Beyond borders: Overcoming administrative barriers

Future of London’s Overcoming Barriers programme is looking at the impact of both physical barriers, such as roads, rail and rivers and administrative boundaries across London.

The geography and impact of London’s administrative boundaries may not be as immediately obvious as those of its physical barriers, are no less relevant for planning and development in the city. Administrative boundaries – such as borders of the GLA, boroughs, wards, development sites and other jurisdictions – exert active influence on service provision, housing targets, inward investment, community experiences and more.

This roundtable, kindly hosted by Arup on 19 September, brought together senior practitioners from the public, private and third sectors to discuss the impacts of failing to work together and ways of breaking cross-border impasses. A Chatham House summary of key talking points is below. Additional findings from the roundtable will be included in our final report on Overcoming Barriers – watch for that in December 2018.

Attendees discuss London’s administrative barriers

Community-level impacts of borders and disjointed working

In addition to implications for service provision (e.g. libraries, recycling), housing and development, participants highlighted less obvious but important impacts on community experiences.

Neighbourhood marginalisation

Civic and economic hubs tend to be located near the centre of boroughs. Border neighbourhoods like Finsbury Park, Cricklewood, and Crystal Palace become physically marginalised and neglected for investment because they aren’t where the ‘weight’ of an individual borough’s population and amenities are.

One participant shared how this is playing out live across two boroughs in zones 2 and 3. They described an estate regeneration scheme adjacent to a park in serious need of refurbishment. Despite the obvious benefits of improving the park for the new residents, the local authority with responsibility for the estate will not allow Section 106 money to be used to upgrade the park which sits over the border in the neighbouring borough. All agreed there are examples like this across the capital.

Being on the ‘fringe’ can impact how areas see themselves. One example concerned a cross-borough development in outer London where a borough which sees itself as more ‘suburban’ is clashing with its more ‘urban’ neighbour over issues like car parking and density. In another, residents undergoing estate regeneration were concerned about being integrated with ‘posh’ neighbours, requiring delicate engagement and thoughtful design from the architect and developer teams involved.

Communication confusion

Residents in fringe neighbourhoods are affected by policies from each bordering borough, but may not know who to contact about certain issues, or end up having to contact officers and members across multiple boroughs. For external organisations working strategically across boroughs, it can be equally difficult to know which departments and people to approach within local authorities and other bodies. Even once the right people are found there’s no guarantee their priorities will align.


One of the most extreme impacts is when local initiatives are stalled because different bodies fail to offer adequate, joined-up support. Research in one of London’s outlier neighbourhoods found that community groups aren’t short of ideas to improve their local area, but not knowing who to contact and not having cross-borough support means their projects can’t take hold.

Third sector organisations can also struggle to get the attention and support of political bodies, lacking the clout or statutory authority to bring stakeholders to the table; recognition within formal policy and strategy structures helps. For example, one participant explained how one of their organisation’s assets forms part of the All-London Green Grid, which gives the them clout to command engagement.

Recommendations and approaches

Overwhelmingly, participants stressed the need for a clear vision and the will to work together as two key components for overcoming administrative barriers. To encourage working together – and mitigating impacts of boundaries – participants offered several ideas.

Understand neighbourhoods

  • Review administrative boundaries in an area and the influence they exert – not just in terms of service delivery but lived experiences. Develop strategies to mitigate impacts.
  • Talk to borough officers and local people to learn their ambitions for an area. Use this to inform projects and to develop metrics for measuring impact, reviewing progress and adjusting course if necessary throughout the project.

Build relationships and capacity

  • Recognise the ‘appetite’ for joint working. If it’s there, it’ll happen.
  • Relationship-building takes time but will make or break progress. As part of this, acknowledge and understand different perspectives.
  • A recurring issue for many participants was the disconnect between officers and elected members. Officers may support a scheme, but it lives or dies with members, who may be partisan or ill-informed. Capacity-building seminars for members and highly engaging, value-added activities like field trips are a good opportunity to showcase development benefits and impacts.

Establish new teams or working cultures

  • For large development sites, arrangements like mayoral development corporations or enterprise zones allow for independent project teams with greater autonomy. For example, an enterprise zone can use business rates to hire a dedicated team.
  • Special planning committees – in which dedicated project officers and elected members oversee a project throughout its lifetime – ensure everyone involved has in-depth understanding of the scheme and help secure buy-in.
  • Joint hires give people a central contact point. For example, LLDC, LB Tower Hamlets and LB Hackney jointly support a business manager at Hackney Wick.
  • Leaders must buy into the benefits of joint working and drive a collaborative approach to working throughout the organisation.

Support joint working through policy

  • GLA, TfL and other funders should demand evidence of cross-borough working for applicable projects. This is happening in some areas, like applications for the Good Growth Fund, and could be rolled out more widely.
  • Policymakers could establish accords and agreements to drive cross-border working, which helps third-sector organisations involved in delivery make the case for grant funding.
  • Cross-borough ‘quid pro quo’ arrangements could address situations where Section 106 contributions would be more effective spent in a neighbouring borough.
  • Within boroughs, officers and members must recognise the value of spreading development benefits outside the ‘red line’. Developers are keen to do this, but need the blessing from boroughs.

From ‘fixed’ borders to ‘fuzzy’ borders

London is inevitably complex, and its growth only adds to this. Because of this complexity, boundaries are necessary to help define projects get things done. Boundaries aren’t going away, so recognising their implications and mitigating impact is paramount.

Changing perceptions of borders could also go some way to enabling better cross-border working and spreading benefits of development beyond red lines. As one participant put it: “think of borders not as fixed lines, but as ‘fuzzy edges’.”


Paul Creed, Head of Development & Placemaking, GLA (Royal Docks)
Nic Durston, CEO, Southbank Employers Group
Jeff Endean, Housing Strategy and Programmes Team Manager, LB Lewisham
Matt Lally, Associate Director, Arup
Sue Morgan, CEO, Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust
Dorothy Newton, Co-chair, Finsbury Park and Stroud Green Neighbourhood Forum
Tricia Patel, Partner, Pollard Thomas Edwards
Mandar Puranik, Area Renewal & Programme Regeneration Manager, LB Sutton
Matt Shillito, Director, Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design
Sarah Sturrock, Director, South London Partnership
Olivia Tusinski, Project 00
Davinia Venton, Associate Director (Land & New Business), Countryside Properties
Lucy Wood, Director, Barton Willmore