Planning for growth - interview with Michele Dix of TfL

London is preparing for massive population growth. Transport for London’s managing director of planning Michèle Dix is masterminding efforts to ensure transport infrastructure can cope with 11M people by 2050. Antony Oliver reports.

The numbers are scary. London is currently home to around 8.3M people who rely on the capital’s rail, underground and road networks to make some 27M journeys a day. 

This population is predicted to grow to over 10M in the next 15 years and then to over 11M by 2050, a massive 37% increase as London continues to drive the UK’s economic fortunes. 

With this growth comes huge pressure on the capital’s transport networks, the vital arteries that enable the capital to function as an effective business centre and focus for culture and leisure and tourism.

Dix: My five key transport projects

1. Complete the work to upgrade the Tube, Crossrail and Thameslink as these must be in place to cope with the capital’s growth to 2030.

2. Implement the vision for cycling improvements in the capital to make it safer and more pleasant to cycle around London.

3. Progress Crossrail 2 – it is essential that this is in place by 2030 to cope with the demand that expected beyond this date.

4. Press ahead with plans for new river crossings – Silvertown and crossings to east are vital to get residents to the new growth areas east of London.

5. Gospel Oak to Barking extension to Dagenham – this will underpin the development of 11,000 homes and by extending the Overground can be achieved for £150M rather than the original £700M price tag to extend the Docklands Light Rail. TfL will be going back to government with new proposals in the Autumn.

“We can cope with growth to 10M people,” explains Michèle Dix, Transport for London managing director of planning. “We have planned for that increase on the transport system with schemes such as Thameslink, Crossrail and upgrades to the Tube. But what we have to start to plan for is the next phase because we can’t get beyond 2030 [with the current investment].” 

Hence the work by the Greater London Authority with support from Transport for London to produce a 2050 Infrastructure Strategy.

Dix is very clear that growth is good for the capital and good for the UK because of the jobs that this growth creates. People, she insists, are not choosing to come to London over other UK cities. The competition is with other global cities.

“Investment in London is justified. If you think that there are 27M trips on London’s transport each day and that 70% of rail travel starts or ends in London, then London needs more investment because we are playing catch up from the years of under investment,” she says.

And while investment in the transport system is important, finding places for this population to live is increasingly becoming the critical factor explains Dix.

“Transport has a significant role in delivering the housing that the capital needs,” she says. “It is really about utilising existing transport nodes and looking at the transport schemes that allow new developments to happen. We are looking to densify existing areas of London rather than sprawl but we are also looking to create new nodes because we have to look to how we pay for the development.”

For example, developments such as that planned at Old Oak Common in west London are a very big opportunity for creating jobs and houses. For Dix the key is how to make it into a transport hub in its own right by connecting it in to the Underground, Crossrail and the West Coast Mainline.

Yet while overground rail and the underground network is critical to the capital’s transport system. Dix also highlights the fundamental need to also invest in the massive road network to ensure that it adapts to changing needs and, alongside buses, taxis and cars, also accommodates increasing numbers of cyclists, pedestrians and, of course, delivery vans.

“We have had a massive increase in our business plan for roads and have some £4bn more to spend to improve the urban realm by 2022,” she says. “Because of the growth in use something else has to be done (to meet the growth predictions). We need to either spread that demand across the day through more night time deliveries or rearrange the demand in other ways.”

Congestion charging is, of course, one way to manage demand, and a way that is already in place in the capital. However, Dix describes this as “a tool of last resort” highlighting that it not politically very popular. More likely are measures to encourage deliveries outside rush hour.

The move towards electric vehicles and new technology is clearly also on the radar as Dix plans towards 2050. In particular work is on-going to see if this can be combined with specialist tunnel infrastructure to create a 21st century goods delivery network to update the current Post Office tunnel network.

“We can cope with growth to 10M people. But we have to start to plan for the next phase because we can’t get beyond 2030 [with the current investment].”

“You could have autonomous goods vehicles in tunnels specially designed for them,” she explains. “We are looking at the designs now and how different types of technology would bring different savings.”

Of course finding the right strategies for funding future investments is also critical and Dix explains that TfL is discussing the current “shopping list” with London First and the business community to see how the increased value generated by investment in transport can be captured and ploughed back in. 

“We are looking at whether there are new mechanisms that we can use to bring funding in – for example can there be some devolution of taxation to the capital such as Stamp Duty or a portion of council tax,” she explains. “But we have to do this carefully as we do not want levies to make projects unviable.”


This article is carried in the June issue of Infrastructure Intelligence. Click here to read the complete edition.

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email