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23/02/2015

An important step – but London needs more to grow

Words:

Andrew Carter, acting chief executive at Centre for Cities, responds to chancellor George Osborne and Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s long-term economic plans for London.

Last week’s announcement of a plan for London’s long-term economic development signals an encouraging step in the right direction towards recognising the importance of cities having greater control and flexibility to shape their future successes. However, as always, the devil will be in the detail, and there are some concerning omissions.

The centre supports moves to ensure that the mayoral position holds greater strategic authority and decision-making power over city-level planning – and yet this announcement does not include any specific measures for the devolution of additional powers to drive growth and create jobs, nor any mention of progress made in the wake of the London Finance Commission’s recommendations over 18 months ago, for the city to hold greater fiscal powers.

‘As always, the devil will be in the detail’

There is also a similar refrain in the plan’s measures around housing. The designation of new housing zones certainly can play a role in increasing housing supply, however, the focus appears to be on funding rather than on also expanding and strengthening levers the mayor holds to remove planning obstacles and speed up developments – critical to ensuring homes are delivered in practice.

We support the establishment of a London Land Commission, which could help to ensure that more public sector land is assessed for development. However, this alone will not be sufficient to supply the level of housing the city needs over the years to come.

The fact remains that we will not meet London’s current or projected housing requirements without also considering certain green belt sites – many of which sit within the Greater London Authority (GLA) boundaries, and are well-connected to existing transport.

The mayor and the GLA have been able to achieve a lot owing to the relatively substantial powers they hold over planning compared with other UK cities. But when one considers that the objective is for London, a city allowed to retain 7 per cent of its taxes, to challenge the growth of New York which, in retaining 50 per cent of its taxes and relying on these as a primary income stream, is encouraged to focus continually on development and infrastructure investment – the capital appears less well-positioned to compete on a global scale.

‘We will not meet London’s current or projected housing requirement without also considering certain green belt sites’

Ultimately, while well-intentioned, these announcements indicate that we are still a long way from Whitehall stepping up to deliver the type of bold, transformative devolution the capital needs to be truly able to address its most pressing obstacles to further growth.

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