01Policy priority 1: Repairing London’s city centre and preparing it for future growth
- Campaign to encourage people back to the city centre once it is safe. The mayor should work with London employers and the Urban Centre Recovery Taskforce to encourage offices to reopen and ensure the capital’s transport infrastructure is able to cope
- Continue to support high-quality office space in the city centre. Offices will continue to play a key role in London’s economy even if working from home permanently increases.
Research from Centre for Cities has demonstrated that Covid-19’s economic damage has been particularly profound in city centres, and especially within London.1 Along with the Core Cities outside the capital, London has experienced particularly sharp falls in city centre commuting, with the public currently having strong aversions to urban centres and public transport. Centre for Cities expects these to be temporary, but supporting London’s city centre will need to be a priority for any mayor seeking to ensure the entire city benefits from wider economic recovery.
While the ability of much of London’s workforce to work from home reflects in part the strength of London’s labour market, the local services jobs in shops, restaurants, pubs and others that depend on commuters’ city centre spending have been hard hit. Securing the recovery of London’s city centre is of crucial local and national economic performance, and a significant and permanent increase in working from home would be particularly damaging to those on lower incomes whose work cannot be done remotely.
London should launch a campaign in partnership with the government’s Urban Centre Recovery Taskforce to encourage a return to city centre working once it is safe to do so. This would be similar to the London is Open and One London campaigns of earlier years. The objective would be to counteract the extremely successful campaign last spring that encouraged people to work from home due to the danger from Covid-19. This would help not just office workers, but also the workers in hospitality and retail and similar local service sectors who depend on office workers’ spend in London’s city centre. Ensuring that public transport will be able to cope with increased commuting as restrictions ease will need to be part of this effort, and will require co-operation with central government and central London employers.
London will need more city centre office space to prepare for future growth. Once central London has recovered, demand for office space over the next decade is likely to continue to rise. This is because, even if there is a rise in working from home, it does not necessarily follow that this will reduce the need for office space in London’s city centre. If offices are required to compete more fiercely for workers as working from home becomes more common, the quality of office working and the amenities on offer will have to improve. More space per worker may mean that more city centre office space is required in aggregate to make those who commute more likely to do so, even if the share of London’s office workers who are commuting falls.
The mayor should avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy of supporting reductions to office space in central London before significant recovery can happen. The mayor will need to ensure that London’s city centre office market remains healthy for the benefit of the entire city’s economy, and avoid decisions in the Central Activities Zone that make taller, denser, and new office space more difficult for developers to deliver.