44% of UK businesses say their cities are no longer suitable post-Covid

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Covid-19’s impact on flexible working, technology and travel will undoubtedly re-imagine the world of business. But how will these changes be felt by the UK’s cities? To what extent will they be re-imagined?

New research commission by E.ON, one of the UK’s top energy providers, has discovered the extent to which Covid-19 and the climate crisis have changed how British business leaders are planning for the future.

According to the research, 92% of UK business leaders say they have made significant changes to respond to the pandemic, with 44% already planning for long-term flexible and remote working, while 37% are considering downsizing their office space and 44% hope to become more digital in the coming year.

With the potential to radically change the make-up of cities across the UK, these seismic shifts will perhaps be most palpable in Britain’s urban powerhouses.

In fact, more so than ever, the role of the city will be pulled into focus; while 90% of businesses believe their locale is important to their business, 44% of UK business leaders say the cities in which they operate are no longer suitable for their needs.

Meanwhile, 80% of business leaders say they are actively seeking ways to make their companies more environmentally friendly.

In light of these findings, E.ON convened a panel to explore the extent to which the UK’s cities can be re-imagined – and how the UK can use these shifts to simultaneously map a green recovery out of the pandemic.

Solène Wolff, Managing Partner at PLANE-SITE and host of the discussion, outlined a vision of how cities might evolve to meet the changing needs of businesses and society: “If we dare to imagine the city of the future, it would have multi-use public spaces, smart mobility and cycle lanes replacing cars, flexible building space – where homes are office space and office space becomes hotels. Roofs that provide wind and food farms, energy which is 100% renewable and produced locally, and, outside the city, there is space to revive wildlife. We can dare to imagine a climate-positive city.”

If cities are to achieve this vision, Martin Reeves, Chief Executive at Coventry City Council, believes that the funding model needs to change. He said: “The investment model into cities is broken. It is based on a very narrow set of parameters economically without a real understanding of how you invest for wider value capture. If Covid-19 has shown us one thing, it is that the power of big government often becomes fragile under a crisis – which is a worrying thought as the climate crisis continues to accelerate. However, with clarity, radical thinking and a coalition of partners who have something to gain – we can reimagine cities and create a positive future for all.”

Philip Wallace, Head of City Energy Transformation at E.ON, agreed: “Housing, air quality, carbon reduction and inequality: to solve these issues we need to look at them holistically – for example, the question should not be how can we transition to renewable energy, but rather how can we do so in a way that doesn’t exclude those in fuel poverty. This will come about from long-term, local partnerships between businesses and city leaders that have the community at the heart. If we get that right, then cities will prove to be the key to recovering from Covid-19 and combatting the climate crisis.”

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