Reinventing London’s Boroughs

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.

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Jonn

Article by Jonn Elledge | 94 Articles | View Profile

  • http://twitter.com/TheMuseumOfSoho mosoho

    Let’s just be the villagers we are! No Re-branding please. AIR-STRIP1

    • Selkent Sammy

      Do you propose separate elections for the new Boroughs and for the neighbourhood councils?

      • BethPH

        Bagsy I rule Forest.

        • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

          Technically you’re still outside the boundaries. To be honest I think it’s a disgrace that they let countryfolk like you write for Londonist at all.

  • http://twitter.com/darryl1974 Darryl

    Ken Livingstone had a similar idea, but without the central boroughs – essentially dividing London into five wedges.

    But you’re right – the current set-up’s crap, with boroughs too big to mean anything and too small to have any clout. Selkent is a funny name, though.

    • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

      Yeah, I’ve seen the Livingstone proposal. But a) it means arbitrary lines through neighbouring parts of inner London, while uniting Westminster and Winchmore Hill (which strikes me as nuts), and b) his names were yawn-worthy.

  • DrPlokta

    Why not just call them Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Essex, and be done with it. You’re basically reinventing the division of London between its surrounding counties.

    • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

      Because there still are counties called Kent, Surrey and Essex, so it’d get confusing. Also, the chunks of Surrey and Middlesex in London are so vast that you need to break them up I think.

    • Londonista

      I agree, I live a short distance from Hackney Marshes and the Olympic Stadium but as a ‘Forester’ I’d be lumped into an area that sounds like half of Essex and with an HQ in – wait for it – Ilford! Is this a strange plan by people living in Hackney to rebrand the area from East End to Central by any chance … Definitely seems like a way to create an inner sanctum, outer exclusive zone and then not have much to do with everyone on the outside! Why not cut the slices right into the middle like a pie? I’ll have Liverpool Street and Brick Lane thanks :-)

  • Paul

    Presumably the issue around boroughs isn’t size alone, because we used to have many more smaller boroughs until the Local Govt Act 63 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Government_Act_1963). And it isn’t necessarily due to size being inefficient, as Powys in Wales is 5x the size of Greater London (I know that I’m not talking about population) and they seem to have emptied bins and street lights.
    What I would like to see is local democracy taken care of by smaller town councils – Brixton Town Council, Bethnal Green, Notting Hill – and leave the “big council” stuff (waste, transport, recycling, council tax, police) to the GLA. You then have a highly distinct micro and macro structure with both feeding off each other for mutual benefit.
    As for “Kent”, “Middx”, “Essex” and so on – another way to look at that argument is to simply take those boroughs out of London and return them back to their counties, but that’s for another conversation altogether… :-)

  • Angela

    Wouldn’t “Tramlink” be a better name than Wallington, and it might push forward the proposed tram out to Sutton

  • Forest Dweller

    As a forest-dweller I have no problem with the name, but just to be clear as much of the area was in Hainault Forest as Epping Forest …

  • Metrication

    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”.

    In my experience this is the other way round. I’ve met a lot of people who say what borough they live in as the place that they live (This seems to be particularly the case with people from Croydon, Tower Hamlets and Hackney). In the interests of local identity perhaps it would be better to give the proposed bigger boroughs more generic names (eg South East London or North London) so place names could be more easily framed. Waddon in South London, Bow in East London gives a sense of geography to the person you are speaking to and prevents an area being completely enveloped by it’s borough.

    I would probably favour the Ken Livingstone model of 5 big boroughs, though maybe it would better to break them down a bit more (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW). You could even finally align London postcodes to Greater London. With regards to expansion, Greater London’s borders (with a few exceptions) pretty much correspond to where city ends and fields begins so there’s really not much point expanding in my opinion. I doubt the surrounding towns want to join London anyway.

  • Kay

    There are areas of London that still to still day “resist” the expansion that London underwent in the 60s, and these are as you alluded to mostly in “Wallington” and also places like Epping and Croydon. It’s part of a bigger identity crisis that outer London goes through as many people in these areas still identify themselves as part of the small town or Parrish they belonged to before the London expansion, which is why you hear people as saying they’re from Kew or Richmond without relating to London. There is a wider argument here about the context of a city within UK law and the public perception to cities in general after the industrial revolution and subsequent creation of mining and factory towns. This is what led for London to almost be “abandoned” at one point as post WW2 governments looked towards the model of “New Towns” such as Milton Keynes and Welwyn Garden City… So before we re-define boroughs, I think we need to redefine London and solidify “London” the brand and sell it better. I mean take a look at the Olympics, technically it was supposed to be the London games, but instead everyone started associating it with Britain in a way that was almost disingenuous to London branding in an attempt to get the entire nation to back the games (there was a genuine fear among organizers that the nation just was not going to care).

    So we start by re-selling London for Londoners, in fact as you mentioned, let’s expand London to the satellite towns along the borders of the city that clearly are dying to get in. The next stop would be to re-launch the London brand and get people living in places like Uxbridge and Croydon to truly feel part of the city, we can then talk about redoing the borders.

    Another thing is that in your boroughs you are still falling for the inner/outer London division, a true redefining of the city’s borough should not be distinguishing between outer/inner London like that….

  • gladiolys

    Thanks for lumbering us Camden borough livers with the oiks from Westminster and Kensington. Do you have any idea what that will do to local services here?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504051156 Oliver Savory

    This is the stupidest idea ever, you split Wandsworth you numpty!

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewBoff Andrew Boff

    There are too few Boroughs, not too many. I reckon about 96 would do it.

  • deci bel

    That chunk of Hammersmith north of Goldhawk Rd isn’t Hammersmith anyway. It’s Shepherds Bush.

    And as for identity, I don’t think we need other people to define where we’re from. We do that fine by ourselves thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/dgbdgb dgbdgb

    Interesting idea – probably impractical, but if it could be done would have some benefits I think. My main problem with it is the names and the City of London. I’d much prefer to use the dominant boroughs/areas as names.

    I’d personally think about expanding the City of London (it is very well run, and has a large tax base). It makes sense to add the fringe areas of the City (in Hackney and Islington, Tower Hamlets) and Docklands. Then the City in the past has been very successfully in running social housing – and there is considerable need in those areas, so they could take on the challenge of developing the rest of the inner borough areas you have identified in this expanded area.

    Then the other boroughs should become Westminster and Southwark. Traditional names, long history. Westminster itself is a grouping of three previous boroughs – so expanding to include more would not be too much of a stretch. And the City of Westminster is a better title than borough. And by keeping the existing names you save a lot of money otherwise required with rebranding.

    An expanded Southwark could also become a third City.

    I reckon that you need a new name for North London. Middlesex should be for the area you have labelled West Middlesex. North London could perhaps be an expanded Barnet?

  • omally

    Does it really matter, though? Most of the population of London commutes in and still gets a vote in supposedly important London matters., like which idiot to choose to be your mayor.

  • Rocker

    It’s already happening. Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Newham and Waltham Forest are sharing I.T. All the ‘Forest’ borough use the same Waste service. As for a name, it all used to be West Essex, so maybe Wessex :-)

  • Tom Bolton

    Admirably thought through, but I feel obliged to point out that Streatham isn’t in Wandsworth. It was once, but it has been at the ignored end of Lambeth since local government reform created the current set-up. As for the borough name, how about ‘S’? There’s an ‘N’ postcode but no ‘S’, only SW and SE. Time to sort it out.

    • bob

      too late. sheffield’s got it.

  • e-coached

    Interesting, but why do we need the boroughs and the GLA? All the major services could be provided more economically from City Hall. Ward or ‘village’ councils could be small scale, voluntary and act as a mouthpiece for local concerns about services, planning, transport etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Walmsley/507680623 Thomas Walmsley

    Great ideas, although you could never do anything to the City of London. It is a totally unique body that has inviolable rights above the rest of the city. Check this out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrObZ_HZZUc&feature=g-user-u

  • Wandsworth G

    I think this is a ridiculous idea, especially right now. Firstly, the City of London is highly successful and thoroughly branded. Why on Earth would you screw with that. Secondly, redrawing lines and renaming will do nothing but cost tax payers more. Doing such a thing will cost so much and will add to the financial burden that most council tax payers already bend to. Encouraging councils to consolidate services to save money isn’t a bad idea, but changing them around just for aesthetic reasons is just pointless.

  • SW16

    Streatham is in Lambeth!

  • http://www.facebook.com/terry.daley Terry Daley

    “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.”

    Hehe, as someone born in SW London but raised in the EET, give it up. They’re never leaving Surrey, regardless of how useful it would be in terms of infrastructure.

  • davidwebb

    A detailed map showing the actual London boroughs can be found at http://londonboroughsmap.co.uk/.

  • scottie eq

    wow I just love country boundaries…. i am obsessed with them. I love the idea of living in ‘Selkent’ thou bring it on

  • http://twitter.com/AlanFry1 Alan Fry

    Greater London should annex the rest of the Home Counties (and other areas of the Urban Area/Metropolitan Area/Commuter Belt) and recive a similar devolution to Scotland

  • Spencer

    Surbiton ‘Riverside’ sounds appealing to me. Yes, peripheral Londoners don’t seem that proud of their official Greater London status – even after nearly 50 years of instatement. Although, you talk to any younger person living in outer south west London and they’d balk at ever being considered Surrey! I see that TFL have (at great expense) demarcated London’s territory with countless LEZ signs – whatever happened to the welcoming county boundary? London certainly needs to better define itself in the future – and would welcome a programme of ‘borough reinvention!’

  • Archibald NewprofylSomers

    http://londonist.com/2012/10/boroughs.php

    Making Richmond and Kingston one borough would be a very bad idea; the author admits that Kingston’s secession movement is bizarre and ridiculous, so why would he put secessionists like Kingstonians in with other secessionists like Richmonders, and therefore create one massive unified secessionist land mass?

    If you want to create a strong and unified London then you separate the secessionists by putting Kingston in with Sutton and Merton, and Richmond in with Hillingdon and Hounslow.

    You don’t create a massive secessionist stronghold by merging Kingston and Richmond together, and then give them complete control over the river.