By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
Tourists coming to London often make a beeline to the centre.
From the National Gallery where they can see some of the world’s best loved masterpieces, to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace – the inner London borough of Westminster’s got it all.
But the reliance on tourism – including overseas visitors – means it has been hit especially hard by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
The recent lack of tourism and commuters have hit the borough hard.
According to the latest council figures, recreation and shopping areas saw a 55 per cent drop in footfall during the weekend of May 22-23, compared with pre-pandemic levels.
That was the first weekend after indoor cinemas, sports facilities and exercise classes could reopen and spectator sports venues could invite the public in but with limited capacity.
But this was nearly twice as bad as Manchester City Centre which saw a 29 per cent drop in footfall.
It comes as Westminster City Council unveiled plans for Oxford Street – one of the world’s most iconic shopping streets.
It includes greening up piazzas either side of Oxford Circus and tree-lined streets, with traffic diverted.
The council’s plans to revitalise Oxford Street were on the cards before the pandemic, but the crisis has given it new impetus.
Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “These new bold plans to reinvent Oxford Circus will see the first significant redesign of the nation’s favourite high street in decades.”
She added: “We want to bring the excitement and buzz back to these famous streets and make Oxford Circus London’s front door.”
Retail Gazette reports that 36 of the street’s 125 stores stand empty. Ikea is rumoured to be interested in the former Topshop store and the Debenhams flagship could be transformed into offices.
Major Westminster attractions reported massive drops in their visitor numbers in 2020. The National Gallery saw an 80 per cent drop to 1.1m visitors last year, whilst Tate Britain in Pimlico saw 396,000 people, down 78 per cent.
Westminster Abbey reported a drop of 86 per cent, to 221,000 visits when it could open in between lockdowns last year.
The council is about to release tickets for the area’s newest attraction – the viewing point at Marble Arch Hill, a 25m temporary tower with a visitor centre. It’s hoped that 200,000 people will visit over its six-month life.
The council spent £900,000 on the attraction.
Overall it is spending £150m on Oxford Street – with another £85m from private investors.
The borough has a quarter of all London’s hotel rooms, with 8,480 in 2015, according to London Assembly figures.
Westminster City Council’s head of strategy and performance, Mohibur Rahman, said Westminster’s covid woes have been compounded by the long-term impact on the high street, with shoppers embracing online ordering.
He said: “Lockdowns and travel restrictions have highlighted Westminster businesses’ reliance on visitors. The decline in footfall has typically been greater in cities than their surrounding areas, with Westminster remaining an outlier and reflecting the extreme end of poor recovery of footfall.”
He said Greater London saw a 28 per cent drop in footfall in late May, compared with pre-pandemic levels whilst nationally there was just a 19 per cent drop.
“While non-London cities also appear to show a greater drop in mobility compared to surrounding areas, this difference is much less pronounced.”
He pointed out that, for example, mobility was only down 29 per cent in Manchester City Centre, compared with 20 per cent in Greater Manchester, which includes smaller towns such as Bolton, Rochdale and Stockport.
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