London faces immense challenges, says its mayor, Ken Livingstone, but it will rise to them

The year 2005 was challenging and exhilarating for London, and July was undoubtedly the most significant month. News that our bid to stage the 2012 Olympics had been successful, confounding the pundits and triggering an un-British euphoria, was followed within 24 hours by a series of terrorist attacks. Being selected as the host city for the 2012 Games – the culmination of three years of hard work and dedication – brought to the fore London’s unique global character, diversity, depth of talent, energy and commitment. Winning the bid and our response to the terrorist attacks of July 7 epitomize the strengths of our capital city. I am immensely proud to be London’s mayor.

Olympic opportunities

The Olympics presents us with a wealth of unrivalled opportunities in the fields of sport, business, education and culture. The Games will bring about permanent change to a derelict part of East London, transforming a brownfield site into one of the largest parks in our city and creating new communities.

When the bidding process began, few people believed that we could win, but the progress achieved in London over the past few years has enabled us to overcome all the obstacles and competition. My immediate challenge is to ensure that through our early preparations, the 2012 Olympics will leave London and the rest of Britain with a long-lasting sporting and cultural legacy.
London’s unrivalled cultural diversity means that competitors, officials and spectators arriving from around the world will be guaranteed a very warm welcome from the most enthusiastic sports fans in the world.

Global London

London offers incoming businesses a wealth of market opportunities and provides a unique gateway to international markets in Europe and beyond. The combination of a global financial centre within an open and culturally-diverse society means that London consistently attracts expanding companies from all over the world. These factors have played a large part in London being voted the best city in Europe to locate a business every year for the past 16 years.

Global opportunity abounds in our city. One in seven jobs results from foreign direct investment and inward investment contributes £38 billion ($67 billion) a year to London’s economy. More than one quarter of senior managers in our most thriving businesses are from overseas. We are actively developing our ties with the most expanding parts of the world economy. Our city can only benefit from the strongest possible business, economic, tourism and cultural links with China, Russia, India and other emerging economies – and we are well placed to develop them because of our historically-open and tolerant culture.

As China emerges as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, London, with its truly international character, is ideally-placed to become its main economic partner in Europe. It is no coincidence that Beijing and London have both been awarded the honour of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and this will add further impetus to the work we can do together. To strengthen this relationship even further and facilitate business relationships, this year. I will open London offices in Beijing and Shanghai to help foster business relationships in China and to provide support for London investment in China.
As with any urban centre, London has its share of challenges. I want to ensure that the opportunities provided by the Olympics, and by our international relationships and growing economy, will enable ordinary Londoners to benefit from new business and employment initiatives. My vision is that London’s economic growth should develop in a way that is sustainable and equitable. Two of our major challenges are improving transport and reducing our contribution to climate change.

London transport

The plan to develop our transport system is both ambitious and achievable. Since I became mayor in 2000, London has had its own dedicated transport agency – Transport for London – covering all buses, taxis, underground trains and major highways. Through this work we have achieved an integrated transport system. As a result of this success, we can now borrow substantial funds – up to £2.9 billion over the next five years – that will play a key part in our £10 billion investment programme to revitalize and expand our transport network. Trains on the Tube, which was the first underground railway in the world, will be refurbished and, over the next six years, all 253 stations owned by London Underground will be upgraded and modernized.

This February will be the third anniversary of one of my most significant and successful achievements – the central London congestion charge. Before its introduction, congestion was costing London’s economy an estimated £2 million a week. In its first two years, it reduced traffic congestion in the zone by 30%, improving the speed of our buses, reducing pollution and raising £170 million to invest in London’s transport system. Its success has proved the cynics wrong and, from February 2007, the zone will be extended westward, bringing considerable benefits to that area of London.

Climate challenge

Like most cities, London faces a formidable task in improving its environment and reducing the impact it has on the rest of the country. Climate change is a problem the world cannot ignore. Large, energy-consuming cities like London have both a responsibility to reduce their carbon emissions and, by virtue of a high population density, the greatest opportunity to take advantage of new energy systems and renewable energy.

As a city of 7.4 million people, we consume a significant share of total national resources and contribute to environmental degradation. However, because of its compact nature, London performs relatively well for a populace of this size. This is largely because Londoners use public transport more, meaning lower emissions per person than in other English regions. We are the only city in the western world to have witnessed a modal shift away from private cars to bus use, as a combined result of the introduction of the congestion charge and huge investment in the bus network.
London’s political and business leaders have come together to tackle London’s carbon dioxide emissions through the new London Climate Change Agency. The agency receives support from top British and global companies and, in partnership with private-sector firms, will design, finance, build and operate low- and zero-carbon capacity energy projects and services. These will be a mixture of combined cooling, heat and power, energy efficiency, renewables and other innovative technology in new developments and retrofit projects. The agency will seek to catalyze markets for renewable energy in London. Just as we have shown in our initiative to tackle traffic congestion, we aim to demonstrate what can be achieved by world cities in meeting our
global climate-change obligations.

Standing up to terrorism

The terrorist attacks in July brought out the strength and resilience of our city: not only the remarkable response of our emergency services and transport staff, but also the unity shown by Londoners. Almost every nation in the world is represented in the communities of London, and the unified response to the bombings shows that we cannot be divided. This is not only the best way to commemorate those who died, but also an expression of our determination that we will never change our life under the threat of terror.

Vision for the future

Devolution has been a success. I believe that we have shown that devolved power enables regions to address issues at local levels, in ways that are quick and effective. London now has better transport, a flourishing economy and stronger communities and is making significant strides in tackling pollution.

London still has much to do to build on the considerable achievements of recent years, but to do so we will need additional powers. In my response to the government’s plans for the further devolution of power to London government, I will focus on the continuing needs of the capital, including managing London’s waste more effectively, providing Londoners with the skills to compete in this new global economy and developing a planning regime that will promote our global economic status and deliver more homes.
I would like London’s government to be better-equipped to respond to the capital’s unique role as a world city. London is the engine room of the national economy. We have an effective, accountable strategic city government and unrivalled future opportunities.

Our Olympic bid success has set us an immensely challenging major infrastructure project that must deliver not just fantastic Games, but also a long-lasting legacy. There are the long-term challenges of globalization, which London readily embraces: transport, climate change, waste management and pollution.

With the right powers devolved to the city, we can face up to these difficult challenges – and I look forward to meeting them.

CV Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone, a former Labour MP, is serving his second term as the first directly-elected mayor of London. He was leader of the Greater London Council before it was abolished by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986.