Oxford Street first became synonymous with shopping and fashion in the late 19th century, marked by the opening of John Lewis in 1864, followed by House of Fraser (Fraser & Sons) in 1879, 1909 saw Selfridges open.
In 2021, the picture is very different. The New West End Company, representing 600 businesses and retailers in the area, recently warned that at least one-fifth of London’s Oxford Street would be “boarded up with no hope of recovery”. This may result in 50,000 retail and hospitality jobs being lost.
It is estimated that footfall in 2020 was down over 40 per cent compared with the year before.
The last year has seen retailers embracing upgraded online offerings and delivery. The retailers will have to adapt their stores to provide a unique experience for their customers to offer that same gratification.
Both Oxford and Regent street are seeing an entirely new generation of in-store innovations. This is being led by luxury retailers, with major high street neighbours following at a more gradual pace.”
Paul Clement, chief executive at Ipswich Central – Business Improvement District for Ipswich, asserted that recent footfall figures do not represent the “death of the West End”. His view is that once London workers were able to return to offices, their rotas are likely to be two to three days a week instead of the usual five. This means more people are likely to move further out to the outer suburbs of London or into the commuter belt outside the M25 since housing is cheaper – even if the commute is longer.
“Retailers in London are going to need to connect more actively with places like Ipswich which is an hour away,” Clement said, adding that places like Ipswich would reconfigure themselves around people living in their own centres, thereby converting redundant retail to housing.
Meanwhile, some retailers already have plans to downsize their sites on Oxford Street - John Lewis has been given the green light by Westminster City Council to convert 45 per cent of its Oxford Street flagship into office space.
Westminster Council is focused on “ supporting the district’s adaptation to a post-Covid world, whilst at the same time, paving the way towards a sustainable future. Retail will always be part of that ecosystem but as we have said before, ‘business as usual’ and doing nothing is not an option for Oxford Street.”
As part of the effort to re-invigorate Oxford Street, Oxford Circus will be transformed into two, pedestrian-friendly piazzas and work will begin later in the year. It has been identified that there is an urgent need to tackle issues with pedestrian congestion and safety, poor air quality and noise. The serious congestion of Oxford Circus, of people and of traffic, is unsustainable and demands action.
The scheme is also set to include:
Westminster has already committed £150 million to kickstart the programme and attract inward investment, taking full advantage of the Elizabeth Line opening in 2022 and the area’s links to the wider West End and beyond.
Many of the issues facing Oxford Street can be seen in Guildford. It is interesting to see a bold approach, especially to traffic management, and a pro-active approach to helping Downsizing of retail. Finally running an Architectural Competiion for a prime site is to be comended.
Help us make Guildford better
We want our town to be vibrant, attractive and liveable. We support development that brings a sense of place and enhances the best aspects of our town. If such aims can be embraced, we believe Guildford has the chance to lead the way in enabling sensitive and sustainable development.
Pressures for development are increasing. Planning rules are being eased. The Society’s commitment to standing up for Guildford is needed more than ever.
Getting involved allows the society to continue its work. We welcome new members, from every age and background. Membership provides an opportunity for you to contribute to the continued health of the town and surrounding area, and to meet other people who care about Guildford.