Our predictions for London in 2017
For many cultures the start of a new year is a time for setting resolutions and making predictions about the year to come. In that spirit, the Cities team here at BuroHappold identified what we felt would be the five hot topics for London in 2016.
So how did we do last year and what do we think are the five hot topics for 2017?
Well, first, we saw the mayoral election as triggering a year of two halves, and that we would see movement in the second half of the year after the election on some big ticket items, including the position around Heathrow.
Of course, like most, we didn’t foresee the actual Brexit result, but we did anticipate there may be a move away from London by both people and businesses if the sentiment continued to be pro-Brexit, and we certainly anticipated it dominating the political agenda.
We also correctly saw new Thames crossings, especially to the East, moving up the political agenda.
However, we didn’t get so close on everything. For example, we also foresaw the demise of Euston as the planned terminus for HS2, and yet that little problem remains out there. Indeed, if anything, Government myopia on the issue seems to have worsened.
We also anticipated housing transitioning to “infrastructure” status, and rising to the top of the political agenda, yet it clearly hasn’t (probably at least in part because Brexit has dominated so much).
So what about 2017. Well, you can’t talk about London without talking about the Mayor, especially one that is newly elected. He has two big issues on his plate, and they are our first two hot topics for 2017.
First, we have air quality challenges, especially related to diesel engine vehicles. Other cities are mobilising to address the issue, but we predict London will blaze the way with ULEZ (the Ultra Lowe Emission Zone). In 2017 people will start to realise this a big proposal, especially if, as we foresee, the size of ULEZ expands to cover much of London. If we are right, we expect push back by some sectors of society.
Second, there is the issue of the TfL budget. There is a looming hole, and filling it will start to dominate all considerations. In our view, this might all come to head as part of the review of the national rail network, as we expect, once again, to see TfL pushing to take direct control of all rail services in London.
Brexit will continue to dominate the national political agenda, but in London it will deliver its own unique issues. This brings us to hot topics three and four, housing and employment.
While the issues around housing supply and affordability will not go away, we are concerned that uncertainty over immigration (and indeed the status of resident EU citizens already in the UK) will create an environment of uncertainty that encourages people to put fundamental reform of the housing market on hold. This would be a mistake, but is in our view just one more potential and unintended consequence of Brexit.
Employment faces similar challenges. Recent strong growth in London has been driven by its ability to act not just as the capital of the UK, but in many ways, the commercial capital of the EU. It is hard to see how Brexit, in whatever form, won’t result in some migration of activity to mainland Europe, and London is likely to be at the heart of that exodus. There is a very strong danger that if employment stops driving growth in London, projects such as Crossrail2 will start to slip back down the national spending priority list.
Last year we said “the biggest change will be a move away from prevarication on the big issues that we need to address if London is to maintain its position as one of the World’s leading cities, and the start of some genuine decision making that clears the way for action”. Sadly, that brings us to hot topic number five for 2017. Even with a new Mayor, we foresee the uncertainty over Brexit creating an environment where the big issues get put to one side. Let us hope we are wrong, especially as we appear to 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.
If Brexit uncertainty does prove to be a big problem in 2017, then at least we can hope these things will be sufficiently resolved that they don’t continue to blight 2018 – and Brexit uncertainty is not hot topic number 1 in 2018.