Supporting London businesses currently facing “truly existential threats” would be top of Sian Berry’s “to do” list as new Mayor of London, the Green Party candidate told the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry yesterday.
But the party co-leader, London Assembly Member and now third-time mayoral hopeful also came with a challenge to businesses tuning in to the first of the Chamber’s round table sessions with the main City Hall challengers.
“I do want a different economy,” she said. “We need to measure the economy in different ways, measuring the financial health of London, not just the financial size of our economy.”
That would mean a shift to the “15-minute city” concept, focused on smaller density areas, “local economies not just Central London”, and a “rebalanced” central area, with more residents and less reliant on visitors. “We can’t build something back that depends so much on international travellers”.
Businesses would also be set the challenge of reducing waste, Berry said, rather than simply recycling, with a focus on affordable workspace, a “working rent” along the lines of the living wage and given encouragement to transform by spreading across the capital or providing services “in a more mobile way”.
In return, she said, she would pledge to continue the fight to improve trading relationships with the European Union, citing her party’s call for a return to the Customs Union, plan the city “holistically”, and boost mayoral investment to “build back greener”.
City Hall cash currently unallocated from government housing funding would be used by Berry to buy almost a thousand homes for key workers – a pledge in line with key call from the Chamber – with rental income financing further development and encouraging private investment too, as set out in her recent City Hall budget proposals, she said.
Berry said she would introduce “smart, fair road charging”, ensuring “businesses get the road space they need” while deterring unnecessary journeys, and plan city-wide to encourage new, greener industries and retraining. She gave the example of the Old Oak Common and Park Royal mayoral development corporation, said to be the largest regeneration site in Europe, where plans were already supporting business and “dialling down our expectations on housing”.
As Mayor, she would put in place a detailed plan to reach net zero carbon targets by 2030, she added, and lobby both for a £14 an hour London Living Wage by 2022 and continuing support for workers in the form of a Universal Basic Income.
Berry also backed Transport for London’s current, sometimes controversial, programme of housing development primarily in Outer London – “It is very sensible to build homes on TfL’s Outer London car parks” – and repeated her pledge from 2016 to close City Airport.
And Heathrow airport, where expansion plans have been supported by London business groupings? The area was about “much more than aviation”, she said, with major transport links including Crossrail and HS2. “There’s no way I’m saying we should close Heathrow Airport,” she said. But the transport hub, and London as a whole, needed to focus on “the knowledge economy more than on international trade in goods, and become more sustaining in material resources”.
Berry took third place in the 2016 Mayoral election, with 5.8% of first round preferences. The most recent poll put her fourth on 9%, one point behind Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt. The Chamber will be hearing from Porritt next week.
Update, 16 February 2021: This article originally mistakenly said Sian Berry was in third place in the most recent opinion poll. Apologies for that.
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