There was broad agreement over the big issues facing the metropolis, but significantly different visions for the future city from mayoral candidates at today’s hustings organised by business lobby group London First and Bloomberg.
Green Party contender Sian Berry confirmed that London City Airport – a “blight on East London” – would be closed down and replaced by a new digital business quarter were she elected, while Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt said offices will be converted into homes by a City Hall housing company and a new “four days for the price of three” travel card launched if she becomes Mayor.
Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan hinted at new advice coming from government to promote a further opening up of the beleaguered capital, while his Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey pledged to roll back road user charges.
Big changes, including working from home and online shopping, are here to stay, Porritt said, accusing Khan of failing to plan for a new future. Her plan, like Berry’s, would combine new homes in the city centre with backing for high street businesses being transformed to cater for increased local demand from workers spending more time at home.
A Green or Lib Dem mayoralty would also see the controversial Silvertown Tunnel road project scrapped, accelerated plans for a zero-carbon public transport system, curbs on car volumes through additional road-user charging, and, in the case of Berry, a cheaper one-zone flat fare regime for the London Underground.
Bailey took a markedly different tack, pledging to scrap Khan’s proposed Ultra-Low Emission Zone extension to the North and South circular roads, rule out charges for vehicles entering London, and back residents opposed to Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes (LTNs) which restrict through-traffic in residential areas.
“LTNs have made traffic congestion and air quality worse,” he claimed. “Where people don’t want them, I will help to have them removed so that traffic can flow freely.” The sources of air pollution, including buses and black cabs, should be tackled rather than imposing user charges, he added. “If you want to bring people on the green journey, they mustn’t associate that with tax.”
It wasn’t “all gloom”, Khan said, pointing to air quality across the city improving by a third during his term, London-based Brompton Bikes thriving, increased orders for electric buses and Santander bikes – which are supporting businesses in the Midlands – and his continuing commitment to shift the majority of trips in the city to walking, cycling and public transport.
With affordable housing, the audience’s top priority in an online poll, Bailey highlighted his pledge to build 100,000 shared ownership homes, with initial stakes sold for £100,000. “Eighty-seven per cent of Londoners want to own their own home,” he said.
But there was “no substitute for increasing the supply of affordable housing,” said Porritt, while Berry pledged to encourage small builders, housing associations, co-ops and public bodies. “Relying on big developers has been the problem, signing off huge masterplans that take 10 years and often involve demolishing homes that already exist,” she said.
Khan, while talking up his record on council housing, frankly admitted that under his own mayoralty and those of his two predecessors, “we haven’t built enough homes” in London as a whole. There had been “30,000 to 40,000 homes a year for the past two decades,” he said, “but we need north of 55,000.” Bridging that gap would take time, he said. He also confirming that a mayoral commission would explore options for private rent controls in the interim.
He highlighted London’s pre-Covid economic success story during his first term – six per cent growth, 275,000 jobs created, unemployment down from six per cent to 4.3 per cent – while looking to a high-tech future and a surge in domestic tourism encouraged by his “London is Open” campaign. New government advice on working from home expected in May could also see a further opening up of the city, Khan suggested, with companies helping by ensuring regular Covid testing for their employees.
For Berry, though, the recovery would not be “business as usual”. A Green Mayor, she said, would focus on “services not stuff”, promoting a circular “repair and re-use” economy, digital business, mutuals, Universal Basic Income and a pilot “creative autonomy allowance” providing opportunities for young people.
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