The mounting Transport for London funding crisis loomed large today at City Hall as the London Assembly conducted its last ever Mayor’s Question Time session at Norman Foster’s bespoke building ahead of the Greater London Authority’s move east to a new home at the Crystal building in the Royal Docks.
“Ministers are refusing to provide enough investment to maintain vital services,” Sadiq Khan told Assembly Members (AMs). With the current short-term government emergency funding deal due to end on 11 December 11, he warned that “time is running out, and it is my duty as Mayor to sound the alarm”.
The impact of the impending cash crisis in cuts to bus routes, London Underground services and essential maintenance was set out in a toughly-worded TfL finance report released yesterday A “managed decline” of the network would mean “widespread disruption and gridlock”, putting the national as well as the capital’s economy at risk and hitting the poorest Londoners hardest, Khan said.
“There can be no national recovery without a London recovery, and no London recovery without properly-funded public transport. With just three weeks to go, I call on the government to work with TfL to protect London’s transport system, for the good of the capital and the country.”
In sometimes heated exchanges, Khan also fended off an orchestrated attack on his record on manifesto pledges from Conservative AMs, including accusations from Tory Assembly group Susan Hall that he had broken a promise on opposing “inappropriate” tall buildings by pushing forward with high-rise developments on Underground station car parks.
“You have thousands and thousands of Londoners begging you not to do this. Are you going to listen to them?” she asked, to vocal support from an unusually well-attended public gallery, adding that the latest petition, organised by Chipping Barnet MP Teresa Villiers, had gathered 2,627 signatures opposing development at High Barnet tube car park.
“There is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in our city, not a chronic shortage of car parking,” Khan retorted, to further barracking from the gallery, adding that the government itself was encouraging development on TfL land.
“What we’re hearing is members of this assembly defending the right of people outside London to drive to a car park next to a tube station, as opposed to Londoners desperately in need of an affordable home. That is the reason they got spanked in the May election.”
Khan also rejected criticism from Tory AM Neil Garratt that his mooted “boundary charge” on vehicles registered outside London entering the capital was counter to his manifesto claims to be the “most pro-business Mayor ever”.
TfL had been forced to consider the boundary charge idea as a result the government requiring it to identify ways of raising an additional £500 million in revenue by 2023, Khan said. “This is not something I’m running towards, wanting it to happen”.
City Hall’s preferred alternative is to retain the £500 million raised every year in Vehicle Excise Duty from Londoners, which is passed to the Treasury and spent elsewhere, an option which has had full cross-party support in the Assembly.
“The government has that alternative,” he told Garratt. “If you can persuade your government to be less anti us the boundary charge won’t happen.”
The Mayor’s Question Time session can be viewed in full here.