London’s population is bigger than ever before, and growing. There are now 8.6 million of us living in one of Europe’s top three capital cities.
Within the next 30 years, London’s population is expected to rise further and could well reach 11 million people. This will have major implications for housing, workplaces, schools, healthcare and leisure facilities for 2.4 million extra people – the equivalent of two Birminghams being added to London.
London’s population is expected to exceed 10 million in the 2030s
The current Mayor is beginning to plan for the infrastructure needed to support this growth in the long term, however, the environmental impacts and limits are not yet known.
This is exactly why the London Assembly Environment Committee has, this week, launched an investigation into the effects of this growth on the capital’s environment, how this growth can be mitigated and in the most sustainable way. The Committee will explore three of the biggest challenges for London – energy, water and green space.
London needs to cut its carbon footprint by 60% between 1990 and 2025 – the target currently set for London. To do it while growing in population will be harder still.
To get anywhere close to this target there will have to be a significant shift in the way we acquire and use our energy. Will electricity replace gas for cooking and heating, and petrol and diesel for transport? What low-carbon sources will provide the electricity? How will the power grid need to transform to cope?
Water is equally essential, but there is a projected 10 per cent shortfall of supply versus demand in London as early as 2025, growing to 21 per cent by 2040. The groundwater and rivers of the south-east are already drawn on heavily – to take any more would damage those environments even further. Heavy rainfall is a problem in London – at the moment we build our streets and drains to get rid of it as quickly as possible to avoid flooding.
Can we capture and use more rainwater, turning two problems into one working system? What needs to be in place in order to recycle our waste water or sewage?
London is one of the greenest cities in the world. More than 13,000 species inhabit 3,000 parks, 30,000 allotments, three million gardens and two National Nature Reserves.
40 per cent of the capital’s surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space, making it the ‘greenest’ major city in Europe. Our green spaces also provide Londoners with places to relax, play and exercise and protect us against flooding.
As the city’s population grows, it has been estimated that we will need at least another 10,000 hectares of land (equivalent to 70 Hyde Parks) for housing alone. London’s land area isn’t getting any bigger so how can this possibly be resolved? Current policy is to build on brownfield sites, but there are only so many of these available and many plots are important habitats for small wildlife.
Can we find ways to get more uses out of each site, using leisure areas for flood protection for example?
The Committee will explore these questions and more, kicking off with a visit to the Barking Riverside development this week.
Do you have an opinion on this topic? What do you see as the challenges of London’s growth? How can the city grow sustainably?
We want to hear from you: email your ideas to EnvironmentCommittee@london.gov.uk or come and listen at our next public meeting at City Hall on 1 October.