New leadership is needed to unleash the West End's potential

On 18 June 2015, Peter Vernon, CEO of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland spoke to industry and public sector leaders at the launch of the West End Partnership - a major new public-private partnership tasked with driving the delivery of new jobs, growth and greater quality of life at the heart of a global city. The Partnership is chaired by Cllr Philippa Roe, Leader of Westminster. Peter Vernon is Deputy Chair.

18th June 2015

On 18 June 2015, Peter Vernon, CEO of Grosvenor Britain & Ireland (GBI) spoke at the West End Partnership Vision & Programme Launch.

A transcript of Peter's speech follows below.

Further information on the Partnership and its vision can be found here

Philippa, thank you very much. Let me briefly give my perspective as Deputy Chair of the Partnership.

Coalition

In the last 18 months, a genuine coalition has formed within the West End Partnership - a coalition arguably wider than we’ve seen before.

This demonstrates to me there is much more common ground among stakeholders in the West End than we typically think.

The great diversity of uses, investment and activity hosted here makes the West End one of the country’s most vibrant districts. And also creates a wide and valuable set of overlapping interests.

Trade-offs

Now, of course, choices about the West End have to be made.

But I would argue there is no fundamental trade-off between economic growth, the creation of new jobs and enterprises, and a better experience for residents. Or between densification and enhancing the unique character of the West End.

The West End has enormous potential to deliver new and growing businesses, jobs and a growing quality of life for all who experience it. But this potential won’t be unleashed without new leadership – driving policy, investment and practical change. Business as usual will not deliver.

A business plan

It’s worth reminding ourselves what Sir Howard Bernstein said as chair of the West End Commission which led to this Partnership. He said two things that stood out for me:

First – the West End is a national and regional asset of international standing, sitting at the heart and driving the economic success of a global city.

And second – there is no coherent and incentivised governance for it: neither the leadership needed for such an important asset; nor the place-based vision and business plan combined with the people and powers to deliver them.

Twin goals

So we seek through the Partnership the twin goals of growth and a growing quality of life for all who experience the West End: compatible and achievable goals.

This is always harder than arguing over the merits of one over the other, but by far the most rewarding approach. And it's the foundation of all the greatest city plans.

The draft delivery plan published today is very much a start – by no means the end. It’s just the first step and a rolling programme will have to be refined, prioritised and tracked over time with robust KPI’s.

The big opportunities

Philippa has outlined some of the most exciting opportunities in the Partnership's sights. So let me give a brief view on a few of them. Many hinge on Crossrail’s opening. Crossrail is a game changer – an opportunity for the West End that needs to be grasped with both hands.

Oxford Street

First, we've the chance to transform Oxford Street with three things: a radical plan to cut traffic that keeps us open for business; a policy framework that supports densification and the private sector’s funding of better public realm; and a planning approach that creates the world’s most exciting retail district with a greater sense of place for all users – workers, visitors, shoppers, residents.

Indeed we have the chance to go further. Changes to Oxford Street can be the launch pad for reimagined districts north and south of it, delivering new activity there which can grow revenues for Westminster and Camden.

At Grosvenor we’ve begun a major new study into that opportunity and hope to publish emerging thinking early next year.

Digital infrastructure

Second, we've the chance to bring central London's digital infrastructure up to world-class standards with fibre broadband speeds and mobile internet access that befit a global city.

Today, the West End lags behind competing city centres for average broadband speeds – Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Paris – and indeed behind the City of London, which in turn has lower average speeds than Hounslow. We must address our digital connectivity – a high and early priority for the partnership.

Public realm

Third, we've the chance to string together a constellation of public realm improvements. This should build on stand-alone achievements to date such as Leicester Square and link them up across the West End with new walking routes, which in turn should bring new life to our streets with greater pedestrian freedom and sense of place.

To my mind, the West End should have the best and most inspiring public spaces of any world City - nothing less.

New jobs

Fourth, we've the chance to create new jobs for residents of Wesminster and Camden. New development that grows commercial enterprise should be tied to commitment from business to support better pathways to skills and employment.

New collaboration

And finally, we've the chance – perhaps the best in some time – to create an exemplar public-private partnership model. Now, to bring about all these changes and more, this public-private partnership will require ambition and commitment, and amongst other things:

From Westminster and Camden – a more flexible and consistent planning policy regime that rolls back out of date regulation and encourages growth, density and the mix of uses on which the West End will depend.

From the private sector – support for funding models that plough a proportion of value uplift back into the West End’s public realm and infrastructure; with in turn from GLA, TfL and the boroughs – commitment to delivery.

And from national Government – greater financial autonomy for the West End, so that some of the benefits of success can be captured and re-invested by local government, making sure that incentives for investment are much better aligned.

If we can meet on this ground with sufficient ambition and delivery, London and the UK will benefit from the West End's success.

View all Grosvenor contacts