West End sees first sales slump since 2009

Unlike corner shops and small independent traders, London's shopping districts (the West End; Westfield; Bluewater) were remarkably resilient to the effects of recession. Sales at Westfield hit a landmark £870m last year, while the sprawling shopping centre in Bluewater experienced a record Christmas, recording its highest ever footfall of 28.1 million.

Why then is the West End seeing a sales slump?

Footfall in the area is down 10% this month. Are Londoners and tourists simply tightening belts following the VAT hike, or could the prolongued work on the new Crossrail stations at Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street be to blame?

Dean Street, usually a-buzz with pedestrians, has become a ghost town due to the giant hoardings blocking the street. The Soho Society's new chairwoman Kaye de Ville says: "We face important issues. Crossrail won't be completed until 2017 and is an example of a challenge that we face as residents and business people in Soho."

Oxford Circus station is also proving a problem. Anyone who has experienced the West End station during rush hour has doubtless seen the throngs blocking shop doorways and walkways, unable to enter the station between 5 and 6:30pm. This problem has been exacerbated by recent escalator works inside the station.

It seems London is incapable of making improvements to the transport system without inconveniencing either commuters, businesses or road users.

But it's not just Boris' transport schemes bringing the West End to a halt. The cold weather has also been a deterrent to shoppers. We are just beginning to emerge from the coldest winter for 31 years and high street businesses are still feeling the effects. And that's not the only freeze: pay rises remain frozen at one in 10 UK companies with pundits predicting pay 'restraint' to continue for the next five years.

Hardly makes you want to flash the cash on some new threads...



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