Parts of Outer London seeing stronger local spending, says new report

Parts of Outer London seeing stronger local spending, says new report

Some Outer London town centres have been benefiting from higher local spending during the coronavirus crisis at the same time as Central London has struggled to recover, a new report on the city’s economy has found.

Think tank Centre for London’s latest London Intelligence bulletin, compiled in partnership with King’s College, says that consumption patterns have altered during the pandemic, with some areas of the capital seeing significant increases in retail transactions during July compared with the beginning of the year.

The picture is uneven, with Stratford, Bromley, Orpington and Ealing all seeing falls of around a third compared with January, before the virus took hold. However, data have indicated that other places, including Southall and East Ham, have seen spending on groceries hold up and higher levels on clothing and in restaurants. And Outer London areas in general have been faring better than Central London, where spending across the board fell by between 60 and 80 per cent.

Centre for London deputy director Richard Brown confirmed that “lockdown meant more local spending as Londoners stayed home and shopped locally,” but warned that “London’s global centre is struggling, as are many of the capital’s lowest paid workers” with the numbers of commuters and domestic and foreign visitors a fraction of what it was.

Last week, Sadiq Khan met West End businesses and wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeking targeted financial support and tax breaks to assist the area’s slow recovery and protect workers, including in the hard-hit arts and cultural sector.

The Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents around 500 businesses in the Piccadilly and Leicester Square areas, has made its own appeal for help, with its chief executive asking the government to produce “London-specific messaging” to build on an overall 10 per cent increase in footfall since employees began to be encouraged to return to offices.

Mark Kleinman, professor of public policy at King’s College’s policy institute, said: “The impact of the pandemic has been to accelerate some social and economic changes – such as remote working and online retail – that were already underway. We are now seeing some evidence of additional impacts, particularly on the balance of economic activity between the centre and other parts of the city, that are in part a consequence of these accelerated changes.”

The Centre for London and King’s report also finds that fears of a “car-led recovery” might prove to justified, with road traffic levels across the capital now only five per cent below pre-virus levels while public transport use has been very slow to recover, including by comparison with other international cities. An increase in bicycle use has been mostly noticeable at weekends, suggesting limited switching to cycling as a means of getting to work or shopping.

Transport for London’s chief technology officer, Shashi Verma, recently said the number of local journeys in London had gone up, especially in Outer London, although the number into Central London had also been increasing to some degree. Verma also stressed that any return by Central London to its previous levels of human and economic activity cannot be achieved without a major return to use of the Underground and other rail services.

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