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29/01/2016

Local devolution - an opportunity for the young

City devolution could spread economic opportunity more equally for the young and take the heat off London, says Simon Brooksbank

Simon BrooksbankLondon is the undisputed political, economic and cultural hub of the UK. In terms of population, its 8.6 million residents make it is as big as the next six urban areas combined.

It accounts for a fifth of all jobs, and a quarter of the UK’s economic output. Its draw on young talent in search of job opportunities and cultural dynamism is undeniable.

While much work has been done to improve their image, other cities in the UK all too often are written off as drab and uninspiring, and while these other cities are seeing modest growth, London’s population is set to hit 10 million by 2030.

This demand for new homes has made our capital the epicentre of the housing crisis. Average house prices in London recently surpassed the £500,000 mark, pushing for many the dream of home ownership out of reach.

Because of the concentration of job opportunities in London, coupled with the limited alternatives outside of the M25, young people feel drawn like a moth to London’s bright lights.

All too many Londoners end up living in less than satisfactory conditions, which has a material impact on their quality of life and overall happiness.

"Not all countries share this domination by one city. Germany has Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and Cologne"

For those unable or struggling to save to get onto the housing ladder, many are forced to live in house-shares into their 30s and 40s; or at home with their parents. Or they spend a disproportionate percentage of their income to rent. Many of those who manage to get a toehold onto the capital’s housing market are forced to live in squalid, cramped conditions in unsafe areas.

Not all countries share this domination by one city. Germany has Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and Cologne. All these cities to a greater or lesser extent offer their residents the full package of good job opportunities, cultural dynamism and, crucially, relative affordability.

But it’s not all gloom for the UK. The government’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is designed to address this issue.

Manchester is moving up the ranks as the UK’s ‘second city’ and leads the way in the proposed ‘Northern Powerhouse’. In two years’ time it will be able to elect its own mayor and exercise greater autonomy.

It is too early to say how successful this initiative will be. But if we are able to provide young people with a greater choice of  where to live it would spread the burden of housing demand across the UK, alleviating the crisis in the South-East to give us all a better quality of life.

Simon Brooksbank is a graduate planner with Boyer

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