Shopping Cart

Your cart is empty!


We're asking for your thoughts on what will change and what should change when London emerges into a post-covid world. In our latest post, Lord Toby Harris says that for the capital to succeed and to do so sustainably, it has to adopt the E3 model of sustainable development: Economy, Equity and Environment.

As someone who has lived in London all my life and spent twenty-six years as an elected politician in this city, I am biased. I have always believed that London is the greatest city in the world – certainly in terms of its diversity, dynamism, tolerance of difference, the vitality of its cultural life – the list in my view is endless. But that London is currently in suspension and it is naïve to believe that in a few short weeks everything will be back to how it was before.

The human tragedies of those who have died may get lost against the geopolitical changes and the economic devastation that potentially will now follow. It is some time before we will know whether the public health measures currently in force are proportionate and effective or whether they are a grotesque miscalculation. However, already it is apparent that the global consequences of the pandemic are going to be enormous: many businesses – some of them very substantial indeed – will not survive; international relationships will change; and patterns of work and life will have been permanently transformed.

In terms of London, a slow relaxation of distancing rules (which currently seems the most likely way forward) will have a number of consequences. The habit of not using public transport may become engrained for many people. More remote working is likely to become the norm. This will challenge the viability of the current bus and underground network and in the longer-term we may see a use of cars greater than it was before the lockdown, so that the current benefits of better-quality air will recede again. 

Businesses that rely on commuters and others using them will not recover in the short-term – cafes, coffee shops and sandwich bars restaurants will be lucky to emerge from hibernation if the current situation persists for more than a few more weeks.  Likewise places of entertainment and social interaction will not revive immediately. Many bars and restaurants will have gone out of business by the time clientele return and, whilst they will no doubt in time be replaced by others, the variety and mix may not be restored. Similarly, theatres and cinemas may struggle to reopen – particularly smaller and independent venues.  Other leisure facilities will also be challenged by the enforced closure.

These effects, although potentially significant for the culture and ambience of many neighbourhoods in London, are minor in comparison to the impact of a global depression. Some estimates suggest that GDP in this and many other countries may fall this year by 20 or even 30%. And the speed of recovery will depend everywhere on which enterprises have been able to survive the pause in their operations.  These effects will be exacerbated by the number of people who lose their jobs or whose incomes are seriously reduced. 

It maybe that I am a natural pessimist, although I certainly hope that I am wrong about this. However, what is certainly the case is that we should be beginning to reimagine how the city might operate in an environment that is economically depressed, in circumstances where working patterns for those with employment have changed dramatically, and in which social cohesion is under threat.

The vision for a future London has to be not just about delivering the growth to restore employment to those who have lost out during the current crisis and its economic consequences, but also it must be about ensuring that social inclusion and sustainability are central to that growth.  The future success of the city will only be measured in human terms and in improved life chances for all.  And this goal cannot be treated as separate from the economic objectives, or the urgent need to protect the environment.

Over twenty years ago, I put forward what I regard as a beautifully simple proposition - to succeed as a city and to do so sustainably, London must adopt the E3 model of sustainable development: Economy, Equity and Environment.

You cannot build a successful urban society by constraining commercial growth; nor can you preserve a delicate eco-system without fresh rules and attitudes for businesses and households alike; nor can prosperity be secure if some neighbourhoods become synonymous with social exclusion.

To be successful in the longer-term, no part of London (or indeed any city) can prosper on its own. No single interest can, in the long term, do well at the cost of another’s well-being.

In this E3 model, all three components of sustainable development are represented equally - economic competitiveness, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.  Environmental and social issues are not treated as hindrances to competitiveness or economic growth.

The three Es overlap. They create tension. Any economic, social or environmental change in a city will produce a tension with the other objectives – and those tensions will call for policy compromises.

These compromises need to be negotiated by the different stakeholders in the urban economy. And for sustainable development to be realised, the heart of this negotiated consensus is partnership - between the public, private, community and voluntary sectors.

Partnerships need to form around a common vision and strategy. They must offer greater inclusiveness to enable all of the city’s social partners to participate fully.  They must offer real added value.

But above all – and this is the task of city leadership and in London’s case the task of the Mayor – there has to be a consensus that social equity is a necessary component of economic development.

Of all the arguments for reducing inequality, the most potent is that a more unequal society is one with fewer opportunities to rise. The evidence from the USA is that the rising fortunes of the top percent of earners is connected to a hardening of class lines. More unequal societies are bad for everyone. Social and environmental problems, ill-health, low levels of trust, violence, mental illness and drugs, are more likely to occur in a less equal society.

The statistical evidence also shows that quality of social relations is better in more equal societies. People are more likely to feel they can trust others, community life is stronger and levels of violence are lower. But this is not just about economic prospects.  It is also about life and the quality of life.

As London recovers from the present crisis, we must restore the city’s economy, we must promote greater equity and fairness, while sustaining the environment – in short, we must address all three of the Es in the E3 model.  They are the three legs of the stool – without one, it topples over.

The last few months have been a shock to London and to Londoners. The fragility of the city and its social fabric has been laid bare. And in the next few years the changes in the global environment will be intense. Recovery will not be easy.

Simply trying to go back to where we were before will not be an option. London cannot stand still or it will decline. 

The city will need fresh purpose and direction: a vision – rooted in partnership and shared commitment – for a London whose economy can once again thrive, be environmentally sustainable, and where every citizen can play a part and has a stake in the city’s future. Above all, those who care about London and its future must be bold and see this crisis as an opportunity.

Lord Toby Harris is Co-President of London Councils, a former member of the London Assembly and a former Borough Council Leader.

WhenThisIsAllOver is the London Society's debate about what the post-virus, post-lockdown world will and should look like. Contributions so far include:

Please give your views in the comments below, or by emailing