London and Neighbours

Centre for London and the Southern Policy Centre undertook a project looking at how collaborative working across the London boundary can be improved.

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London’s influence extends way beyond the boundaries of the city. The surrounding counties depend on London for jobs, recreation and culture, and as a transport interchange. The city in turn relies on its neighbours to house many of its workers, or to provide space for them to enjoy the countryside. The London tourist industry offers visitors attractions in surrounding counties. Businesses in London depend on suppliers outside the London boundary, and vice versa.

But despite these ties, London and its neighbours see often themselves as distinct and separate from each other. And in some local communities, there is a genuine nervousness about the impact the growth of London is having, or perceived to be having, on their ‘place’ and quality of life.

At the same time, administrative boundaries between London and the surrounding counties are largely considered to be irrelevant to our daily lives. Discontinuities and differences in cross-boarder services, when noticed, are not understood and are frequently unwelcome.

The Challenge of Governance

London governance has evolved to reflect that of many global cities, with a Mayor controlling transport, strategic planning, policing and other key public services. The Mayor works, usually harmoniously, alongside London Boroughs with operational and strategic responsibilities. By contrast, the area surrounding London is governed by the “two-tier” system of County and District Councils, with six separate Counties bordering the capital.

The political and administrative arrangements guiding the relationship between London and its hinterland have not kept pace with the growth of London and its influence. The London Mayor, for example, is guided by statute to “consult” and “inform” neighbouring councils when planning for the capital’s future, but is not compelled to give any weight to their concerns. Similarly, the surrounding counties and districts are required to plan to meet their own needs for growth, co-operating with their neighbours to do so, but have no clear mechanism for working with the Mayor to manage the impact of London’s expansion together. Collaboration occurs at a local, operational level rather than a strategic level.

Research scope

In a joint project with the Southern Policy Centre, we set out to understand the gaps in collaborative working and strategic planning across the London boundary, and to identify areas where closer strategic working may benefit all parties.

The research explored the social and economic links between London and its surrounding communities, identified examples of good practice from other cities and urban areas, and suggested how the coherence of planning, housing and economic strategies across the Wider South East could be improved.