The West End’s unique economic “ecosystem” of retail, entertainment and cultural institutions is at risk unless forthcoming expansions in transport capacity are accompanied by increases in office and commercial floorspace, a new report for London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Westminster City Council has found.
Prepared by engineering and planning giant Arup, the report, entitled West End Good Growth, also recommends “a flexible, positive, good growth” policy approach with a focus on the wellbeing of visitors and employees and close engagement with residents over “quality of life concerns”.
It highlights a decline in employment floor space in the area over the last 15 years, with that for office and retail falling by two per cent and six per cent respectively between 2011-16. Although there has been growth in employment over the same period, Arup believes this has primarily been because of intensified use of existing space combined with a fall in the amount left vacant. “We would argue that in good growth terms, this trend will be very difficult to sustain over the longer term,” says the report.
With Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line, now scheduled to start running next autumn, projected to eventually bring about an increase in visitor numbers from around 200 million a year to as many as 90 million more, the report warns that “a bottoming out of employment density for the West End” risks undermining its attractiveness, with higher property prices encouraging more of a polarised “high end” and “mass market” character at the expense of other “intermediate” types of economic activity that make the West End distinctive.
Arup’s 125-page document was commissioned in early August, following Westminster’s decision in June to abandon plans for the full pedestrianisation of Oxford Street it had been working on with Transport for London (TfL), London Mayor Sadiq Khan and local business and residents’ groups for the previous two years.
Mayor Khan expressed anger at the council’s move, which exposed the weakness of mayoral powers due to Westminster, rather than TfL, being the highway authority for Britain’s most famous shopping street. Westminster has since produced its own, alternative “place-based” strategy for transforming a wider Oxford Street District, which it believes will better reconcile the sometimes conflicting goals of property development, improving street environments and addressing the concerns of influential local residents’ groups.
The term “good growth” describes a central theme of the Mayor’s draft new London Plan, the capital’s statutory spatial development strategy. The report says that “whilst Westminster City Council and other key players in the West End may have differences in emphasis, they are generally aiming for the same sorts of good growth outcomes for their communities and stakeholders”.
It assesses both Westminster’s evolving City Plan, setting out its overall local planning strategy, and the Local Plan of Camden Council, which part of the West End falls into. Comparisons are made to the approaches to similar challenges adopted by other cities, such as Paris, Singapore and New York.
The report emphasises the “crucial importance” of the West End to London’s and the UK’s economy. Westminster’s economy has an estimated GVA (Gross Value Added) of £57 billion a year, most of it emanating from the West End. Its retail core, primarily Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, generate sales of £9 billion a year. Over three per cent of the economic output of the entire UK flows from the West End.
Read the West End Good Growth report here.