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:

“In this chapter I wish to argue two basic propositions. The first, which I hope to prove, is that planners are not free to manipulate the geography of employment as they please; but that this follows economic laws which, though difficult to analyse in detail, cannot be broken with impunity; that in planning for the future we need to start with a new respect for economic forces, with a belief that we may bend them but we cannot break them . . . Secondly I want to argue from this that, because of the very strength of these forces, we can predict in broad terms what is likely to be the pattern of the economy 40 years on . . . Is it really possible to argue that we could not, in 1921, have assembled a team of economists, economic geographers and industrialists, who could have made a broad prediction for the 1960’s which would have stood the test of time? . . . It is time for a new prediction of the built-in inevitabilities in the economic system, and the possibilities open to us of regulating them”.

Peter Hall’s first point really amounts to this, that the first job of the planner is not to plan for the most beneficial arrangement of society but to predict what is going to happen irrespective of the wills and decisions of governments, and people. Nobody would dispute that economics do place real limits on what can and should be done in society, but what Hall omits entirely from his discussion of planning is politics. He fails to distinguish between “planners”, who are (or should be) professional men whose job is to advise, and politicians whose job is, or should be, to take decisions according to political principles and pressures. What may appear economically desirable, or even inevitable, may be politically undesirable or even impossible, and vice versa. The American Government is at present engaged in a senseless attempt to place a man on the moon, at a cost of several billions of dollars, with widespread effects on employment and the location of industry. This has, however, nothing to do with “built-in economic inevitabilities”, and no group of geographers or industrialists attempting to predict in 1945 the development of American population and employment could conceivably have forecast, with any degree of certainty, the post-war development of rocketry or the race to the moon. These developments have their origin in political decisions and political relations, in the cold war and the vested interest in the cold war of American military men and industrialists, and the irrational beliefs of American politicians. It requires a powerful imagination to believe that the situation in which we are now living in 1963 was “inevitable”, broadly speaking, in 1921, or that events could not have turned out very differently. It is fashionable today to predict continuous growth at four per cent or whatever other annual figure is thought to be desirable or attainable, but in fact growth rates have changed unpredictably many times since the war in many countries, and political events have often caused great changes in pace and direction. If Peter Hall means that it would be foolish and wasteful to locate the Bank of England in Stornoway or power stations on the top of Snowdon he is of course right. But 20 years ago he would have been able to show us how foolish and wasteful it would be to locate power stations at points along the coast where there were no coal supplies or deep-water harbour facilities. Yet today atomic power stations are being located at such points, and strong political pressure is being organized to prevent them being located there, on the ground that this is destroying country and coastal scenery. The truth is that within the limits imposed by geography or economics there is an enormously wide range of choice open to society, according to the prevailing political views and social attitudes.