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Building infrastructure and keeping the kids happy

A few years after the Docklands Light Railway – the metro line that serves east London - launched, I took my daughters on board to explore the mysterious backwaters to which it offered access.

They had exotic names like ‘Canary Wharf’, a new development that no one was sure would amount to very much when the DLR opened its doors in 1987.

For the children, the DLR had - and still has - two key assets.

Firstly, it is automated so there’s no driver (you can’t beat the notion of being on a runaway train to get kids excited).

Secondly, the track rises and falls like a junior rollercoaster; another sure-fire winner.

However, the true genius of the DLR was not as a way of keeping my daughters entertained, but rather the connectivity it offered to Canary Wharf and the wider Docklands.

After delays to extending the Jubilee line due to a lack of development in the Docklands, the realisation that pushing ahead with transport links would help support and catalyse this huge regeneration project, was a game-changer.

Now, almost thirty years after the DLR opened, it feels this message - that development and connectivity must go hand-in-hand - is finally sinking in.

Both the Autumn Statement and National Infrastructure Plan offered signs of this.

“It feels this message - that development and connectivity must go hand-in-hand - is finally sinking in”

Take the government’s offer of a £55m loan to support the extension of the London Overground to Barking Riverside. This was explicitly linked to the delivery of nearly 11,000 homes.

Elsewhere, the chancellor confirmed an additional £2m of funding to be used to prepare a full business case for Crossrail 2.

This scheme has been inextricably linked with the development of up to 200,000 new homes from the very start - an illustration of the joined-up thinking that is increasingly a hallmark of big infrastructure projects. 

So while we welcome these moves by the Treasury, it is perhaps the underlying narrative that is more important.

I get the feeling that the notion of a symbiosis between infrastructure and development is now becoming embedded in the minds of the Powers That Be. This is a huge step in the right direction.

Of course the Autumn Statement also showed just how much further there is to go to solve the many development challenges facing the capital.

Changes to stamp duty may have grabbed the headlines, but they won’t solve the drastic under-supply of housing.

And while generous concessions were made to Wales and Northern Ireland on the devolution-front, London (with an economy bigger than those countries put together) was ignored.

If we really want to take advantage of linking infrastructure and housing we must give local leaders the powers needed to invest in the city and make long-term decisions.

We have to do all this because my children aren’t so easily entertained these days. Like many others the questions they are asking

are rather weightier; questions like: ‘will I ever be able to afford to buy a house?

Or ‘how can I make my commute to work passably tolerable?’

Jo Valentine is chief executive of London First.

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