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Government / Local politics

How can London grow without eating itself?

The latest in our occasional series on what putative London mayors would do with the city comes from another Green. This time it’s the party’s housing spokesman, Tom Chance.

London is growing fast – and needs fresh Green thinking before it eats itself and its people.

We shouldn’t see this growth as inevitable or desirable in the long run. The Green Party wants to rebalance the UK economy by investing more in transport infrastructure, research and job creation in the rest of the country, which could help save London from itself.

But in the short term, we have to answer the challenge of London’s inevitable growth.

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By the end of the next term of office, in 2020, City Hall expects there to be over half a million more Londoners needing a home. Of those, at least 300,000 will be of working age, looking for a job and a way to reliably get to their workplace.

Image: Tom Chance.

Under Boris Johnson, this rapid growth has brought with it damaging gentrification and worsening congestion. As the city grows and gets wealthier, some gentrification is inevitable. We shouldn’t resist improvements to schools, shops and streets that make areas more desirable, nor new homes for people to live in. But it doesn’t have to mean existing residents and businesses get trampled upon, even swept out.

I want to change City Hall’s approach to regeneration to one that involves and empowers residents and businesses, and wider communities.

Instead of a council and developers stitching up deals to “regenerate” a council estate, I would set-up a London Housing Co-operative to help the existing residents take the lead on the plans. I’d help people set-up community land trusts to take ownership of regeneration sites, keeping homes and workplaces affordable and any benefits from regeneration in the community. I’d work with local business groups to give strong planning protections to occupied workplaces, trying to keep rents down and leases secure enough to make investing in new kit and jobs worthwhile.

Tom (left) at the recent protest against the demolition of the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill. The residents have developed their own alternative plan. Image: Lambeth Green Party.

City Hall should bring local communities into the frame to help find more land for development, and to work out the best way to develop it. This model has worked in St Clements, Tower Hamlets, resulting in more homes and no opposition from nimbies. It can work for all of London, to help us grow in an equitable way.

We also need to get around as London grows – and to prevent our roads grinding to a halt and our trains and buses becoming horribly overcrowded. I produced a web tool for assembly member Darren Johnson, showing how TfL expect traffic and delays to worsen by 2031 if we follow the current “high car” strategy:

Meeting this challenge needs investment, for sure, but also a smarter approach. There’s no mileage in just building more road capacity for cars, as Labour and the Conservatives want to do; and adding significant capacity to public transport can be hugely expensive.

I would re-imagine our streets, which could carry far more people with far less pollution if we prioritise buses and bikes. For example, I would task TfL with rethinking its investment programme, exploring the potential to reduce overcrowding on public transport by making our streets genuinely safe and pleasant for cycling.


Commuting from Peckham to London Bridge, or Hounslow to Heathrow, could be just as quick and much healthier by bike, freeing up seats on the train for longer distance commuters. This strategy may get us more “bang for our buck” than some of the more expensive public transport schemes, and will be far more effective than adding more capacity for cars.

We can have our cake and eat it by replacing the outmoded congestion charge with a smarter Londonwide “pay as you drive” charge. This could stop the growing population leaping into their cars, and raise more revenue to invest in walking, cycling and public transport.

I would bring these changes about by working with local communities, with local cycling and walking campaign groups, helping them to re-imagine their streets and reduce car dependence. This approach can be far more creative, and reduce local opposition to change.

Tessa Jowell has talked about government working with big business to tackle these big challenges. I want to bring communities and small businesses into that partnership, to accommodate London’s growth in a way that works for people and planet.

In the long run, we must stop London from eating up the rest of the country. In the short run, a Green mayor could stop London from eating itself.

Tom Chance is the Green party’s housing spokesman and is seeking the party’s mayoral nomination. He is on Twitter as @Tom_Chance.

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