Blog Post

What does London’s city centre need to stay successful?

The success of central London is vital to the UK economy. How can we ensure it continues to thrives in the future?

Central London’s success is under threat. From pressures on space and rapid population change, to environmental concerns and the impact of tourism, this vital district faces a number of pressing challenges.

Solving these is complicated by governance. Central London is covered by 10 boroughs. Without an amalgamated, single central London borough, these local authorities have established partnership working arrangements, including since 2007, Central London Forward. This partnership comprises a voluntary grouping comprising the 10 boroughs within the Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and the two associate member boroughs of Haringey and Lewisham. Its purpose is to provide a collective voice for these boroughs and their residents.

But despite these evolving partnership arrangements, each borough’s policies and overall direction can still differ substantially from their neighbours’. Hanging baskets in Westminster’s part of Fitzrovia, but not Camden’s, are perhaps a trivial but nonetheless visible sign of borough; others include different parking standards and approaches to tall buildings. And central government, business voices and London-wide government add additional layers of interest and influence.

When it comes to issues that cross borders, boroughs, businesses and community leaders need to work together.

Here are four key principles which should be followed to address the district’s challenges and ensure it thrives in the future.

1. Embrace change

London’s city centre might be home to Nelson’s Column and Westminster Abbey but it isn’t stuck in time. The area is constantly changing, from the spaces within it to the way users navigate them. Change is inevitable in the capital’s historic core but it isn’t always easy. Take the idea to pedestrianise Oxford Street as just one example, where the street’s national and international role clashed with the interests of residents, and you’ll get an idea of the complexities. If central London is going to be able to adapt to modern life, leaders across the Central Activities Zone will need to take a more flexible approach to spaces and their uses, willing to experiment and adopt more innovative ideas.

2. Think strategically

Central London is different to most of the rest of the city in its purpose, function and the balance between residents, employment and visitors. With 10 separate boroughs governing the area, stronger coordination would be one way to resolve some of these tensions, particularly around new development, but also to help make the case for investment in this popular destination.

3. Ensure all voices are heard

The number of people who work in central London significantly outnumbers those who live there, yet only the latter have a direct say in the district’s future. Business Improvement Districts can help to ensure employers and landowners have a say but this isn’t necessarily the same as giving a voice to employees. Similarly in an area where some residents stay only for a short period of time it’s important that policymakers continue to hear the voices of local, long-term community groups and improve trust across neighbourhoods. By working together, and with employers, central London boroughs should navigate “crunch points” between the area’s diverse user groups and aim to improve their collective experiences of the city centre.

4. Convince central government to invest and devolve

Despite being home to Parliament, the capital’s core can be politically marginalised. London’s local government lacks the sufficient powers and resources to address the city centre’s challenges, so it is vital that its leaders continue to lobby for government investment and devolution. Levelling up should not be at the expense of central London’s success as it needs to continue generating the taxes that sustain public spending across much of the nation.

For central London to stay successful – and to address its long-standing problems of poverty and inequality – policymakers and the districts’ community and business leaders need to work together across borough boundaries. If leaders follow these four key principles then we can envision a future where a growing number of visitors, employees and residents will be able to coexist in London’s city centre, while keeping the country’s economic powerhouse thriving.

READ OUR REPORT: The future of Central London


Amy Leppänen is Senior Communications Officer at Centre for London. Follow her on Twitter.