As London First publishes an ambitious new report on London’s economic development, we look at what’s needed to enable our city to continue to prosper.
“Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. So observed Samuel Johnson to James Boswell.
London has evolved beyond recognition since this conversation took place between two friends late in December of 1777, but the sentiment still stands and could perhaps be truer now than it has ever been. With the population of London due to surpass the 1939 peak of 8.6 million early this year, there could not be a better time for the publication of a new report by London First that sets out priorities to drive jobs and growth in the capital between now and 2036, when the population is expected to reach 10 million.
The study, ‘London 2036: An Agenda for Jobs and Growth’ is a detailed economic development plan produced by London First on behalf of the London Enterprise Panel – the Mayor’s business advisory board. It “sets out a formula for London to achieve world-beating income growth, greater job opportunities than rival cities, a diverse and shock-proof economy, more homes and better transportation”.
Whilst promoting growth, the report doesn’t ignore the consequences of progress and the pressure on housing is particularly stressed. The report contends that new housing must be delivered at a faster pace and suggests that this can be attained if planning consent for large sites continues to be granted. The need to allow “selective development in low-quality land currently designated as green belt” is also recommended, along with a reformation of the planning process.
Reform in this area has been needed for some time, and this report highlights the urgent need to show the general public that some development on the green-belt is vitally important if London’s position on the international stage is to be safeguarded. Research published by Redwood’s client, the planning consultancy Iceni Projects, found that 60 per cent of the population incorrectly believes the ‘green belt’ is always by definition not built upon, and this could go some way in explaining the sometimes vociferous opposition by local community groups to any proposals allowing development on such land. Misconceptions must be rectified, and the public needs to be convinced of the need to allow managed and sensitive development of low quality green belt sites as we seek to enable London to continue to flourish.
But for now London does flourish. Despite a sleepy start for the capital’s housing market, London has made no indication that she will stop casting her spell any time soon. Businesses, developers and consumers, both home and abroad, continue to flock to this veritable El Dorado like pilgrims to Santiago and The Pensioners to Stamford Bridge.
So it would seem that Samuel Johnson was largely right. We do not tire of London. And because we don’t tire of London we must continue to plan, develop, build, refine and improve, so that our infrastructure and housing capacity might not only survive but thrive on the understandable progress that has been forecast. For if in London there is “all that life can afford”, who are we to deny others, and especially future generations, the opportunity to experience and cherish the riches of this glorious city.