What’s The Long-Term Plan For London?
Above, behold; London’s air pollution. If you’re visiting take a tip for the Japanese and bring a mask. Last month, the Chancellor and the Mayor announced a long-term plan for London. In essence, this consisted of the following wishlist:
- Secure London’s strong economic future by outpacing the growth of New York, adding £6.4bn to the London economy by 2030.
- Create over half a million extra jobs in London by 2020 by backing businesses, attracting investment and raising standards in schools.
- Solve London’s housing problem by building over 400,000 new homes.
- Deliver £10 billion of new investment in London’s transport including tube improvements, better roads, more buses and cycle lanes.
- Make London a centre of the world’s creative and commercial life with new investment in science, finance, technology and culture, including a new world class concert hall for London.
- Give more power to Londoners to control their city’s future, with new powers for the Mayor of London to support economic growth, boost skills in the capital and have more control over planning powers.
- Turn London into a Victorian fairyland filled with chocolate fountains, happy dancing children, wizards and unicorns.
OK, I made that last bit up. This bizarre announcement was roughly the equivalent of Tony Hancock calling together the press to announce that he was going to live in the woods.
HANCOCK: Mankind is doomed! Follow me to the woods!
NEIGHBOUR: Go to bed, you old drunk!
There are all kinds of pressures behind such a call to economic beatitude, one being a need to appease the Chinese over current visa restrictions. Tellingly, we can spot the two key phrases in this catalogue of vaguery. Did he think we wouldn’t notice? And we can look at what was left out; there was no mention of improving health or controlling air pollution (currently in an appalling state), reducing poverty, improving wellbeing and the environment and the actual look and living quality of the city, just an offer of more roads and another concert hall. This last point is bizarre when one considers we have half a dozen good concert halls already.
But wait, the clue is in the phrase ‘world class’. The concert halls are not rich and showy enough to attract big name conductors, apparently. Let’s not worry about whether London residents think they have enough concert halls, let’s chase the yen.
Yesterday I walked through Bishopsgate, Houndsditch and Aldgate to Liverpool Street. There’s hardly a building left standing – the demolition and rebuilding must be reminiscent of the postwar years. What we’re getting is – no surprise here – higher-than-high end offices and swish apartments, of which our Mayor wants many more, and I thought, ‘Maybe this is the only possible future for London’.
Maybe the centre needs to be dedicated to those who raise the finances of the capital, and by extension much of Britain. Maybe we simply cater to them and to tourists, and everyone else is then free to raise families in more spacious, greener suburbs around the city, connected by a good transport infrastructure. Would that be so terrible?
Okay, so there are problems to be dealt with. The Grade II-listed Balfron Tower in Poplar will no longer contain any social housing but will instead be sold as luxury flats, as 120 families have just been socially-cleansed from the building (they were told they had to be temporarily rehoused while the building was being repaired – now they’re not being allowed back).
The biggest space-hoggers in London, as the most corrupt official ever to hold public office, Dame Shirley Porter knew, are those council estates – they take up large swathes of prime property and need to be uprooted. Some of them even have Thameside views! Personally I think they should go, but for entirely different reasons to do with quality of life for their inhabitants and the fact that many operate as closed communities, as slums once did.
So London will still be the same but different. It’s fine for New Yorkers to come over and head for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street, fantasising about some kind of lost Dickensian nirvana, but this is the economic reality, and to deny it would be churlish. Wouldn’t it?
Arguments to the contrary welcome!