London is lawless, crushingly expensive and horribly overcrowded: it’s little wonder living there is losing its appeal for many

Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
London is lawless, crushingly expensive and horribly overcrowded: it’s little wonder living there is losing its appeal for many

It is no wonder that middle-class Londoners are apparently looking to move out of the capital in search of something better. The events of the last few weeks have left so many simply fed up with life in one of the world’s biggest cities.

Over the past few months, on top of the ceaseless flouting of lockdown and social distancing measures, we’ve had the tiresome preaching of endless protest marches, both for and against the latest social media cause. And now it seems from events on Wednesday in Brixton that the police have even given up policing, after beating a retreat under attack from block party revellers.

This febrile atmosphere of lawlessness, police helplessness and hot weather is familiar to those who were living in London in 2011. The combination resulted in a week of looting, arson and mayhem that left five people dead.

It was not a good time.

So despite the glorious weather in the southeast of the UK, it’s understandable that people are seeking to move elsewhere because there’s a general “we’ve had enough” malaise gripping the middle classes.

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No social distancing

For those lucky to live in the greener parts of the capital – around 33 percent of the land – it’s become common to see people packing out normally deserted open spaces, with deck chairs, portable barbecues, rugs and parasols in large, raucous groups. Social distancing is for others.

And when they return to their homes at the end of an afternoon of sun and fun, there is trash everywhere. Bottles, cans, pizza boxes, hippy crack gas canisters. All the good-time detritus you would expect.

Sure, I get it. Not everyone in London has a garden. The city’s population of nearly 14 million people means 7,845 souls per square kilometre on average are crammed into each of 32 London’s boroughs. It’s no surprise that people get the feeling they are living right on top of each other, because they are.

And it’s not just the number of people. The closure of pubs, bars and cafes over the last few months has meant that quick sandwich from Pret a Manger or a latte macchiato from Starbucks has been knocked on the head.

And guess what? You’ve been spending a fortune at these places.

Suddenly the cost of living in London hits you, like a bus in the cycle lane. You realise you could have been living somewhere else all this time and saved a fortune.

Pub lunches, once a quick meal at work or a travel treat, are now things of great complexity with wine lists, craft beers, cured this, smoked that. And there’s a bill to match.

It takes no effort to blow £100 on lunch for two with a couple of drinks at a humble pub. Add kids to the equation and the spend is becoming serious. At. A. Pub.

Then there’s the crowded public transport, the packed roads (average speed 7.4 miles an hour), congestion charges and parking tolls that take your eyes out. And again, all this is with the vast numbers of people. Everywhere.Terrible congestion

So for those who have had enough and prefer their social distancing in the hundred of metres bracket rather than one plus, moving out definitely appeals.

We all know now, thanks to video call apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, that the stressful commute to the office is not an essential start or finish to a productive working day. It’s become harder for bosses to insist on it, so it makes sense to up sticks, move out to somewhere less crowded and enjoy some quality of life instead of slowly suffocating in the congestion of the nation’s capital.

It’s a win-win. Introducing remote working as de rigeur makes perfect sense for any business that can operate efficiently without annoying staff crowded round the coffee machine or jamming up the lifts and wasting work time. Let them do that at home.

Some suggest that the fear of Covid-19 is what’s driving this apparent distaste for capital living. Let’s make clear that it’s not.

Of course, no one wants to spend a tube commute jammed up against some mouth-breathing phlegm-gargler in the current climate, or for that matter, at any time.

The enjoyment of forced proximity to fellow Londoners, and the millions of visiting tourists each year, quickly loses its shine. It’s just something we have given a lot more thought to lately.

So where to? The problem is that London was first settled by hunter-gatherers around 6,000BC, so most of the good places to live have already been found and rammed with people who pay mightily for the privilege, leaving very few affordable or desirable options.

The only way is out.

You can have the traffic, the protests, the unlicensed block parties that carry on through the night, the theatres, cinemas and shops that will never be the same again and the angry mobs wanting to tear down all those statues.

An estate agent once told me his clients considered one location as their chosen preference when looking for a new place to live.

Their ideal home was to be found in a city on a mountain in the country by the beach with room for kids and a dog.

Sounds perfect.