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All quiet in Old Street as office workers are told to stay at home

It’s eerily subdued around ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in what used to be a hive of economic activity

31 July, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

The daily buzz and ‘accidental meetings’ are missing from the City

ON a warm summer’s evening the bars and restaurants around Old Street would normally be packed with young techies in shorts and T-shirts from the surrounding “Silicon Roundabout” companies.

But office worker footfall has plum­meted and what used to be a hive of economic activity is now eerily quiet due to the coronavirus crisis.

One employee from a multi-million-pound American tech company based in Old Street, who did not want to be named, said he had worked from home since February and that the office would remain closed until January with employees “officially allowed to be out until July”. That’s July 2021.

Alexander Jan, chairman of the Midtown Business Improvement District (BID), which covers Old Street, Clerkenwell and the City, told the Tribune: “We have to do something, we cannot just let this thing drift.

“Office worker footfall is low and there isn’t the commercial opportunity for ground floor outlets, like restaurants, cafés and bars, to open up.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation – the offices will not come back until they feel things are open, then people on the ground floor will not come back if the offices are not there.”

Mr Jan, who is also the chief economist for the engineering giant ARUP, added: “Outer London suburban highstreets are probably not doing too badly. With a vast majority of people still working from home they are going to shop and eat close to home.

“But inner London has been affected badly. The real risk is produc­tivity gains that come from what economists call ‘agglomeration benefits’, crossing paths and accidental meetings, things central London is brilliant at.

“This is not good for economic growth and not good for the business rates receipts that council’s like Islington gain a lot from.”

The mid-town BID is currently under­taking a survey to get an accurate picture of the economic state of the area.

A similar survey in the West End found that footfall was down 76 per cent on last year.

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