London’s long-term infrastructure planning

Friday 23 May 2014

London needs to keep investing in infrastructure across all modes if its rapidly growing population is to avoid gridlock conditions in the coming decades.

That was one of the main thrusts of a half-day conference at the NLA sponsored by Aecom, TfL and the GLA and chaired by London Communications Agency’s Robert Gordon Clark. 

TfL managing director of planning Michèle Dix said that a great deal had happened since the formation of the GLA in terms of transport stressed that major infrastructure projects of the kind London needs take a long time to come into fruition. The Gallions Reach bridge, for example, was identified by Abercrombie. So with the city growing at a far greater rate than anyone expected – to a population of 8.6 million by next year – London has to have a plan to accommodate such growth and the monies in place to do so, she said. Projects like Crossrail will help to take pressure off mainline termini, while Thameslink and tube line upgrades will add some 30 per cent capacity to central London. And transport is the key to getting many of the opportunity areas going – there is potential for 10,000 new homes at Barking Riverside, ‘but it’s not connected’ – hence City Hall seeking an extension of the Gospel Oak to Barking (GOB) line. With its 25,000 homes and 16,000 jobs, Battersea Nine Elms’ development, meanwhile, has been catalysed by the Northern Line Extension, and TfL is now looking at the possibility of similarly extending the Bakerloo line.

Costed with ‘optimism bias’ at £12bn, Crossrail 2 will make ‘a phenomenal difference’ and future projects will aim to borrow against future revenue. But Dix made clear that road building will not be forgotten, with 80 per cent of trips made on the road network and plans for new river crossings and tunnels to provide replacement capacity. Finally, Dix said that the plan for a new airport to the east  - the so-called Boris island – could ‘help shape London going forward’ if TfL manages to persuade government that the decision could ‘open up a massive new development opportunity for housing and jobs’.  ‘We’re still in the running’, said Dix.

GLA assistant director of planning Stewart Murray said London faces a demographic challenge’ of a population rising by some 100,000 per year, creating difficult housing targets for most boroughs – Tower Hamlets alone has to deliver 40,000, or the size of a new town. The whole ‘super-region is at crisis point’, added Murray, which is forcing the GLA to look within London but also without to take pressure off such intense growth, with ongoing conversations between it and the 122 local authorities surrounding the capital. Another particular worry is that over school places, with research showing London needs to spend £30bn to accommodate steep population growth.

The conference also heard from BNP Paribas Real Estate Senior Director Anthony Lee on CIL, which he said was less impactful than the requirements of affordable housing, and Pat Hayes, executive director of regeneration & Housing at Ealing, who felt that CIL was ‘a clumsy, unsophisticated instrument’ where Section 106s are a tool with which development could be made more palatable to local people. There were also presentations from Brendon Walsh, director of regeneration, economic development and environment at Hounslow on unlocking new areas of growth at the ‘Golden Mile’ running alongside the M4, including planning permission for a new stadium for Brentford FC, a hush-hush commission for Will Alsop involving a relocated bus garage, and plans for a PRT system of ‘pods’ – people movers around the Sky campus. Gerry Hughes, senior director, national head of planning, development and regeneration at GVA said he believed a ‘new momentum’ could be achieved to reinvigorate the Thames Gateway project, including, crucially, a new river crossing at Silvertown, while AECOM’s Cathryn Spence spoke about the creation of a ‘water resilient London’ based on global experience, and WSP Group’s Mike Duff took the audience through his vision for ‘smart cities’. It was fine thinking about the far off future, said Duff, but ‘the void in our thinking is what tomorrow looks like.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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London’s long-term infrastructure planning


With London’s population predicted to reach 10 million by the early 2030s, how will London’s infrastructure cope with, and help to deliver, this growth?