London's boroughs, it seems to us, are all wrong. It isn't their abilities to empty bins, tarmac roads or stage amusing performing arts festivals that bother us (at least, not on this occasion). No, the problem is their size.
Consider. Paris is divided into small, local units – arrondissements in the city, communes in the suburbs – each recognisable as a specific neighbourhood. Each of these elects a mayor and a council who have a range of powers over parks, housing, and so forth. The advantage of such a system is your local government is clearly identifiable as the place where you actually live.
New York takes the opposite approach. Its five boroughs are big (the biggest, Brooklyn, houses more people than 17 US states). The advantages of this system is that it’s cheaper to buy services for a million people than it is for a couple of thousand. (This is pretty theoretical since the borough presidents have remarkably few actual powers, but the point still stands.) Also, let's be honest, "the five boroughs" just sounds cooler than “the 32 boroughs and that awkward bit in the middle”.
London has opted for a compromise. Our boroughs have a couple of hundred thousand people each, the advantage of which is... well, a bit mysterious, actually.
They don't represent the way people see the city: ask someone where they live and, we'd wager, and they're more likely to say "Archway" or "E11" than "Tower Hamlets".
Nor are they particularly efficient as units of local government. Cash-strapped councils are increasingly merging their services anyway in the hope of finding savings, while more than one borough has introduced neighbourhood councils in an attempt to seem relevant to the people who actually live in them.
So – we've come up with an alternative scheme. In the map below we've divided London into nine new boroughs (three inner, six outer), each of which we think represents a recognisable ‘region’ of the city. These new boroughs would have a population and GDP on a scale of a large regional city, enabling them to cut their administrative costs, attract decent staff, and engage in some proper strategic planning.
Below that there'd sit a formal system of neighbourhood councils, consisting of no more than a couple of electoral wards each. These would deal with the hyperlocal stuff: deciding parking regulations, say, or managing community facilities.
The goal is that, when you’re looking at that scrappy looking patch of waste ground filled with rusting playground equipment, you’d know the woman responsible for it lived just round the corner and wanted to fix the thing as much as you do because her kids used it. Your council tax would stay low, though, because the contracts for bins and road maintenance cover the whole borough, which houses the best part of a million people. It should also help end the bizarre pretence on the part of certain bits of suburbia that they aren’t in London at all. Kingston, we're looking at you.
Do let us know what you think of our proposals and where we've gone wrong. Should the boroughs be bigger? Smaller? Have we put the boundaries in the wrong place? Most importantly of all, do you have any better suggestions for names?
The new boroughs
New borough: Finsbury
- Population: around 715,000
- Administrative HQ: Hackney
- Consists of: City of London, Hackney, Islington, Tower Hamlets
- Description: Inner London, east of the Fleet. It's about time the City of London Corporation got over itself and accepted it was part of the same city as the rest of us.
- The name: Finsbury pops up all over this area (much of which was once the Finsbury division of the Ossulstone Hundred of Middlesex). It's helpfully fallen into disuse as a local tag, though, so we thought we'd nick it.
New borough: Forests
- Population: around 1.3 million
- Administrative HQ: Ilford
- Consists of: Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest
- Description: London-over-the-border: the huge chunk of London that once belonged to Essex, from the Royal Docks to Havering-atte-Bower. In any sensible world this would also expand to include contiguous Central Line suburbs like Chigwell and Loughton.
- The name: Reflects the fact that most of the area was once covered in trees, as part of Epping Forest. It isn't any more. But we were stumped for other options.
New borough: North Middlesex
- Population: around 925,000
- Administrative HQ: Wood Green
- Consists of: Barnet, Enfield, Haringey
- Description: Outer north London, everything north of Finsbury Park. Future governments could add a dash of Hertfordshire (Borehamwood, say) for flavour.
- The name: Duh.
New borough: Regency
- Population: around 600,000
- Administrative HQ: Westminster
- Consists of: Camden, Kensington, Westminster
- Description: The poshest, most exclusive enclaves of north and west London. Includes all of central London north of the Thames and west of the Fleet.
- The name: John Nash made this.
New borough: Riverside
- Population: around 925,000
- Administrative HQ: Richmond
- Consists of: Hounslow, Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond-upon-Thames, plus most of Hammersmith (everything south of Goldhawk Road) and the western half of Wandsworth.
- Description: The south western wedge. Large swathes of contiguous Surrey suburbs – Weybridge, Walton, and other places stomped by Martians in The Wars of the Worlds – are also candidates for future inclusion
- The name: Reflects the fact that, west of London, the river is a picturesque unifying force, rather than a non-negotiable barrier in the landscape.
New borough: Selkent
- Population: around 1.1m
- Administrative HQ: Bromley
- Consists of: Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham
- Description: The Kentish bit of London, running from Deptford Bridge to Biggin Hill. Could expand to include Dartford.
- The name: Short for South East London & Kent. Naming units of local government after bus companies is funny.
New borough: Southwark
- Population: around 750,000
- Administrative HQ: Brixton
- Consists of: Lambeth, Southwark, the eastern half of Wandsworth (Battersea, Streatham, etc)
- Description: Inner London south of the river.
- The name: Yes, we know there already is a Southwark, but it's the best historic name for the idea of London-over-the-Thames. Also, it long ago stopped representing its historic core (Really, TfL? You think Southwark tube station should be there?) so we thought we'd retain it. Screw you, Lambeth. Screw you.
New borough: Wallington
- Population: around 750,000
- Administrative HQ: Croydon
- Consists of: Croydon, Merton, Sutton
- Description: Outer south London suburbs of varying degrees of plushness. Large chunks of Surrey suburbia (Epsom, Ewell, Tadworth) to be folded in when the revolution comes.
- The name: Most of this area was historically contained in the Wallington hundred of Surrey.
New borough: West Middlesex
- Population: around 1.2 million
- Administrative HQ: Ealing
- Consists of: Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, and the chunk of Hammersmith north of Goldhawk Road
- Description: Metroland, Metroland. Could include Watford too, perhaps.
- The name: See North Middlesex.