Andrew Adonis: London 2030

John Rentoul

photo 15 e1396549902332 225x300 Andrew Adonis: London 2030Andrew Adonis gave a great lecture on the 39th floor of Canary Wharf tower last night. An edited version of it is published on The Independent website.

After surveying London’s history since Christopher Wren, Lord Adonis concluded that the city has expanded successfully when it has had a plan. Then he set out his vision of London in 2030, which would have housed an extra one million people in more than a dozen “city villages”.

His futuristic vision had some nice touches:

It was when the average London house price reached £600,000, and the newly launched TV channel London Live raised its famous petition of 2 million Londoners demanding a million homes by 2030, that action followed. Within a month, the Mayor and Prime Minister Ed Miliband agreed the 2016 Growth Deal for London which gave the Mayor and the boroughs more of London’s property and development taxes in return for a commitment to a million homes and London undertaking to pay for most of the transport and other infrastructure needed to support them.

Adonis did not say who that Mayor would be, but the audience knew that he would like to be Labour’s successor to Boris Johnson, whose second term ends in 2016. (Adonis had a good line about some of the things in the future that had not gone so smoothly: “Boris’s extension of the cable car to Downing Street was a security nightmare.”)

That was why it was interesting that Michael Heseltine had agreed to take part in the event, organised by the Mile End Group and the Politics department at Queen Mary University of London, where Adonis is now a visiting professor.

Hezza offered a crisp response to the lecture, delivered without notes. He did not endorse Adonis, of course, and disagreed about who would be prime minister in 2016. But he paid tribute to such an unusual politician, who had spent a week on London’s buses to find out what the problems are for the people. And he spoke of the “cussedness and determination” needed to make big urban regeneration happen.

He also said:

My preoccupation at this time of my life is to get central government to let go and embrace the talents of the people.

Also speaking in response to Adonis’s lecture was the brilliant Professor Tony Travers, of LSE, who injected what I thought was a necessary note of economic caution into the proceedings, saying that he was all in favour of building more houses, but would this not lead to more demand and mean that new building would always be chasing house prices?

Here, though, was how Adonis concluded his lecture:

When Christopher Wren put his plan to Charles II, this is what he said: “Nothing will more Discover abroad the Weakness of our Government … [than] That having an Opportunity in their hands of doing one of the greatest Benefits that can be done to the Publick, They are unable to bring it to Pass, or unwilling to be at the trouble.”

That was the challenge then. It is the challenge now. It is our choice.

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  • Pacificweather

    Wren was a good coman. He conned the government about the size of the dome of St Paul’s. Is Adonis a good enough conman to get the job and get it done?

    I think he would make a good mayor because, thanks to you John, I know some of his story but even John Rentoul does not have a readership large enough to bring that story to the public. He is a Lord, he has never been an MP and, although a driving force in government, he is virtually unknown. He needs a good story and a great publicist.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    Wren’s plans were thwarted, it’s often said, by the hundreds of owners of small plots of land who wanted to rebuild as they, individually, saw fit. Today’s governments often find their ambitious plans similarly thwarted by hundreds of thousands of property owning Nimbys.

    There was an amusing satirical sketch on the radio once about the likely reaction to the initial plans for Stonehenge – “what do we want a bloody henge here for anyway? It’ll only bring hordes of druids here with their nasty foreign ways…”

  • Pacificweather

    Thank God for Nimbys. It’s a shame there were not more when the tower blocks were built. 50 years later and they are blowing them up for the opening ceremony of The Commonwealth Games. Planners: can’t live with them, can’t shoot them.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    Pah! What about all those now-much-sought-after houses built in the 1950s and 60s to say nothing of those from the 20s and 30s? If the stick-in-the-muds and Nimbys had been around then we’d mostly still be living in charming bijou slums. (Or still swinging through the trees – I bet if there’d been a referendum about living on the ground the majority would have voted for staying aloft. “The old ways are best – just because we like grumbling about everything doesn’t mean we’re open to change”)

    Don’t judge planning by its disasters, the glass is much more than half full.

  • Pacificweather

    You acknowledged the tower block disaster. My glass half full nomination is Harlow. What’s yours?

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    Pah! You sound like the prissy lefty snob from Primrose Hill or somewhere similar who wrote in the New Statesman sometime around 1975 about all the “horrid little houses” being built near Bletchley as part of the Milton Keynes development.

    The following week there was a rather fine letter from someone who lived in one of the horrid little houses saying how much they loved it and how much better it was than the place in the East End they’d been in before.

    If Harlow’s so awful how come house there are in such demand?

  • porkfright

    A great lecture would probably be one given by Emerson, Bertrand Russell, John Cowper Powys, or T.S.Eliot.

  • Pacificweather

    Stop trying to speed read. It isn’t working for you. I wrote glass half full nomination not glass half empty nomination. In case you have memory problems too, that was your expression.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    Ah so that’s what you meant is it? My misunderstanding. But Harlow, Milton Keynes, Stevenage etc illustrate my original point about the awful power of the stick-in-the-muds and nimbys; they’ve never get built today. The Labour and Coalition governments both proposed new towns in the northern home county / southern Midlands area but both retreated under populist pressure.

    Likewise where I live, as in thousands of towns and villages in southern Britain, there’s vocal opposition to any building in nondescript fields coming mainly from people who live in houses that were built on similar land only twenty or thirty years ago. “We’re all right Jack, screw you”. It’s all rather depressing…

  • Pacificweather

    I am sorry you live among my friends when you could be living in Cumbernauld. Local fresh grown produce is so overrated and so bad for the economy. It is, as you say, all rather depressing. But on the plus side, I heard recently, that the Duke of Westminster is going to build 10,000 houses on his estate and turn his London properties into social housing. Can only be good news.

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