London has weathered four unique events in 14 years: the 2008/09 banking crisis, Brexit, the pandemic and now the Russian war in Ukraine with the resulting surge in energy prices and inflation. We also have the challenge of climate change.
Still, Travers is largely optimistic. “London is resilient. So much survived,” he says, listing the list of plagues, fires and lightning that London has survived.
But with a growing population and a high concentration of disadvantaged households, London boroughs are coming under increasing pressure. Most are now spending 20% less on their services in real terms than they did in 2010, according to Travers.
“If you look at the services they’ve had to prioritize, like social care for children and the elderly, that leaves the amount of money for everything else, including street cleaning, street lighting, all the things we see outside our homes and offices, that spending on neighborhood services is down a massive 40% to 50%,” says Travers.
He points out that this is unsustainable and a major problem for central London: “Trying to keep the streets clean, decent and safe after 12 years of austerity is very difficult. I think this case needs to be argued much more convincingly by policymakers and the private sector.”
This brings us to the role of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). I first met Travers more than 20 years ago on Patricia Brown’s study trip to New York to see if BIDs could work in the UK.
Originally, BID services were intended to be additional. As Travers says, it was “perfectly natural” that anything the BIDs did, whether it was cleaning the streets, providing new pavers or better lighting, was in addition to what the authorities were doing.
“Now, particularly in city centers and central London, because of funding cuts decided by the national government, boroughs cannot afford to provide the level of service they need unless the BIDs do some of those things.
Without BIDs, raising money through the BID toll and issuing it locally, the quality of our roads and streetscape would be worse. Travers adds: “The BIDs will be very, very important in helping central London and other city centers in London not only survive but actually rebuild.”
We’ll be looking at BIDs to provide some much-needed seasonal cheer in a gloomy winter. The New West End Company provides the stunning West End Christmas lights (pictured) now being emulated by other BIDs. It remains to be seen whether these will be endangered by the energy crisis.
time to work together
New West End Company executive Jace Tyrrell, a tireless cheerleader for the West End, is about to leave London for Australia. He tells me: “The headwinds aren’t pretty, but if there was ever a time to work together it was during Covid and the imminent time with this impending energy and livelihood crisis spreading across the world.”
City Corporation will be key to rebuilding central London. The “Destination City” initiative aims to get people excited about the city seven days a week with leisure activities that create their identity. This is important as post-lockdown changes in office work patterns are impacting London’s business ecosystem.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is another voice to speak up for London. Along with City Corporation and all 32 London Boroughs, he supports Opportunity London, a new campaign to boost investment in post-Brexit London.
These initiatives, along with BIDs and other public and private sector collaborations, will play a crucial role in enhancing the London experience, encouraging people to return and ensuring London remains a world-class city.
Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya. To hear the full Propertyshe podcast with Tony Travers, please visit apple.co/3wWXX6g