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Comment: The Crossrail era cometh

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, tells Drapers how London’s retail heartland is gearing up for the big boost in footfall brought about by the opening of the Elizabeth Line – and why more work needs to be done

As we count down to its opening, it is clear that the Elizabeth Line has already been on quite a journey. From archaeological discoveries to newly commissioned artwork, the biggest construction project in Europe has already changed the London landscape – and it’s set to do the same for retail, for the better.

The Elizabeth Line is central to ushering in a new chapter for Oxford Street and the wider West End. The line is expected to bring an extra 60 million visits to the area each year, in addition to the current 200 million annual visits. Retailers in the West End will receive a huge boost from two new stations opening at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road.

Creating a world-class experience for the new visitors will mean tackling current problems, such as poor air quality, poor road safety and inadequate public realm

With the Elizabeth Line as a catalyst, a wealth of innovation and development is emerging across the West End. This is already evident in some major projects that are due to transform the retail and economic landscape of the district. Already our £10m redevelopment of Bond Street, which kicked-off in April, will bring enhanced public realm to the luxury shopping street, following on from the Crown Estate’s continuing multi-million pound transformation of Regent Street.

The upcoming pipeline is equally exciting. The Bond Street project sits within the wider context of an ongoing consultation on the future of Oxford Street district, led by Westminster City Council and Transport for London, which proposes welcome improvements to the nation’s biggest high street to prepare for the opening of the new line.

New West End Company is working closely with key partners to ensure that a transformed Oxford Street district works better for retailers, visitors and workers alike. Earlier this year, we launched a study on the district’s future, setting a direction for the area; this not only formed part of our response to the Oxford Street consultation, but also aims to prepare the district for the full opening of the Elizabeth Line in 2020.

At its core are proposals to enable the evolution of the Oxford Street district from being retail dominated to becoming a varied, entertaining and well-connected area of distinct neighbourhoods. We want to see Oxford Street, as part of the wider West End, at the heart of the best retail destination in the world – in time to cater for the 30% increase in visitors who are set to spend an extra £1.5bn annually in the area.

Implementation of the recommendations would create a predicted 27,000-plus jobs

Creating a world-class experience for the new visitors will mean tackling current problems, such as poor air quality, poor road safety, inadequate public realm, and a shortage of workspace, as well as accommodating evolving retail trends and ensuring we remain globally competitive across the whole of the West End.

We also envisage traffic-free areas created by a reduction in buses and other vehicles, rather than re-routing traffic onto neighbouring streets. This would not only help retailers in the area cope with increased footfall and create a better environment for residents, but it would also pave the way for improved air quality at a time when more people than ever will be flocking to the West End. Already this year, the Mayor has committed to removing 40% of buses from the district, and we look forward to more announcements in this vein as the Elizabeth Line stations begin to open.

Implementation of the recommendations outlined in our visionary study would create a huge amount of possibility and opportunity for the wider West End. They would create a predicted 27,000-plus jobs – employees who would then spend both money and time in the shops, bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity. The new link to Heathrow created by the Elizabeth Line will also bring many more international visitors direct to the district. Working towards all these changes would ensure we built a West End that made the best of the Elizabeth Line for everyone involved.

Both exciting and challenging, the imminent influx of visitors is setting the stage for a new West End, with improved public realm, services and overall shopper experience. Ultimately, it is key that we ensure the experience, both in store and out, matches the efficiency and enjoyment of the Elizabeth Line journey. The best part of that journey for retailers is still to come.

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