The City could get a dramatic makeover under a master plan to get workers back to offices while boosting the vital financial services sector.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that a planning blueprint will this week recommend creating a vibrant Parisian-style cafe culture with more outdoor tables, widened streets, pedestrian areas and more green spaces for workers to relax.
The document will lay out plans for more sports facilities and evening and weekend entertainment. It will list outdoor cinemas and large long-table street dinners – hugely successful in Milan – as potential new attractions.
New direction: A planning blueprint will recommend creating a vibrant Parisian-style cafe culture
The study was commissioned by the Eastern City Partnership, representing the area between London Bridge and Liverpool Street. This includes the Gherkin and Cheesegrater skyscrapers, the Lloyd’s building and Leadenhall Market.
Giant companies including insurer Aon and asset manager Brookfield are members of the partnership.
Improvements to the area would be funded using a combination of public and private money. The plans were drawn up with input from the City of London Corporation which will now examine their feasibility in detail.
Banks, insurers, asset managers and other City firms are currently reviewing when they should call staff back to offices – and in what numbers – after the announcement of Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap.
Last week, HSBC revealed it was cutting 40 per cent of its office space nationally, raising fears that city centres could be drained of their vitality. Lloyd’s, Standard Chartered and Metro Bank also intend to scale back their office-based operations.
Politicians and City lobby groups are working on plans to boost the City with deals to help sell financial services to countries outside the EU.
Amsterdam this month overtook London as Europe’s top share trading centre. A UK-EU trade deal on financial services is yet to be agreed.
The Government is understood to be ramping up talks with Switzerland to strike a ‘gold standard’ deal for financial services. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been in talks with his Swiss counterpart to forge an agreement to allow ‘mutual recognition’ of each other’s rules.
A source close to the talks said this would make it easier for Britain to sell financial products into Switzerland and vice versa.
The Government is planning a huge publicity drive to encourage British companies to take advantage of the UK’s free trade deal with Japan, which made it easier for British banks and tech-savvy firms to hold data in Japan and serve customers locally.
Britain has also set its sights on India, Africa and China for future financial deals.
Office staff are generally expected to commute less frequently into the capital when the pandemic has subsided – and at staggered times to reduce rush-hour crowding.
Business leaders and property owners in the City are stressing the area’s value to the country’s recovery with the financial services industry generating 7 per cent of economic output.
The City’s numerous shops, bars and restaurants are desperate for the return of office workers to sustain the local economy. Three skyscrapers have been approved in the last month in the Square Mile and the arrival of Crossrail could see 100,000 extra workers flood into the City by 2026.
Catherine McGuinness, the City of London Corporation policy chair, said: ‘The City stands ready to welcome workers back when it is safe to do so and I genuinely believe the City has a bright future ahead.’
The plans to revitalise the eastern section of the City – drawn up by planning firm Publica – lambast parts of the existing business district as ‘unimaginative’ with a ‘stark lack of green spaces’.
The proposals build on a 20-year plan unveiled by the City of London Corporation in 2018 which included making the area’s southern waterfront attractive to visitors.
Kevin Ellis, chairman of consulting giant PwC, said: ‘As well as money spent on surrounding shops, cafes and cultural amenities, the networking and interactions of office workers creates higher output.’