London’s last 20 years have been astounding. When the GLC was abolished in 1986 a vacuum in future thinking about the city occurred in a highly charge and politicised context. 5 years later, and with some encouragement from a Government that knew new thinking was needed, HMSO published London World City, a report of the London Planning Advisory Committee, with backing from Boroughs, Business, and Government. The report crystallised a new agenda to develop London as a world city; London was acquiring new international functions and these must be championed and supported, underpinned by improved infrastructure, amenity, and quality of life. London’s competitors were seen as New York, Tokyo, Paris, and just before 1992 and the Single European Market, the emergence of Frankfurt, Brussels, and Berlin was seen as striking.

Honor Chapman was one of London’s key business figures in 1991. She worked with the emerging London First Business lobby group to build the promotional agenda for London. She chaired the London Office Review Panel for LPAC and she set up the London First Centre, becoming its first CEO, before going on to lead other ventures such as the London Development Agency and Future London. Honor died in 2009, and this year to remember her, a review of London World City is being prepared, with support from Jones Lang LaSalle, Grosvenor, Land Securities, The Great Portland Estates, and the London Communications Agency.

Government backed the new agenda in 1991 and business led the charge to promote London and to prioritise infrastructure that would enhance business performance. From 1991 to 2001, London had a remarkable decade of growth, fuelled by finance and business services and international migration, supported by new rail and aviation capability. But by 1996 it was clear that the absence of strategic government in London was creating unaffordable costs, so the Labour manifesto in 1997 called for a new city wide authority. From 2001 to 2011 London had another successful decade under the new Management of a Mayor and GLA system. Winning the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics, agreeing a new innovative financing deal on Crossrail, and building the case for London as the UK’s key economic asset.

The next decade also promises much for London, but some much trickier problems have to be solved. Recovery from the crisis means redefining London and navigating the threats that will come with tackling the banking system.  Hosting a successful Olympics is harder than wining the right to stage them. The problems that come with success such as housing shortages and inflation, income polarisation, and infrastructure over-load requires different tools from those that generate growth itself.  London’s governance arrangements need deeper investment and co-ordination powers, and more freedom of manoeuvre. But London’s ‘license to operate’ comes from proving it’s benefits to UK and building opportunity for the rest of the country. This needs shaping by and active national government and willing partners in other parts of the country.

Written in advance of Centre for London's seminar on London as a World Class City, co-hosted with London & Partners, and in advance of the publication of the follow up report in the Spring, in memory of Honor Chapman.

Michael Edwards

Your seminar must be going on as I write. I only just found out about it so I'm not coming (and anyway I wasn't invited) . This all needs debate and a close examination of the downside of the hegemonic Global City narrative which - as you show - has dominated these two decades. Honor was charming and energetic and was just what the real-estate world needed to cement and front its takeover of London strategy. But she was intellectually a very blinkered person.

If there are opportunities for a root-and-brancg debate, let me know.

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