London Forum’s Patron Professor Tony Travers, Visiting professor in the LSE Dept of Government and Director of LSE London gave a speech at London Forum’s AGM on October 12, 2023 in which he asked us to consider London as it is today and think how it came about.

He reflected that whereas once he could say there were 2-3 lifetime change events in a century, we seem to have had 5 such events in 15 years. Covid 19 was significant because it questions whether there has been a shift in how central and outer London now operate. The 1980s kicked off huge change with clusters of towers all over the city beyond the central area. TfL had added significant capacity with the Overground rail / Jubilee line / trams in Croydon / DLR and the Elizabeth line. London is now more international than other world cities including New York.

Despite various initiatives over the years, the resilience of London is demonstrated by the fact that London and the SE continues to grow at a faster rate, (as measured by GDP), than the rest of UK. Today’s 9m population is (after a decline in the middle of last century) now similar to 1930s. The wider SE region outside of London has grown by 6m over this period. London has few parallels in the world. So, there is huge pressure on development and a huge need for strategic planning.

He reminded us that there were still parts of city in social and economic decline. Local government’s spending on services is 30-40% less than in 2010. This has meant less on street maintenance (including fixing potholes), refuse collection, parks, etc., services that impact very much on people’s lives. We need constructive policy to reverse this.

To a question about the role of London’s public transport in helping London to bounce back, Tony responded that the loss of commuting revenue does mean that TfL needs to find new ways to balance the books. For example, incentivising people to travel on Mondays and Fridays. We might see a shift in offices to areas such as Ealing and Ilford, enabling counter-commuting and re-invigorating those centres. With the ‘Docklands 2.1’ plans – if implemented, there is the opportunity for TfL to negotiate funding back into London to progress schemes such as the extension of the DLR and Bakerloo line extensions stimulating development in parts of southeast London.

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