The past 18 months has created turmoil for our city centres and local high streets but now is the opportunity to learn from the impact of the pandemic and the increased focus on local and community-oriented places.
Alongside this, a return to work for all remains slow, and hybrid working for many is the future new way of creating a good work/life balance. This means a continued need and demand for local amenity, however, exploring and using our local high streets has revealed gaps that need to be considered to maintain places that nurture communities and character. A balanced mix of uses is the answer, but fragmented individual ownership models make this challenging to address and would be something local councils and developers can and should influence.
Across London, enlightened councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Grimshaw’s Hammersmith town centre masterplan are responding and delivering long-term vision planning. This approach integrates local voices and helps to curate relevant and welcomed uses that can be knitted into planning policy and realised. Part of this is meaningful and diverse consultation: understanding what local means to people, the behaviours we have that shape how we respond to and use local, and the heritage of places and buildings which define and deliver a heart for communities.
Our city centre is experiencing the same fate. Integrating a greater mix of uses will restore the local economy and draw people back to these streets to help build a resilient future. In the West End, the decline in tourism in the past 18 months has seen other uses such as culture and leisure occupying once retail-heavy streets and start to really consider the more holistic needs of the communities that thrive in these areas.
The gaps in our local high streets will not only be occupied by leisure and culture-led places. Satellite healthcare and medical hubs are increasingly considered essential to supporting our health and wellbeing needs more locally, decentralising our medical and care needs to within communities. And a night-time economy, industrial maker spaces and food delivery networks are all bringing a dynamic local experience to our wider city.
In support, the changes we are seeing in London is a promising move towards a healthier retail model including a correction of rent, rate and lease models to become a more economically sustainable model for diverse uses. The rise of active travel also adds a new aspect to the way we move around the city and where the spaces we use. The interconnected relationships of travel, retail, hospitality, culture and leisure need to be appreciated and supported in order to create a more sustainable and liveable London.