By David Snell
The world wants to come to London. Can London make sure they’ll get there?
One of the factors cementing London’s position as the world’s number one city in our recent Cites of Opportunity 7 report is its status as a gateway. London serves as a starting place for journeys both to Europe and the rest of the UK, and further afield to North America and Asia.
London’s geographic position, and its location smack in the middle of the time zones of east and west, has for decades provided it with a ‘natural’ advantage. And it has capitalised on that position, opening its doors to businesses and people from all around the world to drive the city’s growth and expansion. Accordingly, London ranks number one in the report for the highest number of international passengers, airport connectivity and in the top three for international tourists, hotel rooms and meetings held by international associations.
But there are some emerging strains on London’s continued ability to serve as a gateway to Europe, the rest of the UK and the wider world. Some of these are practical, some political. One key decision that embodies both concerns the construction of an additional runway at one of London’s airports. Heathrow, already by some measures the busiest airport in the world, has long held an ambition to build a third runway that would expand its capacity. Gatwick, to the south of London, has been making its case for an additional runway too. Whichever is chosen, there is a growing consensus that increased airport capacity to serve London is urgently required.
As well as getting to London, getting around once there is also a growing challenge. London records only a mid-place ranking in the Cities of Opportunity report for its ease of accessibility from the airport to the central business district. The Crossrail project, that will link Heathrow and central London, is due to be fully operational by 2020 and will help to improve connectivity. But there’s no doubt that, with the population increasing by a substantial amount every year, London’s transport infrastructure remains an ever-present challenge. A recent survey by Inrix, for example, showed that in 2015 London drivers wasted on average 101 hours each year just as a result of traffic congestion – more than double Manchester, the closest other city in the UK and higher than for many other global cities with which London competes.
Of course, being open to the world is more than a matter of physical infrastructure. And the recent EU referendum will continue to create uncertainty about how well London can fulfil its promise to be open for business. But those in charge of advocating for London are optimistic that its pre-eminent global status will endure.
London is, by many measures, among the most global of all cities in its population, cosmopolitanism and its willingness to embrace newcomers. That spirit, aligned with the commitment to continue improving the infrastructure to support a growing population, should prove hugely positive factors in London’s favour.
Update 25 October 2016:
Press release - Michael Burns, PwC Partner commented:
"We welcome the government's decision to expand airport capacity in the South-East. It will bring significant economic benefits throughout the economy, enhance London's positioning as an international hub for air traffic, and provide opportunities to enhance our global connectivity.
"Our airport capacity and related infrastructure are essential links between international people and goods and it needs to be developed quickly if our role as a competitive global exchange is to continue. Airport capacity will be key to facilitating our global trade relationships, which is especially important in a post-Brexit environment."