The City of London is planning for life after the pandemic.
The overseers of the sparsely-populated area announced plans on Tuesday to build at least 1,500 homes in the next decade, along with exploring new ways to repurpose empty space. It’s already flagged ambitions to develop 122,500 square meters (1.3 million square feet) of shopping space over 15 years.
The proposals come after lockdowns fueled fierce debates about the future of work, spurring some banks in both the Square Mile and Canary Wharf financial districts to accelerate plans to ditch office space. Vacancies across the City have soared 70% since the onset of the pandemic to 12 million square feet, according to Savills Plc.
“London remains a world-leading financial center but we also know that to remain so, we must adapt,” Catherine McGuinness, chair of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation said at a virtual event hosted by Bloomberg on Tuesday to launch the plan.
We are “reimagining the Square Mile for the new normal and resurging from this difficult period better and stronger than ever,” she said.
The permanent residential population of the City is estimated to be around 8,000, compared with about half a million workers that thronged its streets from Monday to Friday before the pandemic.
The emphasis on more homes and shopping doesn’t mean the City is no longer building new offices; no fewer than nine new tower blocks are under construction or in the pipeline, a report outlining the proposals said.
But the Corporation is sending a firm message: the City is no longer just a bankers’ playground. It’s embarking on a five-year marketing campaign which could promote all-night events similar to Paris’s Nuit Blanche arts festival or traffic-free days on weekends during the summer. Empty and under-used spaces could also be let cheaply to workers in creative industries.
Visitors spend two billion pounds ($2.8 billion) a year in the district, supporting 34,000 jobs across the culture, leisure, hospitality and retail sectors, according to the report outlining the proposals.
The Corporation will also seek to woo smaller, high-potential firms including technology companies and sectors not traditionally drawn to the City, such as bio-sciences, the report said. There are plans to make 5G technology available across the district.
“Every city around the world will be thinking about these things,” Danny Lopez, chief executive officer of cyber-security firm Glasswall Solutions, said at the virtual event. “We are entering a very long-term new chapter that’s going to take us quite a while to figure out,” he said.
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