The lockdown is beginning to loosen but it is still not clear what that means to each of us. Yesterday walking around the City I saw people inside several independent coffee and sandwich shops clearly tidying up and cleaning and, in most cases, putting up barriers or marking out 2 metre lines on the pavement ready to reopen. Pret has already opened many of its outlets to catch the trade from 8 – 2.30. The Lord Mayor popped back to Mansion House and many businesses are investigating with their staff what travel plans and partial occupation might mean for each of them. We are all so used to staying at home, venturing out seems a bit too scary.
Court of Common Council meeting online
Following my description of meetings online in my last post, it was on 21 May that the City held its main meeting, the Court of Common Council, online and streamed live on YouTube. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss to appear and so I used the chance to ask a formal question about the use of e-scooters in the City, One of my business voters was keen to encourage them as an additional method of travel that will ease public transport. Their use is currently illegal in any public setting. The Chair of Planning and Transportation answered that they were being piloted by the Department for Transport ahead of a public consultation and the City was reviewing the position at the next Planning Committee. I was glad to raise the point but am conscious that any introduction must be balanced with health and safety considerations and space for their proper use. Watch this space.
The City continues to rise
One of our sister Livery Companies, the Clothworkers, has just been granted planning permission for a new development on their current site at Dunster Court near Fenchurch St Station. A 35-storey tower will be built at 50 Fenchurch Street, nestling with the other Square Mile tall buildings. Boasting green credentials it will have a large green façade with metal planters providing support for climbing plants on the tower’s south, north and east elevations. The good news is that the roof garden on the 10th floor will have public access. Those familiar with the site will know of the listed crypt and tower that will be incorporated into the new build. The Livery Hall will also be rebuilt with extensive offices and shops surrounding it. The scheme was designed by Liveryman Architect Eric Parry.
Your property interest might be more piqued by house prices and market conditions. At a webinar held by the New London Architecture the mood was certain that the London Market shows signs of lift off. As the Government’s changes allowed house moves to take place and the residential market to start operating then the agents reported renewed interest. Knight Frank’s Stuart Baillie said in the Zoom session that hundreds of his colleagues had been returning to their High Street estate agencies and reported that things are ‘picking up again’, with ‘pent-up demand’ in both leasing and house buying coming from people who have been ‘perhaps stuck in accommodation that they have been looking to move on from, or to release capital for other things’. ‘That’s been really positive for our business, he told the group.
Tu-be or not Tu-be?
Travelling back into the City will be a big issue for everyone – worker, resident or tourist. Tube trains and buses have been running on a skeleton timetable but this is now changing with a return to near normal service but also with exhortations to keep your distance. TfL are issuing warnings about the busiest stations and the busy times – both to be avoided if possible. TfL have suffered significant losses and a recent bail out of £1.6 billion from the Government (by way of a loan) means a change in some of the payment arrangements. The fares freeze that Mayor Sadiq Khan came to power promising is likely to end with rises in January 2021, children under 18 cannot now travel free and freedom pass holders (save those with disabilities) will not be allowed free travel at peak times (the fact that most freedom passes are for older people means that they will be discouraged from travelling on the busier rush hour trains when there is the most risk of infection). As to the roads, the congestion charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone charges are now reinstated – both to start recouping funds but also as the number of vehicles is now slowly increasing,
Cognisant of the fact that the number of pedestrians and cyclists will increase with people minimising their time on public transport, the City is instituting changes to several roads to accommodate this likelihood. These had been trailed in my note earlier this month. These proposed changes have now been agreed and the physical works are starting to take shape across the City. Those of you travelling in the rush hours will know how crowded the pavements are, especially around the mainline stations, and many people find that they are pushed into the road in order to keep forward momentum. The City’s response is to make several roads one way only, allowing the rest of the carriageway to be used by pedestrians and cyclists (properly demarcated). This includes Cannon St, Cheapside, Old Jewry, Threadneedle Street etc. These roads are not immediately adjacent to Plaisterers’ Hall but may impact if you are planning to travel in by car in the future. Buses will be rerouted as needed along these particular streets. These are temporary measures until the pattern of travel has settled down.
What to do with waste?
Refuse collectors are probably one of those professions that we have come to admire more now that we see our dependency on so many aspects of our daily life. However there is still a band of unscrupulous fly-tippers who have taken advantage of the lockdown to dump rubbish. Not only is that a criminal offence but many have chosen the City owned and run beauty spot of Epping Forest as the dump.
Between January and April this year people abandoned 192 piles of unsightly rubbish in Epping Forest - up from 126 fly-tips for the same time last year. Most of the rubbish has been left on the roadside and the clear up team said they saw the biggest increases in furniture, general household items and garden waste. In good times even the City of London has had to spend a staggering £320,000 to get rid of waste at the historic woodland, which it could better use to care for wildlife instead. Fines do not deter and so more drastic powers have been given to the park wardens and it has been reported that they crushed a transit van which was involved in fly tipping three tonnes of waste in Epping Forest. Once the usual tips reopen this unsightly crime should stop or at least return to pre-Covid levels.
P.S. The other question on everyone’s lips is what will the “new normal” look like? Will public transport cope and will everyone feel confident to use it? How will the small coffee and sandwich shops break even if there are reduced numbers in the City who might want to minimise the time they spend out of the office once they have arrived ( perhaps now better used to preparing their own lunch every day?) Anyway, there will not be time to queue up for a Pret cappuccino if only 6 people are allowed in the shop at any one time. Let’s all take care but also take courage and plan a return to the lifestyle that gives us pleasure and purpose and that includes being a Plaisterer.