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July 2022 policy round-up: Hot Hot Hot!!!

Heatwaves, resignations and spiralling living costs. July ended up having more in store for London than initially might have been expected. Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes has the summary:

July’s meant to be a quieter month in the public policy world. Parliament slows down as summer recess approaches and politicians and officials drift away on holidays. A combination of (Britain’s infamous climate permitting) better weather and the end of school term sees many getting away for a few weeks. But not this year – instead, it’s been a frantic month, both with Westminster politics and Mother Nature having other ideas. How’s this affected London? Let’s break it all down:

Here Comes the Sun

As the famous Beatles song proclaims, “ice is slowly melting”.  Well, it certainly was last week as London was hit by a wave of unprecedented heat that stretched the city to the limits. The Met Office issued their first ever “Red Extreme” heat warning, with temperatures surging past 40°C for the first time. Even the worst-case estimates of the impact climate change would have on the UK didn’t predict temperatures reaching this level for many decades yet.

London was literally burning. The heatwave led to the busiest day for London’s firefighters since the Second World War, with 2600 calls made in a single day compared to a typical 500. The transport network ground to a halt, roads melted and people wilted. Many who could chose to stay at home and improvise ways to keep cool – I prepared like a war was coming, tinfoiling my windows, closing all curtains and sitting on ice packs during the afternoons. This heat is a wake-up call that London urgently needs to adapt its infrastructure and make sure that homes, offices, transport and public spaces are better equipped to deal with extreme summer temperatures. 

But it’s not just heat. Climate change is likely to see more extreme rainfall episodes, and as recent years have shown, London’s drains and sewers are simply unable to cope, leading to flash flooding. On the back of last year’s flooding, Thames Water has published a London Flood Review Report which found than an overhaul of how floods are managed is needed. 

London desperately needs to become a climate change-ready city now.

Everybody’s Changing

Droughts and sunshine are firmly to the front of Londoners’ minds, but a storm was brewing in 10 Downing Street. An unprecedented wave of mass resignations over the past month ultimately led Boris Johnson to announce his intention to step down as prime minister in September. As I write this, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are locked in a heated debate to determine his successor. 

It’s fair to say that London’s government – and particularly the Mayor’s office – have had a spikey relationship with the Government. Surely, to steal a famous political slogan, things can only get better? Some of the relationship difficulties have been due to certain individuals, so a sweeping away of those in No. 10, and potential changes at key ministries, certainly presents a chance to reset things. However, with a general election some time away, the key battleground seats remain unchanged. Being in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ in the north and Midlands, and not in London, chances of the rhetorical and policy hostility towards London ceasing are probably pretty slim. That being said, this presents a chance for London to make the case that the success of the city is crucial to the UK and the new regime mustn’t take it for granted or, worse still, enact policies that leads to a weakening of London’s position.

Will levelling up survive the Tory leadership contest? There’s been few mentions of it so far, and the slogan itself might go but yet the policy objectives remain. After all, the UK’s problems of deep geographical inequality have not suddenly gone away. 

The Only Way Is Up

Cost of living pressures continue to bite. The good news is that unemployment continues to fall, but the proportion of Londoners out of work is still above the UK average and the second-highest unemployment rate in the UK. 

For the first time in 30 years – and the first time in many Londoners’ lives – inflation edges ever closer to 10%. Low-income households are being particularly squeezed and the predictions for even higher energy costs later in the year will pile the pressure on the government for campaigners to do more to support those unable to pay to heat their homes. In a poll we conducted with Savanta ComRes back in the spring, a quarter of Londoners wouldn’t be able to meet an unexpected expense of £500.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

July is also not a quiet month for Centre for London. We’ve said hello to our new home in House of Sport in Borough and waved goodbye after five lively years to our old home in Hatton Garden. While we may miss the thrum of the diamond district, and all Leather Lane’s street food market had to offer, we look forward to being in a building that is home to many similar-sized organisations, charities and campaign groups. 

Summary of other policy developments 

One Moment in Time 

Hard to comprehend that it’s a decade since the city hosted the Olympics. With this ten year milestone have come several pieces (see here, here, and here) analysing what it meant for the city and the sporting and economic legacy of the games. After a slug of critical pieces in the Guardian (see here and here for examples), a more balanced piece was published. While the legacy is far from perfect, there is space for a more nuanced debate. Just on a physical environment level, replacing a moonscape of railway sidings, spoil tips and derelict buildings with what there is today is a hell of a legacy in my book. For those of you who want the full story, Dave Hill’s book on this is well worth a read. 

Census Working Overtime 

The first bits of data have emerged from the Census, with the GLA producing a handy analysis of what to expect and Trust for London a good twitter thread on some of the headlines. London Councils are warning that the figures undercount the true population of the city, with all that entails for how government funding is apportioned. 

Give Police A Chance 

In a rare show of public unity, the Home Secretary and the Mayor welcomed the appointment of Sir Mark Rowley as the new Met Commissioner. As I and others have commented, the task ahead is huge if the confidence of Londoners is to be restored in the city’s police, but good luck to Sir Mark, as we all need him to succeed. 

Up The Junction 

A mixed month for Transport for London (TfL). On the positive side, the new Barking Riverside extension opened ahead of schedule and the Night Tube is fully restored. On the downside, strikes are continuing, more senior talent is leaving and more money is needed to finish off the Elizabeth Line. As I write this, officials at TfL and City Hall are furiously studying a funding deal offer from the Government, that landed late Friday evening. The devil, as they say, will be in the detail. 

Electric Avenue 

Reports are that the GLA have warned there’ll need to be a halt to new homes being built in West London because the power network is insufficient to cope. Just wait until everyone has aircon. 

Moving on Up 

A YouGov poll found one in six people supported moving away from London, with Manchester the favoured location, while remote working really is becoming a big thing in The City. 

Making Your Mind Up 

And finally, the BBC and the European Broadcast Union have confirmed the UK will host Eurovision 2023. Readers will know I’m a big fan. Now the job of choosing a host city begins. 

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.