Change has been in the air this year.
London has been trying to adapt to the uncertainties and impacts of Brexit, while wondering how the interests of the capital and its Leave-voting hinterland can be reconciled.
Like 2016, this hasn’t been an easy year for London. A snap election. Grenfell Tower. Terrorist attacks. The city’s economy has dragged its feet, with the slowest rate of job creation for over five years. And evidence suggests that Brexit is already having an impact on patterns of migration to the UK, and London in particular.
Despite all this, there are reasons to be positive. Unemployment has dropped to a historic low of 4.9 per cent. A record number of tourists have flocked to the city.
And London continues to be seen as an attractive place to do business. From tech giants to startups, 2017 has seen a number of companies – including Google and Facebook – announcing moves to the city. This bolsters London’s ambition to become a global hub for tech, and the appointment of London’s first ever chief digital officer this year supports this.
These successes come despite moves from central government to distance itself from the capital.
The manifestos of both the Conservative and Labour parties before the General Election were critical of London’s dominance, while mayor Sadiq Khan labelled the recent Budget the “most anti-London in a generation”. Luckily, the mayor has taken the initiative to build better working relationships with other UK regions and metro mayors. Together they can argue for a Brexit deal that reflects their interests, and allows them to take control of their own affairs through the devolution of taxes and services.
This year did bring some progress on devolution. The capital will be able to retain 100 per cent of its business rates, for example, and a landmark deal, announced in November, will bring health and care services closer together. There was also a statement from the transport secretary in the summer, confirming continuing support for Crossrail 2.
In other good news, we’ve seen the mayor make moves to build relationships abroad, carrying out trade talks with Chicago, and visiting Paris, India, and Pakistan. All this sends a clear message that London intends to remain open to the world post-Brexit.
Brexit itself has progressed, albeit at what seems like a glacial pace.
Theresa May managed to get a deal on the first phase of negotiations – no small achievement. While the complexities of negotiating new trade deals should not be underestimated, the odds of us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all have lengthened. But there are still warnings that Brexit will weaken the UK’s economy – and London is particularly vulnerable as it is more closely connected to the EU by talent flows and trade ties.
With Brexit looming, London has been looking inwards to resolve some of its quality of life issues too.
Expensive housing, polluted air, and declining nightlife all threaten to tarnish its shine. The recently published draft London Plan has set out some ambitious housing reforms, including a stronger focus on pushing up densities, and building more around existing centres and transport hubs.
The mayor has also begun to take tough action on air pollution, through the ULEZ and T-charge.
Additionally, we have seen the further roll-out of the night tube, while London’s night tzar has done valuable work to uphold the city’s reputation as a creative melting pot by helping to support LGBTQ venues.
If 2016 brought the shock factor, 2017 has tried to be the year of reconciliation. Finding our feet on slightly steadier ground, we still might not know what the coming years will bring – but we must redouble our focus on making London a better place to live, work and visit.