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A badly wounded London faces an uncertain future after Covid

J

ust six years ago it was hard to imagine any future for London other than never-ending growth and success as the world’s number one metropolis.

In February 2015, with the golden triumph of the Olympics still a warm, recent memory, the capital’s population hit an all-time high of 8.6 million.

The Mayor, one Boris Johnson, hailed the new record and said it proved London was “the best big city on the planet”. He confidently predicted the population would smash through 11 million by 2050. But after the twin disasters of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the pandemic over the last 15 months everything has changed.

A badly-wounded London now faces an uncertain future; much of its centre has been a “ghost town” for more than a year, restaurants and construction sites are struggling to find workers, and visitors from abroad are down by more than 90 per cent.

Even worse, that ebullient former mayor now leads a Conservative Government heavily in debt to the northern Red Wall and with little sympathy for the Remain and Labour-voting capital.

We do not yet know for certain how many people have left London since the pandemic, although some wild estimates have suggested that as many as 700,000 mainly European-born inhabitants have gone home. A more realistic assessment from consultants PwC suggests that the exodus last year was around 300,000. If true, that would be the first annual fall since 1988.

Policy makers will not know for sure what the impact on the population has been until the first official Census figures are published next year. But they are unlikely to be encouraging.

In the meantime a whole swathe of anecdotal and statistical evidence points to shortages of the life blood of labour, commuters, residents and tourists that once kept London’s economy in rude health.

Footfall in the main shopping streets of the West End is still only about 50 per cent of “normal” with the pavements of Oxford Street now uncharacteristically easy to navigate. In Soho and Mayfair, the restaurants are full, particularly at weekends — but they have a different problem. No staff.

Hospitality businesses facing ‘disaster’

PA

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