London's historically vibrant West End is going through a period of considerable change. The ongoing transformation of the retail industry, the completion of the Elizabeth Line, and other major public realm projects are just a few factors that will have a material impact on its future.

The West End is of vital importance to London and local government. With growth targets for employment and housing laid out in the Mayor of London's draft London plan, the Greater London Authority (GLA) approached Arup to undertake a review of the risks and opportunities that the area is facing. The GLA wanted to assess whether the West End can deliver on and meet its broader obligations as part of London’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ).

Our Economic Planning team produced a set of recommendations to ensure the West End’s unique economic ecosystem is secured to support Oxford Street’s central position. We assessed the traditional and new sectors that make up the West End’s economy. These included food & beverage, bricks and mortar retail outlets, entertainment and cultural institutions, and future retail developments with a focus on experiential offers such as flagship stores. The purpose of this was to understand how these fit together in the broader ecosystem in order to maximise growth.

Determining growth scenarios and developing an economic impact model

To inform projections for the West End, we undertook a detailed analysis to capture the effect of the major trends which are likely to impact the characteristics and composition of land use in the area, including:

  • Digital disruption
  • Planning policy
  • Cost of business
  • Consumer culture

Growth targets of major transport investment projects (most notably Crossrail 1 and Crossrail 2) were also considered in the study to determine their impact. 

Through the cross referencing of original analyses, international case studies and extensive work on the area, our findings suggested that the following conditions are required to unlock the full growth potential of the West End:

  • Proactive strategy enabling engagement with key stakeholders, residents, workers and visitors
  • Mix of use from retail, residential, commercial, cultural, food and beverage
  • Range of offers from premium through to high street, as well as cultural programming of high quality and flexible public space, to meet the needs of residents, workers and visitors

Principal recommendations 

We set out our principal recommendations and tied them back to Good Growth outcomes:

Policy: Adopt a flexible policy approach to allow the area to fulfil more of its economic and social value potential aligned to international, national, regional, Central Activity Zone, borough and neighbourhood functions

City Management and Financing: Secure a long-term sustainable financial footing by protecting/enhancing the residential quality of life and the wellbeing of visitors and workers in the West End

Engagement: Ensure collaborative working between London government entities and their functional bodies (e.g. TfL) alongside the private sector and Business Improvement Districts (BIDS)

The West End’s relevance and attractiveness may be at risk in the future as consumer tastes evolve and economic circumstances change. With that caveat in mind, these findings are time-sensitive and relevant only to conditions at the time of writing.