London’s New West End

For decades Oxford Street has been one of London’s most popular shopping districts, but since 1993 the area has seen a decrease in retail outlets from 285 to 226.

A new plan has been developed to help the West End retail sector for the future that not only includes Oxford Street but also Bond and Regent Streets.

The West End expects to welcome 260 million visitors per year by 2019 with the opening of the Elizabeth Line and a new railway line in the London Underground that will connect Heathrow airport to Reading.

The Past

Oxford Street has seen its retail diversity decline from 142 fascia’s from 29 retailers to 177 fascias in 33 retailer categories since 1993 according to an analysis by Savills.

Savills’ Oxford Street specialist Sam Foyle says: ‘Oxford Street’s once predominantly domestic retailer mix has developed into a very international one, with almost a third of stores let to non-domestic brands in 2017 compared to only seven per cent in 1993.’

“This internationalisation of the retail offer really started to take hold with the entrance of US brands in the early 1990s, followed by more rapid activity from the large European groups such as Inditex (Zara, Bershka, Pull&Bear) and H&M.

‘Today European retailers occupy 21.1 per cent of all stores on the street, up from 4.9 per cent 25 years ago.’

In 1968 fashion retailers occupied 32% of the streets stores but by 2017 this figured had dropped to 29.4% for fashion outlets. Today fashion retailers that sell both mens and women apparel are now 19.3% of the retail fashion stores whereas 50 years ago the number of similar stores was 2.2%. The report also noted that in 2017 the retail outlets for menswear-only had declined with retail store occupation rates at 1.8% while compared to rates in 1993 being 9.1% and 11.8% in 1968 for retail occupation.

Savills’ head of central London retail Anthony Selwyn reports on the cost and demand in the retail property unit  at this time: ‘While larger flagship stores will always play an important role on Oxford Street, we are also seeing a wide spectrum of potential tenants looking for smaller units of less than 10,000sq ft.’

‘Higher rents and rates as well as growth in online shopping are all contributing to store consolidation, with some retailers ending that the costs associated with smaller format stores are ultimately easier to handle.’

The West End Plan

The New West End Company, the U.K. firm that represents businesses in London’s West End area including Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets, recently released its detailed plans for Oxford Street and surrounding neighbourhoods at the London Real Estate Forum this past June.

The plans called “The Future of the Oxford Street District,” were developed by the consultancy firms of Publica for public spaces, Volterra for economic issues and international property consultants Gerald Eve.

In its report the New West End Company predicts if the recommendations are adopted the results could create up to 30,000 jobs in the next 15 years and more than 160 million pounds of new annual revenue.

One aspect of the plan calls for better pedestrian and cycle routes that would improve the safety of visitors along with more open and green public spaces. The plan would also include more community and cultural events to broaden the areas appeal in the evening hours.

However calls for a total pedestrian district in the West End recommended by London Mayor Saqiq Khan has met with retailer opposition who want the proposal watered down.

The New West End Company, which represents well known brands John Lewis, Selfridges and hundreds of other shops, has said that autos, buses and taxis should be continued to be allowed to cross Oxford Street on the north-south routes of Regent Street and Duke Street.

The New West End Company has predicted that havoc would occur should a 24-hour traffic free zone be introduced from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road.

The proposal by Mayor Khan on a traffic ban for Oxford Street is to reduce auto emissions in the area by 2025.

In an interview with Retail Week, New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: ‘The West End’s businesses have an aspiration for Oxford Street district to be transformed from a single shopping street into a varied, entertaining and well-connected district. Their vision for the area is that it becomes a vibrant centre for civic life, culture and commerce with the world’s best retail district at its heart.’

‘Our study brings this to life and makes implementable recommendations for its realisation to ensure that the West End can compete with fierce international competition and leads the way as a global retail and leisure destination.’

Selfridges director of operations Sue West added: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine one of the world’s most famous shopping streets as the world of retail continues to evolve.

“We have the opportunity to enhance Oxford Street’s standing as an integral part of a global shopping, cultural and commercial centre, restore its position as a focus for experimental design, culture, spectacle and entertainment, while at the same time maintaining its historic character, not least its links to its established residential neighbourhoods.”

By Kevin Murphy: