Peter Hall’s book, London 2000, is a useful corrective to a good deal of loose thinking about “planning”, if only because it states, with great gusto and conviction, a point of view that sharply contradicts theories that have been accepted uncritically for many years. If Peter Hall has done nothing else he has sparked off an intense controversy about the future growth of London and the South-East by saying, without any equivocation, that the drift of people and jobs to the South-East is not only inevitable, but desirable, because it reflects the “built-in inevitabilities” of economics and the desire of the people themselves for a better life. The drift being inevitable, the only realistic alternatives are planned growth within the South-East and the more narrowly drawn London Region, or unplanned growth with resulting inefficiency and messiness.

If it is, in fact, impossible to resist the continued growth of the London region and the drift to the South-East (which is not the same thing, as growth may continue even if the drift is stopped) then, as the Lord pointed out to Paul on the road to Damascus, is foolish to kick against the pricks. We should, therefore, seriously study Peter Hall’s arguments, and be prepared to accept them if they are firmly based. He has written an important book.

Let me begin by summarizing his argument. The natural increase in population alone will ensure the rapid growth of population and employment in the London Region. Between 1951 and 1961 the population of the London Region increased by 788,000, of which one-third was accounted for by migration, but two-thirds by natural increase. Although the attempt to apply the policy enshrined in the pre-war Barlow Report, of trying to keep the population of the London Region static (as was anticipated in the Abercrombie plans for the County of London and Greater London in 1943–4) has failed, because it was an attempt to resist irresistible natural forces, the rate of drift to the South-East is actually slower than it was before the war. The growth of population in the London Region and the South-East has been going on for centuries. It is natural and inevitable, should be welcomed and must be planned for. Any attempt to halt the process will fail, and instead of trying therefore, to decant population from London to the North our policy should be to decentralize population and employment within the London Region. Because densities are already too high, and the cost of building is uneconomic, central London housing densities in new construction should be reduced from the existing 136–200 persons to 60–70 persons per acre. Despite the unsatisfactory character of much of the building in the suburban areas little of it will be ripe for renewal before 2000, and so no additional population can be accommodated in them. The inner country ring, just beyond the green belt, has already received the bulk of the additional population since the war, either in new towns or in speculative housing on the periphery of the urban areas. It is virtually full, and the additional population estimated by Mr. Hall at 3¼ million (an increase from 12 million) must all be accommodated in the belt between 40 and 60 miles from London. Of these he would put 1½ million in existing towns which should be expanded to populations ranging from 60,000 to 250,000 each, and 1¾ million in 17 new towns holding about 100,000 people each on sites of about six square miles.

Peter Hall would replan the transport system by using two main weapons. In the first place he would introduce a pricing policy, making people pay heavily to park or drive in the congested central areas because it is expensive to provide roads and parking there. This would divert large numbers of people to public transport (which would have to be improved) and would reduce traffic flows to manageable proportions. Nevertheless, a new motorway system should be built, to enable through traffic to move on tracks completely separate from buildings and pedestrians, leading into parking garages over the main railway stations, Within the motorway network he would comprehensively redevelop large areas to ensure the separation of vehicles from pedestrians. To make all this possible he would, as a basic necessity, tackle the problem of high land values and prices by imposing a land gains tax. The centre of London would, in effect, be extended to areas such as Hammersmith and Croydon and Brixton, which would be comprehensively redeveloped to provide major new shopping, business, and education centres, connected to the new urban motorway system. Local Government would be reformed by extending the new Greater London Council’s boundaries to enable it to plan the whole Greater London Region, leaving the day-to-day local government services in the hands of the boroughs.

Even this summary suggests that Peter Hall has done a remarkably thorough job, and presented a well argued case backed by a formidable battery of statistics. Before criticizing his precise proposals, however, it is useful to begin by taking a look at his political and economic philosophy. His basic attitudes are very clearly expressed at the beginning of Chapter 3: