London’s Oxford Street during lockdown. Shutterstock.
At least one-fifth of Oxford Street, London’s main shopping thoroughfare, will be “boarded up with no hope of recovery” and more than 50,000 retail and hospitality jobs lost when the latest lockdown ends, according to an influential lobby group.
The New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses in London’s premier shopping and entertainment area, says 57 of 264 stores on Oxford Street are already permanently closed. As damage to the U.K. economy mounts, more than 50,000 jobs will be lost in the West End area by March if action is not taken soon, the group said.
The West End has been hit harder economically by Covid-19 than any other part of the country, Peter Rogers, chairman of the lobby group, said in a letter to U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Revenue at businesses in the district will fall by more than 80% to less than 2 billion pounds ($2.8 billion) in the 12 months beginning March 2020 from the same period a year earlier.
“The globally unique West End ecosystem is beginning to break down,” he said.
Lockdowns, tourist travel restrictions and consumer reluctance to travel to busy locations have hit London hard, putting pressure on retailers and landlords. The recent failure of the Debenhams department-store chain means its flagship outlet on Oxford Street is closing in the most recent high-profile shuttering on the street. While some store closures are a result of longer-term redevelopment plans, there are growing fears that without collective action Oxford Street could lose its allure to retailers and shoppers alike.
In the letter, Rogers asked the government to extend a payment holiday on business rates, a form of U.K. property tax, review a decision to stop letting tourists reclaim value added tax, and provide targeted funding to projects to boost the London economy.
“Left to market forces alone, the West End will recover but not for many years and not before irreparable damage will have been done to Britain’s global reputation,” said Rogers.
By Deirdre Hipwell.