The five key speakers for the evening included: Sir Edward Lister, Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor of London for Policy and Planning; the academic Prof Ricky Burdett of LSE; Economist Dr Danny Thorniley; 00:/ Hub co-founder Indy Johar; and London property market expert Mike Hussey. The Chair was the authoritative newsreader Martyn Lewis.
Each panelist brought their own perspective, though a common consensus was that London needed to retain investment as the engine driving much of the rest of the UK’s economy (and into Western Europe). The city is increasingly a fact of life for people around the world; at the turn of the twentieth century, around 10% of all people lived in cities. It has been forecast that by 2050, it could be 75%.
The growth of cities is mostly occurring in the developing world; particularly China, where tens of new cities pass the one million inhabitants mark on an increasingly regular basis, but also in Africa and the Middle East. The biggest question of the night was essentially: how is London best placed to remain competitive in a world with many new rivals arriving on stage?
Another consensus was that while it would be a mistake for all cities to follow the same template, there were lessons to be learned. Different cities around the world have evolved very differently: Mexico City’s 22 million citizens are widely dispersed, with average commuting times of about four hours, while Hong Kong has a highly dense population and commuting times on average about 11 minutes. Linking this back to London, the audience were asked to vote on whether London should spread into the greenbelt or build on existing land with higher density. Surprisingly enough, the audience voted for higher density on existing land and to retain the full extent of the greenbelt.
The rest of the discussion covered a number of issues in the public eye, including:
- the importance of the financial sector to London (and potentially negative impact of press coverage)
- public transport, such as how there appears to be no major rail investment in London post 2019
- the Olympic legacy and its impact on the most deprived areas of the Capital
- whether London needed more airport provision
- the growth of the technology sector in the Capital, particularly of hub workplaces and how to encourage people out of finance and into tech
- the recession (which we are likely only halfway through) and the UK government’s austerity agenda
- local planning laws, particularly a discussion over whether they were too slow and bureaucratic for changing working patterns and housing needs
- the role of the London plan itself.
All in all, the general view was cautiously optimistic for the future of the Capital. The 21st Century is set to see new and existing competing cities rise to greater prominence on the world stage, but London remains in a strong position for growth and inward investment.