Minding the gaps in London

Ask any Londoner what the city’s greatest challenge is and they’ll probably mention the housing crisis – or, more specifically, the affordable housing crisis.

London’s population has boomed in the past 40 years from 6.9 million in 1980 to 9.6 million today. The small business base has doubled from 500,000 to 1 million. The capital now hosts 6 million jobs, £1.5 trillion of housing assets and a £4 trillion property asset base. This growth has put enormous pressure on house prices and the costs of small business space.  

That same growth, and the pressures that come with it, are impacting cities all over the world. Living, working and running a business in major cities is becoming increasingly unaffordable. At the same time, public authorities have not had the resources to allow them to plan for balanced growth, nor to build sufficient affordable housing and workspaces.  

The result is under-utilised public land that cannot be easily developed by the private sector because it is associated with public infrastructure or services.  

This is where Places for London comes in.  

Transport for London (TfL) recognised that as it holds 5,500 acres of land – 1.5 per cent of London’s land mass – it needed to create the structures and processes found in a major property company, including pursuing joint ventures with commercial investors to co-develop its land. 

Today, Places for London is a £1.8bn property company wholly owned but financially independent of TfL. With one of the largest property portfolios in London, we are committed to providing affordable spaces for people to live and work, investing in transport infrastructure, as well as supporting the shift to low carbon buildings, electric vehicle charging and sustainable transport. All of this feeds into the work we do to facilitate major town centre regeneration and world-class placemaking. 

The good news is that everything we are doing has been done before somewhere else. We are in fact building on three traditions in successful public-interest property development: 

  1. 1. Transport-oriented development 

Public transport and infrastructure authorities in other global cities have successfully densified public land uses by developing transport-connected homes, office, and districts. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, MTR in Hong Kong and JTC in Singapore are all examples of this approach.  

  1. 2. Learning from the ‘Great Estates’ 

When it comes to new investment models and approaches to creating great places there are many lessons we can learn from The Crown Estate, Grosvenor and others; those well-established estates who take a long-term perspective and shape great places within the city.  

  1. 3. Value capture for transport investment 

A key feature of TfL’s past has been the ‘Metro-Land’ approach of linking new property development to transport network expansion, so that the development can help pay for the transport. This is how the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines were originally financed, and more recently Docklands Light Railway, Jubilee Line Extension, Northern Line Extension and Elizabeth Line.

Ultimately, we want to create a greener and more connected London through our places, properties and people. The people part is important to us because London is not just bricks and mortar – it is a fabulous and diverse collection of families and communities.

We want to ensure that this real estate industry of which we are a part reflects the rich diversity of the capital. Since 2020, we’ve trained 5,400 Londoners in construction, over 2,100 of whom have progressed into work. Over the next three years, we’ll look to more than double that. Half of the people we have trained have a minority ethnic background and increasing numbers are women. 

Keeping London thriving means minding this city’s gaps and supporting its growth. Not just the housing gap, but the skills gap, the clean air gap. It means tackling the long-neglected green spaces and all the spaces that allow every Londoner, every neighbourhood and every community to thrive. 

I am excited about what lies ahead for Places for London. Our business plan includes £262m investment to support delivery of 20,000 new homes for London; £190m investment in our existing estate to deliver quality assets with improved environmental performance; and over £200m invested to deliver transport benefits on our network. 

We don’t want to deliver that alone. Creating a more connected London is about working together more collaboratively. If you have ideas for how we can create a greener and more connected city together, we would love to talk.

Graeme Craig was also a guest on the Connected Places Podcast where he talks in more depth about the work of Places for London.

Listen here