Anthony Hilton: The difficulties of thinking big in a crowded city


London First is a body set up about 20 years ago by the London business community to promote the city as a place to do business and to lobby for the improvements – particularly to infrastructure – which everyone knows we urgently need but which government seems incapable of planning for.

The fact that Crossrail is at last being built owes a lot to its early efforts; likewise the now taken-for-granted Jubilee line extension from Central London to Canary Wharf and Stratford. In addition many of the foreign businesses whose headquarters have relocated here from other European cities had their initial interest in London stimulated by London First’s promotional initiatives.

Anyway, on Thursday evening it held its annual dinner and a brief awards ceremony in the crypt of St Pauls Cathedral, a spectacular if slightly surreal venue with the tombs of Nelson and Wellington at one end and a couple of hundred diners at the other. And appropriately, the main sponsor was Thames Tideway, the offshoot of Thames Water which plans to build a “super sewer” running almost 20 miles from Hammersmith to Beckton, mostly underneath the Thames and which will be almost the width of the Channel Tunnel.

Getting the permissions and finance has been a monumental slog, and though hopes are high that it will soon all fall into place, it is not quite there yet. This perhaps explained the rueful comment of a senior board member as he looked around at the magnificent surroundings of the Cathedral. “Imagine what you would have to go through to get something like this built today.”