The West End is still where it’s at

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Substantial financial resource is making London’s West End exciting

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Substantial financial resource is making London’s West End more exciting than ever before.

Last week I read with great fanfare of the pending redevelopment of Oxford Circus. It does not seem like that long ago when it was last subject to redevelopment, which delivered a more progressive pedestrian crossing system that works really well.

The next stage will see total pedestrianisation and seems a very exciting prospect.

Likewise, Marble Arch. The plans were only announced in February, but the scheme is well under way to create Marble Arch Hill. This will provide more of an attraction as you will be able to buy your sunglasses in Oxford Street to watch the sunset from the hill.

Given that the Shelley Sandzer office is based in Riding House Street, right by Oxford Circus, unsurprisingly I will be near the front of the queue to see both Oxford Circus and Marble Arch in all their glory later on this year.

There are also a number of smaller scale, but no less significant, initiatives under way. CapCo has just announced a summer festival programme in Covent Garden, while Shaftesbury has launched a Botanical Garden installation in Chinatown.

Substantial financial resource and effort continues to make the West End even more exciting than it already is.

Yet there is an elephant in the room: will there be enough people to enjoy what is being created or to generate the buzz that makes the West End a special place?  Although I am very encouraged to see the return of many, I am also conscious of there are many more who are still being directed to or choosing to work from home.

Without overseas tourism, our workforce is a crucial component to the livelihood of our city centres and of course its hospitality spend.

On the one hand, build it and they will come and, in the case of Marble Arch, they are anticipating 200,000 visitors. This is not enough, however, to pump the life into the West End it deserves.

I am keen for the Government and corporates to urge employees back to the office. Of course, this need not be universal, and I appreciate productivity can be achieved almost anywhere in many cases. But I also appreciate there are many people out there keen to get back into the magical world of their city centres, but are restricted in doing so because of current directives. Such directives need to change as quickly as possible and, with the success of the vaccine programme, we surely cannot be far off the moment when the nation is told it can mobilise properly once again.

London is very exciting at the moment, with plenty of new restaurant openings and yet more to follow. So, come on down, because you will not regret it.

Ted Schama is managing director at Shelley Sandzer.

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