Leadership and consensus vital to meeting London’s critical infrastructure needs

Any discussion around a vision for London’s critical infrastructure needs by 2050 was always going to be passionate and varied.


And in this respect yesterday’s London Infrastructure Summit hosted by influential business lobby group London First did not disappoint. (view conference intro video here)

The conclusions were clear. We need strong leadership. And we need to rapidly build strong public and political consensus around the need for long term commitment to investment in London’s critical infrastructure if we are to meet the extraordinary growth demands that face the capital.

“We cannot sit on our hands. Now is not the moment to stop investing. We need big, brave decisions to support the city.” Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs.


See the London First video featuring Martin Baggs, Crossrail's Terry Morgan and National Grid's Steve Holliday here

These demands centre on the fact that population is expected to grow by 37% from the current 8.2M level to over 11M by 2050.  As London Mayor Boris Johnson warned delegates, the future is driven by the twin challenges of Londoners living longer and having more babies.

“We must plan for this growth,” said Boris pointing to the need for 50,000 new homes to be built, Crossrail 2 to follow the first, six new electricity substations to meet power demand, investment on the back of HS2 and the integration of overground rail with the Tube network.

“We need a long term view of funding,” he declared floating the idea of devolving property taxes to London. “We need to go further and faster. We need to remember what we did for the Olympics. This is an amazing opportunity to build the London of the future.”

This opportunity is now being discussed, consulted on and mapped out by the Greater London Authority as it prepares its Infrastructure Investment Plan for 2050, a progress report for which was published ahead of the conference.

And it is an opportunity that was not, of course, missed by delegates. Nor was the challenge of delivery, both in terms of battling through the often draconian planning regulations, prioritising conflicting needs and wrestling against ever-dwindling public funding.

Hence the overwhelming message coming from the conference around the need for the public and private sector to work together to provide the collaborative creativity and confidence needed not only to find the right solutions and sell them to politicians and public but also to lever in the vital private sector funding for the transport, housing, energy and water projects that the capital desperately needs.

As London First chief executive Jo Valentine pointed out, London is only able to retain 7% of its taxation to invest in infrastructure, as compared to cities such as New York which retain seven times that amount. London may be wealthy but its infrastructure needs, as the driver of UK GDP, are great. 

It is of course interesting to note that London First’s origins as a business lobbying organisation can be traced back to the campaign to support the early Crossrail project 20 years ago. Today the message is wider but still fundamentally rooted in the notion that investment in infrastructure is the key to driving economic growth across the capital and so across the whole of the UK.

“We cannot sit on our hands,” said Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs in a video that kicked off the conference speaking alongside similar messages from Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan and National Grid chief executive Steve Halliday. “Now is not the moment to stop investing. We need big, brave decisions to support the city.”

And there are no shortage of difficult decisions offering potential opportunity approaching. As the conference heard, whether Thames Tideway, airport expansion, Crossrail 2, garden cities and how to build 50,000 homes a year, power connections or the roll out of super-fast broad band there is still much debate to be had. 

The message is clear. No matter where you live and work in the UK, get involved. Like it or not, London’s future matters to us all. Or as one speaker put it, it is time to turn around the debate to emphasise the cost of not investing.

(London First Infrastructure Summit - summary plus video is here)

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