Good transport links will be the foundation of new homes for London

Not enough of these. Image: Oli Scarff/Getty.

The latest in the Future of London series, presented by Transport for London.

This time: how can we solve the capital’s housing crisis?

Ask a random group of Londoners what is the biggest challenge for the city and most will agre: housing. People are increasingly being priced out of inner London, and “generation rent” are wondering if and when they will ever be able to get on the property ladder. Recently, we’ve even heard stories of young Londoners relocating to Berlin, where property is cheaper and globally mobile jobs are available.

The problem is being compounded by population growth. London now has 8.6m residents – more than at any time in its history – and is predicted to reach 10m by 2030. That gives the city a monumental challenge: building the homes to house 1.4m more inhabitants when there’s already a housing crisis.


The city has a housing target to build 49,000 homes a year. Meeting that target means building 4,000 homes a month, or one home every 10 minutes.

The next mayor, elected in May 2016, will have to work round the clock to solve the housing crisis. If they don’t, it could cost the economy £35bn over the next 10 years.

The next mayor isn’t going to put a hard hat on, get their shovel out and build the houses themselves, but they will have a good toolbox with which to work. In the UK, London’s mayor has unmatched powers over strategic planning and, crucially, an integrated transport network, to unlock land for development. If combined with a clear vision and leadership from City Hall and supported by national government, London can deliver the homes Londoners need.

One of the pressing questions is deciding where the houses should be built. Mayoral hopefuls are looking at options including building outside the city’s boundaries, capitalising on opportunity areas, densifying parts of inner London and developing town centres in outer London. They are also looking at using parts of public sector-owned land to create homes.

Connecting homes with jobs

For each strategy considered, the next mayor will also need to look at effective transport links, which are fundamental to unlocking housing potential and to London’s economy.

The most productive workers in the country work in central London. The firms they are employed by need to recruit from a wide pool of candidates, with many commuting from across the South East to work there. Seventy-nine per cent of workers in central London travel into work by train, and they travel further than commuters across the rest of Britain.

But the jobs they do are often globally mobile, making the imperative of providing affordable homes even more pressing. Seventy-three per cent of London businesses think that the current housing shortage poses a risk to the city’s economic future. Firms looking for global headquarters will consider risks like that when they look at locating in London.

Economic activity unlocked by Crossrail 2 would deliver a sum more than sufficient to pay half of the scheme’s costs

Meanwhile, firms locating in outer London will also expect their employees and customers to be able to access them easily. This requires an effective road network and connections for people cycling, walking and using local bus services.

Good transport links are therefore vital to unlocking the developments which are needed to address the housing shortage and maintain London’s competitiveness. Crucially, the housing they unlock can help to fund the transport schemes themselves.

Under the capital’s control

The planned extension of the Northern line, running from Kennington to Battersea, is being funded in part by the developers building on the land around it. The area is expected to deliver 16,000 new homes for London. A further 24,000 homes could be built around Old Oak Common, an area set to benefit from improved links on the London Overground and High Speed 2 lines, while new bus and cross-river rail links could unlock 11,000 new homes at Barking Riverside.

Another scheme that could be part-financed by Londoners is Crossrail 2, with the capital funding more than half of the cost of the scheme. Economic activity unlocked by Crossrail 2 would deliver billions of pounds of net additional tax receipts, a sum more than sufficient to pay half of the scheme’s costs. It could support 200,000 new homes across London and the South East, deliver transport and regeneration benefits, and support around 60,000 jobs across the UK during construction.


With the equivalent of two full Tube trains of people being added to London’s population every week, the city cannot afford to let Crossrail 2 sit on the drawing board. If Crossrail 2 is given the go ahead, work could start by 2020 and be finished by 2030. 

London’s next mayor will have the powers to unlock new housing, and will undoubtedly have a strong mandate from voters to do so. By integrating new developments with the existing transport network, improving links and ensuring that the right financing for projects is in place, the next mayor can deliver thousands of new homes.

But their capacity to push forward and finance schemes like Crossrail 2, which could transform housing supply across the city, still lags behind competing cities like Berlin.

To catch up, giving the mayor more powers to plan for the long-term and secure funding, could transform the city – and have a dramatic effect on whether Londoners will face the same challenges in years to come. 

The future of London series is supported by Transport for London, and commissioned by CityMetric. You can see the other articles at the following links:

"What will the capital look like in 20 years time?" The powers the capital needs to thrive

"Data helps us provide better transport": an interview with Shashi Verma, TfL's Director of Customer Experience, about big data and new methods of payment

 
 
 
 

In a world of autonomous vehicles, we’ll still need walking and cycling routes

A Surrey cycle path, 1936 style. Image: Getty.

The CEO of Sustrans on the limits of technology.

We are on the cusp of dramatic changes in the way we own, use and power our means of transportation. The mobility revolution is shifting from an “if” to a “where” and when”.

There are two different futures currently being imagined. First up, a heaven, of easy mobility as portrayed by autonomous vehicle (AV) manufacturers, with shared-use AV freeing up road space for public spaces and accidents reduced to near zero. Or alternatively, a hellish, dystopian pod-world, with single-occupancy pod-armadas leading to an irresistible demand for more roads, and with people cloistered away in walkways and tunnels; Bladerunner but with added trees.

Most likely, the reality will turn out to be somewhere in between, as cities and regions across the globe shape and accommodate innovation and experimentation.

But in the understandable rush for the benefits of automation we need to start with the end in mind. What type of places do we want to live in? How do we want to relate to each other? How do we want to be?

At Sustrans we want to see a society where the way we travel creates healthier places and happier lives for everyone – because without concerted effort we are going to end up with an unequal and inequitable distribution of the benefits and disbenefits from the mobility revolution. Fundamentally this is about space and power. The age-old question of who has access to space and how. And power tends to win.  

The wealthy will use AV’s and EV’s first – they already are – and the young and upwardly mobile will embrace micro mobility. But low-income, older and disabled residents could be left in the margins with old tech, no tech and no space.

We were founded in 1977, when off the back of the oil crises a group of engineers and radical thinkers pioneered the transformation of old railway lines into paths that everyone could walk and cycle on: old tech put to the service of even older tech. Back then the petrol-powered car was the future. Over 40 years on, the 16,575-mile National Cycle Network spans the length and breadth of the UK, crossing and connecting towns, cities and countryside, with over half of the population living within two miles of its routes.


Last year, more than 800 million trips were made on the Network. That’s almost half as many journeys made on the rail network, or 12 journeys for every person in the UK. These trips benefited the UK economy by £88m through reduced road congestion and contributed £2.5bn to local economies through leisure and tourism. Walking and cycling on the Network also prevented 630 early deaths and averted nearly 8,000 serious long-term health conditions.

These benefits would be much higher if the paths on the entire Network were separated from motor traffic; currently only one third of them are. Completing an entirely traffic-free walking and cycling network won’t be simple. So why do it?

In a world of micro-mobility, AVs and other disruptive technology, is the National Cycle Network still relevant?

Yes, absolutely. This is about more than just connecting places and enabling people to travel without a car. These paths connect people to one other. In times when almost a fifth of the UK population say they are always or often lonely, these paths are a vital asset. They provide free space for everyone to move around, to be, and spend time together. It’s the kind of space that keeps our country more human and humane.

No matter how clever the technological interface between autonomous vehicles and people, we will need dedicated space for the public to move under their own power, to walk and cycle, away from vehicles. As a civil society we will need to fight for this.

And for this reason, the creation of vehicle-free space – a network of walking and cycling paths for everyone is as important, and as radical, as it was 40-years ago.

Xavier Brice is CEO of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans. He spoke at the MOVE 2019 conference last week.