Speed up urban regeneration to bring young people back to the office

 (ES Composte)
(ES Composte)

London was buzzing again over the summer, with confirmation that weekday tube and bus journeys are regularly hitting over 80% of pre-pandemic levels and footfall figures often exceeding 2019 levels at the weekend.

The capital’s ‘new normal’ is starting to see lifestyle patterns reverting to type. And why wouldn’t they? People enjoyed coming into the office to see colleagues and going out to meet friends before lockdown, so it makes sense that they return to that as memories of COVID restrictions fade.

The pandemic accelerated many office trends, with flexibility a key driver in attracting and retaining staff, and staff wanting more from their office as well as options on when they can spend time in it.

This is why it is crucial that major regeneration projects – including new offices - are encouraged by government and is why at British Land we believe there is much more that could be done to rethink our planning system to help grow the not only the London economy but national productivity.

Londoners, particularly the younger members of our workforce, are returning to offices in droves as a substitute to working from home and the recently increased travel options, enabling shorter commutes across the city, are enlarging their search pool.

Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey – now in its 12th year – provides an invaluable insight into their thinking through feedback from 22,000 respondents – 14,483 Gen Zs and 8,373 millennials across 44 countries, with a strong read-across to London.

The research shows that the high cost of living looms large for Gen Zs and Millennials, ranking as their top societal concern, with unemployment second and climate change third.

Half of Gen Zs and millennials say they live from pay cheque to pay cheque, and many are responding to this concern by taking on side jobs, postponing big life decisions like buying a house or starting a family, buying second hand clothes, or not driving a car.

While 49% of Gen Zs and 62% of millennials say work is central to their identity, work/life balance is also something they are striving for and is their top consideration when choosing a new employer.

This all adds up to the location of Gen Zs’ and Millennials’ workplaces being more important than ever before: they want to spend less money getting to work because of the cost-of-living crisis and less time getting to work because they want a good work/life balance.

Research by global real estate adviser JLL has dug into this issue by identifying the top 10 locations in London for under-35s to reach within a 45-minute commute, with typical employment hubs of Canary Wharf and The City pit against some unlikely hotspots including Hammersmith and Stratford.

The research is based on where under-35s are clustered in London, and because the 45-minute commute is often seen as the sweet spot for travel times to work, with experts saying that people who have to commute for longer tend to move job.

According to JLL, in what may be a surprise to some, the easiest place in London for most under-35 to get to is Canada Water.

We’re building nearly 3,000 new homes and 12 acres of green and open spaces alongside over 2 million sq ft of workspace at Canada Water, which is enough space for 20,000 workers from a range of sectors including innovation and life sciences, as well as higher education, culture, food & beverage.

But to get more Canada Waters built, and to revive other parts of London, we are asking for more help from government, with our chief executive Simon Carter and Landsec’s chief executive Mark Allan writing to ministers in July to urge for a series of changes.

We continue to have a good experience with Southwark Council in getting planning consent for Canada Water, but many other developers are struggling with the system right now.

We believe there should be a separate planning category for urban regeneration sites to help recognise their bespoke nature and viability challenges, that planning should be resourced more effectively and that tax incentives should be introduced to remediate brownfield sites.

Because young people flooding back to offices need to be able to commute to them easily – in less than 45-minutes – which means building more in the heart of London rather than further out.

Emma Cariaga is head of residential and joint head of Canada Water at British Land.