Oxford Street has long been seen as the most important street in central London, with 51% of all footfall in the West End attributed to this 2km-long thoroughfare. But the street’s attractiveness to shoppers and physical appearance has been waning in recent years, at a time when other retail locations have stepped up their game in terms of public realm, food and beverage options, and public amenities.
Now a flurry of redevelopment projects are set to be completed to coincide with the opening of the new Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) at the end of this year, which could establish the renaissance of this major shopping street.
Crossrail is expected to bring an additional 60 million people to the West End each year by 2020, amounting to almost a third more than the current 20 million annual visits. London’s population is also growing, with the current forecasts projecting an increase from 8.6 million people to more than 10 million in 2031.
The eastern end of the street is set to see the biggest transformation over the next 12 months, with Next poised to open a 90,000 sq ft flagship store and Centrepoint Plaza, with its two music and entertainment venues, forming a new destination for tourists and locals alike.
To the west of the street, the final phase of the £300m Selfridges expansion will create a focus for international high-spending tourists seeking the best brands and this stretch may become even more premium as the department store’s influence takes hold. Adidas and Microsoft are both set to open major new flagships in the second half of the year that will also drive new footfall to the area.
Just off Oxford Street in part of the former BHS flagship will be the biggest food hall concept in the UK, adding much-needed vibrancy to the dining scene on the street. Market Hall West End will feature a mix of local producers, retailers, restaurants, street food vendors, four bars, event spaces and a demo kitchen across a 36,000 sq ft space.
The Crown Estate’s ongoing transformation of nearby Regent Street has underlined what can be achieved when there is a holistic vision for a major London shopping street and the New West End Company is spearheading a similar strategy for Oxford Street.
The plans to pedestrianise parts of the street have been rejected most recently by Westminster Council but would certainly solve a number of problems, namely pedestrian safety and the ability for the street to accommodate the increased footfall and general projections of growth. It is important, however, that Westminster do not see this as an opportunity to utilise the space for ‘mall’ occupiers that could have a detrimental impact on the quality and individuality of the street.
As shopping behaviour continues to evolve, Oxford Street stands to benefit from the trend towards fewer, bigger flagships and experiential concepts that go beyond simply retail. The fall-out from record high rents will generate availability for new international brands to debut in the London market but there is also potential for smaller formats, thanks to flexibility from landlords in breaking up large units into those with more manageable running costs.
It is clear that this is a turning point for the UK’s busiest shopping street and an opportunity that should be grasped with both hands. International retailers, innovative domestic players and disruptive concepts are now looking to Oxford Street with renewed vigour as the stage is set for the next phase in its dramatic retail transformation.