Where next for the suburbs?

Tory politician Brian Coleman mourns what he sees as the deterioration of London's suburbs

So what future is there for the suburbs? Those vast areas of outer London that prior to 1965 used to be in Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire and most of all Middlesex, which until 1997 was staunchly Conservative.

The suburbs were what the working classes aspired to by. They were the place the middle classes lived and died. Of course there are suburbs in all our major Cities although the middle classes have fled vast areas of formerly suburban Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester for the safety of the neighbouring counties leaving London as the hub of suburban living.

Certainly many London suburbs have the stench of decay emanating from them. The pre-1965 Borough of Hornsey, once a centre of suburban middle class respectability which was subsumed into ghastly Haringey is an area where decent folk lock their car doors as they drive through and has returned no Conservative Councillors whatsoever since 1998.

The combination of allowing huge Edwardian family houses to be converted into bed sits and the 'white flight' in the face of rising crime has meant that areas such as Streatham, Wembley and Willesden have changed beyond all recognition. Conversely some former working class areas in inner London such as Battersea and Fulham have become gentrified but do not have the social structure to allow them to be classed suburban.

When Sir John Betjeman made his famous documentary on 'Metro-land' no self-respecting Suburb was without a flourishing Rotary Club, Townswomen’s Guild, Cricket, Bowls and sundry other Sports Club.

They boasted a selection of Churches, a Tory MP and an active Local Amenity Society. Now with most women working, intense career pressures on the whole workforce, vast mortgages to pay and the changes in family life, most of the voluntary sector in Suburban London is in meltdown with endless organisations unable to get anyone to serve on their Committees.

Many schools struggle to find individuals to serve as governors and all three political parties have to scrape the bottom of the barrel in order to field a complete slate in London Borough Council elections. The hidden wiring that kept suburban community life alive has rusted beyond repair. The past 15 years explosion in house prices has resulted in speculators buying to let and living off the fat of the land. But the result has been a transitory population with few links and little interest in the local community.

Those suburbs that have survived have lacked for decades for any major investment in infrastructure. The disgrace that is the South Circular Road and the unfinished sections of the North Circular are evidence of the transport meltdown that affects much of outer London.

The failure to expand the tube into many South London Boroughs and to allow the overground Network to become rundown, overcrowded and unusable after dark has meant many suburbanites have retreated to their cars with the effect town centres are more congested than inner London.

The desperation many parents face in finding a decent secondary school even in well performing local education authorities and the fact that many post-WW2 Nissan huts still serve as primary classrooms typify the lack of investment in education.

Ken Livingstone has earned the nickname of 'Zone One Mayor' and has notoriously rarely visited some outer London boroughs. The politician who can reverse Suburban decline will reap the electoral rewards.