The Big Challenges for the Next Mayor of London

10/01/2016 22:02 | Updated 10 January 2016

I'm going to cut to the chase; the next few years are going to see London's infrastructure stretched to breaking point, and the next Mayor of London has a colossal job on their hands to prevent the capital's vital services and infrastructure from bursting at the seams.

In many ways, London has become a victim of its own success. Job creation in London has been nothing short of a miracle, with the 580 000 jobs created over the last five years even outpacing the number of new arrivals in this great city. This has in turn led to vast amounts of private capital pouring into every pocket of London and regenerating even the most deprived areas and making London one of the world's most vibrant cities, attracting the brightest and the best from across the globe. If London is to repeat this success, however, there are some major challenges that will arrive in the in-tray of Boris Johnson's successor.

Throughout the term of the next mayor, London's population is forecast to grow by over half a million; from 8.7million currently, to 9.2million. That's equivalent to almost 25% of the entire growth in population that's being forecast across the whole of the UK over the same time period and comes on top of the 550,000 new arrivals in London in the last five years.

Added to this, the growth in population is demographically uneven and is creating some obvious bottlenecks. London's age profile is younger than that of the UK as a whole, with a median age of 34.0 years in 2012, compared with 39.7 years for the UK. There will be also be 17% more school age Londoners in 2036 than there are today.

All of this means that the pressure across services and infrastructure will not be evenly spread, and that some services are likely to come under very severe strain.

The first and most obvious difficulty to overcome, given the demographic lop-sidedness of London's population growth, is school places- particularly at primary level. With 40% of the shortage of all school places nationally being in London, it's clear the next mayor will shoulder some of the responsibility for helping fix one of the largest challenges in education facing any leader in local government in the country. But, given that the funding formula and overall policy is decided by central government (via the Education Funding Agency), the next Mayor will be reliant on their ability to work with the Government to fix this problem.

There is then the well-publicised and oft bemoaned housing crisis that threatens to engulf the capital. Overcrowding in occupancy of housing is a major issue in London, and although progress has been made, the sheer influx of people moving to London how put a real strain on the ability for housing supply to pick up the demand. This has all occurred during a housing market crisis that essentially ran from 2008-11 (Figure 1) and was devastating for the number of homes being constructed, as house builders teetered on the brink of insolvency and banks shunned risk and choked off lending.

Source: DCLG Housing Live Table 253a

Indeed, the London housing supply shortage thus created has led to huge price distortions- not least in the private rented sector (Figure 2). The greatest hurdle the next mayor will have to clear is an unenviable one. The big challenge is that the budget they themselves control will not build the houses required even if they were minded to do so with public money. They will have to work to free up both brownfield sites and publicly owned land to make it available for development whilst ensuring developers remain interested in developing the kind of housing being demanded by ordinary Londoners and not just catering for the high end of the market where they can make their margins.

Source: ONS experimental index of private rents

The next major challenge for Boris Johnson's successor will be to ensure that London's public transport networks are equipped to meet growing demand. Whilst an expansion has taken place at London Bridge, many outer 'hubs' for rail travel that lead to the main stations are struggling with their existing platform capacity. Meanwhile, the London underground continues to see footfall skyrocket with 18 of the top 20 busiest days ever recorded on the tube network taking place in 2015; and the number of journeys on the tube has increased by a third since the turn of the century. It will only be possible to meet this demand by continually expanding and improving the network, and the next mayor will have to work diligently to ensure the funding is secured to carry on with these enhancements to TfL's network.

These are just a sample of the big challenges that await the next occupant of City Hall, and the challenge for all of the candidates now is to inspire the inhabitants of this incredible city that they have the answers. Doing so will be key to getting an election-weary electorate out to vote in an election in which the turnout is notoriously low.