London 2050 needs a big vision and Crossrail 2

Alexander Jan

The 2050 London Infrastructure Plan released last week highlights £1.3trillion of investment needed to meet the needs of world city with 11M people. Arup's Alexander Jan who helped develop the vision explains.

In the next few months, a record will be broken: London’s population will rise above 8.6M, the highest since records began. And the capital’s phenomenal growth isn’t expected to slow any time soon. According to projections by the Greater London Authority, the city’s population could increase to 11M by 2050.

But for all London’s current attractiveness, its long-term success cannot be assured unless we have a strategic vision for the future now. That is why, yesterday, the Mayor launched a new report, setting out for the first time the infrastructure requirements for a city that is growing by the equivalent of two busy Tube trains every week. It’s a vision to take London to 2050.

With a price tag of some £1.3 trillion, the London infrastructure plan, developed with Arup, calls for a step change in the planning, funding and delivery of infrastructure for London. Housing and transport between them represent nearly four fifths of the investment needed to 2050.

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They are estimated to have a funding gap of close to £135bn. More than 1.5m new homes – many of them affordable – with a cost of around £550bn are required.

"Housing and transport between them represent nearly four fifths of the £1.3trillion investment needed to 2050."

The report calls for a major package of investment in rail, Tube, road and aviation capacity, estimated at more than £450bn. Demand for public transport is forecast to increase by 50 per cent in total by 2050, with demand for Underground and rail services likely to rise by 60 and 80 per cent respectively. The pressure on London’s airport capacity hardly needs restating.

But population growth will have other implications. To decentralise and green our energy supply and avoid a power crunch will take £4bn of investment every year. An increasing school-age population means more than 600 new schools and colleges need to be built. And then there’s investment in our water supply, green spaces and digital connectivity. All this will require planning and delivery on an unprecedented scale.

The report is not all about tunnels, railways and power transmission, however. Cleaner air, and places for Londoners to walk and cycle are central to the mayor’s vision of the sort of city he wants to create. As recent opinion polls show, a major increase in housing provision would address one of the most pressing needs of Londoners. 

But for the plan to have the maximum chance of success, the Mayor and London boroughs will need to be given greater control of London’s local taxes and to have much more say in how key utilities are planned and delivered. Crucially, this will require fiscal devolution from Whitehall. That won’t be easy. A hundred years ago, just 5 per cent of councils’ income came from central government. Today that figure is closer to 75 per cent.  

London competes in a never-ending race to attract global talent and investment. Other cities will be closely watching how the plan evolves. For once, we are ahead of the game. Only a concerted, properly resourced infrastructure vision, combined with proper devolution of tax raising powers can secure the economic success of the city. That would be a great legacy to leave our children – and the 11 millionth Londoner scheduled to arrive in little over 30 years’ time.

Alexander Jan is director of transaction advice at Arup.

Key points in the London Infrastructure Plan

Challenges to its infrastructure:

•    Demand for public transport is forecast to increase by 50 per cent with increased demand for Underground and rail services likely to increase by 60 and 80 per cent respectively.

•    Demand on energy supplies is set to increase by 20 per cent during a period where demand on electricity supplies is forecast to more than double.

•    Thames Water projects demand for water will exceed supply by 10 per cent in London by 2025, rising to 21 per cent by 2040.

•    With an increasing school age population more than 600 new schools and colleges need to be provided.

•    To meet the demand for housing around 50,000 new homes a year must be provided.


Next steps and specifics

The Mayor will establish a London Infrastructure Delivery Board composed of senior representatives from all of the main infrastructure providers in London to utilise their expertise. The draft plan sets out detailed descriptions of how the challenges facing London might be met. They include:

•    Plans to improve transportation by maximising and extending Tube services. Crossrail 2 must be approved and further Crossrail projects may be required. Working with Network Rail, there is also huge opportunity to double capacity on the capital’s rail network. A series of new river crossings are needed and an inner orbital road tunnel should be built. A new four runway hub airport should be located in the Thames estuary, to the east of the capital.

•    Green infrastructure needs to become considered as much a part of the city’s vital systems as our other utilities. An extra 9000ha of accessible green space needs to be provided in both traditional and new ways.

•    With Broadband now considered the fourth utility the Mayor wants to see greater action taken to raise the UK and London’s connectivity to world class levels. He recommends working with the telecoms industry on a city wide connectivity mapping exercise that would be used to develop property connectivity ratings. A connectivity advisory group will be established and they will consider measures including opening up access points such as bus stops and street lights for digital providers and bringing planning applications for communications infrastructure within the Mayor’s responsibility.

•    With energy demands at risk of outstripping supply, the Mayor argues a strong long term plan to use energy more efficiently and bring in new capacity where we can is vital. A short term investment of £210m on electricity substations is required but in the long term changes to the regulatory regime must be considered as well as plans to supply a quarter of London’s energy from local sources and exploit the capital’s waste heat resource.

•    A more integrated approach to water management would help deal with demand for water which is predicted to exceed supply from as early as 2016. The plan outlines how innovative tariffs and better leakage detection could help plug the gap. He also encourages Thames Water to develop 25 year plans for wastewater, drainage and flood risk management.

•    The Infrastructure plan also outlines plans to deal with waste by moving to a circular economy where goods are designed to be reused and recycled. Many of the world’s largest companies including Renault, Vodafone and Philips are already making the shift to that form of thinking. But by 2050 it is the Mayor’s aim that very little waste will require disposal, which would result in £5 billion of savings from 2016 to 2050.