This map shows London’s 1940s plan for a new underground rail network

St John's Wood station, 1939. Image: Getty.

It's a scary world out there right now. We still don't have a plan for Brexit. The Arctic isn't freezing like it ought to. Donald Trump is Donald Trump. So, let's take a moment off from our busy schedule of legitimate existential terror to talk about something pointless but comforting.

In 1943, London County Council commissioned Sir Patrick Abercrombie and John Henry Forshaw to produce the County of London Plan: a document explaining how the city would be rebuilt after the War to ensure it had adequate housing, transport and green space.

The Abercrombie Plan, as it became known, is one of the great urban planning documents, and one of the great “What ifs”, of British history. It proposed a system of “ringways”, motorway-grade orbital roads, and arterial roads connecting them; in between, urban areas would be separated by a network of parks. Some scraps of this plan came to pass (the Westway, the North Circular, the M25). Mostly, though, it never happened: as it turned out, people didn't want to demolish the city to build great big motorways through it. 

Less famously, the Abercrombie plan also proposed a bunch of new railway tunnels. Which brings us to our map:

Click to expand.

It's not the easiest map to read, so here's what we're looking at:

Project A: The North Bank Loop, a new underground route taking trains from Battersea, to Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street and on to Wapping and Deptford.

Project B: A second loop, taking trains that run into London Bridge underground into a new route connecting the stations on south and north banks of the Thames.

Project C: A deep level replacement for what is now Thameslink, carrying trains from Elephant and Castle through Blackfriars and onwards towards King’s Cross.

Project D: A new deep level version of the northern Circle line, freeing up the existing route to become a freight route (the “Inner Goods Ring”). Not shown on the map, there were also proposals for an Outer Goods Ring, somewhere or other – details on that are a bit sketchy..

Had the plan gone ahead, moss mainline trains from the south would be redirected to one of the new lines. All this, it was intended, would allow the city to tear up a bunch of overground railway linses and bridges, making it possible to redevelop the then-largely industrial South Bank.


These plans went through various iterations over the next few years. New lines appeared, too, including one variously known as “Route 8” or “Route C”: a fast, deep level tube line lining Finsbury Park and Brixton, which eventually appeared, in the late 1960s, as the Victoria line.

But mostly, it never happened. From the perspective of 2016, when the South Bank – railway viaducts and all – is doing rather well, this seems rather a good thing.

Some of these ideas still look pretty good, however. Imagine a sort of circular Crossrail, improving connections between the south London railway network and central London and freeing up space at the mainline terminals. We can dream, can't we?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed that. We now return you to the end of the world.

(Hat tip: David Turner.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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