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West End retailers face double threat after strong 2013

Retailers in the West End have defied nationwide declines in footfall and muted spend – but face the double threat of rising rents and an over-reliance on tourism, according to a new report by Jones Lang LaSalle.

The report, commissioned by New West End Company and Heart of London, was unveiled this week (February 27). It showed that average footfall rose 0.1% during the calendar year, compared to a national decline of 1.4%, with retail sales up 5.7% year-on-year, compared with 1.2% on average. Sales to international visitors rose 22%, with Chinese spend topping the list.

New store openings, which boosted footfall, included the much-anticipated opening of J Crew on Regent Street.

However, Jones Lang LaSalle’s UK chief executive Guy Grainger warned the region could become “a victim of its own success”, admitting the West End was “a very expensive place to be”, even compared to other globally renowed cities such as New York.

Rent on Bond Street is expected to rise 10% in 2014, and the report highlighted a lack of large spaces – for example, 75,000 sq ft or more, meaning prime rents could reach as much as £115 per square foot “which could deter occupiers”.

The report also warned that, with a quarter of footfall coming from tourists, the retailing district was vulnerable to any changes in the attractiveness of the UK to international visitors – for example, because of currency fluctuations.

The constant need for investment into public realm was also highlighted as a potential issue.

NWEC chief executive Richard Dickinson said: “This report clearly shows the strength of the West End as a global shopping and leisure powerhouse but we also need to be constantly on our guard and not be over reliant on any one sort of shopper – such as tourists.

“The core West End also has to provide new retail and leisure space of the right type and scale if we are to keep in front of the competition. If we stand still on these and other key issues we will find our leadership position quickly undermined.”

Grainger added: “Complacency is dangerous and it is only through constant evolution that the West End will remain a prime tourist attraction for domestic and international visitors as well as investors

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