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Bloomberg Interviews Ken

London needs a 30-year overhaul of the rail system, less regulation and a surge in Asian investment to ensure its economic future, Mayor Ken Livingstone said. ``There really are 30 years of transport investment to keep running ahead of the growth in population,'' Livingstone said in an Oct. 3 interview at City Hall. ``We are all breeding like rabbits and you have to build the trains.''

``We are a little less regulated than New York and less taxed than the rest of Europe,'' said Livingstone, who plans to run for a third four-year term in 2008. ``That gives us an advantage.'' The U.K. has taken steps to avoid the stricter U.S. accounting rules of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and has lighter penalties on directors than some countries, lowering listing costs. That has prompted a growing number of companies to list on London's stock exchanges instead of those of Europe and the U.S.

Livingstone, a self-described socialist and member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party, said Thatcher's decision to open the U.K.'s financial-services industry to foreign competition helped transform London from an insular British capital to international city. ``Mrs. Thatcher deregulated it, and all those American and Japanese banks moved in, and the old boys network had been smashed within a decade,'' he said. Livingstone said he will ``bust a gut'' to see that Gordon Brown, currently Chancellor of the Exchequer, succeeds Blair as prime minister.

Livingstone visited China this year in an effort to attract businesses and will travel to India next year to do the same, he said. ``If China locks in to seeing this as the place to do business in Europe, then London's economy is secured for a century.'' Improving the transport system may be the biggest hurdle to future growth. The city is investing 10 billion pounds ($19 billion) over five years in roads, buses and trains after what Livingstone called ``decades'' of government neglect.

The biggest challenge to London's economy is a lack of transportation capacity and a shortage of housing, according to a report last year by Oxford Economic Forecasting for the City of London. The City is the world's second-largest financial center after New York.

Livingstone said London is ``close'' to a funding agreement with Blair's government for Crossrail, a 10 billion-pound railway that would increase the city's rail capacity by 20 percent and connect the West End and the financial district with Heathrow, Europe's busiest Airport which lies west of London. ``Without Crossrail we would have to start turning down applications for new office construction in London,'' he said.

If the Olympics are a success, ``people like yourself will be saying the games have come to the world's leading city,'' he said. ``We are still in a position where we are advancing rather than retreating. Most of the great world cities, particularly in the west, are actually retreating.'' If the transport, housing and Olympic projects don't work, ``I will crawl away under a stone,'' he said.

From; London Needs Transport Overhaul, Chinese Investment, Mayor Says, Brian Lysaght & Sara Walker, Bloomberg, October 5, 2006 Oct. 5

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