Event Review: London’s transport needs by 2050 – 21 January 2016

Hawkins\Brown played host to RTPI OvergroundLondon’s second Mayoral Series event on 21 January. This was held at their beautiful offices at 159 St John St; in the former Pollards’ Shopfitting Works.

Transport was traditionally the top concern in London Mayoral elections; housing is now top of the agenda. This is arguably due to London’s plummeting affordability, as opposed to any real diminution of transport’s prominence. London is a big city and transport is fundamental to its continued existence.

First up was Harbinder Singh Birdi, Partner at Hawkins\Brown. Responsible for transport and infrastructure, Harbinder has been involved with three major Crossrail stations (Tottenham Court Road, Bond Street and Liverpool St). These are indicative of the scale and quality of infrastructure that London will need in order to flourish. People sceptical of the scale of Crossrail (the ticket hall at Tottenham Court Road is six times that of the LU station) have been confounded by the forecasts for its future use. Put simply, transport infrastructure stimulates development. London should consider this and provide transport infrastructure corresponding to the types of development that it seeks.

Next was Richard De Cani, MD of Planning at Transport for London (TfL). Within London’s long history, TfL is a relative newcomer; it was founded in 2000 following the GLA Act. Unique in the UK, it has worked with the GLA and London boroughs to deliver 15 years of integrated transport and land-use planning. TfL directly influences how people travel; the resultant shift towards public transport, walking and cycling runs counter to UK trends. This has contributed to a surge in London’s attractiveness for business, particularly in the City, West End and Canary Wharf.

Transport is more than moving people and goods around; it is also fundamental to quality of life. It also unlocks housing; strategic investments like the Bakerloo Line extension have the potential to transform the low-value sprawl that characterises Old Kent Road. Funding will be the big question. How can we cover the operating costs of roads? Will London be able to retain business rates to reinvest in transport? The new Mayor would do well to consider where the necessary billions will come from.

Ben Harrison from Centre for Cities illustrated London’s extraordinary jobs density. This has contributed to its economic preminence and its decisive role in pulling the UK out of recession. This value comes from agglomeration; people come to central London to share ideas and information. The concentrations are intense; 10% of all London’s private sector jobs are in the City (0.2% of its area). This success is not inevitable; businesses need to have access to high-quality staff. Transport is thus fundamental. London’s travel-to-work area is immense; planning strategy should acknowledge this. Ben also echoed Richard’s call for greater financial autonomy and coordination of municipal and national expenditure.

The last speaker was Katherina Winbeck, Head of Transport, Environment and Infrastructure at London Councils. Transport priorities for London Councils include:

  • Crossrail 2 (major important)
  • Better orbital routes
  • Better bus services
  • EVs, to reduce air pollution
  • Maintain modal shifts trends towards public and active transport.

In addition to the economic necessity of public transport, it is worth emphasising that public transport investment contributes to social inclusion. This is well-documented. Delivery remains the outstanding question; it is only possible to address these kinds of aims via effective well-funded partnerships.

In conclusion, high-quality public transport is fundamental to London’s success as an economically robust, socially-inclusive city. The new Mayor of London will need to realise this and identify how the necessary investment can be delivered for London to flourish between now and 2050.

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