Published on February 13, 2015

Hop on the bus for more open policy making in London

Open government

Emirates_Air_Line_towers_24_May_2012London never stops. Planes, trains, and cranes all keep moving. Little wonder that our politicians and city planners are eager to keep up, with a continuous stream of new infrastructure plans announced almost daily.

In the past few months, a huge range of schemes have been announced. New tube lines. Expansion of city airport. Cycle tracks. A garden bridge. A new road tunnel. A super Sewer. The list goes on.

But all these schemes come about from the lobbying of interest groups, whether particular campaigns, businesses or individuals. I don’t wish to imply here that lobbying is inherently a bad thing, but I do think it is striking that such significant decisions aren’t informed by wider public debate. Even the best mayor would be hard pressed to differentiate a good idea from good lobbying.

Transport for London (TfL) argue that all their schemes follow due process for consultations. While this is welcome, it is not particularly impressive. London’s population is roughly 8 million and  20 million trips are made every day. Despite these staggering numbers, the most recent consultation received 20,000 responses; a response rate of less than 0.25% despite it being the biggest consultation ever for the Greater London Authority (GLA). More importantly, a consultation frequently only appeals to interested parties. The ability to organise a large response, though impressive, should not be seen as a substitute for citizen engagement.

Us Londoner’s really don’t get a look in.The effect is alienation from the political process, conflict between different groups of Londoners, and often not the best scheme for citizens who suffer the extra pollution and have to foot a larger than needed bill.

It is worth thinking about a more open policy making process for London. Asking citizens what we think before the 11th hour could improve accountability, foster greater cohesion, and generate some better ideas than a wind swept and empty Cable Car. Most importantly for the city that never sleeps, it could actually speed up infrastructure development.

Picture credit: Nick Cooper at English Wikipedia

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