As the Brexit negotiations near their midway point, I find many clients asking me what the future of London looks like and what its prospects are. From a business perspective, London’s future is bright. For those living within the city however, there still remains a huge amount of work to be done to fix its broken housing market. I’ll be attending MIPIM this year as part of Gleeds’ 27 person strong delegation, where I’ll be making the case for why London is, and will remain a formidable city.
London is a truly global economic powerhouse. With the largest number of foreign banks than any other city, it trades more US dollars than New York, and more Euros than all other cities in Europe combined.
Its service sector employs 3.2 million people, which is about 85% of all jobs available in its service industries. Out of this, the financial sector alone employs about 1.25 million people –approximately one in every three jobs available.
London is also a vibrant centre for the arts, fashion, film, media, design, law and computing industries. Importantly, e-commerce, the ‘flat-white economy’, and related industries ranks amongst the fastest growing sectors in its economy.
It is this melting pot of commerce and culture, set within a safe, dependable, legal and societal framework that I believe will ensure London remains the destination of choice for international business. Wwhether you’re from Japan, China, India or America - London is the gateway into Europe. Despite Brexit, London has been and will remain a good bridge-head into Europe.
With this platform for ongoing growth in London, it is essential that we work towards delivering a higher quality of life for its people; and that means focussing on housing. As an industry, we are responsible for the legacy that we will leave to the next generation.
Affordable housing is currently extremely hard to come by in London. The Halifax First-Time Buyer Review 2017 highlighted that the average deposit for a first home in London was £106,577 or 26% of the purchase price, 11% higher than that of the East Midlands or North East England regions. The government’s commitment to make planning work better for local authorities and Labour’s commitment to establish a Department for Housing (if elected) highlight theoretical steps in the right direction, but provide little in the way of concrete solutions that could be implemented now.
A contentious solution to the problem, one that Theresa May reiterated the government’s resistance to in her housing speech on 5 March 2018, is building on London’s Metropolitan green belt. Designated as a green belt in the 1950s, many parts of it are now anything but picturesque ‘green and pleasant land’. In 2015, the Adam Smith Institute stated that one million people could be housed by freeing up just 3.7% of London’s Green Belt in areas close to existing commuter stations. As has been noted by expert London commentator Dave Hill “for the green belt, it’s hard to see how the status quo can be defended in all respects.”
Those that challenge building on the green belt emphasise the threat of irreversible damage to the countryside. But as London expands, it is undeniable that it has the potential to unlock more housing, and result in a new generation of effective and sustainable construction.
So despite the uncertainties emerging from the Brexit negotiations, London continues to flourish. For those living within it however, there remains much that can be done to maintain its status as a special city in the world of cities.