Puttnam sees a grim future for London

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The Independent Online

London will slip into cultural obscurity and social decay unless radical changes are made in the next few years, City campaigners warned a conference on the capital's future yesterday.

Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society in central London, the environmentalist and film producer Sir David Puttnam painted a grim picture of London in the next century, overtaken culturally by other world centres and plagued by a general malaise among its population.

To avoid such a fate, he said, London's 85 MPs urgently need to form a caucus to debate and drive change, not least in trying to establish it as Europe's arts capital.

"London seems unable to display any form of confidence and unless we get it back in the near future the result will be the most distressing, upsetting thing I can imagine," he said.

He added that the millennium and its associated festivals and events would be vital for London's future, promising an estimated 100 million tourists.

"The millennium is not just a chance for London, but its last chance," he said. "But I can only think that for the Government, the 31st of December that year is just a date for a fireworks festival."

Sir David also said that for far too long Londoners had put up with inadequacies in their services and surroundings. "For years people have commuted to and from work in appalling conditions but they never complain. Why not stage a one-day strike when everyone refuses to come to work unless things improve?" he suggested.

"And the year after, a two-day strike, and so on until something gets done."

Also speaking at the conference, and equally critical of the state of London and concerned for its future, was the architect Sir Richard Rogers, who reiterated his blueprint for a 21st century London for the public, with pedestrianised squares and streets, plush public transport, and a revitalised river Thames.

His plans include more bridges across the river, the planting of a million trees to reforest the Embankment, and increased river transport.

"The public need somewhere to meet, they want somewhere to meet, we should be giving them places to meet," he said. His main attack was on the car, saying the average speed in London is now 10mph, the same as it was 100 years ago.

Also on the conference agenda was how the capital will survive as a financial world centre and how it is to be governed locally in the next millennium.