Rory Stewart has described the disposal of land owned by the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London under Sadiq Khan as “short term and daft”, as “no way to finance things” and as “blowing” London public assets that ought to be preserved for future generations.
Speaking at a meeting in Hammersmith on Thursday, the former Conservative minister, who is running for Mayor as an Independent, said assets from the Met and TfL estates worth a total of £2 billion “have been sold off in about the last five years” as a means of alleviating budgetary pressures.
Responding to a question from an audience member, Stewart said: “Because these institutions are under financial pressure, that money is basically eaten. What was your asset for your children, your grandchildren, we’re blowing on subsidising the running costs of the Tube or the police. Eventually you’re going to run out of land.”
Khan has placed his own requirements on TfL under an approach that was begun under the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson. While the Met has been selling land outright for the highest possible return, notably the former Scotland Yard building in Whitehall, TfL has primarily entered into partnerships with developers and housing associations to build out sites for residential and retail use, thereby retaining a financial interest. Khan has insisted on 50 per cent of housing on schemes agreed under his mayoralty meeting his definition of “genuinely affordable”.
Stewart however asked rhetorically if Khan is “selling off the crown jewels”, and advocated instead “moving to a longer term model”, where public bodies under the control of the Mayor “continue to own that land, get perhaps a smaller but longer-term incremental income over 50 or a 100 years, and adjust their finances accordingly. He [Khan] has taken it from the capital account and put it in the current account. He should not have done that.”
The remarks, reminiscent of ex-Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s likening Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation policies to selling the family silver, precede a promised major housing policy announcement by Stewart in the coming days.
Describing improving the supply of affordable homes as one of “three fundamental things we need to get right” along with community safety and transport, Stewart said, “The mistake that has been made is to try to deliver them exclusively through the private sector.” He referred to London still having “huge resources” of public land and said “the public should be leading the programme in delivering that affordable housing”. Asked later by On London to enlarge on these points he declined, saying he would rather wait until the housing policy initiative is launched.
Stewart was also critical of London boroughs, both Labour and Conservatives, saying they have been guilty of “trying to get as much short term cash as possible” out of development projects and he expressed regret that a lot of these have taken place on what was “originally public land”.
He also took issue with Khan’s general approach to being Mayor, saying Khan appears to think “the point of the position is to symbolise London or to make a speech, not to run the city”. Stewart described leadership as being “about energy and grip and detail” and said he felt that Khan did not see the job of Mayor in that way.
OnLondon.co.uk is committed to providing the best possible coverage of the 2020 London Mayor and London Assembly election campaigns. The site is small but influential and it depends on donations from readers. Individual sums or regular monthly contributions are very welcome indeed. Click here to donate via PayPal or contact email@example.com. Thank you.