Evening Standard Comment: London’s high streets show signs of recovery, but still lag behind

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 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

Harry Beck ingenious Tube map needs updating. The first extension to the London Underground this century is set to open in a fortnight, with new Northern line stations at Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station.

The £1.2 billion development will bring Battersea within 15 minutes of the West End, and according to Mayor Sadiq Khan will help support more than 25,000 jobs and over 20,000 homes. It comes at an opportune time. As summer turns to autumn (belated mini heatwaves notwithstanding), the capital finds itself at an inflection point.

There are signs of a recovery. Morning rush-hour numbers have reached their highest number since the start of the pandemic. Yet clear evidence is emerging of a gap between London and other parts of the country when it comes to the great return. Our high streets are emptier than those of any other part of the country.

As we report in today’s paper, footfall in last month was down 29.5 per cent on a year before, compared with 17.9 per cent for England as a whole and 10.8 per cent in the North-West. It confirms fears that the capital — which relies on the daily injection of commuters and tourists — has been hit hardest by remote working.

The next few weeks will be critical and there is reason to believe we will make progress as holidays end and students return to classrooms. What would help is our politicians leading by example.

Westminster remains the beating heart of the capital. A vibrant Parliament and Whitehall would go a long way to boosting the recovery. As a result of the pandemic and lockdowns, our working patterns have changed.

London can and must adapt to this. But a return to the centre is vital. Not only to help our economy but because the delights of the city we all love — shops, restaurants and arts — are reliant on a bustling metropolis.

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