Regent Street heading for boosted shopping experience.

London’s key shopping thoroughfare, Regent Street, is to be the centre of a major overhaul of the area following the commitment of an increased multi-million investment by the local council designed to improve the shopping experience. 

The funding will be used to deliver on ‘The Regent Street Public Realm Vision’ that has the objective of building a more vibrant, sustainable and inclusive environment, with shopping at the heart of the activity in this key retail-driven part of the capital. The project was boosted last week by Westminster City Council signing off on a further £4 million to add to the £4 million earmarked for the improvements last year. 



Regent Street, Debbie Jackson

Debbie Jackson, executive director of regeneration, economy and planning at Westminster City Council


In the immediate aftermath of this decision Simon Harding-Roots, managing director for London at The Crown Estate – that owns most of the land in the area, and Debbie Jackson, executive director of regeneration, economy and planning at Westminster City Council, took me on a tour down Regent Street, through Piccadilly Circus and onto Haymarket, which have both been added to the overall project following the boost to funding.



Regent Street, Simon Harding-Roots

Simon Harding-Roots, managing director for London at The Crown Estate


During the project’s consultation period it received 3,500 responses with three key demands emerging – preserve the heritage of the area, undertake a greening of the area, and develop a more pedestrianised environment. Jackson acknowledges the latter is a challenge as Regent Street – that runs from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus – will not be going pedestrian-only and that it also does not have the width of the Champs-Élysées, which is three-times broader.

One factor being considered in the project is rising temperatures, which will determine the level of planting and shade that is provided for shoppers during the summer months when Jackson says London is increasingly like Barcelona. “There won’t be any trees though because there is a spaghetti of wires and cables under the ground,” she says, and instead the existing planters will be replaced with permanent solutions.

A major advantage of Regent Street, along with the surrounding roads, is having a single landlord, The Crown Estates, which has the freehold of a sizeable 85% of the properties. Although 60% of the 10 million sq ft of space in the hands of The Crown Estate is used for offices the ground floors play a crucial role hosting retailers and food & beverage (F&B) operators as tenants.

This majority ownership of the area enables a more curated offer with the landlord determining the tenant mix unlike on nearby Oxford Street that involves myriad private landlords. “As a council we can talk to them and it makes things a lot easier. They would never let a [US] candy store come in. There are no short-sighted decisions made [on Regent Street],” says Jackson.



Uniqlo Regent Street



This curation process has involved the recent relocation of a Uniqlo store and an influx of health and wellbeing brands, according to Harding-Roots, who says the likes of Aesop, running brand On, and Gymshark are now present on the street. These retailers also have added experience elements into their stores, with Aesop providing massages and facials in the basement. 






It is a similar story with Gymshark. “We are keen to promote diversity on the street and Gymshark is an on-message brand. It’s the first brick and mortar store for the brand, which is exciting for us. They’ve a juice bar and gym, which is about mixed experiences,” says Harding-Roots.



The art of Banksy



The experiential nature of the tenant mix is also evident in the Art of Banksy gallery/shop that is currently housed in one of the street’s flexible units. “We retain a small percentage of units to create interest on the street [with pop-ups] through fun and surprise. Banksy in a good example. But there is a lot of pressure on us to let them out to long-term tenants because there is a lot of demand now,” he explains.

One area of interest to Harding-Roots are the side-streets running off Regent Street, which he says are particularly suited to F&B brands. They can deliver a more affordable offer on the lower rentals involved compared with Regent Street. On Heddon Street there is also the upside of plenty of external space for tables. It is currently enjoying an upgrade of its offer with the addition of The Starman pub, and the forthcoming opening of a Middle Eastern restaurant by successful operator JKS Restaurants.





Moving south onto Haymarket he says: “We’re really keen to do something to join it with Regent Street and it makes sense to narrow the road in order to calm the traffic down.” One successful restaurant on the road is Fallow that takes advantage of a side road for external tables that leads through to the St James’ Market development, which is predominantly offices but also houses a variety of F&B operators on the ground floor. The next stage of its development is imminent, according to Harding-Roots, and will further boost the experience around the Regent Street area as funds are released and the project comes to fruition.