On top of transit woes, mixed economic news and the first tranche of census data made June a busy month in London. Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes has the full breakdown below:
Days in London are getting longer and warmer, yet as funding deals for TfL get shorter, relations between City Hall and the Government get colder. June saw all manner of significant events including: widespread industrial action disrupting London’s transport network, the arrival of the Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper promising a massive shakeup for London housing regulations, and the year anniversary of my arrival as Chief Executive at Centre for London. I’ll let you be the judge of which one of those was most important!
LTNs: Part of London’s future
We published our research into one of London’s most polarising topics: Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Aiming to identify the learning from LTNs already introduced in the capital, the work looked at how to improve the benefits in the future and whether they could succeed in reducing private car usage as intended.
The report found that LTNs did bring clear benefits in terms of a significant reduction in car usage within affected areas as well as increased take up of cycling. What’s more, although the picture for car reduction and traffic displacement at boundary roads was more mixed, we found that LTNs did not disproportionately benefit the wealthy or cause a spike in congestion outside of the areas where they were implemented.
The high quality of the report was reflected in the coverage it received, particularly from Peter Walker in the Guardian.
London Underground strikes and funding woes
Already having to contend with a fragile economic recovery this year, London had to brace itself for further turbulence caused by strikes on the national rail network and London Underground. Some are pointing to growing signs of unrest in other areas as a warning of a possible Summer of Discontent.
It is hard to judge the impact of the strikes. Many Londoners have shown during the pandemic they can work from home effectively, so some will have stayed at home on strike days. But working from home is not an option for essential workers like doctors, nurses, teachers and cleaners, so they’ll have battled through the strike.
It’s against this backdrop that the drama of what to do about funding TfL rumbles on. The most recent funding deal ran out on 24 June, but an extension has been agreed by the Government until 13 July. The flurry of correspondence between the Mayor and the Secretary of State reveals little evidence of the positive climate needed to solve this huge problem for the city.
In a letter, Grant Shapps called for a resetting of the relationship, something that surely both sides need to swallow if a solution is going to be found. With the Mayor warning that cuts to transport services are inevitable and imminent, the proposed Central London Bus review would see swinging cuts to many services. How much this is a negotiating tactic or the new normal is as yet unclear.
One thing TfL has been able to do over its short life is plan long term. This has been a critical factor in the revival of the tube and bus network, and in boosting TfL’s reputation as one of the world’s most respected public transport authorities. But short-term, stop-gap funding deals create uncertainty, are a massive distraction, and are no way to run a global city’s transport network.
On behalf of Centre for London, I joined London’s business and property groups, calling on the government to introduce a long-term sustainable funding deal for TfL or else risk the possibility of a managed decline that would set the capital back by decades.
In better news for TfL and the GLA, the Mayor will be heartened by evidence the Congestion Charge and ULEZ continue to improve the quality of the city’s air, and that the Barking Riverside extension of the London Overground will open earlier than planned this summer.
Levelling with London on levelling up
On Wednesday 29 June, we held an excellent ‘In Conversation’ event with Professor Andy Haldane, the government’s guru on levelling up. Hosted by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, it was also the launch of our Phase 1 report of the levelling up project. The session was an excellent discussion, and Andy provided much reassurance to those in the room that London’s own problems were part of the agenda, and that levelling down the city needed avoiding.
Mixed news on the economic front
Mixed news on the economic front for London this last month. While welcome that unemployment in the city continues to fall, the city still has the second-highest rate of people out of work of any region in the country (after the North-East). And inflation continues to rise, although there are some signs the rate of increase is slowing. Ever-increasing prices are causing real hardship for Londoners, with those on the lowest incomes really feeling the pain the most.
Ups and downs
The first slug of data from the 2021 census has been published. According to the ONS, London’s population is up 8% on the last Census in 2011, compared to 7% for England as a whole. The new Census has the city’s population at 8,799,800. Tower Hamlets saw the biggest population increase of any local authority in England while Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea suffered the biggest falls. There’s more from me on this in a twitter thread and the GLA have produced a handy briefing on what this means for London.
Best of the rest
Another busy month on other London policy fronts.
Post local elections, things are starting to settle down. Councils have held Annual General Meetings confirming new leaders. With Havering managing to piece together a new administration despite the fragmented election results, those who feared it might end up, Belgium-style, without anyone in charge have been proven wrong.
With 11 new council leaders in London and the churn in Chief Executives, it is a new chapter for many local authorities. City of London Corporation’s top supremo, John Barradell, has also announced his retirement. After the enormously stressful but crucial work John did during the pandemic chairing the Strategic Co-ordinating Group, no one would begrudge him a bit more time for himself. In a show of continuity, Cllr Georgia Gould was re-elected as Chair of London Councils.
Over at City Hall, a report by Assembly Member Sian Berry revealed how many publicly owned buildings are empty across the city. The headline is that 442 buildings are empty – an average of 24 a borough. And in a major speech, the Mayor stressed the importance of the next Met Commissioner undertaking a root and branch review of the organisation. With exceptional timing, the Mayor’s speech was before the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services placed the Met in special measures. Given the sheer number of scandals and failings, it can hardly be a surprise to Londoners that the city’s police are sat on the naughty step. It says a lot about the muddled accountability of London’s policing that the city’s oversight and scrutiny powers don’t match those of the Inspectorate or the Home Secretary.
The Resolution Foundation published research on the impact of Covid-19 on local economies. Nine out of ten of the local authorities with the highest increases in the claimant count are in London, reinforcing the argument that levelling up challenges within the city must not be ignored. In a busy month for the think tank, other research on income gaps between places included the depressing statement that “the distribution of median incomes between places has changed little over time”, illustrating the huge challenge ahead if levelling up is to have any chance of success.
Fellow think tank Onward looked at fiscal devolution for metro mayors. Just like the position Centre for London takes, the report recommends sweeping new powers are handed to the mayors to levy and collect taxes. Relatedly, the Institute for Government published work on how the metro mayors can help with levelling up.
Rather controversially, the New Economics Foundation proposed closing London City Airport and replacing it with housing. Research by the House Magazine looked at office vacancy rates across local authorities, which showed how London has been particularly hard-hit. And a nugget in The Times suggested that Secretary of State Michael Gove may hand the Mayor more power to regulate short-term lets like AirBnB.
However, while more devolution might be on offer in one area, the Secretary of State’s activism on the already-devolved responsibility of planning continues apace. The row over the redevelopment of Marks and Spencer’s store on Oxford Street escalated. Gove issued an Article 31 and halted the plans on environmental grounds, despite Westminster City Council granting approval and the GLA seeing no grounds to call it in. This has led to a war of words, with the M&S chief hitting back and warning that Oxford Street is ‘on its knees’.
For you fellow data geeks out there, the GLA Data Store published a vast compendium of new statistics on the city. Grab yourself a coffee, settle into a comfy armchair, and geek out.
The looming prospect of the Eurovision Song Contest being hosted by the UK has resulted in unofficial bidding competition between different parts of the country. The Mayor has already made a pitch for London, but in the current climate will the decision be influenced by political considerations? London has hosted the Eurovision Song Contest before – in fact four of the eight times the UK has hosted – in 1960, 1963, 1968 and 1977. But what were the four venues? Answer below.
*Answer to the question above: As Eurovision aficionados will know, 1960 was the Royal Festival Hall, 1963 the (former) BBC Television Centre, 1968 the Royal Albert Hall and 1977 the Wembley Conference Centre (now demolished).