make the City the world’s best destination for all property occupiers – from tech, financial services and global giants to the thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises that call the Square Mile their home.
We also welcome the world’s best developers and investors and are proud to be home to stunning new developments such as 22 Bishopsgate, Broadgate and the flexible working hubs that are proliferating within our boundaries.
So when the prime minister announced that the UK would be going into lockdown on 23 March, we had some tough and rapid decisions to make. It meant immediate redeployment of our staff and new ways of working for everyone in our team.
The City Corporation’s planning service is running at normal levels, with most planning officers working from home. We are processing applications and the planning committee has informally met twice online.
Just last week, it met again formally to decide on important applications that could not be put on hold – including London’s largest building to incorporate vertical urban greening at 50 Fenchurch Street.
Our department of the built environment is also ensuring smooth transportation and free parking for key workers at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Streets are being kept clean and important maintenance work carried out at London Bridge within social distancing guidelines.
Our message is that the City remains open for business and construction, with contractors steadily returning to sites having cleverly engineered ways to operate while adhering to social distancing guidance.
The City of London has a long history of resilience and we are determined to play our part in the UK’s recovery. Covid-19 has raised questions about how we use office space, and the implications for the City are real. We also need to consider new ways for restaurants, bars and hotels to operate.
I believe that as we emerge from the crisis, we will have learned how much we value our workspace, our need to be together and our desire to act as a community.
The City will play an important role in that resurgence, because fundamentally it is the bonds that we have all forged through working together that will also help us to beat the pandemic.
When we emerge, the City will be well placed to adapt to a changed world. Our new local plan, which sets a framework for development in the City until 2036, has sustainability at its heart, with a premium on people being able to breathe our air, walk along our streets and feel safe using our transport. The plan sets out our aspirations for public realm and buildings that inspire – and with the streets now relatively empty and air quality so high, we will only be further empowered on our mission towards a sustainable Square Mile.
In recent weeks, we have seen an increased level of enquiries from organisations wishing to undertake developments in the City. Investors, developers and occupiers from across the world are maintaining real confidence – and we are keen to hear your views on how to make the Square Mile even greater over the years to come.
Alastair Moss is chair, planning and transportation committee at The City of London Corporation