Open Debate Series

The Open Debate 2014 Review

“8 Million and growing… Is London grinding to a halt?”

On Monday 15 September the Institute of Civil Engineers hosted Open-City’s second annual ‘Open Debate’ to give citizen and professional alike a voice of how the city can and ought to be built.

The challenge of increased population growth and its knock-on effect on London's transport infrastructure (currently operating at or near capacity) took centre stage. Looking at predicted problems and possible solutions our chair, Alice Bhandhukravi, BBC London and expert panel (below) each believed London would not grind to a halt but that major shifts in development, mindset, politics and society needed to take place. When all said and done the lasting sentiment was - What is the optimum size for London? Rather than continuing to build to meet demand we need to set our parameters of what size and scope London can and ought to be and build toward that optimum.


  1. Neil Bennett, Partner, Farrells
  2. John Dales, Director, Urban Movement
  3. Michele Dix, Managing Director, Transport for London
  4. Jeremy Skinner, Head of Strategic Projects and Policy Evaluation, GLA
  5. Peter Twelftree, Director, Steer Davies Gleave
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Quick-fire thoughts from the Panel:

Michele Dix

  • 80% of all journeys happen by road
  • 80% of freight carried via road network
  • We need to change our approach to space and ensure its use is the most flexible possible

Peter Trelftree

  • Canary Wharf – it was the developers who paid for the extensions to DLR to Bank
  • Battersea is a transport Black Hole - Battersea Power Station developers also potentially assist Northern line extension
  • Capitalising on incentives to developers are really useful

Neil Bennett

  • Back to 1980 London at its smallest – look where we’ve come in terms of infrastructure
  • Where should we be going? Need a proper political debate not just build to accommodate.
  • Real data provided by oyster to be used further – pulse of London in real time
  • London a self regulating system?

John Dales

  • Political debate needed
  • "The history of urban transport planning has been largely one of conforming the end (the city) to the means (how we get to, from and around it). This must change. London needs urgently to establish clearly what we want our city to be like, and conform how we move people and goods to that vision. The more we think old school about how to stop London grinding to a halt, the more likely we are to kill the golden goose."

Debate Floor Questions and Answers

  • Absences of adequate river crossings – MP Nick Raynsford
  • Blackwall Tunell – is a blackwall – grind to a halt.
  • How do we get investment in London and not lose it to the rest if the uk?
  • Electric City- solar panel roads
  • Send the roads underground  - response from M Dix ‘it is where the roads ‘pop up’ that problems occur.’
  • What is the optimum size for London?
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Debate Floor Opinion #opendebate #grindtoahalt

We've successfully convinced the world we are the best city to be in But what is the optimum population size we're happy with? ‪@inessa_d_a‬

Good point by ‪@NeilBennettTFP 'Integrated planning is needed to ensure London doesn't ‪#grindtoahalt' ‪@FarrellsLondon

Nick Raynsford MP argues that London will ‪#grindtoahalt due to lack of river crossings in the east ‪@VilhelmOberg‬

Solar powered roads, underground roads and driverless cars in London by 2050? @ CharlieBlags‬

Peter Twelftree says planners can show developers where to look and where they would be welcome ‪@ICE_engineers

80% of trips in ‪#london are made on the road network says Michele Dix ‪@TfLOfficial @AuroraHorwood‬

‪@Jeremy Skinner GLA. We are a strong resilient city. Congestion is the flip side of its success. @BaseLDN


Food for thought – Pre debate poll

In the weeks leading up to the Debate, Open-City launched an online public poll to get a sense what we want from our city and if we think the city will in fact ‘grind to a halt’ – our survey results are in:

  • 51% ‘Strongly Disagree’ that London’s current transport infrastructure is adequate for today’s population
  • How important is the design of transport infrastructure to your travelling experience?
    57% responded ‘Very Important’
  • 37% surveyed argued ‘housing and land’ ought to be the Mayor’s top priority, followed by planning and transport
  • 62% believe ‘housing’ is the greatest challenge facing London today, followed by population growth at 23%
  • 38% surveyed are ‘not at all’ involved in the planning or development of their neighborhood

What initiatives do you see as preventing London from grinding to a halt?


Why is London’s growing population such a concern?

  • London’s population is expected to reach 10 million by the early 2030s and nearly 11.5 million by 2050.
  • The working age population (16 to 64) is projected to rise by 1.8M, while the over 65 population accounts for growth of 924,000 persons – an increase of 102 per cent from 2011.
  • The Mayor has identified a need for 49,000 new homes per year between now and 2025.

On a typical autumn weekday in 2013...

  • 120,000 passengers in London had to stand at trains’ busiest points in the morning peak, 20% of the overall total.
  • 24% of morning peak trains were over capacity and in total 60% had passengers standing
  • In the morning peak 545,000 passengers arrived by rail into central London (Zone 1 of the travelcard area), a 2% increase from the year before.
  • Just under 1 million passengers arrived into central London by rail across the whole day

Open Debate 2014Read more about '8 million and growing... will London grind to a halt?'

Green Debate 2014Read review of 2014 'London:Designed for healthy living?'

Open Debate 2013
Read more about last year’s debate ‘Is London building a sterile city?’