London needs at least £1.8 billion of investment in transport infrastructure every year just to do the bare minimum. But the challenge is on with a government that must be convinced into shifting from consumption to investment.
These were some of the key points to emerge from a half-day conference this morning at the NLA - ‘Unlocking the capital – how will future transport investments support London’s growth’.
Transport for London commissioner Sir Peter Hendy kicked off with a detailed look at the upcoming spending round but warned that ‘signs are not good’ with cuts of at least 15 per cent on the cards.
The potential impacts of the cuts are also amplified by the fact that London’s population is growing fast, with projections that it will reach nine million by 2018 and 10 million by 2031, when there will be 25 per cent more trips made on public transport. ‘To accommodate those people and make them economically active you clearly need transport’, said Hendy. And a job created in London is more productive, with the capital operating as the engine of the national economy, he added. ‘Not everyone wants to hear that fact.’ Hendy’s team is asking for consistent investment, partially to help preserve jobs out of London, 41,000 of which in 2012/13 were tied into supplying the capital’s transport network.
GLA’s Stewart Murray said that London ‘is growing more quickly than we thought’, with even the 33 opportunity area frameworks needing reassessment, the London Plan needing revision and a million new homes needed by the mid-2030s, a rate of growth not seen since the inter-war years. ‘We are going to have to up our game very significantly.’
At least the planning frameworks and processes for getting transport infrastructure appear to be improving gradually. Bircham Dyson Bell partner and secretary of the National Infrastructure Planning Association Robbie Owen said that new mechanisms offered more certainty about speeds of decisions from ministers, with projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel in progress. ‘We do now have a planning regime which is starting to work for big infrastructure, he said. Government is starting to appreciate the need to improve planning.’
The trouble with government’s approach though, said the LSE’s Tony Travers, is that the number of planning ministers it gets through compared to Treasury officials belies the impression that it does not take the issue seriously. London is an ‘extreme outlier’ in that it is a big user of public transport, unlike the rest of the country, thinking that it is crucial to invest in this area, while the rest of the country does not. The difficulty for London is that it cannot make its own investment decisions, Travers added, with the spending review process being like a ‘medieval court’, and piles of bids on desks in SW1 – consequently it is easier for most to get rejected. ‘We have an extraordinary willingness to consume rather than invest’, he said. Devolution might be the only answer, to allow London the financial power to make its own decisions.
The conference also heard from those involved in transport delivery, including HS2’s CEO Alison Munro, who detailed the line’s importance to connecting north with south, linking eight of Britain’s largest cities, easing a capacity squeeze and helping kick-start areas like Old Oak Common – prospectively a new Canary Wharf. It could also help to raise the OECD ranking of the UK in terms of public investment in infrastructure between 2006 and 2011, which is currently below Mexico, Chile and Hungary. Crossrail’s Sam Richards showed how the public realm was an important consideration in the new line, with projections that this new piece of infrastructure will add some 18 % to property prices nearby. Mike Keegan presented the case for breathing life back into London’s streets as the key to unlocking development potential, and Argent’s André Gibbs showed how King’s Cross has profited from transport infrastructure, but with a concentration on getting the urban realm right to begin with.
David Taylor, New London Quarterly