The seat of London government looks increasingly likely to shift from Zone One to Docklands, with Sadiq Khan set to take a final decision on the move by the end of this month.
Relocation would save more than £59 million over five years according to a new estimate, compared with a previous one of £55 million, the London Assembly’s GLA Oversight Committee heard today.
“That’s the most important factor,” Mayor Khan told the meeting. “Saving £59 million through cuts to the Met Police, the London Fire Brigade, young people’s service or action on climate change is not something I want to do.
“I would rather make those savings by moving City Hall from London Bridge to City Hall in Newham. Given a choice to protect front-line services or have that fantastic office on the eighth floor with one of the greatest views in the world, I choose the former.”
The GLA’s purpose-built Norman Foster-designed home near Tower Bridge is leased from landowner More London. The lease runs until 2026, but a “break clause” available until the end of this year enabled consideration of relocation as part of Khan’s response to a budget gap of almost £500 million over the next two years resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In June, Khan launched consultation with City Hall staff on a move to The Crystal building in the Royal Docks enterprise zone in Newham. Constructed as an events venue and “innovation hub” for multinational manufacturing conglomerate Siemens in 2012, the building was acquired by the GLA in 2016 and has been under-occupied since Siemens’ departure last year.
Moving east would give a regeneration boost to Docklands, Khan said, much as the siting of the current City Hall near Tower Bridge had boosted redevelopment there 20 years ago.
“Having the office of the Mayor in an area does lead to greater footfall, greater activity. I’m confident that us being there is better for regeneration than us not being there,” he said, adding that the proposed move was backed by Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz.
He rebuffed suggestions from Assembly members, who set out a formal objection to the plan in August, that the move away from the centre could diminish the status of London government. “The mayoralty is defined by the office-holder, not by bricks and mortar or glass and steel,” he said. “I think people will think more highly of us than if we stayed here at a cost of £55 million.”
Khan also confirmed that the Crystal would be his permanent base if the move went ahead, with no mayoral office in other GLA buildings – winning the support of Conservative Assembly member Andrew Boff, attending the meeting remotely, who added: “I should turn my screen off. I’m nodding at what the Mayor is saying too much and that’s not good for my career!”
While the Crystal building, like the current City Hall, would not accommodate enough desks for all GLA staff, the “world had changed” since the onset of the pandemic, GLA chief officer Mary Harpley told the meeting.
Plans are now based on 50% home working, she said. Staff surveys showed 62% of City Hall staff wanting to work from home three days a week or more, 29% preferring two to three days at home, and just 3% all week in the office. Home working would also assist the almost nine in 10 GLA staff who would have a longer commute if the move went ahead, Harpley added, and boost estimated savings because space for GLA staff at Transport for London’s Palestra building HQ would no longer be needed.
The full meeting can be viewed here. Photograph: The Crystal building as seen from the Emirates Air-Line cable car.
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