A senior London Conservative MP has warned the government that its “levelling up” policies for other regions of the country should not be pursued “at the expense of London”.
Bob Neill, who represents Bromley & Chislehurst and co-chairs the all party parliamentary group for London, stressed in a House of Commons speech yesterday that “London is the economic powerhouse of the whole of the country, and if we harm London we damage everybody in the long run”.
He also reminded fellow MPs that the capital has “high levels of poverty” with pockets of it “even in comparatively affluent suburbs like mine” and he concluded: “We need to have levelling up within London as well as across the rest of the country.”
Neill’s speech was a wide-ranging contribution to a debate about Michael Gove’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, in which he emphasised the importance of “proper devolution” for “levelling up and regeneration”. While praising the government’s enthusiasm for mayoral systems of regional government, he said “we ought to couple that with fiscal devolution”, citing Boris Johnson’s creation of the London Finance Commission when he was London’s Mayor and what Neill called its “many useful devolutionist but entirely pro-Conservative recommendations” published in 2013. The commission was re-convened by Sadiq Khan in 2016 and produced a further report the following year.
The “ability to raise more of their revenue locally,” would be essential for deeper evolution to make sense, Neill said, noting that “We have one of the most centralised local government finance systems in the western world – that does not make for healthy democracy.” On a related theme he argued that the “levelling up” legislation should not result in a reduction in “localism, that localist aspect to what we are doing” through any erosion of the importance of local planning frameworks, such as by housing targets being imposed from higher tiers of government “in a mandatory and rather arbitrary fashion”, which he said were “a particular problem in areas like suburban London”.
Neill said these problems “are magnified by the predatory attitude of the Labour Mayor of London towards suburban boroughs, where we are seeing unrealistic targets put upon boroughs like Bromley, much of which is green belt” while at the same time there is “much brownfield land in London, much of it publicly owned and unused for years”. Neill said “we really ought to have a proper ‘brownfield first’ policy as far as our urban areas are concerned.”
Watch the whole of Bob Neill’s House of Commons speech here.
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