This morning the New West End Company hosted an interesting breakfast meeting discussing the future of retail and how it affects the West End.
The meeting was held under Chatham House rules. While the exact nature of the debate can't be reported on, it will be no surprise that the themes of tenant mix, public realm and transport were high on the agenda.
The West End provokes mixed feelings from retailers and shoppers. On the one hand, it has attracted an unprecedented range of international retailers over the past five years and all the main indices of retail sales show central London outperforming the rest of the country.
On the other hand, everyone knows that shopping in the West End can be a bit of a nightmare. Whether you arrive by tube, bus or car, none are much fun and, when you get there, it’s crowded and the environment in much of Oxford Street is grim.
The sense among retailers I speak to is that they – helped by the New West End Company and the more progressive landlords like Crown Estate – feel they have done their bit, but the politicians haven't.
So while retailers like John Lewis and Selfridges have invested heavily to create world class stores and famed retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch have been lured in by forward-thinking landlords, the experience is no where near as good as the sum of the parts suggests it should be.
While Ken Livingstone may not have been everyone's cup of tea, there were signs that he was taking the problems of the West End seriously. The fear with new Mayor Boris Johnson is that there are early signs that his loyalties lie more with the suburbs that elected him than London's retail core.
Let's hope that perception is wrong. A healthy West End is vital to London's economy and its image as a global destination for both tourists and business. With Westfield London opening next month, the area is facing its biggest challenge in recent memory, so this really is no time for complacency.