Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The London Plan - building a playground for the elite

Today, the Mayor of London published his "London Plan", a strategic look at development in the world's greatest city (except for Bradford, of course, but we hide our light under a bushel and don't call ourselves a city any more despite being one):
It's a strategic plan which shapes how London evolves and develops. All planning decisions should follow London Plan policies, and it sets a policy framework for local plans across London.
Exciting. And there will be some good analyses of the plan from assorted consultants, lobby groups and academics over the next few months as its consultation plays out. The Mayor - as these sort of people are wont to do - is bigging up the Plan:
“I am using all of the powers at my disposal to tackle the housing crisis head on, removing ineffective constraints on homebuilders so we make the most of precious land in our capital,”
I gather the Mayor went on to talk about "tearing up" planning rules that prevent housing development (while proposing new rules to stop people opening businesses in case children might get tubby). There's going to be 650,000 new homes rammed into an already crowded city, piled up on top of railway stations, stuffed into gardens, perched on top of shopping parades. Densification is the order of the day - London, in housing terms becomes Mr Creosote. After all, even the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England - NIMBY central - think the plan is ace. CRPE tweeted:
We're pleased to see a commitment to protecting and enhancing the Green Belt from @SadiqKhan in his draft London Plan. A protected and thriving Green Belt is just as important for our cities as our countryside.
OK, so they tweeted this with an attached photograph of a view across Windermere - about as far from London as it's possible to be and stay in England - but the CPRE are clearly happy.

The thing is that this is the problem. London isn't so much overheating as burning to a cinder, at least in housing terms. Yet the Mayor smiles saying, 'we won't touch the Green Belt, heavens no, that might cost me votes'. And the result of this is what geographers, Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox call a "playground for elites":
Once exemplars of middle-class advancement, most major American cities are now typified by a “barbell economy,” divided between well-paid professionals and lower-paid service workers. As early as the 1970s, notes the Brookings Institution, middle-income neighborhoods began to shrink more dramatically in inner cities than anywhere else—and the phenomenon has continued. Today, in virtually all U.S. metro areas, the inner cores are more unequal than their corresponding suburbs, observes geographer Daniel Herz.
For London, the sort of middle income places I was brought up in (Addiscombe between Beckenham and Croydon) aren't really middle income places these days. The cramped - for a family of six large and loud people - three-bed semi we lived in would now sell for £400,000 or more, way beyond the means of the sort of people doing a middling sort of job in an insurance company like my Dad did back in the 1960s. These days, couples like my Mum and Dad aren't having families in London because they can't afford it.

What London's Mayor doesn't understand (something he shares with his left of centre mayoral colleagues in Barcelona, New York and San Francisco) is that the policies he thinks, to use a Blairite term, triangulate between the need for housing and the NIMBYs are the very policies that create the rising prices and rising rents, that make for that "barbell economy", and that make a place like London increasingly dysfunctional. Urban containment - zoning restrictions, densification, focus on what the Yanks call transit loci - is the problem not the solution. It's sustained by the fact that those childless younger people having fun in the city can't understand that their loud, brash and busy lives are a fin de si├Ęcle.
The suburbs, consigned to the dustbin of history by many urban boosters, have rebounded from the Great Recession. Demographer Jed Kolko, analyzing the most recent census numbers, suggests that most big cities’ population growth now lags their suburbs, which have accounted for over 80 percent of metropolitan expansion since 2011. Even where the urban-core renaissance has been strongest, ominous signs abound.
For London, those suburbs are no longer Grove Park, Eltham or Chiswick but Milton Keynes, Ashford, Basingstoke and Reading. And:
Nearly 80 percent of all job growth since 2010 has occurred in suburbs and exurbs (see chart, page 45). Most tech growth takes place not in the urban core, as widely suggested, but in dispersed urban environments, from Silicon Valley to Austin to Raleigh. Despite the much-ballyhooed shift in small executive headquarters to some core cities, the most rapid expansion of professional business-service employment continues to happen largely in low-density metropolitan areas...
Put simply, failing to grasp the urban containment nettle will be fine for London short to medium term - it has the advantage of being the world's top financial centre and having the UK government (sort of New York and Washington combined) - but not facing up to this problem will do just what Kotkin and Cox describe in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, create a playground for the rich elite serviced by a low paid population living in a city they can't afford.



The Stigler said...

It isn't going to last. Contrary to the myths about the success of London, most of it is tentacles of the state, companies providing for those tentacles or people doing the work for people working for the state. Sure, there's the city, but that isn't employing a workforce to sustain millions of people. It's Whitehall, the BBC, various institutions, a load of stupid fake charities, half the arts.

I work in software and there's no way I'd start a startup in London. The people in tech aren't very good there, it's disgusting and dysfunctional. It might have once been an exciting city with new foodstuffs, new fashions and the arts, but you get all of that everywhere now. Based on places I've worked and what I know of costs, I'd startup in Bristol/Bath, Reading/Bracknell, Leeds, Southampton/Portsmouth followed by Milton Keynes, Swindon, Cheltenham/Gloucester. Places with tech skills, good enough to get a cluster of people.

Demetrius said...

The London Plan was out of date when it was finally published. It is an edition of ideas that were being knocked around in the first decade of this century. Things have moved on rapidly. Urban growth can go many ways, the most common for mankind is the creation of shanty towns. This is emerging already in London. So the "growth" could well mean this. Given the kind of jobs that will be going etc. it might be better if there was no "growth" at all, in fact a persistent decline could be the only way of avoiding the worst.

Vanesa Rose said...

If London is such a success why are so many people leaving the city?

Jonathan Bagley said...

London's wonderful - the more crowded, the more diverse and vibrant. Don't leave; you'll miss the company of fellow sophisticants. The North is dull and full of racists. You wouldn't like it here.