LAST week was widely reported as a good news week for the City; two more skyscraper projects – British Land’s Cheesegrater and Land Securities’ Walkie Talkie – were revived and One New Change, the new jewel in the City’s retail offering, opened to huge fanfare and to huge crowds.
All of this is of course good news, particularly in a week when the UK recorded higher than expected second quarter growth. Despite the crisis, top firms and top talent still want to locate in London so projects such as the Cheesegrater, and the Walkie Talkie were always going to be revisited once we emerged from the darkest days of the credit crunch.
The City’s property market has proven remarkably robust and some large firms have expanded the size of their operations or moved back to the City in recent times. However, the consequent lack of truly ‘grade A’ office space available in the City at the moment is impacting upon our international competitiveness – if we cannot offer global firms a range of options to suit their business needs, then they will look elsewhere. That is why last week’s announcements were so welcome.
And it is not just the City’s skyline that is changing; last week saw the opening of One New Change, the City’s major new shopping centre – a stunning piece of architecture that also contains 330,000 sq ft of office space.
This iconic development in the shadow of St Paul’s offers a convenient and much needed service within the Square Mile and will significantly enhance the City as a tourist destination and as a place to live, to shop and, of course, to do business.
However, One New Change is just one stage in the ongoing regeneration of Cheapside, a process which will help to realise the City of London’s vision of creating a retail district fitting for one of the world’s leading financial centres. A major part of this regeneration are the continuing improvement works to the street itself, due for completion in good time for the 2012 Olympics. I am pleased to report these works are currently being delivered on time – the first phase immediately around One New Change is now complete – under budget and to the satisfaction of all parties.
Whilst there is no doubt that the opening of One New Change and the revival of the Cheesegrater and Walkie Talkie will improve the City’s business offer, threats to the City remain.
The international business community naturally remain nervous about the key issues of regulation and tax and some of the proposals coming out of Westminster and Brussels.
Good regulation and fair, equitable and predictable taxation are essential in order to attract international capital – which in turn creates wealth and much needed tax revenues in this time of austerity.
The jobs created by these new developments and the services that not only support the construction but will eventually support the occupants, perfectly illustrates why the City needs to remain globally competitive and open to international capital and talented people from around the globe.
If we fail to get the right balance between tax and regulation it doesn’t matter how many skyscrapers we build or how many shops and restaurants are opened, the City will be forced to downsize to a level commensurate with purely domestic demand. In other words a much smaller City with a reduced demand for both office and retail space. Let us ensure that does not happen.
Stuart Fraser is the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee at the City of London Corporation.