London’s West End is set to bounce back from the pandemic with new initiatives and a £5 billion capital investment over the next five years to cement its place as one of the world’s greatest retail, cultural and leisure destinations.
The details of the new investment plans were unveiled yesterday by New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street and in Mayfair.
“London’s West End has long held a place as one of the globe’s leading commercial hubs, but this unprecedented level of billions in capital investment will cement our spot as the most iconic and diverse consumer district in the world,” said Jace Tyrrell, chief executive, New West End Company. “As Covid restrictions ease, we are now looking ahead to a high street that aligns with our 21st century customer.”
The investment is spread across 22 existing and new West End developments and aims to go beyond just recovering from the negative impact of the pandemic on the retail, hospitality and commercial property sectors. The more ambitious and long-term goal is to promote change and diversify the district’s offerings.
Public realm projects are a major focus of this evolution, with over £220 million of the total investment dedicated to public open spaces, along with a marked shift in the makeup of the high street.
There will continue to be a place for traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, but they will be complemented by brands that offer a more diversified and immersive experience, in line with changing customer demands.
Mixed use for three quarters of West End developments
In what will be one of the most wide-ranging overhauls of a high street to date, 76% of West End developments listed will be mixed use.
Two examples are the launch of Outernet London, the first of a global network of the world’s most advanced immersive media, entertainment and culture districts, and the plans to turn Cavendish Square into a health and well-being destination.
It is the beginning of a new era for London’s West End, said James Raynor, CEO, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland: “Over the last year, we’ve seen an incredible response to interventions like outdoor dining, pavement widening and public art schemes. But to secure the West End’s future we need to think bigger and bolder.”
Grosvenor is re-designing Grosvenor Square and the South Molton Triangle and has a £1 billion development pipeline, investing in the area’s recovery and its resilience to climate change, reducing traffic pollution and improving air quality.
Only continued investment in the evolution of the place and continued support to entice back international visitors will see the West End contribute to the UK economy as it has done in past years, Raynor said.
The goal for the West End is to deliver £10 billion in annual turnover and reach 200 million visitors a year.
New West End is also calling on the Government to improve the UK visa process for overseas visitors. If the district is to reach its full potential, it needs to be attractive enough to welcome back international tourists en masse from key markets.
London is currently at a significant disadvantage compared with other international shopping destinations such as Paris, said Tyrrell, as visas for visitors to the UK are less attractive or flexible than their Schengen equivalent, which allows entry into 26 countries. “We’re seeing a renewed confidence returning to Oxford Street after a challenging 18 months, with new store lettings demonstrating the importance of the street as a global destination for international brands,” said Sam Foyle, co-global head of retail, Savills. “The commitment from the council on place making and the eventual planned arrival of Crossrail next year will provide the added stimulus to reinvigorate Oxford Street to its previous best.”