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UIC - London - SEE Challenges

The Challenges London Faces

Whilst London is a fantastic city and a great place to live and work for many reasons, it is not without its challenges. There are huge variations in wealth and access to jobs across London, and the high cost of living of London poses problems for many of the people who live there.

Social and Economic Challenges:
Challenge 1: Inequalities in Health, Housing, Education and Employment

London is an incredibly unequal city.  Billionaires live in very close proximity to people who survive on less than a living wage.  Indeed, incomes in London are more unequal than ANY other region of the UK, according to  ;
• 16% of Londoners are in the poorest tenth nationally, whilst 17% are in the richest tenth of people in the country
• The richest 10% of people in London have 60% of all assets whilst the poorest 80% of the population share just 20% of all asset wealth in London
• The top tenth of employees in London earn around four and a half times as much as the bottom tenth.
These huge differences in wealth result in big differences in people’s access to and success with in housing, education, health and employment

  Trends and patterns
Housing House prices and rents are higher in London than any other part of the country.  More people in London rent than own their house and those that rent pay more than half their weekly pay in rent. 
At the same time as those who live in poor quality, small rented accommodation, there are people living in some of the most expensive properties on the planet.

Children across London do not get equal exam grades, but some of the school’s in London’s poorest boroughs are amongst the fastest improving schools in the country.  Generally, the schools in the poorest areas score the lowest number of GCSE points per pupil.
Health The people in wealthy areas tend to live longer than those in the poorer areas of London.  The census 2011 showed that the % of people reporting themselves as in “Not good health was also highest in the areas of lowest income.
Employment Despite the huge wealth found in London unemployment remains a major issue. London’s employment rate was just 67.5 per cent in the period October to December 2011, below the average of 70.3 per cent for the UK. The unemployment rate was 10.0 per cent compared with 8.4 per cent for the UK. 


Children in  Poverty 2009

London Poverty

Life expectancy across London in 2007

London Life expectancy

% of people in ward receiving out of work benefits in November 2012

London Employment

These maps show how unequal London is for various indicators.  The wealthier areas of London with higher household incomes have been overlaid on top of the maps above.  Clearly there are more children in poverty in the lower income areas, and life expectancies are 5 years WORSE in the poorer areas than the richer areas.  The lowest income areas also have more people in receipt of out of work benefits.  All of these show the INEQUALITIES that exist in London between the rich and the poor


Click on the maps for a bigger version



Challenge 2 - Urban decline and deprivation

Urban decline is the deterioration of the inner city often caused by lack of investment and maintenance. It is often but not exclusively accompanied by a decline in population numbers, decreasing economic performance and unemployment.
Urban deprivation is a standard of living below that of the majority in a particular society that involves hardships and lack of access to resources. Places suffering from urban deprivation have visible differences in housing and economic opportunities been the rich living alongside poor people.
Despite the large wealth found in parts of London many areas suffer from both Urban Decline and the people suffer from deprivation.  It is particularly hard for the poorest people to have a decent standard of living because the prices of many things are more expensive, especially rents which account for a huge proportion of peoples incomes. The map above shows unemployment (out of work benefits) across London, and it is clear that unemployment levels are not evenly distributed or spread out.  Areas like Newsham, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets have the highest unemployment rates in the capital.
This can result in a cycle of urban decline;
Cycle of urban decline

Cycle of urban decline

Challenge 3 - Dereliction

There is a sizeable supply of brownfield land in London, which to date remains untapped. Figures published by the Government recently highlighted that there were some 250 hectares of brownfield sites, equivalent to an area just short of the size of Hyde Park that are not in line for development of any sort. The Olympic Park to the right for the 2012 Olympics is a good example of how derelict land can be brought back into use.

Challenge 4 - The impact of urban sprawl on the rural–urban fringe

The edges of cities are known as the rural urban fringe.  There has been increasing building in these areas because of housing pressure, despite Greenbelt legislation (laws) that are supposed to prevent building there.  The growth outwards of our cities into these regions is known as URBAN SPRAWL and can have many impacts on these areas;
• Extra cost to the tax payer – the public help to pay for infrastructure such as roads and water works to allow building developments to go ahead.
• Increased Traffic – extra people in these areas means that cars are used more often, which means that there is more traffic on the roads, and there is also more air pollution and more accidents
• Health Issues – people in these areas often have to commute to work which means that they often travel by car. This can have negative impacts on people’s health such as high blood pressure.
• Environmental Issues  -sprawling cities consume land, and this displaces animals from their habitat 
• Impact on Social Lives – people in sprawling communities can often live further from their neighbours, this can cause isolation.

Challenge 5 - Building on brownfield and Greenfield sites

Housing is a big issue in the UK because it is a reasonably small country in terms of surface area which has a large and growing population (the ONS thinks we could hit 70 million people in 2033).  To make the problem worse, population is not evenly distributed across the UK with lower densities the further north you go and the highest densities in London and the South East.  The result of this has been housing shortages in the SE and high property prices and rental costs. The number of households has increased 30% since 1971 due to more people living on their own, rising life expectancy and high net levels of immigration.
To solve this we need to build more homes, but WHERE to build them?
Greenbelt - tract of open land consisting of farmland, woodland and open recreational areas surrounding urban areas.  They are protected by law from new building, unless the government deems it necessary to build there.
Greenfield site – a term used to describe any area of land that has not been developed previously.
Brownfield site – an old industrial or inner city site that is cleared for a new building development.

Building in the green belt on undeveloped green field sites is a very controversial and contentious issue.  Population growth in the UK, the trend towards smaller family units and the demand for people to live at the edge of the city has put incredible pressure on the countryside surrounding all of our major cities.  In addition, the fact that land is cheaper and often more accessible at the edge of the city has meant that Light industry (e.g. Atmel at Silverlink), High Tech Industry (e.g. Sage at Newcastle Great Park) and retail (e.g. the Metro Centre) like to locate there.

The positives of brownfield and Greenfield sites are shown below;

Advantages Disadvantages
1) There is no need to clean up the site from previous land uses therefore can work out cheaper.
2) Existing road networks are not in place so don't restrict planning
3) They are often on the edges of cities where land is cheaper
4) Planners and architects have a blank canvas to work with
5) More space is available for gardens
6) The edge of city countryside environment can appeal to buyers and businesses.
7) Sites on the edge of the city are often close to major motorways providing great access
1) It is more sustainable as existing developed land is being used
2) They stop city expansion as they are already within the city - this stops the loss of countryside and reduces journey times as the city is more compact
3) Road networks already exist, as do electricity and gas networks, although these may need updating
4) It is easier to gain planning permission as councils are keen to reuse the brownfield sites.
5) The sites are closer to the CBD for shopping and job opportunities

Up to 50,000 new London homes are to be built on 20 brownfield sites, in a £400m scheme announced in 2014 by the Government. This includes an 85 hectare former industrial site in Enfield Meridian Water in Enfield, north London, where 5,000 homes, a new school and community facilities are to be built.

Artists impression of Enfield Meridian Water  The Brownfield site of Enfield Meridian Water
Enfield Brownfield

Challenge 6 - Waste disposal and atmospheric pollution

London suffers from air pollution, mainly due to the sheer size of the city, a dense road network and high buildings.  This means that central London tends to be one of the most polluted places in the UK.
London has failed many of the standards set by the EU and pollution can build up in London when anticyclones bring settled weather. London has problems with the following pollutants;
• Ozone pollution in spring and summer, this gas is a poison to the human body
• Particulate matter – these are tiny particles of solids or liquids suspended in the air. They come from carbon emissions from engines, small bits of metal and rubber from engine wear and braking as well as dust from road surfaces. They can come from natural sources and from building and industry. The tiny particles, referred to as PM10, can settle in the airway and deep in the lungs and cause health problems, premature death and the worsening of heart and lung disease.
• Nitrogen Dioxide from burning fossil fuels in cars and central heating boilers is another problem gas. It is harmful to human health giving respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and coughing. It can also lead to lung infections such as bronchitis.

London Nitrous Oxides 

London is working hard to try and protect people and clean up the air by;
• Offering a free to download app that informs people of air quality
• Cleaning up London's bus fleet by making them less polluting
• Introducing a congestion charge in central London to reduce traffic volumes
• Set new and tighter standards for the London Low Emission Zone
• Invest record amounts of money in cycling and working with Sustrans

Waste disposal
London also produces huge amounts of waste.  It uses a mixture of recycling, landfill (where the waste is dumped into the ground and energy recovery (the waste is burnt to produce electricity) to deal with this waste. The London waste management strategy is aiming to;
1. To achieve zero municipal waste direct to landfill by 2025.
2. To reduce the amount of household waste produced from 970kg per household in 2009/10 to 790kg per household by 2031.  This is equivalent to a 20 per cent reduction per household.
3. To increase London’s capacity to reuse or repair municipal waste
4. To recycle or compost at least 45 per cent of municipal waste by 2015
5. To cut London’s greenhouse gas emissions through the management of London’s municipal waste
6. To generate as much energy as practicable from London’s organic and non-recycled waste in a way that is no more polluting in carbon terms than the energy source it is replacing. This is estimated to be possible for about 40 per cent of London’s municipal waste after recycling or composting targets are achieved by 2031

Waste disposal Hierarchy




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