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November’s policy roundup: Rail, recovery and river crossings

November was dominated by talk of transport and the Treasury’s spending plans. Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes unravels a busy month in further detail.


Treasury resists spending on trains, trams and tubes
 

Last week the government unveiled their Integrated Rail Plan. Ministers championed the £96 billion investment programme but the axing of the eastern leg of HS2 and the downgrading of high-speed routes across the Pennines led to a political backlash. Back down south, Transport for London  painted a grim picture of “managed decline” with cancelled upgrades and reduced services if underfunding of the city’s public transport network continued.  

What we are seeing is the result of decades of underfunding public transport in this country. And different parts of the country squabbling over money is a game that Whitehall has made us play for decades as a distraction. The Treasury always resists spending money on trains, trams, and tubes. 

There has been much talk from the government of giving other city regions London-style transport systems but there is a real risk that without a sustainable, long term funding deal for Transport for London, not even London will enjoy London-style transport. The next few weeks are crucial for TfL as the most recent financial bailout expires on 11 December. What are the options ahead and what might happen? I speculated in this long read earlier in the month. 

London’s recovery lags the rest of the country 

The hotly anticipated Levelling Up White Paper is rumoured to make an appearance before Christmas, but London continues to miss out on its share of funding announcements. Successful bids to the Community Renewal Fund earlier this month saw just six projects in London successful  – representing just 1.9 per cent of total funding. The aims of levelling up are to be applauded but it is important London’s own challenges aren’t ignored: the city is the only English region with fewer pay rolled employees than at the start of the pandemic and has the highest unemployment rate. This data is a stark reminder that London’s economy can’t be relied on to just bounce back under its own steam and that London has large levelling up challenges of its own. 

Safety isn’t just a policing problem  

If Londoners don’t feel safe, then they aren’t able to make the most of what our city has to offer. Earlier this month the Mayor of London published a draft Police and Crime Plan which set out his priorities to make the capital a safer city. This plan is welcome, but more work needs to be done to address hate crime, street harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence. Crime rates and anti-social behaviour are also not just the police’s problem: the solutions include tackling deeply entrenched cultural norms, spending on public services – especially youth services – and designing places differently.

The Mayor’s powers over these non-police factors are limited. and more control of spending and investment for London’s leaders would make a bigger difference to crime rates in our city. We’ll be proposing ideas to make a safer London a reality in the final report from our London Futures programme. 

Crossing rivers and building homes

In other news November also saw the publication of a London Assembly report on River Crossings. London’s fragmented ownership of river crossings and insufficient funding is no way for a modern city to look after its key strategic infrastructure. The way the city maintains and invests in its river crossing needs to be brough right up to date, with a stronger role for Transport for London. That means giving London meaningful fiscal devolution so there are the resources to not just maintain existing crossings, but also to build new ones where they are needed the most.  

Elsewhere in infrastructure news, the Prime Minister also committed to introducing legislation earlier this week which would mandate electric vehicle charging points in all new developments. The supply of electric charging points in the city is still woefully behind demand but we should also be encouraging Londoners to travel by means other than a private car where possible. This includes improving the availability of bus, tube and rail options, as well as access to bike and scooter hire. It will be important to design any parking spaces in new developments so that they can be adapted for other purposes in future. 

And finally… 

Centre for London’s annual event, The London Conference, takes place next week. If you haven’t already registered to watch, be sure to do so ahead of Tuesday and tune in to hear from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Minister for London Paul Scully MP, Professor Kevin Fenton, Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz of Islington Council and more…  

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