London's Towns

Croydon © Hayes Davidson

London is growing all the time, but how can we manage this growth to make sure it remains an attractive place to live and work? The facts and numbers are widely acknowledged – a projected population of 10.5 million and 50,000 new homes needed by 2040 and an additional 46,000 extra jobs per year – but what does this mean in practice?

As central London becomes increasingly denser and unaffordable, the city’s outer areas see huge pressure on homes and schools, services and transport, as well as on strategic industrial and employment land as demand for new homes far outstrips supply. Yet continued resistance among policymakers and others to building on the Green Belt means that growth must be contained within the area defined by London’s boroughs. 

It is outer London’s established (and new) urban centres, therefore, that could provide the key to great places to live and to work in the coming decades as the numbers of both businesses and residents settling beyond the centre grow exponentially. Launching this Autumn, NLA’s London’s Towns Insight Study will examine the future of the capital’s outer urban centres over a series of months, with in-depth research, interviews with key experts, and industry-focused roundtables to explore the next wave of development taking place across outer London, developing policy recommendations for the new London Plan. A series of blue-sky thinking design charrettes will develop new visons and innovative ideas for the future of London as a multi-centred city.

Centres such as Croydon, Bromley, Romford and Kingston – once historic villages and market towns, but later absorbed into London’s huge suburban growth in the 19th and 20th centuries – have distinctive characters that are being reshaped with new development, alongside emerging centres at White City, the Olympic Park, Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula. But the idea of London as a multi-centred (‘polycentric’) city is still often undermined by the perception that the outer districts service the centre, putting intolerable strain on infrastructure in particular. How do we unlock opportunities for transport investment and orbital movement across the city, and what impact could this have on the way in which people live and work in the city? 

London’s local towns offer an opportunity to utilise a smarter, more intensive, affordable and attractive sub(urban) typology that integrates spaces and places for living, working, relaxing, learning and making – making places that work for local communities as well as London as a whole. However further opportunities for intensification hinge on investment in transport infrastructure, with the Elizabeth Line, HS2, Crossrail 2 and Bakerloo extension all set to unlock new areas of development, while reutilising existing infrastructure could unlock vital orbital movement, supported by the delivery of active travel schemes. In the next few decades, the introduction of driverless vehicles could radically change the way we use our streets. 

The results of London’s Towns will be promulgated throughout October-December through a research publication, major public exhibition and a three-month programme of events – including conferences, talks, debates and tours – to form part of our year-round London Boroughs programme at the NLA.

Find out more about the Study here.

Submit your outer London projects here.

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