The City of London wants to foster growth in sectors such as green finance, fintech and the creative industries, according to a post-pandemic recovery plan for the financial district.
The City of London Corporation, which governs the area, is reviewing its long-term strategy, including planning policies to reflect flexible working practices. It will push for the adoption of new “smart city” technology and renewable energy networks.
These will form part of a consultation with businesses and residents on a five-year “blueprint” to revive the Square Mile, as the City is known, which is facing questions over its future from the twin threats of Brexit and the pandemic.
The corporation has created a “recovery task force” to pull together the plans. An interim report from the group seen by the Financial Times has identified more than 100 different proposals to ensure the financial district is “internationally competitive and locally vibrant”.
The City has been hit hard in the pandemic, after businesses sent staff home to work, and many bars and restaurants are struggling to survive the third lockdown. The UK’s departure from the EU has also raised fears about London’s role as a key hub for European financial services.
“We are looking at our own policies and strategies and what we need to do for the Square Mile to continue to have a vibrant business ecosystem,” said Catherine McGuinness, the corporation’s head of policy.
“We are confident but it needs our support. We are looking at our local plan, our planning guidelines, any other strategy to ensure that the City remains at the top of its game.”
The move comes after the City last year commissioned consultants at Oliver Wyman to come up with a ‘vision’ report about the future of London. The document will be consulted on with businesses and residents this quarter, before a final report is agreed.
Separately, the corporation is also reviewing its governance and internal functions. A report led by Lord Lisvane last year that aimed to improve the efficiency of the centuries-old body criticised its slow decision-making and said there was an outside perception that it was “secretive and lacking transparency, with many of its ways of doing business lamentably out of date”.
“It is too often described as ‘an old boys’ club’,” it added. “These are all things that the corporation needs to grip.”
As part of the five-year plan, the corporation — which is one of the biggest landlords in the area — would oversee pilot projects for the transformation of offices for new uses, including “hyperflexible spaces” designed for companies reconsidering the need for permanent, large offices given the move to more flexible and remote working.
The proposals will consider planning policies, according to Ms McGuinness, which is one of the key roles for the corporation, to address “how demands for offices change given the different ways of working we will see after Covid, or following the increased focus on sustainability”.
The team has also recommended a communications strategy that includes making 5G and broadband widely available across the Square Mile, and a renewable energy network alongside a review of the supply of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The plans suggest championing a “central London zero emission zone”, including “next generation road user charging”.
The task force also advocated the use of real-time anonymised data for tasks such as improving energy efficiency and pedestrian routes, with other plans to pilot “smart city” technologies.
The report highlighted the need for intervention to grow strategic sectors such as green finance and help “high-potential business to start, adapt, and grow”. It also recommended helping broker and streamline access to finance, and help small businesses with digital transformation and decarbonisation.
The task force flagged the possibility of support programmes for emerging entrepreneurs in creative sectors, and improvements to its retail, hospitality and cultural offerings.