Business owners and industry experts have said London has witnessed its ‘biggest change in living memory’ after the coronavirus pandemic emptied the streets of the capital.
The city’s bustling tourist hotspots and busy office buildings fell silent in March as the government lockdown forced the vast majority of people to work from home and visitor numbers dried up.
A year later, just over half of UK workers have returned to their workplaces, but the impact on the City of London is still particularly striking.
Mark Dixon, managing director of office giant IWG, told the PA news agency that demand for office space in central London has declined over the past 12 months, as more companies seek opportunities outside the M25.
He said the company saw demand in the city drop 26%, with a 175% increase in Uxbridge and 52% in High Wycombe.
He added that the high cost of living in London has particularly weighed on its recovery in demand.
“For a lot of young people, working in London is a great place – if they don’t have to travel,” he said.
“So if they could have a short tube ride to get from A to B, fantastic, but the cost of living in London can kind of be prohibitive.
“What we saw during Covid is that liveable cities were less affected than what we called ‘unliveable cities’ or very expensive cities.
“So if you look at cities like Copenhagen – where there is a lot of affordable housing it is very easy to get to work, there is a reasonably priced and very good public transport system – it has been a lot, much less affected.
However, commercial property experts said there had been green pushes of recovery in recent months with improving investment in the city.
Andrew Thomas, Head of International Capital Markets at Colliers, said: ‘As the first signs of spring begin to appear, the first signs of the ability of the UK workforce to exit the forced lockdown hibernation are working. also.
“The past 12 months have created the biggest change in London’s living memory and we are only at the start of the journey.
“The panic that prevailed at this time last year over the failure of urbanization and the death of the office has subsided and more and more voices have been raised to support life and work in our inner cities.
He added that real estate portfolios have evolved over the period, with investors and developers increasingly looking for smaller projects in the capital.
Colliers said demand for larger developments fell 64% year-over-year, although total activity is only down 20%.
Real estate giant Savills also reported another rebound last month, with turnover of £ 346.5million in February after a calm January.
However, he said that figure was still 30% as of February 2020, despite hopes regarding the impact of the positive roll-out of the vaccination in the UK.
Robert Franks, co-founder of luxury sneaker retailer Kick Game, said the business was hit hard by the closures, but store sales saw their recovery hampered by low tourist numbers in the capital.
The retailer, which specializes in limited-add items, has warned that there remains a shadow of uncertainty over how the tourist market will recover in 2021 despite the prime minister’s roadmap.
“We really depend on the people of the Middle East and China this summer – this trade can make or break our year,” he told the AP.
“Online has been great and has kept us moving forward over the past year, but we really want to see these customers come back this summer. ”
However, Franks pointed out that the impact on the commercial real estate market has created opportunities for independent retailers to locate in locations they previously could not afford.
“Everything is weird. The stores were hit hard, but we were able to open new ones because the owners were happy to agree rents based on sales.
“If you had told me a year ago that we would have opened stores in Burlington Arcade and Covent Garden across from the Apple Store, I would have thought you were crazy.”
London’s hospitality sector has also seen a major shift in the property market, with many sites shutting down for good and competitors such as Wetherspoons revealing plans to target more central London sites.
Greg Sage, director of corporate affairs for pub giant Greene King, said he hoped the government would encourage more people to return to city centers to help with the recovery of its homes.
“It has been an incredibly difficult year for our central London pubs, which have had to contend not only with the many closures and restrictions brought on by the pandemic, but also a complete lack of tourists and workers in the capital when the pubs went down. been able to trade, ”he said.
“We can’t wait to reopen some of our pubs on April 12th.
“However, given the lack of outdoor space in the city, we plan to open only 33 of our 176 London pubs by this date.
“Even with the positivity around the vaccine rollout and the plans to end social distancing this summer, we need action from government and the private sector to encourage people to return to city centers.”