Square Mile working to restore ‘buzz of the City’, says Corporation chief Catherine McGuinness

Square Mile working to restore ‘buzz of the City’, says Corporation chief Catherine McGuinness

Pre-pandemic, the City of London, home to some 9,000 residents, saw around 550,000 commuters arriving every day. And while the historic financial centre currently remains “not shut, but very, very empty”, it would survive the current crisis, with workers keen to return to the Square Mile. 

That was the message from City Corporation chief Catherine McGuinness, speaking today in the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry webinar series on prospects for the capital post-crisis.

“We are confident that people will still want offices but they will use them in different ways,” McGuinness, who chairs the Corporation’s key policy and resources committee, told Chamber chief executive Richard Burge. “People are telling us they want to go back in, and now is a really critical time to get out clear messages that it is safe to move around.”

The Corporation is working hard to see that the “buzz of the City” continues, she said, for small retail and hospitality businesses and cultural attractions as well as the finance sector – “to get people coming safely into the City, going round safely, using local business, getting that life back.”

That includes prioritising streets for pedestrians and cyclists in an “ahead of its time” transport strategy, and working with the London Transition Board, jointly chaired by communities secretary Robert Jenrick and Sadiq Khan, to strengthen the safe travel message: “There are things to come to once you get here, and it is safe to use our transport system”.

Investment aimed at boosting the City’s economy includes a new courts complex south of Fleet Street, and the project consolidating London’s ancient meat, fish and vegetable markets on a new site in Barking & Dagenham, as part of a wider regeneration scheme, McGuinness said.

The corporation is also backing cultural provision, promoting the “Culture Mile” between Farringdon and Moorgate, including the £337 million move of the Museum for London to a new home at Smithfield Market, just approved, and plans for a new Centre for Music, including a purpose-built home for the London Symphony Orchestra at the museum’s old site by the Barbican. 

Concern remain about the future of cultural initiatives and venues across London, McGuinness added. “Culture is as important as anything else in making London great, and the City has long been concerned that the arts should not be the province of a small elite,” she said, agreeing that the business sector should be further encouraged to support the arts.

It is important as well, she said, for the government not to turn its back on the capital. “When we are talking about levelling up in the country we must remember London’s needs too. London has some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. People sometimes forget that.”

McGuinness also advised companies to revisit plans made at the time of concerns about a “no deal” Brexit, and called on the government to accelerate the pace of discussions with the European Union. “Time is running out to get an ambitious agreement of the sort we would like,” she said. “It is disappointing that more progress hasn’t been made on the shape of the future relationship.”

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