Changing London - What's London's Future?

Changing London, (photo by Apa Cartography Dept.)
Changing London

As you make your way around the city, you’ll find London’s history proudly on display around every corner. Despite the efforts of centuries of British weather, two world wars and the over-enthusiastic redevelopment plans of the past decades, the city has an abundance of historical buildings and attractions. But the city is living and evolving, and space is at a premium, meaning improvements and modifications to infrastructure are essential.

The past few years have seen many changes to the city. The Olympics have totally reworked parts of the East End and the search for more and more office space has produced new skyscrapers across the city. Money is also finally being pumped into the public transport network to enable the city to move about quickly.

An increased interest in the built environment has meant that newly constructed buildings now tend to sit alongside the older stone structures with a greater sympathy than in previous years and most new developments are now dependent on strict environment requirements.

Here are some of the new, forthcoming and proposed changes to the city as the metropolis tries to keep up with its population’s demands.



Ask any Londoner what their big gripe of living in this city is and they will more often than not place transport way at the top of the list. It can be tricky to get around a city with congested roads and an underground railway that was initiated nearly 150 years ago. Huge amounts of money are being invested to try and alleviate pressure on the overcrowded trains, buses and roads. Here are some of the key improvements:


Work is well underway on this £16 billion rail project which sees a new route running across the city from Heathrow and Reading in the west, through central London and out to Gravesend and Shenfield in the East. This is a commuter’s lifeline allowing the city workers in the suburbs super-fast access to the square mile and beyond. The line links with the existing underground network meaning huge remodeling of underground stations along the route. Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Paddington have been particularly affected. The construction has also seen several roads in the city blocked for years and compulsory house purchases causing consternation along the route.

Thameslink upgrade

What the Crossrail project is doing for east-west access, the Thameslink upgrade is doing for north-south. Existing track is being improved and remodelled and stations are gradually being rebuilt. The project also saw a major change to Borough Market in Southwark as a new viaduct has been constructed through the site. The market will soon reside within a specially constructed glass-fronted bubble. Many around the area feel the work is killing off the original soul of the market and the changes will push it further toward being an expensive tourist sight and away from a rather special local food market.

The East London Line

The renewal of an abandoned railway to the east of the city, along with a few new bridges and stations, has allowed access to and from areas of the East End that were previously abandoned by the rail network.

The Battersea spur line and the split of the Northern Line

The Northern Line divides when it enters the centre of the city and rejoins again upon reaching the other side; one section heads through Charing Cross, Leicester Square and the West End, while the other travels through the heart of The City. Tube opertaters (TFL) wish to eventually split these branches into two separate lines, both running automated trains enabling traffic levels to increase by 20-30%.

The biggest hurdle to this is the cost of remodelling Camden Town tube station where the two central branches of the Northern Line currently meet. At the point where the branches combine in the south it has been proposed that a small new spur is added to enable services to run to Battersea. Despite the short distance, the costs are, of course, enormous. The redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station site has been approved on condition of investment from the developers into the spur.

Station enhancements

Train operators and Network Rail (the owners of the stations and the railways) have been investing heavily in the major stations in the city:

Waterloo: A new balcony has been completed allowing easier access to Waterloo East and space for restaurants and shops.

London Bridge: The arrival of the Shard has enabled a total redesign of this commuter station. The plans are ongoing and will see new access from the surrounding streets.

Kings Cross: a remodelled concourse with clearer signs, better access and improved amenities (fear not, platform 9 ¾ remains). 

Clapham Junction: Europe’s busiest interchange station has new entrances and better access to platforms.

Blackfriars: platforms have been extended to allow for longer trains and now sit across the river with access from both sides. Solar panels now stretch the entire length of the new platform roof.

The Cable Car

Emirates Airlines has sponsored the construction of a cable car crossing the Thames from North Greenwich to the Royal Docks to the north. It was an odd, somewhat surprising addition to the transport network; some saying it was a pet project of Major Boris Johnson. The prices are a little high to be considered a commuter route, but as a tourist attraction it is relatively cheap (so long as you remember to bring your Oyster card).


Heathrow is full. Planes land every 50 seconds and the airport desperately wants another runway to enable more flights to operate. The problem is that the areas affected by the aircraft noise are not happy with the prospect. The plans have been abandoned for the time being but may resurface in the future. In the meantime, Terminal 5 is fully operational and Terminals 1 and 2 have been totally rebuilt to merit the airport's world-class status. 

Other airports in the region have to take on the overloaded traffic. Southend-on-Sea has a new terminal and has begun international flights, more flights now arrive at Stansted and Luton, and Oxford’s airport has even managed to rebrand itself London-Oxford Airport.

Dwarfing all of these is the possibility of a huge new island airport in the Thames Estuary. Originally seen as a passing oddity, the enormous Thames Hub airport project looks to be slowly gathering pace. Championed by Boris Johnson and tying in neatly with the new rail networks to the East, this may actually start to become a viable option. However, the enormous costs, negative environmental impact and local reluctance may soon quash the £50 billion project before a brick is sunk.


Towers and Squares

Leicester Square

It’s been the site of nearly all the major star-studded movie premiers in London for decades but during the 90s and 00s the square began to feel a little shabby; a home to litter, drunks and all things tacky. Just completed is an enormous redesign with a new fresher feel, complete with raised staging to allow movie stars a greater audience as they wave to the crowds at their latest movie's opening night.

The American Embassy

Sitting in the west of Hanover Square, the giant modernist block (scene of riots in the 1960s and home to some of the most intense security in the city) will soon be converted into a hotel. The Embassy itself is moving to a purpose-built site in Nine Elms, beside Battersea Power Station. The new building will be surrounded by grass and a strategically placed moat acting as a unique and effective security barrier. The arrival of the American Embassy is just one element of this area's renewal.

Battersea Power Station

Having lain empty since the last watt was generated in 1983, the four chimes and giant brick walls have become an alternative landmark to millions, not just as a commuter waypoint but also as an icon from a Pink Floyd album cover. Since the 1980s there have been many failed attempts to bring the rapidly crumbling building back to life, with various plans such as indoor theme parks, shopping centres and even football stadiums. The current scheme looks to have a little of everything, but mostly, the most precious of all London commodities, housing. Let’s hope the money doesn’t run out before it’s begun.

The Shard and London Bridge Quarter

Much has been said of the Shard itself but there is redevelopment surrounding the new skyscraper as well. A small nest of other office blocks are raising around it and with the redevelopment of the station at its feet, the area is slowing commercialising.

Heron Tower

The 230-metre-tall skyscraper within the city of London was completed last year – featuring publicly accessible restaurants and bars and the largest privately owned aquarium in the UK.

The Pinnacle / Bishopsgate Tower

Construction has halted on this 288-metre skyscraper, planned to be the second tallest in the city after the Shard. Funding is being sought to continue its build.

20 Fenchurch Street

Currently midway through construction, the 160-metre tower will provide office space with a larger top than the ground floor area. This sneakily allows greater rent income from higher floors that traditionally see higher rental rates per square foot.


An Olympic legacy

One of the key reasons London was chosen to host the Games this summer was the huge emphasis the bid placed upon the ongoing legacy the event would provide for the city and its residents, especially the youth of the east of the city. But what will happen to the venues in the future? Once complete, the “Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”, as it will become known, will strive to become a key tourist destination in its own right.

The Stadium

The huge stadium at the centre of the Olympic Park is the third largest in the country (after Wembely and Twickenham) and has been made a key component in the securing of the 2017 World Athletics Championships for London. In the meantime, there has been a sometimes fierce battle to take over the day-to-day running of the stadium, most noticeably between the two London football teams Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham. The drama continues.

The Aquatics Centre

The pools shall remain as an international standard water sports centre. Public access shall be granted as well as training facilities for professional groups.

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Currently the UK’s largest piece of sculptured art, this viewing tower shall remain in place as a centre point in the regeneration of the Stratford area.

The Olympic Village

After the Paralympics Games draw to a close, the apartments are destined to be redeveloped into a brand new neighbourhood. The area has been christened “East Village” and will see 2,818 new homes to feed London's need for property.

Arts and Culture

Cutty Sark

May 21st 2007 saw a devastating fire that almost totally destroyed the ship towards the end of a long preservation project. Many thought it beyond repair, but the ship and visitors' centre has now reopened following a £50 million rebuild. It now sits in an odd glass structure, designed to mirror the ocean, allowing an open area beneath the ship for the visitors to explore. Opinions are divided however, as it does visually engulf the structure.

Tate Modern Extension

The world's most popular art museum is expanding. Architects Herzog & Meuron are at the helm of a huge new space to the south of the main building. Work is already well underway (with the opening of the temporary Tanks Galleries) but the huge project looks set to open in the latter part of 2015 or early 2016.

Design Museum

Despite being a small amble from Tower Bridge, the current Design Museum sometimes felt a little too remote to garner the visitor figures it truly deserves. Having found private and Lottery funding, this little gem covering all things design is looking to relocate west. The destination is the old abandoned Commonwealth Building on Kensington High Street. This building is a beautiful match for the museum and with an increased gallery space and easier access, the move will hopefully increase its audience. Things look to be on track for a late 2014 opening.

Photographer’s Gallery

Having moved across town from a smaller couple of buildings in Covent Garden a few years ago, the Photographer’s Gallery has just completed a much-anticipated refit in a large open plan ex-office block. Despite being a few yards from the bustle of Oxford Street, the gallery (open 7 days a week, admission free) is a quiet oasis with a new café.

Exhibition Road

Holding a special place in the heart of Londoners is this wide stretch of road from Hyde Park down to South Kensington Tube. To the west side sits the Science and Natural History Museums and to the east, the Victoria and Albert Museum. The road has been turned into a ‘streetscape’, seeing kerbs and signposts removed to try to encourage a more symbiotic relationship between the passing traffic and the herds of pedestrians flitting between the museums. Its success or lack thereof may result in many more roads repurposing across the capital.

A Grand Prix?

Following in the footsteps of Singapore, London is looking at the viability of swapping the British Grand Prix from its current home at Silverstone into the heart of the City; the idea being to distance itself from problems at the Silverstone site over the past few years and increase the value of the event to international broadcasters and sponsors. Routes have already been passed around but it is still too early to say if F1 will agree with the change or would accept yet another city course.