Five hot topics for London in 2018

For many cultures the start of a new year is a time for reflection on the past few months and for setting resolutions and making predictions about the year to come. In that spirit, the Cities team here at Buro Happold identified what we felt would be the five hot topics for London in 2017.

So how did we do last year and what do we think are the five hot topics for 2018?

predictions for London in 2018

Well, we were very concerned last year that Brexit would distract everyone, and that certainly proved to be the case. The snap general election in June, rather than delivering certainty, just fuelled the fires of Brexit confusion. This in turn has led to high-level Government paralysis, with many important, city level decisions still not being made. The absence of a decision on Heathrow is the most obvious example of this, and while we would like to think a decision will come next year, we wouldn’t be totally surprised if our December 2018 commentary is still lamenting a lack of a decision on this critical issue.

After all, we said last year that “If Brexit uncertainty does prove to be a big problem in 2017, then at least we can hope these things will be sufficiently resolved…and Brexit uncertainty is not hot topic number one in 2018”. Alas, Brexit now looks like it will continue to have a significant impact in 2018 and, therefore, Brexit induced inactivity has to be our number one hot topic for 2018 for London, as it is for all of the UK.  Still, life does still go on, even with Brexit, London does have a Mayor, and the city remains vibrant and successful.  So, what, on a more positive note, does 2018 hold for the city?

Our second hot topic is air quality, with the challenges remaining high on the agenda for London, and with a Mayor who appears prepared to face-up to the challenge. This brings us to ULEZ (the Ultra Lowe Emission Zone). The ULEZ will start in 2019 in the same area as the congestion charge zone, a proposal that seems to be universally accepted. However, as we predicted last year, Transport for London is also currently consulting on an extension of ULEZ out to the north and south circulars in 2021. This is a significant development and will impact on many ordinary Londoners (around half the population of London lives within this area). Whilst we think everyone will agree in principle that this is needed, we suspect it will reignite the general displeasure of many over the way the purchase of diesel vehicles was being actively promoted by the Government until quite recently. To date, diesel vehicle scrappage schemes have been led by the car makers, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see greater central and or local government initiatives coming forward next year.

One area where we got things slightly wrong was in respect of new Thames crossings. We noted at the end of 2016 that these, especially to the east, were moving up the political agenda. Well, they did make the news, but not in the way we thought.  In the Spring on 2017 the new Mayor effectively pulled the plug on the Thames Garden Bridge, citing funding difficulties. Further, while the plans for the new Silvertown Tunnel were considered in a public examination in the Spring of 2017 and the Planning Inspectorate issued a report of recommendation to the Secretary of State in July 2017, a decision on the way forward has been delayed. The new deadline for the decision for this application is May 2018.  Again, air quality seems to be the major issue. Despite this, we still feel river crossings should be our third hot topic in 2018, with the Rotherhithe crossing at Canary Wharf, which is being developed as a low level moveable bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, likely to gain significant traction in 2018.

Last year we predicted housing supply and affordability would be one of the victims of Brexit uncertainty, and it is hard to see things changing much in 2018, despite the publication of the new London Plan. Employment faces similar challenges. The recent decisions to move the European Medicine Agency to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority to Paris with the loss of 1000 jobs are sure to be the first in an exodus of European agencies to the mainland continent, but what still remains unclear is how big the loss of jobs in the city will be.  We don’t believe there will be much more clarity, or indeed much more activity, on this issue next year.  Sadly we feel housing and employment won’t even make it into the “luke warm” topic list.

One of the big topics of discussion and debate during the past year, and one that will continue to be a hot topic into 2018, has been autonomous vehicles. In early 2016 promoting the idea of self-driving vehicles was often viewed as slightly cranky. Today, it is a question of simply how quickly they will be hitting our streets, and are we going to be ready for the needed changes in regulatory, planning and behavioural terms? During the course of the past year, we at Buro Happold have been running a series of design sprints across the globe, helping to identify likely challenges and opportunities Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) present. Only recently we staged a follow-up event in London to review the outputs from our work and to consider the impacts on our clients from the public and private sector perspective (key reports may be found here). What we urgently need now is a route map from central and regional Government , in conjunction with the big six power companies, to demonstrate how the growth in electric cars (predicted to be a majority of cars sold by 2030) may be supported – and in doing so, support the move to improve the air quality in our cities, as noted above.  So hot topic four is CAVs.

Finally, last year we were concerned that we could be heading for a “perfect storm” of disconnected planning in West London with Heathrow Expansion, aspirations for redevelopment at Old Oak Common and Park Royal, the ongoing HS2 issues around Old Oak Common and Euston, and the impending opening of Crossrail. Brexit inactivity means this position is fundamentally unchanged, but with Crossrail trains starting to run from the east to Paddington in December 2018, and talk of a resolution on Heathrow in the summer of 2018, perhaps 2018 will be the year people finally start to get to grips with this incredibly important area of London. Indeed, we think Crossrail, our fifth and final hot topic, may prove to be the stimulus London needs to restore confidence in its ability to rise above political storms and demonstrate why London is still the greatest city on the planet!

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