Despina Katsikakis of Cushman Wakefield and British Council for Offices, meanwhile, said the office will continue to be critical to building relationships and retaining talent, with a future of hybrid working being the most likely scenario. But an important barrier to returning and re-invigorating London is transport, with general resistance to packed tubes and trains, so Katsikakis’ main ask from the mayor is on funding transport and walkability measures as well as supporting the development of mixed-use centres and affordable workspaces to replace the loss of retail.
Finally, HTA’s Ben Derbyshire said the London Plan fails to tackle the crisis of housing supply, affordability and homelessness, with the government’s planning reforms ‘much, much more problematic’ including a hard-to-work system of design codes for London and PDR.
‘We must walk the talk on community involvement’, said Derbyshire, ‘and driving how our city evolves in a time of unprecedented change’. This would include a mayoral statement of community involvement for all substantial projects, he added, along with feedback loops of learning and an ‘Urban Expo’ promoting the best ideas for a post-pandemic London, as well as another echo of the work of Mayor Hidalgo in Paris in banning traffic from the City and West End. The Green Belt’s role must also be revisited, he added.
The mayoral candidates responded, first with David Simmonds MP on behalf of Shaun Bailey, who he said would be concerned with ‘incremental improvements and changes’, working to engage communities to have their say with the local authorities of London which are ‘absolutely critical’ in the process. Also, that good planning stimulates growth, and that a new mayor should have ideas and recognises diversity and the complexity of the decision-making landscape, acknowledging that one size does not fit all. Large numbers of Londoners have an aspiration to buy their own home so Bailey’s policy of 100,000 homes for £100,000 is a ‘good addition to the market’, he added.
Joyce Onstad, Liberal Democrat List Candidate, London Assembly, on behalf of Mayoral candidate Luisa Porritt, said housing will be the top priority, especially ‘organic homes that heal the environment as well as the people living there’. London needs ‘big ideas and urgent action’ of the kind introduced by William Beveridge, whose ideas led to the creation of the NHS, with a new recognition that housing is a human right and a subject we need to stop ‘playing politics’ with. This could be eased by imaginatively converting office space, launching an empty homes fund and increase on empty homes tax, as they have done in Vancouver, Onstad added.
Caroline Russell spoke on behalf of Siân Berry of the Green Party about worrying signs of London renters in ‘despair’, rising numbers of hidden homeless and coronavirus exposing some of the worst gaps in the system, but which can be changed. She would seek a central London that was car-free by 2040 or earlier if possible but also wanted clarity about how TfL could reform its funding model so it is not so dependent on fares. Russell added that she could not agree with the idea of building on the Green Belt but would build on every single car park and ‘scrap of already built on land’ before disrupting it, but the city needed roads and streets that work for walking and cycling. ‘What we really need is road pricing, and that is one of the things that will help to solve the TfL finance problem and bring in some sustainable income for London’.
Cllr Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council and chair of London Councils, said on behalf of London Mayor Sadiq Khan that the pandemic had indeed further exposed the ‘deep inequalities in our city’ that he seeks to address, such as severe overcrowding, inequality in BAME residents in terms of health outcomes or homelessness. ‘These are huge issues that we need to address’, she said, in a mission to ‘build back better’ on the back of more council houses started since 1983. There has been ‘really ambitious action’ on air quality, too, with toxic air reduced by a third, declaring a climate emergency and committing to a multi-year Green New Deal that aims to double the number of green jobs in the capital. Other key initiatives include the ongoing commitment to cycling and to High Streets. ‘I know that Sadiq Khan will want to work with everyone in this room, across party and across industry to make sure that, like 1945 this is a moment for real change’.
Other issues to emerge during questions included on high rise housing, Simmonds suggesting that the one-size fits all approach did not work and that the London Plan needed to elicit a mix of tenures and types. Families are moving out of central London, though, because they have to, said Gould – the housing benefits cap needed to be reviewed.
A Citizens Assembly may be one way to go to harness the views of a wide range of people and get broad consultation, involving communities more in decision-making, said Russell. The mayor has attempted to get communities more involved through ballots on on-site regeneration, said Gould, although a Citizens Assembly had worked well in Camden. ‘I think there is some real innovation going on around the planning system’, she said.
Citizens Assemblies feel more like ‘stage-managed democracy’ though, said Stevens, while ballots were ‘good, straightforward democracy’ and the correct approach to allow people to stay in estate regeneration schemes.
‘We shouldn’t be forcing people out of London’, he said.
Resourcing planning departments adequately is key in this too, said Onstad, an area where thinking creatively will add to a proposed dedicated team at City Hall for projects. A performance agreement might be another solution here as a way of getting extra resource for what local authorities can charge for planning applications. We would also benefit from a statement of the minimum requirements for public engagement on especially major projects, said Derbyshire.
Finally, there were concerns expressed over government’s ‘investment’ in London vis a vis the levelling up agenda, with more devolution suggested as an answer, with that road pricing idea adding more to the city’s coffers to support TfL and invest in infrastructure. ‘Sian Berry as Green mayor would get road pricing from day one’, said Russell. ‘that’s what London needs’. Shaun Bailey, moreover, has suggested a London Infrastructure Bank as a means of creating some London-level financial autonomy for projects, with road pricing difficult to implement because of its interaction with the vehicle excise duty system, claimed Simmonds.