Five things to take from this year's London Infrastructure Summit

The London Infrastructure Summit was convened this week, in the run up to a Mayoral election and with housing and transport top of the bill. Here's five things Infrastructure Intelligence took away from this year's event


1. Transport and housing are inextricably linked

While London's Mayoral election is being fought with housing dominating as the principal issue (both of the leading candidates Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith have made solving the capital’s housing crisis their number one priority) the key message from the conference was that the key to unlocking that housing was Crossrail 2. It was made clear from the start of this year’s event that doubling housebuilding to achieve 50,000 homes every year was the big challenge for London’s next mayor, but transport is the big enabler and London needs a lot more of it.

“The only growth incentive that really works is transport,” said the outgoing deputy mayor for policy and planning Edward Lister. The head of London residential at Savills, Dominic Grace, agreed: “Development has to have connectivity or it is doomed to failure.”

Andrew Adonis, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission used the conference to launch the commission’s report on strategic transport in London – which has thrown its weight behind Crossrail 2 as vital as a vehicle for growth and to eleviate congestion. "Without it congestion on the Tube network will become unbearable and operationally unsafe,” he said. 


2. London needs a single housing authority

Better coordination of housing development got more than one mention as a pressing need for the capital. Lendlease’s head of infrastructure, Clare Hebbes, contrasted the long and drawn out delivery of the International Quarter at Elephant & Castle with recent success developing the Olympic Park. “To make a giant leap in progress we’ve got to get out of being a cottage industry and get more coordinated,” she said.

The answer to this could be a pan London housing authority, said Dominic Grace. Taking Transport for London as the example of a good hollistic approach, Grace said a ‘Housing for London’ could have a mandate similar to that given to Michael Heseltine for development in the north.

Last week, the final report of the London Housing Commission came to a similar conclusion. It called for government to grant a new devolution deal that would give the mayor and boroughs more planning powers via a cross-London housing committee, in return for binding commitments on delivery.  

“We want land freed up and we want building accelerated. It needs a mindset like that of the ODA for the Olympic Village. The key thing is having a deadline, but to really galvanise the public and private sectors into action, it will take strong leadership, one that can sort out the clunky relationship that mayoral bodies currently have with the London boroughs,” Grace said.


3. Can we afford another Crossrail?

Working closely with local councils is going to be crucial for realising the development potential of Crossrail 2, to get a scheme that people want, said Adonis. His report urges George Osborne to back the project, committing the £160m it needs for further development.

A hybrid bill could then be submitted to Parliament by 2019 and the whole thing could built by 2033, he said. However, he also acknowledged that at £32.6bn, Crossrail 2 looks very expensive. Costs have to be looked at again and phasing considered to make it affordable. He also said lessons have to be learnt from Crossrail 1 – the Elizabeth Line – and more done to bring in funding from business and rising property values. So far TfL has estimated just half of the overall cost could be sourced from business rates.

“Crossrail 2 has the potential to unlock building of an additional 200,000 homes, to add 10% to London’s transport capacity and relieve congestion to give more capacity on existing rail routes further out,” Adonis said. “The immediate focus of the project should be on the line’s outer reaches, to maximise the development potential in the south west and in north London.”


4. Where now for Network Rail?

Network Rail chair Sir Peter Hendy was giving little away on the likely content of Nicola Shaw’s rail review due to be published next week. Speaking at the London Infrastructure Summit, he said he expects Shaw will endorse what NR chief exec Mark Carne is already doing to devolve the organisation into a new route based structure.

He also spoke out in praise of both Network Rail and Transport for London. Both employ a lot of people doing good work to make networks work better, he said. “What NR needs in the short term is stability, with more customer focus and devolution,” Hendy said. He also said the sell-off of station assets – retail units at major stations and the railway arches portfolio – is already underway. Hendy also confirmed that NR will be seeking more private sector contributions.

“I see no reason why people that will benefit from a better railway should not help to pay for it,” he said.


5. South east airports can agree on some things

The three CEOs from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted couldn't resist squaring up for another round of 'our's is best', but John Holland-Kaye (Heathrow), Stewart Wingate (Gatwick) and Andrew Harrison (Stansted) were agreed on national connectivity: all airports need better rail connections. "We need from government joined up policies on rail, road and airports," Holland-Kaye said.