Investment to create cultural place for London's Strand and Aldwych
Aldwych Quarter London (showing North West Wing of BBC World Service at Bush House restored by John Robertson Architects) - showing part of the traffic gyratory looking towards St Mary-le-Strand church (courtesy University of Northampton and Northbank BID)
What measures will be needed to draw back cultural day trippers and overseas visitors during the recovery from Covid-19 to London as a world leading cultural destination? Future Cities Forum will be asking this question at its 'Cultural Cities' event at the end of the month with guest speaker Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of the V&A East.
Meanwhile Westminster City Council is investing millions in creating 'place' with traffic calming measures, new public realm and arts activities in the Aldwych Strand area of London home to theatre land and world famous art galleries.
Work is scheduled to begin this year says the Council 'to deliver ambitious plans that will transform a historic gateway to the West End into a world class, traffic-free public space and provide a massive shot in the arm for the local economy.'
Following a decision by Westminster City Council, approval has been given to implement £18 million of improvement works to the Strand/Aldwych gyratory. It is expected to draw in partner funding as economic confidence builds in this new public space, which brings together the best of Westminster's arts, learning and business. The Council states that It will create a new public space for London, car free, centred around the St Mary le Strand Church which is currently flanked on both sides by traffic.
'The Aldwych will simultaneously receive an enormous boost says the Council with 'huge improvements to the public realm and environmental measures to benefit residents, visitors and businesses. Traffic will revert to two-way on the Aldwych and end the current race-track feel at certain times of day that cuts through north-south connection routes between, for example, Covent Garden and the South Bank.
Some key benefits of the works will include a world class new public space to showcase the very best that local institutions have to offer; improved air quality, with traffic removed from one of London's most polluted streets with more greening and trees on the Aldwych and Strand; a better experience for pedestrians and cyclists that is more people-friendly and greatly improved connections to Covent Garden, the City, Holborn and the West End.
Improvement plans for Strand/Aldwych have been in development for several years, but Westminster City Council and local partners are keen to see works start as soon as possible, following favourable public consultations and engagement to support the city's recovery from the damaging effects of the pandemic.
This means an accelerated timescale that will see the Strand become traffic free in front of Somerset House and King's College London by August 2021. This will immediately create much needed space to support the local economy and an enhanced pedestrian experience. Through temporary measures, the final scheme design can be tested before being made permanent. Once this 'Meanwhile Strand' is established, work will progress on the final stage of the project to implement the remaining public realm works along the Strand, dovetailing with other partners' plans at St Mary le Strand and King's to take forward the permanent scheme.
In this new space it is expected that there will be al fresco festivals, art installations and inspiring activities to complement the area, curated and supported by the world class institutions that are based nearby.
Cllr Matthew Green, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Business and Planning said:
'Coronavirus has taught us both how to work at pace and how to improve collaboration with partners...we are doing all we can to build business and economic confidence in our city and the substantial budget for this work will help improve the visitor experience, kickstart the economy and create jobs and prosperity for now and the future.'
Jonathan Reekie, Chair of the Strand Aldwych Project Board and the Director of Somerset House Trust commented:
'This project represents the very best of what can be achieved through strong partnerships and a shared vision that will draw out the unique and special character of this area of culture and learning. The ideas to transform Strand Aldwych started as a small seed when it was first proposed by The Northbank BID in 2015. Working with a small group of local stakeholders including world class cultural and educational organisations, I'm incredibly proud that it has now grown to a fantastic proposal for London with significant public investment secured.
'During the Covid-19 pandemic we have all been forced to consider the future of our city. This is why I am especially excited to deliver Strand Aldwych and to create some truly positive change at a time when we need it most. I look forward to continuing to drive this project forward in partnership with all our stakeholders and the local community over the coming months.'