Landlord Shaftesbury bets workers WILL return to the office

Landlord Shaftesbury bets workers WILL return to office despite current figures being only half of pre-Covid levels

Shaftesbury has predicted the return of office staff to central London in the coming months, as grim figures show West End visitor numbers are still only half of pre-pandemic levels.

The landlord is banking on the area’s army of office staff opting to come back to their desks in the early autumn, following the easing of restrictions in July.

They are seen as key to the local economy, bringing extra spending to businesses during the working week.

Shaftesbury, which invests in London’s West End (pictured), is banking on the area’s army of office staff opting to come back to their desks in the early autumn

But so far they have stayed away, with Shaftesbury admitting that visitor numbers to the West End are still only 50-60 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

The firm said there has been a ‘strong recovery’ at restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels since the lifting of lockdown and social distancing measures, but shops are lagging behind as consumers save their trips for the weekend.

Separate research found the recovery in High Street visitor numbers has been ‘unequal’, with big cities lagging behind other areas due to the slow return of workers to offices.

A Mail survey revealed that the vast majority of big firms are not forcing their employees to come back in the autumn, raising fears for jobs at businesses that depend on commuters for custom.

Brian Bickell, chief executive of Shaftesbury, said: ‘The momentum of the last four months is providing a sound platform for the continuing revival of the West End in the important months ahead, leading up to Christmas and into the new year, and the prospects for a return to pre-pandemic patterns of life and activity.’

Shaftesbury said the nascent recovery had led to improved rent collections – but the measure still remained lower than before the coronavirus crisis, when the company did not even see the need to report the figures. 

In the three months to June 30, the firm collected 51 per cent of contracted rent, compared with just 40 per cent between January and March this year. 

Meanwhile, at the end of July, it said 4.6 per cent of its sites stood vacant, also an improvement on March.

It blamed the delay of the Government’s ‘Freedom Day’ reopening from June to July for holding back a summer recovery and predicted visitor numbers will also improve once more international tourists can visit London again.

Around one quarter of retail spending in city centres comes from local workers such as office staff, according to a report from property company Savills. 

However, four fifths of office workers want to work from home at least two days per week – meaning cities are set to miss out on spending from those who used to commute every day.

Savills warned that city centre locations ‘continue to lag behind’ due to the lower numbers of office workers and tourists visiting.

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