London and its neighbour regions in the south and east of England need to work together more closely if they are to better meet the common challenges they face, according to a new joint report from two leading think tanks.
Stressing that the capital and the wider south-east account for nearly half of the UK’s economic output and are “highly integrated and interdependent”, Centre for London and the Southern Policy Centre recommend the development of a shared “vision for the future” to help provide more housing, transport connections and economic investment throughout the metropolis and the “Wider South East”.
The report, entitled Next-door Neighbourhoods – Collaborative Working Across The London Boundary, also recommends that national government takes a more comprehensive approach to policies affecting London and the south-east as a whole, including local government finance and public investment in infrastructure. It also floats the idea of replacing the post of Minister for London with “a new senior portfolio” with a more extensive geographical remit.
Commuting patterns are cited by the report’s authors as “the most visible evidence that London has grown more connected with the Wider South East,” with 900,000 people a day entering Greater London to work in 2016 – a rise of 30% compared with 2004 – and a further 300,000 travelling in the opposite direction (up 5%). Around 15% of people in south east and east of England depend on London employment.
Furthermore, despite persisting fears among communities outside London and some of those within it of being “swallowed” by the capital’s urbanisation, they are in some respect already part of it. Polling conducted for Centre For London has found that half the residents of Brighton and Milton Keynes have previously lived in London, with the those smaller cities’ populations regarding London’s impacts on their local economies as positive – unlike in more distant parts of the country.
The report also underlines that business links and public service use patterns have also made London and its surrounding areas more intermingled, with separate research finding that nearly three-quarters of firms and institutions in “knowledge economy sectors” in eight cities in the south east outside of London had links with a London office, and that Oyster cards can now be used at nearly 60 train stations outside Greater London.
A growing willingness in principle to collaborate more closely needs to be translated into closer working between different local authorities on projects that may straddle the Greater London boundary, sometimes entailing overcoming historic tensions and opposing priorities. This encompasses the development of Sadiq Khan’s draft London Plan which, whilst only one part of the picture, “has become for many outside the capital a litmus test of the Greater London Authority’s approach to engagement,” says the report.