'What do we want from a post-Covid London?'
David Winskill, Crouch End campaigner
- Credit: David Winskill
One of the few bright things that has come out of 'The Time of Covid' is an explosion of online courses, lectures and webinars. We can all become armchair experts on subjects we barely knew existed before March last year.
The City of London’s Guildhall Library had a cracker last Wednesday – Rebuilding The City after the Great Fire.
The day before I had been on an errand for the Hornsey Historical Society to the Bishopsgate Institute (two other excellent sources for online history).
It was my first trip into the City for 16 months and I was astounded at the changes.
We travelled in at lunchtime and, although not empty, the streets could not be described as bustling. The number of boarded up pubs was staggering.
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Business completed, I went walkabout and found myself wandering along spookily quiet streets and deserted markets.
Adjacent to Liverpool Street Tube station is a shopping arcade of perhaps 20 units – only five were open and trading, the rest closed or vacant.
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It was the same elsewhere: tailors, opticians, stationers, cafes and take-aways, manicurists, delis, juice bars – multiples or family businesses – many with sad hand-written messages thanking regulars for their custom and saying "Goodbye".
Similar scenes abound in office and business centres across London. In the City there are an estimated 5.25 million square metres of office space. Oddly, this works out at two square miles in the Square Mile. One commercial website lists nearly 600 offices for let in the City alone.
Post-Covid and post-furlough, it is likely that many won’t be coming back full-time to their desks. That means fewer lunchtime sandwiches, after-hours drinks, optician appointments, fewer visits to the Moleskine shop and less browsing for fitness kit.
The implications for TfL’s business model are enormous.
So, what to do?
Chesham voters made it clear that Jenrick’s planning reforms are not wanted. Yes, we have pressing challenges, but developers have failed to deliver and we need proper planning for low-rent and social housing – not land banking and more investment opportunities for the super-rich.
Perhaps the key message from the Rebuilding the City webinar was that opportunities were lost as unplanned and uncoordinated development surged before a coherent vision could be agreed.
450 years on we need to start an open conversation about what we want from a post-Covid London before we are subjected to a Chinese and Russian speculators’ smash and grab on our City’s future.
David Winskill is a Crouch End-based campaigner.