You might remember from our recent blog on the December’s Northern Powerhouse conference that there don’t seem to be many dissenters against the idea of devolving more power to northern cities.
If Monday’s ‘What would devolution do for London?’ debate hosted by New London Architecture is anything to judge by, that’s the case down south as well. At a closing show of hands just one member of the audience disagreed that London would benefit from increased devolution.
The LSE’s Tony Travers, Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property Richard Blakeway, LB Croydon’s Colm Lacey and Centre for Cities’ Ben Harrison all gave broad backing to giving local government in London more control over its finances – particularly the London Finance Commission’s proposals to devolve property taxes to local authorities in London.
This all makes sense from a development perspective – keeping more of the fruits of development will encourage London Boroughs to invest in infrastructure that supports development. However with 25 years’ experience of consulting communities in London on development we’re interested in how this might play out on the ground.
Opponents of development from Southwark to Stratford already claim that cash-strapped councils will sell off land and wave through high-value schemes at the expense of existing residents – cue emotive, headline-grabbing protests from single mothers and other, equally headline-grabbing appearances from a certain well-known entertainer-cum-revolutionary.
The pitch and volume is only likely to increase as the value of development increases for local authorities. If developers and Boroughs want to protect their reputations, it will be imperative to communicate the benefits devolution would mean for local residents and businesses alike.
We also think it’s worth considering what happens next in terms of development. All the signs show that London is likely to continue to expand – which means at some point opening a dialogue with the boroughs surrounding the Capital about the infrastructure and housing needed to support this.
Questions of who foots the bill and who’s in control will go hand in hand with these discussions. With relations tense between several English cities and their neighbours over expansion, this is going to be one of the stories to watch in London government over the coming years.
Devolution has the potential to bring huge benefits and growth for London. But expect conflict down the line if it’s not handled with care and discretion.