Housing, leisure and sustainability: the City of London changes course to regain its pulse

The City turns its back on the office. The financial district par excellence of the British capital is exploring new formulas to resuscitate after the abandonment of the offices with the Covid-19 and City of London Corporation, the governing body of the City, has launched a plan to transform 1,500 offices into homes by 2030 and promote the creation of leisure and cultural areas.

The district, which houses companies such as JP Morgan, Baraclys, Deloitte, Amazon or UBS, has traditionally been an office district and has only 8,000 residents. With the pandemic, traffic has been reduced and firms such as BP, Hsbc or Standerd Chartered have recommended that their employees work from home, in some cases permanently.

In the case of Hsbc, its CEO, Noel Quinn said last week that the bank plans to reduce its office space by 20%, which is equivalent to some 300,000 square meters. Although most of the companies are not going to leave the City, they will reduce their impact both in square meters and in worker traffic.

Faced with the image of a deserted City, the city council has promoted a recovery plan that involves transforming the district and “adapt to the post-pandemic economy and social trends”. The municipal body has proposed to transform the district into an attractive place not only to work, but also to make it a hub for housing, tourism and commerce.

To regain activity, in addition to cutting its office space, the report promoted by the City of London Coporation indicates that the district must foster a innovative ecosystem of companies, offer a series of services for residents and workers and count are sustainable buildings and high-quality streets and public spaces.

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Despite the change in direction of the financial district, the hiring of offices has signed a positive first quarter, reaching the highest figure since the start of the pandemic, fueled by mass vaccination, which has already received 34 million Britons.

After closing 46 agreements, 71,600 square meters have been rented in the district in the first three months of the year, 43% less than in the same period of 2020, when the country began to notice the effects of the virus, according to data from Savills.

Although the figure has not managed to stop availability. At the end of the quarter, the free space rate rose to 8.9%, 360 basis points above the previous year’s figure and above the annual average of 6.6%. So far, the increase in supply has not stopped prices and rents are at 917 pounds per square meter, 10% above the previous year.

For the new fabric of companies that has survived the Covid-19, the district body is committed to promoting its digitization and becoming an accelerator of companies, giving space to small and medium-sized companies. For this, the center will be renovated City Business Library that will support the creation and growth of companies in the City, under the name of Small Business Research and Enterprise Centre.

But in order for the City to go from being a workplace to another actor in London’s entertainment, the municipal body will rent empty spaces at low cost and in the long term for cultural industries. In addition, the district wants the pulse of the City to continue beyond the nine to five and points out that they will “explore opportunities” to increase the night and weekend offerings seeking to host events on weekends, in summer or evening celebrations.

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In this way, the financial district seeks to increase its uses and make itself attractive for more than just business. With the desperation of the City, London approaches models like that of the city of fifteen minutes by the French Carlos Moreno.

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