Central London is the heart of a world city, for government, business, retail and culture, for tourists, students, and for more and more people making the area their home. It all amounts to “an awful lot going on in a very small place”, in the words of Jack Brown, lead author of a new Centre for London’s new report which takes the pulse of the district.
The think tank serves up some dramatic statistics. The city’s central activities zone (CAZ) and its Isle of Dogs satellite accommodate a quarter of London’s businesses, providing more than two million jobs and generating almost half the capital’s economic output. Contrary to popular perception, more than 250,000 people live in the area, swelled to a daytime total of more than four million, including over a million commuters and 500,000 domestic and overseas tourists.
And new analysis confirms that it is hugely important for the UK economy as a whole. It contains one in 20 UK businesses and seven per cent of UK jobs, generating 10 per cent of the nation’s economic output – all in just 0.014 per cent of the country’s land area.
Central London continues to do well, despite recent political uncertainty, the report finds. Employment has grown at two per cent a year since 2011, including during the post-Referendum period, and economic growth is ahead of the London average. Last year, a record 57 international retail brands opened up in the capital, and tourist numbers are predicted to reach 40 million a year by 2025.
Continuing this success story is vital, not just for the capital but for “the future prosperity of the nation as a whole,” the report says. But the district also faces challenges, meaning its track record of generating revenue and economic opportunity, not only for London but also to support the government’s “levelling up” agenda and public spending outside the capital, cannot be taken for granted.
Space for development is increasingly at a premium, with competing demands for housing and business uses, and a growing shortage of affordable housing, plus an increasing number of shorter-term residents who are less likely to play local “stewardship” roles, and persistent pockets of high deprivation.
Pressures on transport are continuing, alongside increasing traffic congestion and air quality concerns, while the interests of businesses, residents, tourists and commuters are often difficult to reconcile, particularly with the area’s governance split between City Hall, central government and 10 separate local authorities with different approaches to the area’s needs.
The boroughs and the Mayor should get together urgently to agree a new vision for the area’s future prosperity, working together with residents and its 16 Business Improvement District organisations representing employers, including updating City Hall’s 2016 planning guidance for the central activities zone (CAZ), the report recommends, opting for a strengthening of existing partnerships rather than backing more radical suggestions for a new borough covering the central area.
And the need for more devolution and more government investment should be firmly on the agenda, with a fresh look at a tourist tax, retaining business rate income and signing off funding for Crossrail 2, as coincidentally, was recommended by the government advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission as the report was launched.
“As the new government looks re-balance the economy, it is vital that they acknowledge the role Central London will play in achieving this laudable and important aim,” said Brown. “Central London needs more control of its own destiny, with devolved powers to raise and spend to suit local needs.
“But until this is granted, central government must commit to investing in projects like Crossrail 2, and Central London’s various layers of governance must work closely together to ensure that the district continues to thrive. Both capital and country are relying on it.”
Image from Greater London Authority.
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