Centralisation vs decentralisation - NextGen at London Real Estate Forum

Friday 17 August 2018

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The hypothesis: As London becomes increasingly expensive to live in, work in and travel around, it is at risk of being hollowed out and losing the vibrancy that makes it such a desirable place to live and work for young people.

Should we be looking to solve the issue of affordability through increased densification of the centre or through decentralisation, encouraging a greater mix of uses in outer London centres – thinking about London as a polycentric city with clusters of activity across the whole capital?

This roundtable at the London Real Estate Forum invited the next generation of built environment professionals (participants listed below) to debate whether centralisation or decentralisation is the key solution. Two multidisciplinary teams of six, which were not allocated based on the beliefs of any one individual, argued their cases.

The case for decentralisation:

  • No-one enjoys the ‘anonymity that turns into animosity’ of living in central London, nor the increasingly packed commute, spending £4.40 a pint on average or the additional £14 a weekly shop costs compared to the regions
  • London’s population is 8.7 million and growing by 700 a week, so in 15 years will be over 10 million
  • In seven years’ time we will be a city of renters – only 40% will own their own home
  • Londoners spend an average 49% of their income on rent compared to 27% outside the capital
  • The cost of a 2-bed flat to rent has increased by 26% since 2011, while wages have risen by 9.1%
  • ‘How can anything be affordable if we carry on like this?’ 
  • ‘We live in a city where the centre focus is forced upon us, moving to inhumane conditions. The solution is decentralisation; the act of encouraging this polycentric development to move towards a more affordable city’.
  • But this requires a ‘significant shift’ in the current model
  • According to the ONS since 2001 the number of self-employed people increased by 45%
  • In 2017 more than 15% of the workforce were self-employed 
  • Between 2010 and 2016 there was an increase of 72% in the ‘gig economy’, and the demand for flexible workspace increased by 190% from 2016-2017
  • ‘Simply retrospectively densifying the centre isn’t the solution, and it can’t be’
  • ‘The answer is decentralisation and building real communities that sympathetically build upon the vibrancy and diversity that has and does make London the greatest city in the world’
  • OECD stats show that countries that go for more decentralisation have more resilient economies
  • ‘The new generations want flexibility and they want mobility and choice. To say you need a home and be tied down is counterintuitive to the younger generations and sharing everything. Renting is not bad’

The case for centralisation: 

  • ‘Centralisation is something us humans just do – we do it as a natural thing since civilisation began’ 
  • The urban population of the globe is 54%, compared to 35% in the 1960s
  • ‘Why try and push water uphill?’ 
  • ‘We would argue centralisation stretches all the way from Stratford to White City as a minimum’
  • Diversity is key for making sure centralisation works
  • ‘If you got offered a job in Hong Kong do you think you’d go without a housing allowance?’
  • Marylebone is one of the densest areas of London. ‘I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen too many protests outside the Chiltern Firehouse or Ginger Pig complaining about cramped conditions or squalor’
  • ‘Affordable housing can be essentially the item that brings your land value down, if we’re being honest with ourselves’. But it is a necessity to provide for key workers in central areas, and ultimately provides diversity of income and does not ghettoise 
  • London is the ‘undoubted global city’ – ‘we have nothing to worry about Brexit; we will always be a world-beater’ 
  • ‘Ultimately it’s our ability to attract the brightest and best for the companies and corporations of this world’, and London’s ability to adapt quickly to things like the tech market will ensure the city will not be hollowed out
  • There should be a focus on quality of space, rather than numbers
  • The true polycentric city will eat into Green Belt

At the end of the hour long-discussion and presentations, seminar chair Kevin Arnold, Partner and Board Member at Gardiner & Theobald took a show of hands and called the winning team as that proposing decentralisation.

Arguing for centralisation: 

Team captain:
James Rolton, Investment Executive, British Land 
Robert Hutton, Asset Manager within the Investment Property Group, City Surveyors, City of London Corporation
Luke Riggall, Architect, HLM Architects 
Nicola Wood, Community Insight and Engagement Manager, Grosvenor
Alexandra Lace, Senior Associate, Gardiner & Theobald
Alex Beale, Insight Manager, Landsec 
with Todd C. Lundgren, Executive Director, CallisonRTKL

Arguing for decentralisation: 

Team captain:
Liam Hewitt, Graduate Commercial Conflict Manager, Transport for London 
Craig Chatley, Senior Associate, Gardiner & Theobald
Kate Hogarth, Project Manager, Argent Related 
Jack Tyrrell-Killian, Project Manager, Swan Housing 
Ruth Richardson, Urban Design Assistant, Levitt Bernstein
Sarah Hutchison, Architect, Brick by Brick & Common Ground Architecture
with Sherin Aminossehe, Head of Offices, Lendlease, former Chief Executive Officer at the Government Property Unit

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly @davidntaylor

Read the event review by Gardiner & Theobald here, or watch their video of the debate here.  

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