Blog Post

Five trends that show how central London has transformed

London’s city centre contributes hugely to national civic life and the UK’s economy. How has the area developed and transformed in recent years?

To answer that question we take a look at five economic, population and visitor trends across London’s Central Activities Zone, and the 10 boroughs that are part of this vibrant centre.

A growing population

The postwar years saw a substantial decline in central London’s population, driven by a mixture of deliberate government policy, changes in the economy and individual choice. By the late 1980s this trend had gone into reverse and population growth is projected to continue in the future. Several boroughs – notably the City of London and Tower Hamlets – are projected to experience significant levels of population growth between 2015-2039.

Increasing economic output

Central London’s economic output per head (as measured by Gross Value Added, GVA) is growing at a faster rate than the London average, a trend that emerged in the mid-2000s and has continued since. The 2008-9 financial crisis, which was expected to hit economic output in central London particularly hard, seems to have had the opposite effect. The contribution of London’s 10 central London boroughs has also continued to increase as a proportion of London’s overall GVA, albeit a little more slowly, in the years following the crash.

Rising employment

Employment levels in all ten central London boroughs (those containing part of the Central Activities Zone) have increased since the crash. Whilst some boroughs experienced a slight dip in 2008-11, employment across central London recovered quickly, and is on the rise. Growth in employment has been particularly strong to the east, with the City of London, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Southwark seeing the most growth in recent years.

Changing commuter habits

The number of people commuting into central London in the weekday morning peak has increased over the past four decades. The type of transport they chose, however, have varied a little. There has been an increase in the number of people using the underground and an increase in rail and cycle journeys over this time period. Since 2000, there’s been a gradual decline in car and motorcycle use which demonstrates the impact of the Congestion Charge (launched in 2003).

A popular tourist destination

Central London remains a popular tourist destination. Westminster, Camden, and Kensington and Chelsea are the most popular destinations for tourist accommodation, both in terms of hotel and serviced accommodation rooms and in Airbnb lettings. Tower Hamlets is home to a surprisingly large share of the Airbnb market.

What does this tell us?

Central London is an economic engine for both city and nation, and its economy is growing. But the district is also home to increasing numbers of Londoners, and visitor numbers are putting pressure on existing social and physical infrastructure. Its geography is changing, and innovations and technology are challenging the traditional uses of its space. The strength of London’s city centre lies in its diversity, of both population and function. This delicate balance, and the conditions that nurture the agglomeration in London’s city centre that drives its economy, need to be carefully nurtured and constantly reviewed to accommodate change. Otherwise, the conditions that make central London so special – and so successful – could easily cease to be.

This blog is an edited version of an essay from London ideas. Read the full piece.

Mario Washington-Ihieme is a Research Assistant at Centre for London. Follow her on Twitter. Read her previous blogs here.