Sunday, 8 January 2012
London, The Dying Of The Light
Up to London yesterday and it was quite strange. Not too many people around, plenty of seats to choose from in the gardens and an air of detachment amongst many of those about. Take out the football supporters on the march and the theatre goers up for bargain price offers and there were not many others.
Because we had time in hand we decided to wander round a few streets that we hadn’t looked at in a while. A great many places had been turned into eating outlets of one sort or another and a surprising number were out of business. Also, a good many of the old specialist shops had gone as well as local suppliers.
London has changed again, but the question is whether that change is one that is part of a dynamic progress and growth or something else. It is all very well for politicians and media people to prattle on about how change must be for the better but it does not always work out like that.
In the UK I have seen a great many communities of one kind or another go through changes and there is little doubt that quite a lot are a lot worse off than they were. Many are on almost life support systems of public sector spending and benefits.
In London there has been, is and it is proposed to have spending of a vast amount of money almost across the board. Not simply in actual spending but in subsidies of one sort or another and allowing tax avoidance on a large scale by the major parts of the financial sector. The transport works already completed, in progress and planned must rival the total for those of the rest of the UK.
Additionally, many of the large scale property developments planned before the Crash are still under way and taking in a great deal of both private and public sector resources. The Thameslink work on the railways south of the river is well under way and beside them The Shard building has taken shape.
This will offer 12,000 jobs for the future it has been said of which a huge 150 are being reserved for local workers. Whether the future workers at The Shard are supposed to find housing in central London, unlikely at present prices; or commute is not known.
If they have to commute they will need good money because the season tickets to places like Sevenoaks are now hitting £3000 a year with a good couple of thousand if you need to park your car daily close to the station.
As for the situation in schools and hospitals for the most part the less said the better unless, again, you have big money available. For all the talk of diversity there is a diminishing amount of it in the London economy. Once it was a major manufacturing area but a good deal of this has gone, never to return.
Additionally, many other activities, minor, small in scale, but serving local, regional or national needs are gone or going elsewhere if not shutting down altogether. Their going is hardly noticed and does not register in the statistics and it takes someone who knew districts from the past to be aware of this form of attrition.
This could be a very long post but my feeling is that for many reasons and complex causes London is now an urban sprawl not just on the brink of decline but one that has begun already.
The real question is how fast and nasty it could be and that poses a great many other questions for the UK as a whole.