While Prime Minister Gordon Brown is being attacked from every political corner at the moment, the property industry should be thanking him. Last week, he gave the go-ahead for the Crossrail link – something that has been mooted since 1990.
The link, from Essex in the east, through the City and central London to Heathrow and Maidenhead, will not only provide much-needed extra transport through the capital, it will transform the retail centre in the West End.
Two new stations will be built in the West End – one at Tottenham Court Road and the other at Bond Street. And the one that is most eagerly awaited is Tottenham Court Road.
The east end of Oxford Street has for years been a blight on London’s shopping Mecca. As an international shopping destination, it pales in comparison with other flagship shopping streets worldwide. The east end of Oxford Street is embarrassing.
There has been some improvement just east of Oxford Circus, with retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Zara, Bershka and Bik Bok all opening flagship stores. But, further east of Marks & Spencer, it starts to look tired and forgotten.
Apart from the odd multiple retailer, the east end of Oxford Street is littered with temporary stores, cheap goods and shabby shop fits. Add the near-standstill traffic and litter and it’s hard to believe this is a world-renowned tourist destination.
Yet Crossrail may well do what councils and property firms have failed to do for years – take a chunk of this tatty retail out of play with the new station and regenerate the area. The council couldn’t previously persuade property owners to take care of their shops because many are under different ownerships with some private landlords living abroad and not really caring what their shop looks like as long as they receive their rent on time.
By eliminating much of this retail, the east end of Oxford Street can start again. Using the new rail station as the starting point, the council can ensure that landlords build clean modern space and pull in retailers that fit with the image of an international destination. Temporary traders can be abolished and the east end of Oxford Street can not only become more like the west end, but also more like Regent Street, which through the careful planning of the Crown Estate has become a phenomenal destination.
As with every major planning application, there will be many delays, hold-ups and set backs – mostly to do with funding. Both the retail and property industry need to come together to make Crossrail happen as it could well be Oxford Street’s last hope.