West End business district calls for ‘London-specific messaging’ to boost recovery

West End business district calls for ‘London-specific messaging’ to boost recovery

What difference has been made in Central London by the government’s encouraging people to return to places of work at the start of this month?

The Heart of London Business Alliance, which speaks for around 500 businesses and 100 property owners in the Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and Piccadilly and St James’s areas, has released figures indicating a significant increase in visitors to those parts of the West End. Year-on-year footfall remains dramatically down, by 65 per cent. But a 10 per cent increase since the new guidance came into effect may suggest that a further revival of economic activity can be maximised, given the right encouragement.

Chief executive Ros Morgan says the rise in numbers of people in the area “enabled almost 100 shops to open last week” with the greatest benefits being felt in Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and in between. Why? Morgan says parts of the Alliance’s territory predominantly used by shoppers, such as the men’s tailoring destination Jermyn Street, have seen less of an improvement than those with more varied uses and visitors.

Footfall figures for the week commencing 3 August show a week-on-week rise of 11 per cent in the Square and the Circus, but only a three per cent jump in Jermyn Street and none at all on Piccadilly, where footfall is 71 per cent down on what it was this time last year. To build on recovery progress so far, Morgan is asking the government for “more encouragement for theatres and other cultural institutions to be able to open in a safe and viable way”.

She adds: “It’s easy to overlook the inter-connectedness of the whole Central London ecosystem, with a number of businesses reliant on these institutions to draw people in. Spending time in London involves a rich variety of experiences with many people who work in central London then spending the evening unwinding in the West End.”

Morgan also urges “strong, aligned leadership” from both the government and the Mayor in communicating that public transport is safe to use and encouraging people to do so, bearing in mind the continuing strict limits on capacity and the resulting desirability of travelling outside peak hours where possible.

“We are keen to see the introduction of London-specific messaging, highlighting the excellent measures that Transport for London is taking to ensure the system’s safety, resilience and readiness for mass passenger numbers,” she said. “Yes, the promotion of other modes of transport such as walking and cycling routes are important but public transport is key to getting people into the city centre from outside Zones 1 and 2.”

Yesterday, Sadiq Khan wrote to Boris Johnson – supported by another Central London business group, the New West End Company, and others – with eight proposals for helping the West End, which generates a substantial share of overall UK economic output. Measures he proposed include an extension of the current business rates holiday, financial aid for hospitality, retail and cultural businesses and more support for employees and the self-employed.

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