Propertyshe podcast: Matthew Green & Jace Tyrrell

Posted on 29 September 2021

“Even before Covid, Oxford Street was in decline and that’s why, already, four years ago, we agreed to invest £150 million into Oxford Street and we hope that that investment will help to unlock £2 billion of extra economic value and, more importantly, or just as importantly, it would create 30,000 extra jobs by 2030. “

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya, in association with the London Real Estate Forum, where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment. Today, we’re talking about London’s West End and I am delighted to welcome Jace Tyrrell and Westminster Councillor, Matthew Green.  Jace has been Chief Executive of New West End Company for five years, representing Europe’s largest retail and leisure destination. His brief covers 600 businesses in London’s West End, with a property portfolio of £3.5 billion and an annual turnover of £10 billion, anchored on Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Mayfair.

Councillor Matthew Green was elected to Westminster City Council, representing Little Venice Ward, in May 2018.  His portfolio includes business support and economic development, employment, licencing, town planning, planning policy, place shaping, Westminster Adult Education and the Oxford Street Programme. 

So now we are going to hear from Councillor Matthew Green and Jace Tyrrell on the resilience of London’s West End and their plans for inward investment post-Covid.

Welcome, thank you Jace and thank you Councillor Matthew Green for joining us today to talk about your plans for revitalising London’s West End in the wake of the pandemic and Brexit.  So, Matthew, your portfolio includes a whole range of services, including business support, economic development, employment, licencing, planning, place shaping and the Oxford Street Programme so, a lot focus on as we come out the pandemic so, I wondered whether, just to set the scene, you can tell us what, in a nutshell, is Westminster Council’s vision for the West End, both short-term and slightly longer-term. 

Matthew Green

Well, obviously the West End has been hit hard by the pandemic.  The centre of London has been hit harder than any major city in the world, even more so than New York, and streets like Oxford Street have actually had the greatest fall in footfall of any major shopping street in the world so, really even though we are slowly emerging from a pandemic, recovery is still at the forefront of our minds and obviously we’ve done a lot over the last eighteen months to support businesses through that recovery, we were the first council to get out our business grants, which I think were about £107 million, to businesses across Westminster, we were the first council in the country to start alfresco dining and we were able to add 17,000 extra covers to the city, which is I think more than Campden or Kensington and Brent combined so, that has been a real success and we wanted to offer lifelines to our businesses, obviously we’ve been doing other things to support businesses through the pandemic, we’ve extended pavements on Oxford Street to help increase dwell time, we’ve added some pocket parks and planters also along Oxford Street and we’ve worked with partners such as the Crown Estate to do similar things on Regent Street as well, just to try and create a better environment for shoppers and visitors but, you know, we still face a problem with returning, with the return of footfall, we’re down still in places like Oxford Street, by 50% so, recovery remains at the forefront of our mind and that’s clearly what are priority is going to be for the next six to twelve months. 

Susan Freeman

So, actually when you talk about it, it’s a huge amount that Westminster had done in sort of a relatively short period of time.  So, Jace, New West End Company represents about 600 businesses in the West End, you’ve obviously been working closely with Westminster on these plans.  In your view, what else needs to be done to ensure that the West End continues to thrive?

Jace Tyrrell

Thank you, Susan.  Matthew set out really good context and he’s absolutely right, you know, out of all the great global cities, we have been the hardest hit and I have to really commend Westminster on behalf of our businesses and as you say, Susan, we have about 600 partners, that’s probably owners, retailers, galleries, office workers and the commercial retail sector as well, and I think every business has had to really adjust their whole business model and their balance sheets because of Covid but what Westminster has done, very strongly actually, is bring all those interests together, lead the response for the West End recovery, both operationally because there’s a huge amount, you know, Matthew’s saying getting alfresco to the scale it was, getting people comfortable to come back into the West End was so important in the last sort of twelve months particularly but I think what’s really remarkable is this eye to the five/ten year horizon and the leads of planning policy, the investment, the infrastructure, these are absolutely in Westminster’s gift to support the market and I see our role as New West End Company to really remind both owners and occupiers and future occupiers what this opportunity is for the next five to ten years but the immediate priority as we go in to Christmas, going to ’22, it’s how do we get some of that demand back?  How do we, quite frankly, get sales return to the area and how do we restore some of the balance sheets?  And I have to say the other area Westminster have been so helpful on, is this advocacy at Number 10 and Treasury in Government for us and the Mayor’s Office, to really fight the corner for the West End and make sure that the Government doesn’t lose sight of how important the West End is for the nation, as the capital as well so, I think we go into the next phase, which is a horrible term, and a really strong partnership with the public and private sector to the West End.

Matthew Green

And I think that that’s an important point about lobbying Government because we just have to… there’s always been an assumption that London and the West End will just naturally bounce back and I just don’t think we can make that assumption this time round, obviously the Government has its levelling up agenda and, you know, I’m a boy from Bolton so I support that but at the same time I think that the assumption that London is elastic and will always return to its previous level of economic wealth, is not one that we can take for granted this time.  I think that the change in patterns to office workers, we all know that the days of 9-5, five days a week are long behind us, we’ve seen only one in ten international visitors return to the West End and obviously that has had a massive effect on the economy of central London and while we’ve had some success with domestic tourists, unfortunately we found most of these to be day trippers and while anecdotally we see restaurants with high occupancy, we’re still having trouble filling our hotels so, there are a number of challenges ahead of us that we have to work with partners like Enerkon? on as a council but we also have to work all the way up the chain of Government, be that with the Mayor’s office or with central Government, just essentially to get the message across the London, it’s not necessarily going to bounce back at the pace as it has done from previous recessions. 

Susan Freeman

No, it’s interesting, quite, because you can have lots of visitors to the West End but they’re not necessarily the visitors that are going to spend money and, you know, we need them to actually be going to the restaurants and spending money in the stores.  So, what could the Government be doing to help revitalise the West End?

Matthew Green

Well, I think that first of all, we need to look at removing caps from business relief, business rates relief, because I think the assumption is that because you’re paying a lot of money on your business rates, on your rent, that that means you are a wealthy company.  It doesn’t.  We have seen businesses across the West End, their version of recovery at the moment is that they are paying down less debt, it is not that they are back into a positive balance book so that’s one thing that we could do.  I also think that the removal of VAT shopping in the UK is going to be a problem and again, that’s perceived as a London problem, it’s not, because when people are drawn into the West End, into Bond Street, they come here and do their shopping, they’re not just spending their money on, in central London, they’re going up to the Lake District, they’re spending it in York, they’re spending it in Edinburgh, so we have to look at it, again, in that countrywide view and again from the point of levelling up, it’s not just about Knightsbridge and Bond Street, this was something that we used to attract tourists and I think that it is short-sighted to have removed it and I do hope the Government will rethink that. 

Susan Freeman

And Jace, I know that’s something that you have lobbied on quite extensively so, what do you think the Government should be doing?

Jace Tyrrell

Yeah, to echo Matthew’s point, I mean, the VAT reg seems such an almighty own goal and actually already you can see Paris is already getting demand back.  I was in Spain over summer, they’re promoting, you know, the fact that British tourists can shop that tax free, you know, so already with Covid and Brexit, we’ve put another sort of challenge in front of us to try and grow back some of those key international markets and Matthew is spot on, I mean this is very short-sighted because the VAT that is raised from all the other non-shopping items, you know, hotels, galleries here, the restaurants, not just in London but Manchester, Edinburgh and we form this alliance, you know, Association of International Retail, and one figure, really interesting statistic, pre-Covid 21 million visitors came to London a year, 1.9 million went to Manchester which is the second city after London, it’s not about taking 21 and taking more than Manchester back, everyone growing, we want to get London to 40, get Manchester to 20, you know, it’s about everyone growing the size of the cake and I think, you know, VAT reg is one area but the other area leads to that is probably an opportunity with Brexit, which sounds sort of counterintuitive perhaps, but the visa regime, you know, with coming out of Schengen and with the EU who weren’t in Schengen already but there’s opportunities perhaps for the Middle East and Far East to be more competitive and that’s also for visitors but also investment, you know, talking to our colleagues in the Gulf states and other so there’s a real appetite to come back to Britain, come back to London, so I think there are perhaps levers the Government could use without costing money that could help drive some demand.  Point on rates, final point there is, we know it’s a broken model and I think your listeners might not realise but the billion that we pay in our district alone a year pre-Covid, very little goes to Westminster Council, you know, you’re talking single digits in percent so, a way that we can level up the online with the physical and for Westminster and the West End to retain just a little bit more, I think it has to be the direction of travel for the future but you can have a whole podcast on rates alone, Susan, I think. 

Jace Tyrrell

And not to stress that point too much but I think one of the things that we have also asked the Government to look at, is an online sales tax.  I think that we all know that the pandemic has only exacerbated what was going on beforehand, which was that the high street was suffering at the expense of online retail and so, we as a Council, think that there is a need to level the playing field between business rates and the online, in particular those online giants, and so we think that introducing an online sales tax that would either replace or at least complement business rates, would help achieve that. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, I think you do need something along those lines.  And you both mentioned the alfresco dining which, you know, came in sort of during the summer and really has helped out a lot of the restaurants in the West End, I mean, do you see the temporary measures that were introduced, you know, during lockdown, as being continued post-pandemic?

Matthew Green

Well, I think on alfresco dining, it’s a lot of the things that we did during the pandemic, we did at pace, simply because of necessity and alfresco dining, in terms of supporting businesses as well residents, has worked well in some areas and less well in others so, I think it’s only right that we try and take a look at how we can essentially redesign alfresco in such a way that it still supports businesses but isn’t damaging residential amenity and so we’ve said that alfresco will continue where residents support it and I’m pleased that last week we completed a consultation in Covent Garden and in St John’s Wood where residents had been, were very support, over 80% of residents were in favour of alfresco in those areas so, obviously Covent Garden is a leading destination for the hospitality in Westminster, for the world in fact, and St John’s Wood is a lively, local high street with some really good hospitality offerings so we are pleased that they will continue in those areas and we have ongoing consultations on extending alfresco in places such as Belgravia, Pimlico and North Audley Street and we’ll be continuing it in areas that are already pedestrianised, such as China Town so, we think alfresco has been a success and has brought a new bustle, a new vibrancy to our area, it really has been that the Costa del Capital this summer and last summer, and we want that to continue but we want to continue it in a way that brings residents along with us. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah, it’s difficult to please everyone and Jace, what are your thoughts on that?

Jace Tyrrell

I think alfresco was a lifeline for so many West End businesses and then not least with Covid that ideally be outside and fresh air but I think customers’ behaviour, whether you live, work or visit the West End, has changed forever and that’s in retail, that’s in food and beverage and hospitality but Matthew’s spot on because you recognise in the West End we have, you know, these villages, these 25,000 residents I think within one square mile of our district, you know, we’ve got to take everyone on the journey of big changes, it was great during the eighteen months but of course for anything more significant, everyone has to sort of buy in to that and I was really impressed with St John’s Wood, as Matthew says, they are very support there.  There are absolutely going to be areas in the city where it makes sense, there might be different times of the year and different management that needs to be looked at but at least the direction from Westminster Council is persuading business to try things, you know, to work with partners to deliver and I think that’s got to be the views of the West End and I am please, you know, they are thinking about more permanent schemes, and I know our businesses are as well, for the future. 

Susan Freeman

So, we know that I think one in ten Londoners work in the West End and a lot of people have changed the way they work, we’ve lost a number of retailers that were in the West End, Matthew, what role does the Council play in attracting new businesses into the area?

Matthew Green

Well, I actually think the last time I checked, it was more, it was closer to one in eight Londoners were working in the West End so, it really is that crucial.  One of the things that we have done since the beginning of the pandemic is to launch our Westminster Investment Service so, actually before Covid hit, there wasn’t really much of a need for Westminster to go out to look for new investors, it actually happened organically but now we launched about a year ago but I think, formally, we launched the process around six months ago and that, we’re working with London and Partners which, as you know, is the Mayor’s investment agency to attract new businesses into Westminster and to try and give them a soft landing, essentially, we want to work with them to make sure that they have everything they need to set up in our city.  You talked about my various responsibilities at the beginning of the podcast but this is the first time that, actually, somebody at Westminster City Council has been responsible for business, licensing and planning together so, there is a logic there to try and make things smoother for people when they come into Westminster.  You know, as a long-term perspective, I’d like to see a kind of city as a service offer that we could make to new entrants so that they could online, just go onto a website, be able to make a licensing application, make a planning application, use the Westminster Employment Service to get their staffing needs, book their waste collection etc.  Now we are a way off that but you know one of the things I want to do is to make Westminster the most attractive place in London, if not the country as a whole, for new entrants and we’ve been having some really good leads from businesses, I did some virtual trade visits to China, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan and those people are still very interested in coming into Westminster, you know, it is a world class city with a world class reputation and now, you know, with rents being lower than they have been for a long time, it provides a great opportunity for those new entrants so, we’re looking to work with them and to smooth their path into Westminster. 

Susan Freeman

And I mean Westminster has got so… I mean, West End has got so much going for it, I mean, people talk about working from home, working from the suburbs but you don’t get the arts, the theatres, the galleries and you know, there are so many pluses.  And Jace, what is the role of your Business Improvement District in helping Westminster to entice businesses back into the area?

Jace Tyrrell

It’s a good question, I mean, I have to say first of all this is a very exciting programme because you’ve got a group of landlords, heavily invested in the long-term future, with the city council leading and the bid, so ourselves and half of London Business Alliance and actually, you know, far better together on this journey and pre-Covid we already knew, and Matthew’s right, we had a structural issue already in the West End, you know, we were having void rates into double digits that I’ve never seen working in the West End in twenty years and obviously Covid has accelerated that change very rapidly, the market will readjust and the rents will be rebased but what you have now is all the levers of the City of Westminster, with LMP and with the bids, trying to say, soft land some of these new entrants but a lot of this is serendipity and working with the agents, working with the owners, when you’ve got 200 landlords that we do in our patch, the great estates are very good at curating but when you’ve got a single owner with a single building, you need to work with them collectively to understand what the opportunity is, don’t just stick in a candy store because it’s going to pay the rates, you know, think about what you are trying to create for the next five to ten years, link that with the public realm scheme that Westminster is leading and actually, you get a different approach by the landlord and occupiers and I have to say, there are brands and we’ve signed about 20 NDAs at New West End Company and they want the data, they want to speak to the right people at the Council, that we never thought five years ago we’d even think about the Oxford Street district or the wider West End and that’s hugely exciting and let’s hope we land some of those.  Matthew and I were actually on Regent Street a couple of weeks ago, at 88 Regent Street, which is a terrific example of a pure brands coming into the West End that previously had never thought about Regent Street so, you know, hopefully we’re going to see more of that delivered in the period ahead as well. 

Susan Freeman

And what sort of brands are they?  Are they retailers or something else?

Matthew Green

So, 88 Regent Street is a pop-up that is part of the Council’s Voids Activation Programme and we’ve worked very closely, as Jace was saying, with the landowners, with the Business Improvement Districts to identify empty units across the city.  We started off in some smaller units doing some art based pop-ups and we were able to deliver I think it was six or seven of those across the Piccadilly area and some of them were really quite exciting, I had an opportunity to go in and create a work of art, I think, on Bury Street with an artist a couple of weeks ago but 88 Regent Street is our first fashion pop-up and they are six sustainable brands, all local London based, most of them were online businesses so, again, pop-ups are not only a great way of activating the city but they allow people to transition from online brands to bricks and mortar brands and they all have sustainability at their heart so, one of the brands actually is children’s clothes that grow with the child, as the child grows, so that you’re not constantly having to buy new garments for that child, there’s a lot of reuse there, there’s a streetwear brand that upcycles kimonos, there’s an underwear company that is using… that has basically bought job lots of old men’s shirts and ties because well, you can’t see but Jace is very well dressed and I’m not very well dressed today, but the shirt and tie is slightly going the way of the dinosaurs so, she’s been able to get hold of lots of fabric for that that she’s turning into bespoke underwear.  There’s another designer who’s using eucalyptus in her garments so it’s really exciting and I would say to anybody to go to 88 Regent Street and even the vinyls on the windows are made out of recycled plastic bottles.  I think if you went into that shop, you wouldn’t think that it would be something that has been delivered by local Government, I think it’s really high end and I’m really proud of it and proud of the partnership that we’ve had with New West End Company and the Crown Estate. 

Jace Tyrrell

Huge shout out to the Crown Estate there, I mean they’re really leading the way with this and I hope other landlords will follow their lead actually in what they are trying to create and be a bit more long-term in their thinking rather than as well. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, which makes me wonder, with the Crown Estate, obviously they own a big part of Regent Street so are able to sort of shape the strategy and the vision for Regent Street.  Oxford Street is very fragmented and I just wondered, you know, from a Westminster Council point of view and, you know, Jace from an point of view, what can be done to actually get over that problem of fragmentation in order to drive, you know, a strategy for the whole of Oxford Street?

Matthew Green

Well, we’re looking at a pop-up again in Oxford Street and I would hope to be able to, you know, Jace mentioned candy stores, I would hope to be able to point to things such as 88 Regent Street as an example of how you can get temporary tenants into your building that don’t have to be a candy store, that don’t have to be a luggage shop and I think that pop-ups are going to be the way forward because, you know, the way that we compete with online is to have this constantly changing, this experiential retail environment because if we don’t do that then people are not going to come back to the West End but that’s, you know, that’s as much for Jace as it is for the Council.  From our side, obviously, even before Covid, Oxford Street was in decline and that’s why already four years ago, we agreed to invest £150 million into Oxford Street and we hope that that investment will help to unlock £2 billion of extra economic value and, more importantly, or just as importantly, that it would create 30,000 extra jobs by 2030 and that’s really important, not just for businesses, not just for people like Jace at New West End but also for residents as well, you know, they want to have a thriving Oxford Street on their doorstep, they don’t want to see the nation’s high street in decline and that’s why it’s really important that we invest in Oxford Street in order to support its economy and its capacity to grow jobs. 

Jace Tyrrell

Just to build on that, Susan, I mean the very premise I think of the bids, you know, and you’ve been involved in the bid movement for twenty years since we inherited from our friends in North America, was to bring our collective interests together because there’s over a hundred different owners, 200 businesses on the street, Bond Street you know the 50 different owners and we did the public realm scheme led by the City Council on Bond Street and it’s had incredible results so, I think, you know, very much our role is to support Westminster on leading this transformation, you know, with private enterprise but Matthew’s spot on, you know, the local residents that live in and around but also in the whole of Westminster and London, they are our customers, they are our employees, they are the people and their children and grandchildren will build the future of this district so, you know, Matthew is spot on to say no one wants to live in a decimated high street, the nation’s high street, and I think no one wants to come to work in a street like that as well so, I think, you know, all the direction of travel feels really solid, I think what we’re all looking for now is some of this delivered at pace for the next few years, as the Elizabeth Line finally opens as well, he says, and what we’re announcing at London Real Estate Forum, we’ve totted up, there’s about 5 billion of development consent in the pipeline over the next five years, which is remarkable on top of the 220 billion, the building on Matthew’s commitment with the City Council of public realm and I think Matthew, you designated our area of international centre a few years ago in the local plan.  Wearing your sort of planning and licensing hat, are you seeing a shift actually in how the demand and the type of sort of I guess applications coming through to the West End and how you are supporting that?

Matthew Green

Well it’s actually interesting, you know, I said earlier that the days of 9 to 5 and five days a week are over but actually, in terms of planning applications, they’re still relatively high and offices for sure are not newly built developments, they are renting out their floors with great ease and yet as I said, the footfall is stubbornly at that 50% mark so it is… I think that the future is looking good, I just kind of wish the future would happen a little bit faster, rather like the Elizabeth Line, and we’re just in… it is very interesting to see lettings of a higher rate planning applications continuing at pace and development undiminished but we do still face that challenge with getting shoppers and visitors along Oxford Street and other parts of the West End.  But again, I think that, you know, that’s what we, why we have to really animate our high streets and we’ve been trying to do lots of things to bring people back into the West End, we recently held West End Live which is, has previously been an annual activity where we work with the Society of London Theatre to do a free show at the weekend at Trafalgar Square and it was great to see 9000 people back at that event.  We recently pedestrianised The Strand and we’ve had a two and a half week activation of a skate park there on The Strand, we’ve done our Inside Out Festival where we worked with partners such as the National Gallery to bring easels to Trafalgar Square so that people could get involved so, we really are working very hard with our partners, like the Business Improvement Districts, like the cultural institutions, to give people an extra reason to come back into the West End. 

Susan Freeman

It’s such an exciting time if, you know, if a bit, you know, terrifying because one doesn’t know exactly how things are going to pan out and, you know, you were talking about the importance of pop-ups before and, you know, that’s changed because now with Sook, you can, you know, you can rent a unit by the hour, I mean that wasn’t something that was possible before.  So, we talked about, you know, the competition and the fact that the West End is in competition with other cities like Paris and obviously we have to attract international tourists back and I reckon it’s difficult, I mean, you’ve tried, you know, you tried with the Mound, it attracted a lot of criticism but then in Paris, you know, they’ve tried with the Arc de Triomphe wrapping and, you know, that’s also had lots of criticism so, I think if you try something new, the chances are people won’t like it but other things you are thinking about in order to get those tourists sort of flying to Heathrow rather than into Charles de Gaulle?

Matthew Green

Well, I think on the Mound, it’s really important to point out that it is doing what we intended it to do, which is to bring footfall back to Oxford Street.  I know that it’s had criticism and obviously there were issues with the budget, which we regret as a council but there have been a 100,000 people, now, visit the Mound.  We were able a couple of weeks ago to launch the new exhibition that is in The Mound by an Anglo-American artist called Anthony James and actually now the complete experience is something I would really recommend to people, you go up the kind of softer side of the Mound with its greener and its natural elements and then now you descend through the scaffolding that is actually there that creates it and then the geometric shapes of the scaffolding that you’ve just walked through, are echoed in this ethereal light exhibition that is in the bowels of the Mound and I actually think it is a… it’s a really great experience.  It’s very easy to sneer, it’s very easy to be snide but a 100,000 people have gone up there and the vast majority are telling us that they’re enjoying it, especially the light exhibition. 

Susan Freeman

And it’s attracted a lot of press so, you know, focus on the West End in the same way as the Arc de Triomphe has attracted press.  So hopefully those international visitors will be coming back soon so, Jace, what are your thoughts?

Jace Tyrrell

You know I think there has been lots said about the Mound but I think the bigger picture is, you know, Westminster, its partners, they’re trying things, they’re innovating.  I have to say, we talk to colleagues in Manchester, Edinburgh, Leeds, you know, working in partnership as well, they’re struck by how fast Westminster moved, the investment, what they’re trying so, we can’t fault them on that and some things will work, some things don’t, your listeners are in businesses, in real estate, in retail and leisure, they know their own companies, they innovate, they try things, so I think we need more of that post-Covid, not less of it so, I don’t think we should be undiminished in trying and innovating in the future and more of it, I say.  You know, Underbelly was brilliant in Cavendish Square, I had many nights in there, the things were happening, the pop-ups, the alfresco, there’s great stuff planned at Christmas and let’s not forget next year is a major year for London and the UK with our Platinum Jubilee and everything else so, I hope there’ll be more of this, you know, activation, animation, with all of our partners led by the City Council in the future, not less. 

Susan Freeman

So, one of the items in the news recently was the postponement of the Council’s plans to pedestrianise the piazzas at Oxford Circus and I know you were planning to pedestrianise them by the end of the year but you’ve delayed that, Matthew.  What is the thinking and what are you planning to do?

Matthew Green

Well, it is just a delay and it’s really important that we emphasise that we are still committed to the regeneration of Oxford Street and that the piazzas remain on the table.  What I think that, as I was alluding to earlier, is that we, because of the pandemic we need to do a lot of things at pace and I do think that we’re now at a point where we do need to take, we do need to look at things in the round and make sure that we’re proposing is good for not only businesses and businesses but also the residents in the local area so, I think that by not moving ahead with the temporary piazzas, we can actually achieve two things, which I think are better for both Westminster and Oxford Street in the long run and the first one I think that actually will offer, by not doing the temporary piazzas and moving straight to a permanent scheme, should residents want us to do that, it would actually offer better value for money and I think that that’s obviously something really important.  150 million sounds like a lot but we have to make sure that we’re squeezing value out of every penny piece so I think that that’s the first thing, and there was some criticism by residents, now I think that that’s because there was, there’s always been nervousness about the ‘P’ word when related to Oxford Street but this wasn’t a pedestrianisation scheme, they were pedestrian priority piazzas and I think we just need to take some time to explain to residents what we’re doing, how to demonstrate to them that there are no disbenefits for them, that they’re not going to have traffic redirected into their areas, they’re not going to have buses blundering through residential parts of the city and I think that because we wanted, because we know the scale of the problem is so, is so great, we wanted to do this quickly and I think that that meant that we hadn’t taken enough time to explain what we were doing to residents, so by not doing the temporary scheme, by looking at the permanent, at a permanent scheme, we can take time to bring residents with us, explain why we’re trying to do this scheme in particular because I don’t think that was expressed properly.  You have to realise that pre-pandemic, that Oxford Circus station was being closed three or four times a week, it’s just not fit for purpose and if, as you were saying, we want to bring domestic and international tourists as well as office workers, visitors, back into our city, we have to make it easy for them.  We’ve talked about the Elizabeth Line as well, although that will go into Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road but we have to, we do have to improve the public realm around Oxford Street and make it a pleasant place for people to come to and it’s now up to us just to go out to residents and have that dialogue with them and make sure that they understand what we’re trying to do and why it will have a positive benefit for them as residents, not just for businesses and visitors. 

Jace Tyrrell

I think it’s really interesting because you can’t not go on a panel or a podcast and not talk about pedestrianising Oxford Street, I think that’s been the same for fifty years, you know, our preference and colleagues at City Council know this, we need to reduce traffic, not divert, 100%, it’s got to be the direction of travel, we need to make it pedestrian first, not pedestrianised, you know, we’ve still got a service history for visitors, for businesses, it’s a long street, but also, Matthew’s spot on, we’ve got to create a sense you’re not enduring Oxford Street, you’re enjoying it and you have a sense of arrival and I have to say, there’s been remarkable work done, 50% fewer buses than five years ago, you know, we need to remember what it was like even five years ago, the work of the Crown Estate on Regent Street doubling the pavements over Covid temporarily to see if that works, Oxford Street has had improvements, you can see the benefits already walking around it with the temporary measures, the widening, so the direction of travel is really solid and we talk with various residents and employees who work in the area through our neighbourhood forums and everyone wants to see electric zero emission transport, whatever that is, so I feel that’s something really tangible hopefully that we can deliver, collectively, with all the leaders and the public and private sector and that’s going to encourage customers, visitors, but also residents to live and stay living in the area for its cleaner air so, I think there’s a really exciting opportunity in this space which doesn’t mean pedestrianising Oxford Street end to end, that is not the answer to what we’re all trying to achieve here, collectively. 

Susan Freeman

And Matthew, from the Council point of view, I mean Jace has touched on sustainability and clearly this is a big focus for the Council as well as it is for, how are Westminster able to support the sustainability initiatives that, you know, many of the businesses in the area are now, you know, seriously pursuing and, you know, a lot of the larger property companies aiming to be net zero in 2030.  What can the Council do to support?

Matthew Green

Well we work very closely with our partners, as you know the Council declared a climate emergency a couple of years ago, we’re now working on our Climate Action Plan and, you know, we’ve taken a lot of ideas from our partners that we work with and, you know, I always say that we can’t, we can’t solve the problem of… people are always going to be worried about where the traffic flow is going to go, so the only way that we can solve that problem is I always say well there shouldn’t be low traffic neighbourhoods, there just should be low traffic and we’re trying to do a lot of work on that last mile and I know that New West End Company, as a Business Improvement District, does a lot of freight and waste consolidation to make sure that those deliveries, those waste collections, are not happening more often than they should do, that they’re trying to do them with zero emission vehicles, we as a Council, we work, we’ve converted a lot of our waste trucks now to electric as well, if you to places like Soho and Covent Garden and Leicester Square, you will see these little zippy electric waste collection vehicles and I think we even have some bicycles that are supporting that as well and so I think that the kind of last mile is something that we really need to focus on and that waste and freight consolidation because I think that if you know, we’ve seen the traffic return to pre-pandemic levels in central London, it was already back up to those levels I think three, four, five months ago and the vast majority of that is, it’s not passenger cars, it’s freight and waste.  I can never remember the figure because it does keep changing but I think we have, I think in Westminster we have around 60 separate waste collection companies.  In places like New York, you can count them on the fingers of one hand so, we do need to look at that in the round and work with our business partners to help achieve that and New West End Company has already done, made great strides in that area.  In my area of planning, we’re currently developing an environmental, supplementary planning document which will look at things such as the carbon lifecycle when we’re demolishing and building new structures and I think trying to put that into context as well because so much of our emissions come from the built environment and so we have to look at that from a planning perspective from the very beginning and making sure that the buildings that we are allowing to be constructed in our city, are the most climate friendly that they possibly can be. 

Jace Tyrrell

Just one more point to add on that, I mean this is the consumer end and we’ve actually launched for Oxford Street a campaign called Beyond Now this September to coincide with London Fashion Week.  This is a new area for all of us, you know, we’re all trying to find our way in every boardroom, every discussion and we know retail as a sector has quite a long way to go in terms of what they do with their supply chain and their product and customers will demand it, they are already demanding it for the future but we pulled together I think about thirty businesses and quite struck the work they’re doing with their products, with their supply chain, what they’re doing in their stores, how they’re really on that journey and, you know, I would encourage your listeners, Susan, to go and look at this actually, I think we’re really going to build on that and that really is working to achieve what the City of Westminster wants to achieve with net zero but there’s so much good stuff out there, you know, and I think it really was insightful actually to put this campaign together with our businesses and see the amount of work already being done for customer end of really improving the products and the services on the sustainability journey.

Susan Freeman

And it really does require collaboration between the Council, the Business Improvement Districts and the businesses, everybody has to work together to actually make this come about.  Now, just going back to Oxford Street, the policy of the Council in the past has been very much retail focussed for Oxford Street and there has been very little, if any, food and beverage.  Bearing in mind that retail is not now the answer for everybody and the customers want an experience, they want to be able to sit and eat and have it, has the planning policy for Oxford Street changed in any way?

Matthew Green

Well we absolutely want to encourage hospitality as part of that experience and as part of the Oxford Street district programme we supported wider pavements in places like James Street and North Audley Street which are just off Oxford Street but have a really good hospitality offering, the alfresco on North Audley Street in particular is fantastic and I hope that that will be able to continue but I think it’s, what we want to do is not just to support that, it’s not retail only as you say, Susan, we need to make sure that people are coming in to Oxford Street and that they can go shopping, that they can have a coffee, that they can have lunch, they can go for drinks but we also want to ensure that culture is part of that and that’s why one of the key projects, initial projects, of the Oxford Street district have been, Ramillies Street, and the photographers, Soho Photographers’ Quarter, because a lot of people fail to realise is that just a short walk away from Oxford Street, you have the world class Photographers’ Gallery and so we’re trying to improve that link between Oxford Street and Ramillies Street where the Photographers’ Gallery is.  Another one of the plans that we have, is to link Oxford Street better with Manchester Square and the Wallace Collection because it’s a very, very short walk from Selfridges but people don’t necessarily connect the two, it’s as if Marylebone is a million miles away from Oxford Street and it absolutely isn’t so we do want to connect those F&B offers, those food offers through our kind of laneway and greenway programme, just to really make sure that people don’t think that Oxford Street is only shop till you drop because I think that shop till you drop is not something that people want to do quite so much anymore but they may want, you know, they may want to buy a couple of things here and there but they will want to combine it with a social experience, be that a cultural visit or a visit to one of our fantastic theatres or going to one of the restaurants in the area. 

Susan Freeman

I think if the shopping is interesting, people will shop.  As an ardent shopper, I can say that so, Jace, what do you have to say?

Jace Tyrrell

Just to echo, you know, Matthew’s point that I think the… I guess the reliance of the West End and 300 years in the making, it’s not just commercial offices, it’s not just retail, it’s not just leisure.  A lot of, let’s say, other parts of the capital and the country want to create that almost in the Disneyland affect where we don’t, it’s very organic and actually I know with Matthew talking, I think it was about eighteen months ago, saying look I want the next Neon4 or whatever it is or the next, you know, gallery to find its world flagship in the middle of Oxford Street and I think planning policy is definitely supporting that and I think for your listeners, because we know they are owners of real estate in Oxford Street District businesses and occupiers, they should look again at some of the schemes they might have thought about five years ago and come back and talk to Westminster City Council, talk to the neighbouring developers and owners what can be done collectively because it’s through new lens now and that’s why you’re seeing some really interesting new schemes come to the table and really interesting brands and developments come, you know, forward and I think that’s’ really exciting actually from our perspective and I think probably more change in the next two to three years than we’ve probably seen in fifty because of that. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that Ikea are coming, apparently, if one believes what one reads in the press, Ikea…

Jace Tyrrell

Potentially, potentially. 

Susan Freeman

Potentially, which, so yes, so a lot of change.  So, I think just as we draw this to a close, we have to talk about Crossrail or the Elizabeth Line, do we have a date yet for Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road to open?

Matthew Green

I think it’s at last Spring, going to be Spring next year but there was a brief glimmer of hope that we might have had it in place for Christmas, which would obviously would have been fantastic because so many of our retailers just really rely on Christmas trade essentially to keep them in the black year round so, it’s a pity that it’s not coming by Christmas but the latest understanding and Jace may have better intelligence than I do, is that we’re looking at Spring, at the latest early Summer next year. 

Jace Tyrrell

I think that is the latest and Andy Byford actually is on various panels and discussions, a TFL commissioner, and he’s been very bullish actually on that date, the first half of ’22 as Matthew says, but what a lifeline for the West End, think about that office commuter whose three days a week from Reading to Bond Street, an hour and 45 minutes, think about that family who wants to come and see a show and shop on the weekend in 30 minutes, think about that tourist coming from Heathrow in 18 minutes, you know, so thank goodness we have the Elizabeth Line and this public realm commitment and the planning policy, all coming together at the right time when the West End needs it the most so, yeah, hopefully in a year’s time at Susan, we’re celebrating the opening of the Elizabeth Line that has happened, rather than talking about its potential but it’s at the right time and just what the West End needs going into 2022.

Susan Freeman

Fantastic.  Well I think it’s probably a good point to finish on a really positive note but Matthew and Jace, thank you so much, I mean that’s been really illuminating about, you know, all the things that are going on in the West End because I think, you know, one hears about some of it but there, you know, so much has happened over the last eighteen months so, thank you very much. 

Matthew Green

Thank you.

Jace Tyrrell

Thanks.

Susan Freeman

A huge thank you to Councillor Matthew Green and to Jace Tyrrell for talking to us about their exciting plans for the future of London’s amazing West End so, just watch this space. 

So, that’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very soon. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to on your Apple podcast app, and on Spotify and whatever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly, suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe and on LinkedIn for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, Prop Tech and the built environment.

Cllr Green was elected to the council, representing Little Venice ward, in May 2018. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in French and Russian, he spent a number of years in diplomatic postings in Japan and Ukraine. He has also worked in the European Parliament in Brussels and for one of London's former MEPs. At present, he works as a communications consultant, specialising in public sector communications, especially related to employment policy and foreign affairs. He has lived in Westminster since 2013 and is currently a governor of the United Colleges Group, one of the largest providers of further education in London. He has previously held the post of Deputy Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Planning and also served as the council's EU Residents' Champion. 

Jace Tyrrell has been Chief Executive of New West End Company for five years, representing Europe’s largest retail & leisure destination. His brief covers 600 businesses in London’s West End, with a property portfolio of £3.5 billion and an annual turnover of £10 billion, anchored on Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street & Mayfair.

Over the past few years his work has secured over £200m million in direct investment into the area, enhancing the physical and commercial environment to ensure London’s West End maintains its pre-eminence as a global shopping and leisure destination.‎

Jace’s current focus is on building a more sustainable district post COVID, championing initiatives to improve the area’s air quality and increase recycling, with the ultimate ambition of creating central London’s first Zero-Emissions Transport Zone.

Previously, Jace was Executive Director of the City and Westminster Property Associations, representing the commercial real estate industry in Central London with a combined portfolio of over £40 billion. Prior to this, Jace was a Director at New West End Company, helping it to win its status as a Business Improvement District (BIDs).

A London Business School alumnus, Jace also advises the Singaporean Government on Urban Regeneration and is a guest lecturer at Regent's University on corporate strategy and reputation management.

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