Blog Post

Why London and the wider South East depend on each other

Centre for London’s Claire Harding and Simon Eden of the Southern Policy Centre look at the relationship between London and the South East and how it’s changing.

London and the Wider South East are highly dependent on each other.

A core driver of the relationship has been the policy decision to hold back London’s urban sprawl, as far back as the 1940s. So while the city can’t grow physically, it keeps growing economically. That draws more and more people and places into its orbit.

Many residents of the Wider South East work either in London or in companies in London’s supply chain. Some companies have decided to move operations to places which are well connected to London but offered more space and lower costs as well as a skilled workforce.

This more complex economic geography has been good news for many people, with higher wages and a wide transport network giving a good choice of jobs and places to live.

But there are disadvantages to this flow of people, with many inside and outside the capital struggling with high housing costs, high land prices and rents for businesses, and expensive, congested transport networks.

The London-Wider South East relationship after the pandemic

In the last few years, the relationship between the Wider South East and London has been changing.

Moving out of London is no longer a guaranteed money saver: indeed it is cheaper to buy in Barking and Dagenham than it is in Slough, cheaper in Ealing than in Windsor.

The pandemic accelerated long term trends towards hybrid working and online shopping. Reports that people would leave London altogether in pursuit of fully remote work may be exaggerated, but it does seem that a mix of office and home working will become the norm for knowledge economy workers.

This might make places outside London relatively more attractive, and so expensive, to live. Locally, different patterns of housebuilding have led to very different situations even in neighbouring local authorities – the New Forest’s population declined slightly in the decade to 2021, while next door in Test Valley it went up by 12 per cent.

2023 is a chance to understand the changing London-Wider South East relationship

These big patterns are underpinned by millions of individual decisions – where to work and how to get there, whether to go to a museum or for a country walk at the weekend, where to live and where to set up a business.

They are immensely complex but their cumulative impacts can be huge. 2023 seems like a good time to be looking at them.

Partly as we establish some sort of post pandemic ‘new normal’, and partly (for data geeks) because we are likely to see detailed information from the 2021 Census about population moves. This will help us find out much more about who is moving where, what their lives are like, and how their choices are changing the relationship between London and the wider South East.

Centre for London are planning a project with our friends at the Southern Policy Centre to look at the relationship between the wider South East and London and make suggestions for how it could work better. Both in general, and for some selected specific places which have experienced particular change.

If you’d like to get involved or to support it, please contact Claire Harding or Simon Eden.