As people ponder how the world will look post-lockdown, mega retail destination Oxford Street is among the London areas likely to see major change.
Once it was difficult to navigate your way along Oxford Street because of the crowds. But with non-essential retail closed, visitors have stayed away in droves, while the fortunes of many big-name stores have waned. As planners and developers think of ways to bring back the footfall, an arts centre and play areas in bus lanes are among the ideas being suggested.
With Debenhams’ seven-story department store now left vacant, Westminster’s Labour councillors want to turn this prime retail space into an arts centre, with studios, a public library, galleries, event space and a roof garden.
Even retailers who have survived the pandemic’s impact on trading, are looking to reduce their storefront presence as more shoppers go online.
John Lewis plans to replace some retail space in its flagship store with offices. And Marks & Spencer is consulting on similar plans to redevelop its Marble Arch premises with offices taking over the upper floors.
Westminster Council has, meanwhile, begun work to improve the visitor experience with more trees and seats. The council is also creating so-called “pocket parks” in unused bus lanes with play areas and lighting instillations.
Leader of the council, Rachael Robathan said: “The pandemic has been a hammer blow for retailers and Oxford Street has suffered as much or more than any other high street in the country.
“These initial measures, which should be completed in time for summer, will literally pave the way for an economic recovery.”
The council is also looking to develop “Marble Arch Hill”- a 25 metre temporary attraction, aimed at bringing Hyde Park to the heart of Oxford Street and encouraging visitors to the area.
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