The Centre for London has set out a recovery plan to save London’s historic heart, the West End, and help its world renowned theatres, live performance venues, and local businesses to survive and thrive as the city recovers from the pandemic.
The think tank’s proposals include introducing culture vouchers to encourage audiences back to the theatre following the early success of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, opening up opportunities for outdoor street performances and introducing residencies for artists and performers in empty units at reduced prices.
The coronavirus lockdown has hit the West End particularly hard. The West End accounts for some of the most vulnerable jobs in the city: one in five hospitality jobs in London, one in six jobs in the arts, and one in eight jobs in retail.
The absence of foreign visitors has been felt most strongly in the West End: 40 per cent of international tourist spend in the UK is within the Cities of London and Westminster, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Theatreland has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. In 2019, 18,364 performances took place across London’s theatres, drawing in 15 million spectators, and bringing in £800 million in revenue. In July, Bectu, the cultural workforce trade union, predicted that 2,700 jobs had already been lost in London theatres.
To help the West End’s theatres and other live performance venues reopen, and encourage audiences to return to the city:
Landowners should work with London government to stage weekly ‘London fringe’ events across the West End’s streets, creating new spaces for outdoor performances that respect physical distancing rules.
The government should introduce culture vouchers once indoor performances restart, similar to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, to bring audiences back to venues in London and other city centres, benefit those who are less able to pay, and increase spending in shops, restaurants, pubs, and cafes as well.
Setting up shop in the West End often means paying very high rents and rates. To make sure the West Open is open to all new businesses:
Landowners should introduce ‘residencies’ for artists, chefs, performers or retail brands in empty spaces at reduced prices across the West End.
The government should offer ‘enterprise-zone’ style tax breaks for start-ups who move into empty premises.
To encourage the West End to become a greener and more liveable neighbourhood, while supporting local businesses:
London boroughs should continue to help restaurants and bars to operate outdoors particularly over winter, including through outdoor shelters, temporary street closures and consolidated deliveries.
The Mayor of London and London boroughs should expand the availability of bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters for hire beyond Zone 1.
Author: Ben Brown
Source: City Matters
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