‘Destination City’: London’s Square Mile Launches Festival to Draw New Visitors

Minggu, 16 Oktober 2022 | 08.36 WIB Last Updated 2022-10-16T01:37:10Z

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SAFAHAD - The City of London is spending millions of pounds to draw new visitors, after the number of workers returning to the capital’s financial district stalled following the coronavirus pandemic.
The view along the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral. The drop in office use following the pandemic has hit the City © Amani A/Alamy/
SAFAHAD - The City of London is spending millions of pounds to draw new visitors, after the number of workers returning to the capital’s financial district stalled following the coronavirus pandemic.

The body that manages the Square Mile hopes to attract 30,000 people this weekend to an event that will launch the concept of “Destination City” and include theatre and dance performances, as well as treasure hunts around St Paul’s Cathedral and the Guildhall.

Footfall in the City has plateaued at less than two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels even on “peak” midweek days, according to Chris Hayward, policy chair of the City of London Corporation.

So the authority is searching for ways to bring it back to life, with plans to transform the financial district into a weekend destination for day trippers and overseas tourists.

“The idea is to tackle the challenge of footfall post-Covid,” said Hayward. “We were operating at about 540,000 business commuters coming into the city a day but it’s stabilised over the past month or so [at] 60 to 65 per cent of that on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.”

“Friday, which was always the quietest day, has now been replicated on Monday,” he added.

The drop in business use of offices poses an existential challenge for financial centres such as the City. It also threatens small businesses including shops, pubs and restaurants, which are struggling to cope with the lack of demand and rising energy bills.

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Even before the pandemic, the City was seen as a five-day-a-week market, which meant many hospitality groups struggled to cover their costs.

“The idea is really to reestablish the city, but in a slightly different light post-Covid,” said Hayward.

“I want to talk about the small sandwich shops, coffee shops . . . the infrastructure that feeds the big businesses. How do we replace that footfall? And footfall that spends money.”

The corporation’s 24/7 “Destination City” concept is aimed at boosting tourism, particularly from the US. Hayward said the initiative would “open up the rich history of this Roman city” for “a new chapter in the life of the Square Mile”.

“Tourists go to the West End for the theatres, or Knightsbridge for the shopping and museums,” he added. “But we have got one of the largest art centres in the Barbican. We will have this amazing new Museum of London,” whose new site will open in 2025.

But he conceded that office tenants would always be the core of the City’s economy, adding that the initiative’s aim was “not to dilute its focus as a business city, but to supplement it”.

Acknowledging that “more collaborative working spaces” would be required, Hayward stressed the need to rebuild demand for its offices, too, with many companies still finding workers reluctant to return fully.

“I hope more businesses will encourage more people back into the office,” he said, pointing to the importance of mentoring and social experiences. “We need to keep the City driven forward by people coming back into the office.”

The new plans form part of a wider strategy for the Square Mile centred on proposals to move its three historic markets — Smithfield, Spitalfields and Billingsgate — to a new 42-acre site in Barking. The latter two have been relocated in the past.

The City has a duty to provide market trading activities, and it needs an act of parliament, due to be submitted next month, to install all three on the same plot.

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Hayward said the City would apply to transform the Barking site into one of the government’s new “investment zones”, to take advantage of prime minister Liz Truss’s proposal for low-tax, low-regulation business areas.

The corporation has pledged to spend £2bn on new buildings over the next decade, including new police headquarters, a court in Fleet Street, the new Museum of London and a revamp of the Barbican Centre.

But Hayward said that “with construction inflation running at 20 per cent”, he would consider “quite seriously . . . working with the private sector” to deliver the projects. “It doesn’t have to all be Corporation money.”

Although the drop in footfall has not deterred developers and investors from planning and purchasing new office buildings, Hayward wants all buildings owned by the corporation — which is the biggest freeholder in the Square Mile — to reach net zero by 2027, and all other buildings in the district to do the same by 2040.

Welcoming the change in tone from Truss compared with Boris Johnson, Hayward said there was “a real recognition from this government of the value of the City”. “Levelling up the rest of the country can’t be at the expense of levelling down London,” he added.

“The City of London is the best kept secret in London because everybody sees it just as the business place. We’re looking for new markets, we’re looking for new footfall, new people to come in. It's the next stage in the evolution of [its] 1,000-year-old history.”

Contributor: Abdul Hamid
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