"London’s greatest success factor is its ability to attract and retain talent, nationally and internationally. This will be especially true once we are no longer part of the EU.
Key to attracting that talent will be great places:
- Urban neighbourhoods with rich histories that offer a unique lifestyle; homes to people of mixed incomes, backgrounds and life stages.
- Commercial districts hosting new jobs and opportunities for all; districts with the best public spaces and amenities offering a better quality of life.
It is a profound challenge to create and manage such places in London. Meeting it will require closer and more creative collaboration between government and the real estate industry.
But bold public sector leadership must be the starting point for success
In that context, I’d like to spend a few minutes on the West End.
The West End is a critical asset to London and the UK:
- It is more productive than the City of London, to the benefit of the country;
- It is incredibly diverse and home to 120,000 businesses and hosts 650,000 jobs;
- It produces some £17 billion in business taxes a year;
- It attracts 100 million national and international visitors a year; and
- It generates almost a tenth of England’s business rates.
But its success is not guaranteed.
London’s growth is putting enormous pressures on our infrastructure, our communities and our quality of life. The West End sits at the focal point of these pressures and at its heart, Oxford Street manifests many of them.
So the West End will have to respond.
In the face of growing demand and fierce international competition, it will have to work harder for London.
With more jobs and fundamentally better places.
As long-term investors, we see this not just as an enormous opportunity, but an obligation. Failing to meet it would be a dereliction of duty it seems to me, whether of the public sector or the private sector with long term interests in the future of the West End.
So what’s needed to unlock new private sector investment and coordination?
The imperative to transform Oxford Street, at the heart of the West End, offers some answers. You may have seen the recent announcement from the Mayor and Westminster City Council on their ambitions to this global destination.
- Proposals to radically cut traffic and pedestrianise sections of the street.
Their ambition is hugely welcome and must be delivered, but cuts in traffic won’t be enough. We’ll need to reimagine the district and reimagine districts across the West End. We’ll need new public sector placemaking leadership to secure the success of those districts as places in which to work, live, visit and invest.
Business sees two principal risks to Oxford Street’s and the West End’s continued success, with consequences for London.
First, without change, Oxford Street’s competitive advantage will erode.
- Its ability to attract visitors, investment and talent to the capital, and to provide new jobs, will decline.
Oxford Street’s public realm, combined with its high volume of bus and vehicle traffic, is no longer fit for purpose.
- The Mayor and Westminster City Council recognise this but their full ambitions are unfunded.
At the same time, Oxford Street lacks the leisure and cultural uses seen in the world’s most successful districts that extend into the evening and night time.
Second, this district and the wider West End face an employment floor space capacity shortfall.
- The local authority has a target for jobs over the next 20 years - but the economic activity implied by that will require around 2 million square metres of new employment.
- That’s three times the amount of commercial space delivered in the last 20 years.
Without intervention, that shortfall will weaken London’s competitiveness.
A repositioned and integrated district, not just a new street, can overturn these risks.
So I would argue that the Mayor and Westminster City Council should go further than cuts in traffic. They should frame the bigger picture.
- Engage Londoners on the choices needed to unleash the full potential of the West End;
- Offer a counterpoint to any local politics that might frustrate the best outcome; and
- Back the principle that the proceeds of growth should be reinvested locally in the West End as well as shared nationally.
The goal should be to drive jobs and expand the West End's opportunities to all Londoners.
Of course, there are trade-offs in achieving that goal but they must be made against the imperative for placemaking leadership that reinvests the proceeds of growth locally. The creation of jobs and growth is a route, not a barrier, to creating great places with the best amenities.
But for too many years the West End’s success has been undermined by a false trade-off.
A false 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.
A different narrative is needed and our civic leaders have the power to articulate it.
So I believe we’ll need a public sector vision that sees Oxford Street and its neighbouring areas complement and drive each others’ success in a commercial district of changing uses.
A public sector vision backed by steady-stream public funding.
- Funding that in turn attracts private capital and coordination at scale to deliver improvements in public realm and infrastructure.
To achieve all that, it seems to me a new approach will be needed.
We and others, alongside local Business Improvement Districts, have long pressed central Government to back a Tax Increment Finance Model for the West End.
- A model in which incremental growth in business rates can be ploughed back into local investment in public realm and infrastructure.
The budget today has been silent on that backing, which is hugely disappointing. I think the response calls for a new alignment in London between the Mayor and Westminster City Council.
- A joint-commitment to avoid the false trade-off between growth and a better experience for residents in the West End.
- A joint-commitment to unlock the potential of central London’s districts.
A cross-party vision and an investment plan with funding to stimulate the private sector capital and coordination needed to tackle the threats facing the West End.
The opportunity it seems to me is too great to ignore.
- New jobs and fundamentally better places, created by
- Bold, growth-promoting civic leadership, backed by
- New collaboration between the public and private sector.
With these, the capital’s most productive economic and cultural district can flourish in the face of fierce international competition, to the UK’s benefit."