Some people still define London narrowly. On a visit to Richmond I was asked when I would be returning to London. They see it as the old cities of London and Westminster, with a cluster of inner London boroughs.
More today see London as the Mayor’s territory, or see it as all that area inside the M25. The large motorway ring around the city has for some defined it geographically with this large physical barrier.
In practice today the economic metropolis of London stretches well beyond the M25. Whilst crossing from Staines to Egham entails crossing the motorway and leaving political London, nothing else much changes at that border. The same is true travelling from Chevening to Sevenoaks or from Caterham to Redhill or from Rickmansworth to Amersham. Economic London extends its reach.
If you define an economic area by its network of contacts, by the similarities of its jobs markets and the ability and willingness of people to travel around to get jobs or contracts, then the London metropolis stretches much more widely. You can make a case to say that all the area bounded by Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Reading, and Basingstoke shares common characteristics. Significant numbers of people do travel to London for full time jobs from all those places. Many more businesses and institutions within that area have regular contacts and transactions with central London. People will get up and travel in search of work or opportunity within this wider zone.
The total area is an area of high skills, high value added, and relatively good incomes by UK and world standards. It contains five major universities of world renown (Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and UCL) and several other good Russell Group universities. It contains much of the financial service, legal and management services and consultancy expertise that the UK sells abroad, several brilliant retail centres, many important cultural centres and a strong diversified industrial and commercial base. It also accounts for the majority of the value of UK commercial and residential property.
Some elsewhere think this part of the world attracts too much public sector investment, as it has recently enjoyed the Crossrail project. Yet relative to the size of its population and success of its economy, investment in transport has been poor in recent years. Tomorrow we will look at what this large city region needs if it is to carry on growing.