This report looks at the challenges for, and possible futures of, the capital's central district, making recommendations to ensure it can thrive as a place to live, work and visit. The report was finalised before the coronavirus pandemic.
The city centre – which this report defines as the Central Activities Zone (CAZ) and its satellite at the Northern Isle of Dogs (NIoD) – has many different users. Over the past decade it has seen growing numbers of residents, commuters, tourists and a booming night time economy.
This growth has brought huge benefits for both capital and country, but also challenges: from overcrowded public transport and clashes between its different functions and users, to enduring pockets of extreme deprivation and a lack of affordable housing.
But central London is also the heart of the city’s economy and plays an outsized role in the UK economy. It houses five per cent of the UK’s businesses, seven per cent of the nation’s employment, and generates 10 per cent of national economic output, within a physical area that covers just 0.01 per cent of the country. This means that the challenges that central London faces have implications not only for the wider city, but for the nation too.
Many of these challenges are compounded and difficult to overcome owing to a system of fragmented governance, with much of central London life dictated by central government. Its direction is also set by the Mayor and 10 different boroughs, each of which have different approaches across a wide range of policy areas.
The report suggests that there is an urgent need for a “clear vision and stronger co-ordination” between the boroughs, the Greater London Authority, the district’s 16 Business Improvement Districts, and community groups, building on the work of Central London Forward.
In order to ensure that central London continues to thrive as the economic hub and heartland of national life, its elected authorities, and community and business leaders must come together to plan for a future based on four key principles:
- Embrace change. The combination of continued growth and changing requirements means that change is inevitable in the capital’s historic core – if not always easy. A flexible, innovative approach to the use of limited space is essential
- Think strategically. A shared vision and coordinated action across the CAZ and NIoD is needed in order to ensure that the area’s population growth produces stable, long-term communities; that employment growth continues; and that rising numbers of visitors can be welcomed.
- Ensure all voices are heard. Given the unusual and particular stakeholder mix in the CAZ/NIoD, an ever more collaborative culture must be nurtured between London-wide government, local authorities, employers and residents.
- Convince central government to invest and devolve. Central government remains in charge of a great deal of central London life, and the success of the area remains essential to the success of the nation. Central London’s user groups must work together to make the case for the city centre, to advocate for more control over the district’s fate and finances in the long term – and for more investment from central government to ensure its continued success.