1. Governance
September 4, 2015

What will the capital look like in 20 years time?

By Stan Walsh

The first in a three part series looking at the future of the capital, presented by Transport for London.

This time: what powers does the city need to thrive?

Forget the sky cycle tracks, hover cars and drones. What you need to know about London of 20 years hence is already happening now: it’s growing rapidly.

The city is already bigger than it has ever been, with 8.6m residents. Each day, the equivalent of two bus loads of people is added to that. Every week, two Tube trains full of people move to the capital. That’s 100,000 extra residents each year.

By 2030, there will be 10m people living here. That growth is the equivalent of adding the populations of Birmingham and Glasgow. 

For the city’s planners, that means further investment in and modernisation of its transport networks now. Thirty million journeys are made every day in London. The city relies on millions of workers coming from across the south east, and has to handle around 19 million tourists every year.

A new mayor, elected in 2016, will have to devise strategies and measures to make sure the capital can harness this enormous growth and development, keeping it moving and growing, and ensuring businesses can keep competing with those in other great world cities and continue to power the UK economy.

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As the only UK city with a fully integrated transport network, with the power to plan over the long-term, London is in a good place to manage its challenges. Crossrail 1, which will increase rail capacity by 10 per cent, will open in 2018; and upgrades to the Tube network are gradually turning a Victorian network into one of the world’s most reliable and frequent metro services.

But while the next mayor has more power than other UK cities to deal with strategic challenges, the toolbox is not complete compared with those available to other world cities. Paris, for example, has a funded plan which covers its infrastructure needs up to 2036. Work begins next year.

Some 68 per cent of the cost of Crossrail has come from the people who will most benefit from enhanced connectivity

A huge amount has already been done to modernise London’s transport networks and improve services. TfL is now Europe’s largest merchant of contactless cards, making customer journeys more seamless than ever before. The Victoria line is one of the most frequent services in Europe.

TfL is reworking the bus network to respond to changing demand by using Big Data, and opening up real-time feeds to app developers to make the network easier for customers to use. And the transport system is increasingly accessible, enabling more people to get around.

However, technology isn’t a silver bullet. For the fundamental challenges the city faces, the solution must include greater devolution of powers. That, as proposed by the London Finance Commission, should include fiscal policy, to enable the city to raise the investment required for the future. Giving the next mayor more power to plan for the long-term and raise funding for key projects could be transformative for the city.

The reality is that the way we fund transport infrastructure is changing. Major projects have to maximise non-government sources of funding in order to be sustainable.

These packages are best assembled at city region level, by asking those who benefit most from the project to contribute to it. Some 68 per cent of the cost of Crossrail, for example, has come from the people who will most benefit from enhanced connectivity. The cost of the Northern Line Extension, which will support 24,000 jobs and 18,000 new homes, is being met by the increased land values the scheme will unlock, backed by a guarantee from the Treasury.

TfL’s buses are built in Ballymena, and its trains in Derby

With more powers to use innovative finance mechanisms and capture the increased land value resulting from transport projects, the next mayor could leave a significant stamp on London for decades to come.

And as well as building new infrastructure, devolution could support other key targets: improving house-building as part of major schemes, and boosting productivity by focusing on connectivity.

That won’t just help Londoners. A strong capital city supports the national economy. TfL’s supply chain supports 60,000 jobs outside London. Its buses are built in Ballymena, and its trains in Derby.

Fiscal devolution to the Capital must be a key part of the government’s devolution agenda. As well as handing powers to the Northern Powerhouse, and improving connectivity in the Midlands Engine for Growth, the government should also put more power in the hands of Londoners.

Without fiscal devolution, the city’s ability to handle population growth might be challenged as its vital transport networks become increasingly overcrowded and congested, limiting its potential and growth. With it, the next mayor can better plan not just for what London will look like in 20 years time, but also in 40 years, including vital new projects like Crossrail 2.

It will enable the capital to harness extraordinary economic and population growth, and support all who work, live in and visit this great city, ensuring it continues to prosper and power the UK economy of the future.

The future of London series is supported by Transport for London, and commissioned by CityMetric. You can see the other articles at the following links:

“Good transport links will be the foundation of new homes for London”: why Crossrail 2 will help solve the housing crisis

“Data helps us provide better transport”: an interview with Shashi Verma, TfL’s Director of Customer Experience, about big data and new methods of payment

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