LAST week, British Land and Blackstone agreed a deal to build the City of London’s largest office building to house the new European headquarters of UBS.
And whilst we are still very early in the planning process – no formal application has been made – the City of London has, as always, been liaising with all of the key stakeholders to ensure the final design proposals not only meet UBS’ requirements but also enhance the Square Mile as a business environment.
The fact that such a prestigious financial institution has decided to remain in the City and indeed to open its new European HQ here, almost doubling the existing floorspace of its current offices at the same location, is hugely encouraging.
The City’s property market proved very resilient during the recent financial crisis and this news is indicative of the fact that London has retained its reputation as a leading financial centre, whilst it also reflects a return to growth that has become increasingly apparent in recent months.
And it is not just new office space being created in the City.
Only a couple of weeks ago, the City’s planning and transportation committee provided planning permission for a new ‘six star’ hotel next to Blackfriars Station – itself currently undergoing extensive redevelopment – that will provide 280 bedrooms, a 500-seat banqueting hall as well as the obligatory rooftop swimming pool.
Whatever the architectural merits of the design – it has been variously dubbed ‘the Spaceship’, ‘the Slug’ or, in homage to the Mermaid Theatre which used to stand on this site, ‘the Crab’ – there is no doubt the City will be home to yet another iconic building and, more importantly, to a building that will help to service a very real need for more hotel space in the City.
All this activity sends out a very positive message about the City’s future as an international financial hub, but we need the government and European policy makers to support these efforts by maintaining a business environment which allows London to compete in the global marketplace.
Competitiveness is a complex issue and here in the City we are doing all we can to create a business environment capable of continuing to attract the leading firms and top talent from around the world.
It will require a concerted effort both at home and in Brussels, but I hope any future changes to our regulatory landscape will reflect these ambitions and will enhance – not diminish – London’s reputation as a world-class centre for international finance.
Stuart Fraser is the policy chairman at the City of London Corporation