Event: Why I should be Mayor of London Tomorrow

29 January 2016

​During a London Mayoral hustings entitled Why I should be Mayor of London Tomorrow at the LSE, the audience heard from:

  • Green Party Mayoral candidate Sian Berry
  • Conservative Mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith
  • Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon
  • Labour Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan
  • UKIP Mayoral candidate Peter Whittle

The event was chaired by London Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Colin Stanbridge. It was arranged by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), as well being support by EY and London City Airport.

Chair’s opening remarks

Opening the session, the Chair explained that the event was a culmination of the London Tomorrow though leadership campaign, run by the LCCI with support from EY and London City Airport.

He explained that the project would produce a dossier for the new Mayor of London to follow.

Candidates’ opening statements

Delivering the first of the opening statements, Mr Goldsmith said he had a plan to grow London’s transport network and allow the city to grow and develop new housing.

He pledged to tackle the “blight” of air pollution in London, which he claimed cost 10,000 lives a year.

Mr Goldsmith declared he had experience of holding the Government to account, a fact reflected in his increased majority in his constituency of Richmond Park.

Following this, Mr Whittle said London Tomorrow had identified infrastructure problems for the city. He also underlined the importance of improving the quality of life for Londoners.

London’s population was growing and needed to be tackled, Mr Whittle, adding that the city and business had a very exciting future outside of the EU.

Next up to deliver their opening remarks was Ms Berry.

The Green party’s approach to business would see SMEs thrive all over the city and make town centres pleasant places to visit, she said.

Ms Berry called for the abolition of fare zones on London transport, the closure of City Airport to build new homes and the formation of a London Renters Union. She also indicated that plans for a regional Bank for London would be launched in the coming weeks.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan said Londoners were being priced out as a result of the “housing crisis”, which he claimed was depriving Londoners of the opportunity to succeed.

He argued that the next generation was missing out, promising to deliver “first dibs” homes for London. He added that he would build a modern transport system, improve policing and ensure the city succeeded.

Finally, Ms Pidgeon said she had campaigned in the Greater London Assembly to save local Police and Community Support Officers and deliver transport improvements across the city.

She also claimed to understand the needs of Londoners, including 50,000 new council homes, wrap-around childcare and reducing transport fares.

Q&A with the Chair

The Chair then sought to highlight some issues from the London Tomorrow report and other topical issues.

He started off by asking the candidates if they would retain Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe in his role.

All five panellists spoke in favourable terms of Sir Bernard, but most declined to comment openly on whether they would retain him in post.

Ms Pidgeon criticised Sir Bernard’s stance over the use of water cannon by the Met, but expressed confidence in his other decisions.

There needed to be a reconnection between the police and the communities they operated within, Mr Whittle said, adding that officers could come from those same neighbourhoods they worked in.

Housing

The Chair asked how 50,000 new homes could be built in London.

In reply, Ms Pidgeon said the Liberal Democrats wanted to turn the Olympic Precept on council tax to allow money to be borrowed for housing, also wanting to set-up a construction skills academy at City Hall.

People who had lived in London more than five years should be given priority to social housing, Mr Whittle said. He added that the uncontrolled migration into London was the “driver behind the housing crisis”.

He added that he wanted to see a sensible migration policy to help tackle the housing crisis.

Mr Khan said that his family’s council house had given him security and affordability growing up. He criticised the current definition of affordable homes of £450,000 used by Mr Goldsmith, citing research from Shelter stating that an average salary of £77,000 would be needed to afford such a home.

Mr Khan pledged to set-up a ‘Homes for Londoners’ scheme at City Hall to ensure half of all homes in London were genuinely affordable with a social rent. He added that the scheme would ensure a “London Living Rent” that was linked to earning and stop developers selling homes to foreign investors.

He also said that he would also establish a not-for-profit London-wide letting agent that would offer affordable, three year tenancies.

If even Londoners on double the average salary could not afford a home then there was an “economic crisis” in housing, Mr Goldsmith argued.

His answer was to expand the transport network in order to keep the city moving and open up “huge tracts of publically owned brownfield land”. Mr Goldsmith also wanted to use the planning system to tackle land banking in both the public and private sector, with an emphasis on the latter.

He committed that new homes built on public land would go to Londoners.

“We have all the tools we need to deliver a really radical housing programme. The bottom line is that we have got to build”, Mr Goldsmith concluded.

Ms Berry highlighted the structural problem of workers being pushed further away from the centre. She called for the Olympic precept to be continued in order to help restore social housing.

The Government should be persuaded to give the Mayor the power to control rents, Ms Berry said.

Continuing this thread of questioning, the Chair asked if any of the candidates supported rent controls or building on the green belt.

Rent control had been disastrous when it had been implemented in New York in the 1970s, Mr Whittle said, adding he would also not support construction on the green belt.

Mr Khan said that Mr Goldsmith’s plans did not include any plan to build affordable housing, claiming that the Conservative candidate’s plans to build in outer London would see inner parts of the city “hollowed out”.

Mr Khan then underlined his attempt to amend the Housing and Planning Bill and ensure the social houses sold off under the Right to Buy were replaced.

Responding, Mr Goldsmith rejected the notion of polarising the housing debate between social and private housing, adding it was important to cater for those across the income spectrum.

He also noted “unprecedented” measures to allow local authorities to blacklist rogue landlords.

Mr Goldsmith also rejected the notion of being allowed to build on the green belt, instead once again connecting the issue of expanding the transport network to building new homes.

Tax relief on mortgages should be devolved to local areas, Ms Berry said, adding that she was against building on the green belt. She added that 70,000 new homes could be built on small vacant sites around London and on top of some existing properties.

Ms Pidgeon said she also that believed brownfield land should be used for developed and highlighted her pledge for City Hall to have its own building company in order to reduce the reliance on the private sector.

Q&A with the audience

Working with private businesses

Opening the questioning, a representative from London City Airport asked how they saw city boroughs working with private businesses to improve the city.

Responding, Mr Goldsmith said that it was important to see the changes in London over the last eight years and the expansion of sectors such media, technology and tourism.

The job of the next mayor was to ensure that the city had as business friendly as possible.

Businesses also recognised the importance of housing, he said, and wished to see changes. However, he bemoaned the poor digital connectivity within the capital and argued that businesses wished to see the issue tackled.

He stated that he had proposed the TfL network be used to roll out broadband and provide superfast broadband.

Further, he noted the high cost of renting places in businesses. He argued that TfL ought to make greater provision for new businesses.

Mr Whittle noted that London has many small businesses who were “on their last risk”, and said that these were his priority.

He suggested that reforms such as free parking for cars at certain times in order to revive high streets.

This was about the quality of people’s lives and communities, he said.

Further, he said that these businesses tended to be more Eurosceptic and were the ones who struggled most as a result of the regulation that came from the EU.

Following, Mr Khan said that London’s success was based on its openness.

He argued that business could be encouraged to help finance housebuilding, in exchange for which they could allow their employees to live there.

Discussing infrastructure projects, he noted the funding structure for Crossrail and suggested this could be used to support further infrastructure projects.

He argued that employers could be encouraged to pay the London Living Wage through things like subsidies to Business Rates.

Further, he called for a business advisory board to provide advice. He pointed to the tech talent pipeline scheme in New York as a model for the sort of work that London could also do.

Mr Khan added that he would encourage businesses to campaign for continued membership of the EU, noting how many jobs in London were dependent on Britain’s remaining part of the Union.

Ms Pidgeon said that she would support businesses through investing in infrastructure.

She added that it was important to develop the workforce and their skills, and push for devolved funding.

However, she also said that she would tackle the issue of maternal employment and attributed this to the high cost of childcare.

She stated that she would provide more flexible childcare and develop more trained childminders.

In addition, she stated that she would support continued membership of the EU and stressed the importance of the relationship for London.

Mr Whittle, however, said that Britain had no or diminishing influence within Europe.

He added that jobs would not be lost as trade with the EU would continue even if Britain left the Union, and dismissed the suggestion that companies would relocate their headquarters outside of the UK should Brexit take place.

Ms Berry accepted that she would close London City Airport, arguing the land could be better used for housing and contributed to air pollution in the area.

She suggested that a partnership between various different cultural, educational and business institutions could be brought together in such cases

Citing the King’s Cross development as an example, she argued that the scheme had worked.

Londoners needed to have a stake in projects being built, she added, and when the Green Energy Company was set up everyone in London would have a stake.

A community homes unit would be created in City Hall in order to encourage communities in building their own council homes, she said.

Bringing people as well as the public sector and businesses into the mix was crucial, she said.

Air pollution and cycling

Following, there was a question about air pollution and a request for a commitment to pollution and emissions reductions. In addition, the questioner asked about the role for cycling as part of this and questioned how facilities would be improved.

Mr Khan said he would work to reduce air pollution, noting the impact on public health, and argued that cycling was a key part of the solution given how stretched public transport was.

Capacity needed to be expanded, he said, partially through the approval of Crossrail 2 and also through the construction of more superhighways for cycles.

More and more Londoners were cycling, he stressed.

Ms Pidgeon called for a new diesel levy for the Congestion Charge zone to encourage people to switch away from such vehicles. Further, she called for electric buses and taxis, and suggested that a scheme for TfL to buy the taxis upfront to ensure they could be rolled out.

She voiced her support for cycling, and said that she would encourage more spending from TfL on cycling in both inner and outer London.

Mr Goldsmith welcomed the increasing focus on the environment.

He argued that there were too many HGVs on London roads, and argued that consolidation centres needed to be used more effectively.

Further, he noted the emphasis on cycling under the current Mayor and argued that this needed to increase.

In addition, he proposed a green car club based around the Boris bike scheme within the capital, and said the infrastructure was needed.

He cited the example of a similar scheme in France, and argued that this would be a priority.

Mr Khan proposed that City Hall could tackle the explosion in private hire vehicle, and argued that this needed to be stopped as it was contributing to congestion and pollution.

The ultra-low emissions zone needed to be reconsidered, he said. He suggested that this would have a disproportionate impact on those with lower incomes

Ms Berry stressed that there was an obligation to tackle air pollution. This would be achieved by bringing in more electric vehicles, reducing the number of vehicles on the road and prioritising cycling, she said.

Discussing cycling, she welcomed the additional investment but argued that more investment was needed in outer London boroughs. This was where the opportunity lay, she said, as this was where many short car journeys took place.

Concluding questions

A member of the audience asked how the quality of education would be improved in the capital. Another member of the audience asked how the candidates would resist lobbying and pressure from central Government in tackling the issue of private hire vehicles.

There was also a question about ensuring that new buildings met environmental standards, while someone else asked about more river crossings in the East of London.

Ms Pidgeon stressed the importance of ensuring children had access to good quality school places, and said that she would use GLA land to build more schools and deliver the places needed. She also advocated an expansion of the Mayor’s role in work around education.

More work needed to be done around insurance for private hire vehicles, she said, and spending on enforcement in the area needed to be doubled. She strongly supported the idea of a cap on private hire vehicles.

With relation to new buildings, she said that she would seek expert advice and stressed the importance of ensuring that new developments were well connected.

While rejecting the need for a road bridge in East London, she called instead for pedestrian and cycle crossing between Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe.

Mr Khan noted the cancelling of the DLR expansion, although he welcomed the expansion of the Overground.

While noting the economic benefits of a new river crossing, he noted the potential impact on air pollution and stressed the need to act in a “sensitive” way to regenerate the areas.

The London Plan needed to look at the new homes to be built, he said. He strongly criticised the cuts to feed in tariffs, arguing that this would slow the roll out of renewable energy.

He encouraged the maximisation of the use of renewable energy on TfL land.

Noting the high number of private hire vehicles, he said the Government needed to give the Mayor the power to tackle this issue and argued that it was important that the black cab was not lost.

He noted that there were parts of London where there were surplus school places, and said that he wanted to have the Mayor involved in planning schools and school places more directly.

Ms Berry said that a river crossing would make air pollution worse, but welcomed the idea of a pedestrian and cycle crossing between Greenwich and Canary Wharf.

Energy efficiency standards had been weakened, she noted, but they could be restored in a new London Plan.

One million homes needed to be insulated she said, including in private rented homes.

She stressed the importance of tackling private hire vehicles, arguing that if this was drawing people off public transport then it was damaging. However, she suggested it could be welcome if it reduced other car usage

Discussing free schools, she argued that the GLA should no longer support such schools and should instead support local authorities in planning school places. In addition, she called for the establishment of a new post for managing all school places in London.

Mr Whittle noted that the tax revenue from Uber was very low, and said that he would work to tackle the issue.

He raised concerns about the “monetisation of London”, and noted that the benefits of black cabs was being lost.

He suggested that he would scrap the Garden Bridge project, which he described as a “vanity project”.

Discussing the challenges over education, he said that migration to London was making the situation worse and that tackling this was therefore essential.

Mr Goldsmith suggested there were good arguments for building a bridge in East London, but argued that it needed to be built and financed in such a way that it encouraged the use of clean vehicles.

On building standards, he said that the London Plan could allow the Mayor to introduce new regulations and suggested that he would use it to encourage the more effective use of solar energy in London.

Describing himself as a “passionate supporter” of the black cab, he stressed the need for intervention to protect the industry.

He argued that competition was not a fair argument against the black cab, noting that they were heavily regulated and had several requirements they had to meet.

Expecting them to compete against Uber was unfair, he said.

Discussing education, he noted that the Mayor had access to a large amount of land and argued that this could be used to build new schools.

It was important to consider the infrastructure required when building new homes and taking a strategic approach, he said.

He noted the expected devolution of the Skills Fund and argued this could be tailored to meet local needs.

Mike Indian, Political Consultant
Mike Indian
Political Consultant

Mike Indian is Political Consultant and a member of DeHavilland’s Content team, leading on infrastructure and Scottish affairs. He leads on DeHavilland's dynamic content, specifically videos and podcasts, and regularly appears in the media as a political commentator. A graduate of Lancaster University, he has worked as a freelance journalist.