Development Strategy for London

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 16th July 2002.

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Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton 9:30 am, 16th July 2002

They say that timing is everything in politics, so it is just my luck that this debate should fall between yesterday's statement on the comprehensive spending review and the more detailed statement that the Deputy Prime Minister will be making on Thursday.

The debate is about the spatial development strategy for London, but I share with the Mayor of London the belief that those words are probably the biggest turn-off. I note that the Mayor calls it the London plan. I used all my endeavours to change the title of the debate. The draft London plan was published on 21 June, but it is subject to a three-month consultation, so this is the only opportunity we have to discuss it before the summer recess.

The plan has to rise to the considerable challenges that will face the capital. London is a city of great contrasts. It is a city of extreme wealth and great poverty. It is a city of divisions; it has areas of great opportunity in the centre but also areas of great poverty and blight. London is a world city—it compares with New York and Tokyo—which gives it a reach both global and European, but it is also national and regional. It is a dynamic city; it is changing continuously, perhaps faster than any other part of Britain, or even of Europe. Its population changes. The services that it provides to the country and internationally change, as do its employment structures. London is also a city of great diversity: a third of its population is now estimated to come from one or other of the ethnic minorities, and more than 300 languages are spoken in the capital.

The plan provides two things: an ambitious vision of the London of the future, and alongside that a much more practical land-use strategy, of which the document says:

"planning has to be realistic, responsive, enabling and work with the grain of the future".

Such planning is undoubtedly needed, mainly to guide the public and private investment that will be required during the 15 years of the plan. However, I believe that there is an inherent tension in the plan: whether the practical land-use strategy can deliver the plan's ambitious vision. I shall address that, first by considering the document itself, and secondly by considering what role the Government ought to play in the delivery of the strategy.

We must recognise that the Mayor and the Greater London Authority have few formal powers and even fewer resources to deliver the sort of infrastructure mentioned in the plan. It should therefore be recognised that there must be a partnership with Government; it is they who have the powers and who can provide the funding not only for the transport infrastructure, housing and regeneration that are the main objects of the plan, but for health and education and for public services generally.

The plan is based on a number of core assumptions, the first of which is population. Currently the population of London is about 7.4 million but if we project from recent population trends we may predict a population of 8.6 million at the end of the 15-year period. The Office for National Statistics carried out a study some years ago that suggested a much lower figure of 7.6 million. However, the most recent research, conducted by the GLA, puts the figure at 8.1 million. That seems a reasonable assumption, although we must be cautious about accepting that figure as time goes on. It would mean an additional population of some 700,000 people—or, as the Mayor likes to put it, a population approximating to that of Leeds.

The second assumption is about employment creation. It is expected that around 630,000 jobs will be created during that period, the vast majority of them—more than 450,000—in the finance and business sectors. Sadly, it is predicted that manufacturing employment will continue to fall from 320,000 to less than 200,000. However, there is some good news in that the high value-added sectors of manufacturing should be maintained.

The report draws on several experiences that have occurred in London over the past 20 years, when the growth in population and jobs was approximately what is expected during the period of the London plan. What happened in London during those 20 years is instructive. There was a dramatic increase in inequality in the capital, including a housing crisis—there was not only rampant house-price inflation such as we have now, but record levels of homelessness, which have continued to be a problem. There were severe capacity constraints in transport as major infrastructure projects stalled, which limited the capital's development potential.

If the plan is to achieve some of its joint objectives, to improve social inclusion and economic sustainability, specific areas must be considered.