London’s continued success as a leading centre for world trade and commerce is critically dependent on free-flowing, frequent and predictable travel.
But demand for the rail, road and air transport infrastructure that links London to the rest of the UK and the wider world continues to rise, as it has for decades. Much of it is at or near capacity and in many cases is ageing, heavily congested and lacks resilience when put under pressure.
Business leaders understand the criticality of London’s competition with other world cities. Do politicians? Do they understand that renewing and
expanding our transport infrastructure will underpin our competitive success and the UK’s future economic growth?
Some no doubt do. But building and maintaining a political consensus for sustained investment will be a challenge. Major infrastructure renewal in the UK is all too often the subject of sterile political debate.
And even where front benches agree, it’s not all plain sailing. The Government’s review of its aviation policy wasn’t even off the ground when transport secretary Philip Hammond took the controls and taxied it away from the previous government’s preferred option for growth in the South East, despite our airports straining at the seams.
And no sooner had the last spending round agreed investment in the national rail network, than the Government was poring over the early conclusions of its review into industry costs, having come to the view the UK’s railway receives unsustainable levels of public subsidy.
And then there’s a new high speed rail network, which will bring faster services and substantial increases in passenger and freight capacity between some of Britain’s great cities. It may eventually get a political green light and even public funding, but not before handwringing appeals are heard, to divert, culvert, reroute ore re-engineer, to protect this historic house, that precious view or this treasured habitat.
Some valuable commitments to infrastructure did survive the chancellor’s heavy axe. By 2019 Crossrail will transport up to 100,000 passengers into and out of London in the rush hour alone, and bring 1.5M more people within an hour of London’s key business centres. The Thameslink upgrade will provide a similar uplift linking the home counties to the capital. And London’s Underground is being painfully dragged from the early 20th century to the 21st.
But if London is to succeed in an increasing competitive global marketplace more needs to be done. London needs to offer business leaders reliable connections to their markets and needs to make the inevitable journeys as pain-free and hassle-free as practically possible.
With considerable uncertainty facing the renewal of national infrastructure, this is a good time to assess, from first principles, what London needs from its transport links to compete with other world cities, seek out rising international markets, and support the UK’s economic growth.
That is why London First has launched a Commission to examine the capacity, quality and resilience of the transport infrastructure that connects London to the rest of the UK and to global markets, and the constraints they face.
The panel of business leaders will take written and oral evidence from interested parties and will set out its view of a national transport strategy that will truly meet the needs of business in London, as well as the UK’s long-term aspirations for economic growth.