Fears that West End could be one of the last areas to recover from pandemic due to lack of tourists

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Businesses and politicians fear London’s West End could be one of the last areas to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the centre of London has few homes and attracts thousands of tourists and day trippers every day, it has been hard hit.

Nickie Aiken, who became the Cities of London and Westminster MP last December, said she feared it would be one of the last places to recover.

As the heart of the entertainment industry, experts predict numbers will come back slowly and point to the “doughnut effect,” with fewer people in the centre of London.

Pub landlords, including Belgravia’s Afrim Neli, are reporting a very slow recovery.

He said he had seen about 10 to 12 per cent of the normal number of people at his Horse and Groom pub, which normally attracts office workers.

Tim Lord, from the Soho Society, said things were gradually getting busier, but added that people are dining out.

He said: “There is more traffic about and definitely more people, but tourism has all gone.

“They still want to go out in Soho. It’s reassuring that people want to find entertainment. You can have a good meal these days in Soho.”

Westminster City Council has launched its Sight See Crowd Free campaign to encourage people from London and outside the capital to visit attractions and give business a boost.

But many offices are still to return, and as workers have proved they can work from home while saving money and time on the daily commute, there are fears the beating heart of the city might look different for good.

The New West End Company which represents 500 shops and restaurants in central London said just 10 per cent of the area’s 500,000 office workers have returned.

According to the most recent Transport for London (TfL) passenger data though, more people are now using public transport.

In the month to June 22 there were 47m bus journeys and 13m Tube journeys.

The following month saw some 66m bus and 22m Tube journeys.

And the New West End Company is also reeling from the government announcement that the UK is scrapping VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors from the end of the year as part of changes brought about by Brexit.

Chief executive Jayce Tyrell is lobbying the Chancellor to rethink the policy, which makes the UK the only European country to scrap this incentive.

Pictured top: A street performer in Piccadilly Circus


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