Will a vision for future Fleet Street help counter WFH?

At yesterday’s Farringdon Within Ward public meeting City Corporation Member Eamonn Mullally helpfully handed out the latest report from Fleet Street Quarter, the local Business Improvement District.

It has a clear and inspiring vision for the future, if you take a property perspective, which is its focus.

The report “reveals how a ground-breaking development pipeline of 34 new and refurbished schemes is poised to transform the area. An estimated 3m sq ft of new Grade A commercial space across office, retail and leisure will be delivered in the area. This development will see the area undergo a radical transformation so bold that it will put the area back not just on the London map, but the UK map as what is set to be one of the most sought-after mixed-use destinations”.

Map of Fleet Street Quarter developments from report

It makes a strong case for the area being a particularly attractive location for tech and creative industries, as well as the bankers, lawyers and accountants who have replaced newspapers since the 1980s (1)

While reflecting on this, the latest newsletter from Dave Hill’s excellent On London (2) dropped with a link to Charles Wright’s piece warning “working from home (WFH) could have ‘long-term negative impacts’ on London’s economy”.

A report from Centre for Cities think tank and Imperial College, supported by the City of London’s EC business improvement district, says office attendance has “flatlined” this year, with central London workers coming into work on average for just 2.3 days a week.

“The key question is, if this is what working patterns will look like from now on, what impact will they have on productivity?” it asks. “Will a capital running on two to three days per week in the office be enough to both reverse the productivity struggles it has faced over the last thirteen years and drive up long-term prosperity?”

I’ll look further into the Fleet Street Quarter plans, which also include “clean and green” and “safe and secure” environments. At yesterday’s meeting Members had good words for the BID’s engagement with local residents as well as businesses.

The move to working from home is a threat to many City businesses in food, beverage and entertainment. The City Corporation plans to counter that with its Destination City programme to attract more visitors. That’s a key interest for the latest Culture Mile BID in the northwest of the City, as I wrote in my earlier update for the Ward meeting.

From yesterday’s Ward meeting discussion I think there would be value in a joint event with the two BIDs, to share ideas on how programmes can benefit residents, workers and businesses.

BIDs and Destination City programmes may develop a Square Mile attractive to business and visitors, but can they also create a Liveable City?

Most immediately, is there scope for coordinating plans for September’s Bartholomew Fair, and some associated wayfinding?

(1) I have happy memories of working for the Evening Standard in Shoe Lane as planning correspondent in the 1970s. It was a very different place. I had previous worked in Reading for then state-of-art Evening Post, with computer typesetting and colour on the run.

On entering the Standard newsroom I asked why typewriters were chained to desks. I was told you risked losing your machine if another hard-pressed hack’s composition was stymied by mechanical failure.

(2) I recommend supporting On London which these days has the only in-depth reporting of London politics and development. The Standard has sadly given up on that. Simon Jenkins has written of happier days when we both worked on the paper, and plans were more contentious.


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