Blog Post

August’s policy roundup: Transport, tourism and toxic air

Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes shares his thoughts on the London policy issues dominating discussion in the final stretch of summer.

This August has perhaps felt a bit more normal than last year, with more of us finding time to have a break. Although the domestic tourism industry continues to benefit from limitations on foreign travel, as is mentioned below, London does not seem to be sharing in this boom. As we gear up again for September, the local elections next May will increasingly become part of London public policy debates. It’s going to be a fevered period with issues such as low traffic neighbourhoods, pop up cycle lanes and outdoor dining likely to dominate the campaign. How councils across the capital respond to these pressures will be one to watch…

A mixed picture for London

This month has been a mix of ups and downs for London’s economy. The latest regional GDP data showed that London is the only region across England and Wales whose GDP is still above 2016 levels. This is encouraging but elsewhere parts of London’s economy are still at risk. Unemployment continues to fall in London but the capital still has the highest rate of any region, while a new CEBR study suggests that London has been doubly hit by a drop in revenue from overseas tourists. While the capital enjoys its status as the UK’s most popular destination for international visitors, London isn’t seeing the benefits of Brits holidaying at home. We may however see a small boost in September with the arrival of new university students, following recent news that that London remains the best city in the world to be a university student, ahead of rivals in 114 other cities.

Extreme weather set to become more frequent

The IPCC also published its first report on the science of climate change since 2013, laying out how extreme weather events like the recent flooding in London are likely to become more frequent and intense. We urgently need to cut our carbon emissions if we’re going to avoid global temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees. London has set ambitious targets but much more needs to be done to meet them, something we explored at our conference earlier this year. But we must also do more to mitigate against future heatwaves and flooding too, by strengthening our flood defences and increasing the amount of green space across our city.

Toxic situation for London’s children

Raising children in London shouldn’t damage their health, but shocking figures unveiled by City Hall this month show that it does. More than 1.3 million children in London attend schools in areas with toxic air that exceeds legal limits. Half of London’s air pollution comes from road transport so it’s vital that we implement new measures to significantly reduce vehicle pollution. The Ultra Low Emission Zone in October will be a big step but now is the time for City Hall to be bold and introduce a pay-per-mile road user charging scheme to improve air quality, encourage walking and cycling and reduce congestion.

New walking and cycling measures

With that in mind, the government announced new walking and cycling measures earlier this month, outlining proposed changes to the Highway Code, which would give road users who can do the greatest harm more responsibility for others’ safety. This change is welcome but simply telling drivers to give way to pedestrians and cyclists won’t work on its own. The government will need to continue to invest in new infrastructure and raise awareness of updates to the Code to make this statement a reality. And of course, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear me say that a long-term financial settlement for Transport for London would ensure future investment in walking and cycling infrastructure in our capital works best for London and Londoners.

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter.