Mega-city London will fall behind New York without a radical plan for growth

Tom Venables
Planning for growth must be addressed at a London City Region level (Source: Getty)
At last, a real sense of urgency is starting to define the debate surrounding the future of London. As chancellor George Osborne and mayor Boris Johnson warned in their recent Long Term Economic Plan for London, the capital risks losing its leading status as a pre-eminent global city unless action is taken to plan for growth and tackle the housing crisis.

The price of complacency, as both the economic plan and a clutch of other reports published recently make clear, is for London to be overtaken by New York as the premier global city where people want to live, work and set up businesses. And such is the scale of investment in global cities that the likes of Dubai and Shanghai too could, over time, eclipse London’s appeal in the international growth stakes unless these challenges are addressed.

We at AECOM are very familiar with the infrastructure challenges confronting London through our work on projects such as Crossrail and the London 2012 Olympics. The capital’s housing shortfall, in particular, is a major concern, with our calculations suggesting that there could be a shortage of 1m homes in the London City Region before the mid-2030s.

But we also need to introduce an important new dimension to this debate. And that is the purpose of “Big, Bold, Global, Connected – London 2065”, our manifesto for the London City Region. In it, we call for the planning of the capital’s growth to be addressed on a regional level, redefining London to encompass the capital and the South East.

Why are planning ambitions constrained by the 50-year old boundaries of Greater London? Surely it makes sense for the broader needs of everyone living and working within London’s functional area to be considered. We have defined this area as everywhere within one hour’s commute or 90km of central London.

The capital functions economically and socially on a regional basis, with as many as 1m people commuting into and out of London every day. Addressed this way, London can already be seen as a metropolis with a population of more than 20m people – which we expect to grow to 30m by 2065 – and with a reach from Brighton to Cambridge.

Fresh thinking is required to meet the complex challenges of the London City Region. To date, housing, infrastructure and transport have typically been planned in isolation. The current “Duty to Co-operate” across local authority boundaries is not working, in our view. Delivering growth in the London City Region requires a more joined-up approach, with the public and private sector working in partnership.

A new approach to governance would enable more effective planning for growth. In our manifesto, we call for an integrated strategy and the formation of a London City Region Board – a new body encompassing government, local authorities, developers, communities and infrastructure providers across the redefined metropolis.

We would also like to see the creation of a London City Region transportation authority, responsible for transport planning in line with urban growth. The London City Region’s economic potential would be boosted by better two-way high speed rail links with other UK cities. Trading relationships with the rest of the world would be secured by expanding Heathrow.

Further, more formal collaboration in the form of statutory consortia responsible for specific geographic corridors would better align capacity with demand. An evolution of current non-statutory partnerships, such as the London Stansted Cambridge Corridor Consortium, these consortia would plan according to their respective areas’ transport, health, education and utilities requirements.

Our priorities around the Green Belt should also be examined with fresh eyes, with responsibility given to a Green Belt Commission charged with reviewing sustainable urban growth, particularly around existing rail and Tube stations, while protecting valuable environments.

Beyond that, there is much to be done to cement the capital’s status as a global mega-city: London’s city centres need to be re-imagined, and national and international arrival points reinvigorated with regeneration schemes. Our suburbs need to be “re-booted”, creating higher density communities around Tube and rail networks. A bold new town programme would both revitalise former new towns and tackle the regional housing deficit with the required scale of ambition and scope. We also see potential for a thriving network of cities across the London City Region, forming clusters of learning, technology and innovation.

Above all, planning for growth must be addressed at a London City Region level. It’s the only way of matching New York and squaring up to the ambitions of other newer, aspiring global cities such as Dubai and Shanghai.

Related articles