Good Growth and Why the London Plan is Strategically Flawed

NHS in crisis (queues in A&E, operations postponed and delays getting to see your GP), road network suffering from worse congestion, overcrowded trains and underground in London, air pollution still a problem, not enough schools to accommodate growing numbers of children and simply not enough houses to meet the demand for homes. These are simply symptoms of too many people and not enough infrastructure.

For those concerned about the future of one of the major financial capitals of the world, namely, London, here’s an editorial I wrote for the Alliance of British Drivers on the subject of the “London Plan” – on which there is a recently launched public consultation:

The population of the UK has been growing rapidly and particularly in London and the South-East. The latest figures from TfL show that the number of trips by London residents grew by 1.3% in 2016, up by 19.7% from the year 2000. The population of London grew by 21.4% in that period.

Forecasts for the future are for it to grow from the level of 8.8 million people in 2016 to 10.8 million in 2041 according to the Mayor’s London Plan, i.e. another 22%.

More people means more housing demand, more businesses in which they can work, more shops (or more internet shopping deliveries) to supply them, more transport to move them around and more demand on local authorities to supply services to them.

In addition more people means more air pollution – it’s not just transport that generates air pollution and even if every vehicle in London was a zero emission one we would still have major emissions from office and domestic heating, from construction activities, and from many other sources.

The London Plan and Mayor Sadiq Khan talk about “good growth” but unfortunately the exact opposite is likely to be the case. It will be “bad” growth as the infrastructure fails to keep up with population growth even if we could afford to build it.

In London we have not kept up with the pace of population growth for many years and the future will surely be no different.

London residents have suffered from the problems of past policies which condoned if not actually promoted the growth of London’s population. Indeed Mayor Khan insists London should remain “open” which no doubt means in other language that he is opposed to halting immigration – for example he opposes Brexit and any restrictions on EU residents moving to London which has been one source of growth in the population in recent years.

There are of course several policies that wise politicians might adopt to tackle these problems. Restrictions on immigration and the promotion of birth control are two of them that would limit population growth. China is a great example of how a public policy to discourage children has resulted in dynamic economic growth whereas previously China suffered from population growth that outpaced the provision of resources to support them – result: abject poverty for much of the population; that is now receding into history.

The other answer is to redistribute the population to less crowded parts of the country. It is easier and cheaper to build new infrastructure and homes in less populous parts of the country than London. Back in the 1940s and 1950s there was a national policy to encourage businesses and people to move out of London into “New Towns” such as Bracknell, Basildon, Harlow, Stevenage, Milton Keynes and even further afield.

Government departments that were based in central London were moved to places such as Cardiff or the North of England. The population of London fell as a result.

One way to solve the problems of traffic congestion and demand for housing in London would be to encourage redistribution. This could be encouraged by suitable planning policies, but there is nothing in the proposed London Plan to support such measures. In the past, businesses and people were only too happy to move to a better environment. Businesses got low cost factories and offices. People got new, better quality homes and there were well planned schools and medical facilities.

Despite the attitude of many non-residents to the New Towns, most of those who actually live in them thought they were a massive improvement and continue to do so. It just requires political leadership and wise financial policies to encourage such change.

These are towns with few traffic congestion or air pollution problems even though some of them are now the size of cities – for example Milton Keynes now has a population of 230,000.

It is worth pointing out that past policies for New Towns and redistribution of London’s population were supported by both Labour and Conservative Governments. But we have more recently had left-wing Mayors in London (Ken Livingstone and Sadiq Khan) who adopted policies that seemed to encourage the growth in the population of London for their own political purposes, thus ignoring the results of their own policies on the living standards of Londoners. So we get lots of young people living in poor quality flats, unable to buy a home while social housing provision cannot cope with the demand.

The Mayor’s London Plan is an example of how not to respond wisely to the forecast growth in the population of London. His only solution to the inadequate road network and inadequate capacity on the London Underground or surface rail is to encourage people to walk, cycle or catch a bus. But usage of buses has been declining as they get delayed by traffic congestion and provide a very poor quality experience for the users.

The London Plan should tackle this issue of inappropriate population growth. The rapid population growth that is forecast is bound to be “Bad Growth”, not “Good Growth” as the London Plan suggests. Population growth and its control should underpin every policy that needs to be adopted in the spatial development strategy of London.

For more background on the London Plan, see: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/london-plan-abd-submits-comments/

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

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Transport Costs in London – A Begging Letter from the Mayor

If the FT can comment on the problems of transport in London, why not me? It happens to have been an interest of mine for some years, and is surely a national disgrace. Here’s some useful information on the subject:

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has recently published a document entitled “Transport expenditure in London” (from the GLA Economics Current Issues Note 54). It claims to be an analysis of how much money is spent on transport in London in comparison with other parts of the country. But in reality it repeatedly simply argues that London needs more. Unfortunately, the facts presented, which is useful information in many ways, actually tend to show that London is already very well funded as regards rail transport, but that the road system has been neglected of late. Here are some of the key points from the document:

It says “Comparing regions based on how much transport expenditure they receive on its own or on a per head basis does not properly account for the need or demand for transport” (page 2). It suggests that rather than using a “per head” basis, it should be on a “per user” basis and proceeds to say “On this basis, the amount spent on railways per passenger journey and the amount spent on roads per 1 million vehicle miles in London were one of the lowest among the GB regions.”  

Now there are of course many more “commuters” who travel into London by train and other public transport on a daily basis than you get in the other major UK cities, let alone in the more rural areas. In addition many of these journeys in London involved multiple stages, i.e. separate trips, including changes of mode, which they are probably counting as separate journeys because they are otherwise difficult to measure. So they are selecting a measure that favours their argument.

In addition, they say that “In particular, London has seen the largest decline in road expenditure per 1 million vehicle miles since 2007-08”. Well one can quite believe that when London has had minimal expenditure on roads while cities like Birmingham have greatly improved their road networks in recent years.

They do point out that the number of passengers using public transport in London at peak hours far exceeds that of other major cities but their table of numbers of trips by mode shows that almost as many get made by car as by bus/tram and they are more than double those by rail. Mr Khan wants to change that of course, and the Mayor, and his cycling mad predecessor, have been increasing the number of cycle trips but they are still a small fraction of those by other modes (see page 9).

The report gives some figures on public sector expenditure by region, and London receives 29% of all of it, plus another 11% is spent in the South-East. The North-West is the next biggest at 11%. This just shows how much more subsidies, both capital and current expenditure, is spent in London and the South-East than the rest of the country – but the Mayor would like even more! See page 12.

In terms of expenditure per head, London is about twice as high as any other region and amounts to about £981 in 2015-2016 per head. To look at this a different way, the expenditure per passenger journey on the railways in London was approximately £6.94 in 2015-16. Bearing in mind that most rail trips within London probably cost less than £7 you can see how massive these subsidies are (i.e. more than 100%).

The rest of Great Britain gets even bigger rail subsidies per trip at £10.30, but one has to bear in mind that many such trips would be much longer and more expensive.

In terms of road expenditure per region per user, London is relatively high but Scotland is even higher (see page 21). But London’s has been declining and has “one of the lowest spends per vehicle mile in Great Britain”.

Page 25 of the report also gives a useful breakdown of “Sources of Funding for Transport for London”. Some 47% comes from fares, 25% from central Government grants (i.e. out of taxes), 17% from borrowing, and 11% from “other income” (that would include the Congestion and LEZ charges). So Londoners get a subsidy equivalent to 53% for public transport. But this report argues Londoners pay proportionally more for its own infrastructure investments in comparison to other regions.

The recently published Mayor’s Transport Strategy argued that public transport users subsidise car drivers. On the data contained in this report, that is clearly nonsense. Public transport users are massively subsidised and the Mayor is asking for even more. See here for more information on that and how you can object: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

The full report on Transport Expenditure in London is present here:

https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/transportexpenditure_final_cin54.pdf

Roger Lawson