London Recovery: Restaurateurs upbeat, bus restrictions easing and a new theatre on its way

London Recovery: Restaurateurs upbeat, bus restrictions easing and a new theatre on its way

The latest high street data from think tank Centre for Cities shows Central London still at the bottom of the UK footfall table and close to it in terms of spending. Shops, restaurants and pubs are still really struggling compared with pre-pandemic norms and recovery continues to be weak.

But there are also definite signs of a capital comeback. A “vaccine bounce” is detectable. As BBC London’s Tom Edwards reports, Transport for London has said that capacity on double decker buses will be increased from 30 to 60 from Monday (anecdotally, the 30 limit is already feeling quite loosely policed). Bus ridership has climbed back to around 60 per cent of normal and Tube levels to around 45 per cent.

From Monday, indoor dining-out and pub drinking will resume, albeit with some Covid rules still applying. The virus has claimed many casualties, yet among survivors hopes are now rising that huge pent-up demand is now to start being released.

Speaking to Citywire’s Richard Lander, West End restaurant manager Emma Underwood, who is starting a new venture in the summer, said she feels “really optimistic” about the future, in part because the strictures of lockdown have enabled chefs and others in the trade to recharge their batteries and add to their creativity. “I think there’s going to be a big boom. Guests are absolutely dying to get back to dining out again.”

Trevor Gulliver, chief executive of the St John restaurant in Smithfield, spoke of a need for the food and culture sectors to be upbeat: “Just think Olympics 2012. Do not think of the dog days between then and where we are now. Let’s bring back that kind of spirit.”

With theatres and cinemas also due to re-open with reduced capacities, the Financial Times today reports that theatre impresario Howard Panter is to build a 1,575-seat theatre at Olympia, the biggest new one in the capital since the National Theatre was opened on the South Bank in 1976.

His 35-year lease on the site is described by the FT as a bet on “the rapid return of London’s performing arts scene after the pandemic”. Panter said: “Developments of this nature are what is needed to regenerate city centres. How are we going to get people back together again if we don’t create spaces that are worth going to?”

On Monday, Sadiq Khan used the swearing-in ceremony for his second term as London Mayor to formally launch a promotional campaign to encourage domestic visitors and Londoners themselves to get back to enjoying the capital’s retail and hospitality attractions and forthcoming events.

From the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre he described the campaign – entitled Let’s Do London – “the biggest domestic tourism campaign London has ever seen” and said its aim is to demonstrate to the country that “our capital city stands ready to entertain, inspire and enthral once again”.

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