Who does run London? A new guide [PDF] to public bodies in the UK capital, by New London Architecture (NLA) and the London Communications Agency, yields the answer: 'it's complicated'. And yet, the three-page guide does a remarkable amount to lay the foundations for answering the question further.
The 'Who Runs London?' guide illustrates the web of ministries, assemblies, agencies and councils that together run London in a visual diagram (see example below). Additional information about each organization, including their key relationships and websites, is provided in a brief glossary on the last page. It is finally possible for a lay person to quickly distinguish between, for example, the Olympic Delivery Authority, Olympic Board and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, as well as establish what they do and who they answer to in the wider context of the capital's governance. This sort of transparency is essential if these organizations are to be held up to public scrutiny and to public account.
© New London Architecture and London Communication Agency
It is exactly this issue of accountability to people in London that NLA is trying to address. The government is planning a Decentralization and Localism Bill for the autumn, which will devolve more power to local authorities; this will have major implications for London. Already it has been announced that the London Development Agency, which oversees projects at a city scale and coordinates between the individual boroughs, is to be scrapped; and the future of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which advises on the quality of architecture and urban design proposals, is uncertain.
The publication of the 'Who Runs London?' guide was accompanied by a questionnaire to gauge the views of those who regularly come into contact with some of these government bodies. The feedback will be used to complement further research by the NLA and should produce some interesting results, even if the 'yes-no' format of many of the questions comes across as slightly inadequate for assessing the need for reform of local government. Nonetheless it provides a useful forum for discussion of this issue, especially as it appears to those working in the built environment. 'Who Runs London?' goes some way to cutting through the fog to see who exactly is managing the city.
Alison Killing is an architect and urbanist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.