Shaping the future of Mayfair

Thursday 17 December 2015

How can Mayfair maintain its character and position as a leading arts and luxury retail quarter for London as it deals with population growth and rising values – and seeks to capitalize on the benefits the new Bond Street Crossrail link will bring?

That was one of the key questions grappled with by a select group of figures involved with the great estates, luxury retail, and the arts institutions and art market and those charged with taking forward plans for the area.

The event was introduced by Charles Saumarez Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, who said he had become interested in the surrounding neighbourhoods and the complexities of local planning following his initiation of the David Chipperfield-designed project to revitalise the RA. There is a ‘historic opportunity’ to develop the whole neighbourhood, said Saumarez Smith, building on Crossrail to improve and better integrate areas including Cork Street, Savile Row, Bond Street.

Publica director Lucy Musgrave said her firm has been looking at the connectedness of the area and its potential to link with the ‘radical change’ happening outside of Mayfair. This includes major projects such as the removal of the Aldwych, Tottenham Court Road and Baker Street gyratories, the Crown Estate’s ‘extraordinary’ £1bn investment in Regent Street, the restoration of Hanover Square as a new front door to Mayfair and the West End, the wider work of Grosvenor and the change that is coming with regards to how we use our highway and road space.  But Bond Street is at a critical point, where its beautiful architecture is obscured by clutter, traffic and parking. ‘You can’t see the beauty of Bond Street, and it’s not functioning how it should’, said Musgrave, emphasizing how in its new manifestation it must work for both pedestrians as well as vehicles, with better consolidation of servicing to avoid conflict with the utilities companies and others.

Daniel Johnson, Central London Programme Manager at Transport for London, said TfL is ‘hugely interested’ in supporting Mayfair because London is in competition with other world Cities and Mayfair can contribute to sustaining London’s international appeal for tourism and inward investment. Daniel also outlined anticipated changes, including the arrival of Crossrail, review of bus services and delivery of Central London Cycle Grid routes through Mayfair; and indicated that longer term aspirations of partners, such improving Hyde Park’s connection with Mayfair across Park Lane, might take time to develop.”

Such partnerships will be key to the future of this area, said New West End Company chief executive Richard Dickinson with 50 property owners and 60 occupiers contributing to Bond Street’s concept design as a ‘spine’ of Mayfair for other projects to hang off it. On Crossrail’s potential impact NWEC surveyed 3000 shoppers and found that the majority said they wanted more pedestrian friendly streets and catering friendly environments. Plans for Hanover Square and Bond Street take that on board, with a 20% increase in shopper numbers expected resulting from the new stations, along with a ‘helpful’ decrease at Oxford Circus. But Crossrail will also extend the retail catchment of the west end by 27.5%, driving a spend from £8.8bn to £11.25bn by 2020. ‘So you can see that projection which is clearly helpful as long as the management is right’, said Dickinson. More challenging in the management of place will be the background of cuts including a £1bn cut to a £3.2bn police budget for London. But rising rents are also an issue with business rates for retailers rising steeply, presenting particular difficulties for independent boutiques in Bond Street.

David Shaw, Head of Regent Street Portfolio, The Crown Estate, said that with the kind of shopping environment and proliferation of galleries and tailors in the area people’s expectations are high and that delivery consolidation is therefore critical. At Regent Street 40 retailers have cut their vehicle movements by 80% thanks to a scheme which lets them use two electric lorries. ‘The point at which our office customers particularly think that the bits between the buildings are not safe, suitable, or giving them the value that they are expecting, they will go elsewhere and leave Mayfair and the West End’. Shaw said it would also be instructive to get a more detailed study on what the numbers might really be arising from Crossrail. Under-utilised car parks in the area could also contribute to creating better public spaces by ridding them of vehicles, he said. But Cork Street should remain ‘the foremost street for modern and contemporary art in the UK, end of story’, said Shaw, with public realm working in a way that is attractive to galleries and their customers. ‘We need to put Cork Street back onto the map’.

‘Alan Cristea Gallery founder Alan Cristea said that as the years have gone by the quality of some galleries on Cork Street has not improved, and the smaller independent entities are struggling with increased rents or have already left for other areas. ‘I am not nostalgic, but if it’s taken over by large corporations, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

Some 10 new galleries are being developed on Cork Street with completion in 2017, said Partner, Deloitte Real Estate, Julian Stocks. A lot of the US galleries are looking for space in London and it would be hugely beneficial to both London and the Royal Academy if some took space in Cork Street to retain a sense of a cultural neighbourhood’, said Saumarez Smith. ‘But to me it would be a retrograde step if it just became somehow an annex of Bond Street.  We need to design the public realm in Burlington Gardens as a fitting setting for all this to support connections with the developing cultural quarter around us.’

A lot of the US galleries are looking for space in London and it would be hugely beneficial to both London and the RA’s if some took space in Cork Street to retain a sense of a cultural neighbourhood’, said Saumarez Smith. ‘But to me it would be a retrograde step if it just became somehow an annex of Bond Street’.

But companies like Louis Vuitton are engaged in supporting the ‘diversity and signature’ of Mayfair, said managing director of its Ireland and South Africa wings Tom Meggle with its independent galleries, even with the ‘massive investment’ in fashion houses to have their showcases in places like Bond Street. But there is a long-term threat that even the luxury retailers will be forced out due to the cost of trading, he said.

The RA has a relative weakness in its back entrance, said author Charles Landry on his work with the institution. This will be aided by the design’s new front door to Burlington Gardens, Cork Street and Bond Street.

 ‘Our core idea was this sense of seamlessness – trying to create this sense of Royal Academy-ness spinning out through those side streets’, said Landry. What is a cluster and how dense that cluster should be becomes key he added. Has the area got real diversity?

There is a danger that this cultural quarter conversation becomes parochial around the RA and this part of Mayfair, said Grosvenor’s director of placemaking, Will Bax. An emerging cultural footfall runs throughout the area from the north west to south east and is an important part of the competitiveness of the West End, and thus of London. But macro challenges are many: ‘How do we create jobs and new floorspace encouraging economic growth while maintaining the character and personality that Mayfair is famous for’, he asked. But it is the cultural component that singles Mayfair out as a special distinct part of London. ‘How we allow that to flourish as opposed to price it out is a great question.’ One answer is to create high quality public realm to ‘magnetize people’ and create a ‘gravitational effect’, but also to be innovative about tenures to support galleries and cultural uses.

Would the makers of Monopoly put Mayfair at the top of the board today, asked City of Westminster director of planning John Walker. ‘I think they would think twice, because Mayfair has been the jewel that sadly has been sitting and living on its past reputation.’ Yes, it has art galleries, and public realm, but it is also a lot more than that in its ‘DNA’, he said, with some of the best clubs and best hotels in the world. Not a lot has changed as other areas in the West End have moved on, however ‘It has been underperforming, but all of that is about to change’, he said, with public realm the ‘glue’ that sticks it all together. The US embassy will be an opportunity site as the tenants move out in 15 months’ time and it becomes a hotel; the Park Lane Hilton is set to unveil new plans, but Mayfair must also work for its strong residential community, said Walker.

Ultimately, said Musgrave, the beauty of Mayfair lies in its authenticity and its layers offering ‘a complete metabolism’. But leadership is crucial to get everything delivered to retain it.

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ 

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