Can the UK follow Egypt’s Capital idea

Adam ChallisAuthor: Adam Challis

Egypt’s government has made headlines with its planned new capital city.

The 700 sq km city is expected to cost £30bn and take five to seven years to complete providing a home for five million residents.

The aim is to ease congestion and overpopulation in Cairo over the next 40 years.

It begs the question; could the United Kingdom consider doing the same?

We are staring down the barrel of a housing supply shortage that is having a damaging impact on societal and economic well-being. Each of the main political parties has pledged a level of support for new towns; what if we gave one of these a genuine employment base as a reason for being?

As it turns out, there are some pretty strong reasons in favour. Let me offer just three to pique your interest….

First, The Lyons Inquiry (the other, older one) has had moderate success in redistributing Government offices and workers to cheaper locations outside London, but lots more could be done to accelerate the programme. The number of government buildings in London has already been cut from 143 in 2010 to 70 now. However, the aim is to get that down to just 23 after 2020.

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Second, the Houses of Parliament are decaying and no longer fit for purpose. According to The Economist, the building now requires at least £3bn to rescue. But even this extraordinary sum will not completely solve the problems that the neo-gothic structure represents for modern Government. It is already the case that the House simply doesn’t have enough seats for Lords or a full Commons debate. Tourism admissions and event space revenue could just about maintain the historic structure for future generations without compromising democracy of the current one.

Finally, a newly positioned Capital, with 30,000 Whitehall jobs acting as an anchor, would provide one impressive catalyst for any new town proposal, something each of the leading parties believes should be a solution to the housing crisis. Unlike isolated Canberra, Brasilia or Ottawa, a dedicated new Capital within easy reach of London could function efficiently and in sync with the commercial centres of the UK.

This leaves the question of where, exactly. A site near to Runnymede would have a historic poignancy; Northstowe is a ready-made ‘new town’ already under Government control. The town centre of Stevenage is crying out for a re-imagined new town model for its centre only 18 minutes from Central London, or further afield Crewe is already destined to become a transport hub for HS2.

The notion of a relocated Capital will strike many as somehow un-British. Perhaps just the sort of idea reserved for mad dogs or Englishmen under the Mediterranean sun?

However, crazier things have already happened when it comes to Capital ideas.

 

This post originally appeared at www.jllblog.com/UKResidential/

 

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