The X Factor – London Mayor

With the election for the London Mayor upon us, we identified five pressing issues that relate specifically to Primrose Hill. We sent out David Lennon to get answers and responses from the candidates of the four main parties. Before placing your ‘X’ on the ballot paper, we thought you should hear their views.

We asked five questions to the four main parties, and in the interests of impartiality we have listed the candidates under each question in the order that they responded.

Q1. Planning policy – what are your plans to protect local and community assets?

  • Caroline Pidgeon – Lib Dems : Liberal Democrats opposed the legislation that allowed the conversion of offices to homes. In my manifesto I have reiterated the party’s opposition to the use of permitted development rights to convert commercial property to housing without going through the normal process of obtaining planning permission. Developers would like there to be no rules whatsoever, so they can do what they like. Relaxing planning regulations would not boost completion rates.
  • Sian Berry – Green Party : Small businesses all over London are being priced out or evicted from their premises because the freeholder can make more money redeveloping the space as flats, and it’s all the worse in places like Primrose Hill where property values are sky-high. As a Camden councillor I have experience of fighting to save business premises, shops and my local pub in Dartmouth Park. As Mayor I would protect existing employment and small business space and exempt as many areas of London as I can from the Government’s permitted development rights, allowing offices to be converted into residences. I’ll also make sure that new developments include workplaces as well as homes, and help businesses displaced by regeneration plans to have the right to return at the same rents.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour : The changes the Government are making to planning laws are having a negative impact on our communities. I’m very concerned by the decision to allow offices to be converted to residential units without planning permission. This has led to local businesses and valuable office space being replaced by residential developments that often have no affordable housing. If I’m elected Mayor I’ll amend the London Plan so that there is stronger protection for small businesses, and I’ll deliver new spaces for small businesses within new residential and mixed-use developments. I’ll also work with London’s businesses and councils to bring in protection from permitted development rights, and I’ll make the case to Government that London needs greater powers to protect its valued local businesses and assets.
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative : The best way to preserve the special village character of places like Primrose Hill is to give local people a real say in planning decisions. As part of my Action Plan for Greater London, I will issue new planning guidance within 6 weeks of taking office. This will make it clear that I will give the maximum possible weight to genuine community consultation. To ensure that new development is in keeping with the character of a community, I will also appoint a Chief Architect for London. My Chief Architect will drive high quality design in every development on public sector land and will also hold developers to account.

Q2. How do you plan to mitigate the effect of the Housing Association ‘right to buy’ legislation in places like Primrose Hill?

  • Caroline Pidgeon – Lib Dems : This government and previous governments have been very weak on housing, and I do think they are trying to kill off social housing as we know it. The right to buy for housing associations is just wrong. Right to buy is just stripping out decent housing. Leaving housebuilding to private developers and the market is a mistake, as a lack of supply forces up prices and benefits developers. I very much fear for the future of social housing under this Conservative government. I would introduce a new land-use class category for ‘Affordable Housing’ to enable councils to protect land for that purpose, ensuring developers are clear from the outset what is acceptable in planning terms. This means that land values better reflect wider social and economic priorities of boroughs.
  • Sian Berry – Green Party : Housing Association right-to-buy is a catastrophically destructive policy which will reduce the stock of affordable housing, and accelerate the process of social cleansing in affluent areas like Primrose Hill. Greens have been in the forefront of the opposition to the Tories’ Housing Bill, which is trying to bring this policy in, and as Mayor I would set up a not-for-profit housing company which would help self-builders, co-ops, housing associations and small developers construct homes on small parcels, boosting the supply of affordable housing right across London.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour : I’m very concerned that extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants in London without proper plans for replacing social housing will lead to a hollowing out of the capital. Places like Primrose Hill are also going be vulnerable to the Government’s plans in their Housing Bill to force councils to sell off ‘high-value’ council homes on the open market to the highest bidder. I’ve opposed the Government’s Housing Bill in Parliament and I put down an amendment to guarantee that every housing association home sold under right-to-buy would be replaced with a new home for social rent in the same local area. To be meaningful, replacement guarantees need this kind of clear commitment to new like-for-like homes being built in the local area. The Tories, including Zac Goldsmith, voted against my amendment in the House of Commons, but the Bill is still going through the Lords, and I hope it will be amended there. But even if a guarantee of local replacements does not make it into the final Act, I will work closely with housing associations to voluntarily provide local replacements for social housing lost through the right-to-buy, so that the mixed communities we have across London and in areas like Primrose Hill are not lost.
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative : The only way to solve London’s housing crisis is to close the gap between supply and demand. That’s why I have committed to double house building to 50,000 a year by 2020. As Mayor I will work with Housing Associations all over London, including in Primrose Hill, to give them the land and powers they need to build more homes for Londoners. As a mayoral candidate, I have already secured a commitment from the Government where every high-value council house sold as part of the extended Right to Buy will be replaced with two new affordable homes. Housing Associations have told me they will also be able to deliver a two-for-one replacement of any homes they sell under the new Right to Buy, provided they have access to the necessary land. To provide that access, I will work with Government to secure the transport links we need to make it viable for house-building – something only I can do by protecting TfL’s investment budget, unlike my Labour rival Sadiq Khan whose £1.9 billion budget black hole would put it all at risk.

Q3. HS2 – A straightforward Yes/No question: Are you for or against HS2 in principle?

  • Caroline Pidgeon – Lib Dems : In principle I support HS2. High-speed rail has enormous potential, but the current proposals for HS2 fail to properly address the effects it would have on local communities and London’s existing transport network; so the next Mayor needs to work with them to ensure the impact on London is minimised in Camden and particularly around Euston.
  • Sian Berry – Green Party : Against. The Greens have opposed HS2 from the outset. We support high-speed rail in principle because it should improve Britain’s transport system, reduce road and air traffic and help cut carbon emissions. But HS2’s very high speed makes it more damaging than it needs to be in the countryside, and the effect on huge parts of Camden will be devastating.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour : Yes, I am in favour of HS2: it will bring great benefits, both for London and the rest of the country. But I understand the concerns that have been raised in Primrose Hill and across Camden. It can be all too easy to focus on the wider benefits of large infrastructure projects like HS2 and neglect the impact on those who live closest to the scheme. We cannot simply ride roughshod over people’s quality of life and livelihoods and there are still some big questions that need asking and details that should be reconsidered. For instance, while the scheme could benefit from having a central London terminus, I am not convinced that it should be at Euston. The vast cost of bringing the line to Euston, both financial and in terms of the impact on residents, has yet to be justified. I believe we should continue to explore other options, including Old Oak Common.
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative : I am not against HS2 in principle and I believe it will improve transport connectivity with a welcome new link between London and cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Its impact also goes wider than simply improved transport, as in London it will help to unlock 24,000 new homes and create 55,000 jobs at Old Oak Common. But I’m lifelong localist, and I believe HS2 can only succeed if there is proper mitigation of the impact on local communities and the environment. I have met with local residents, campaigners and representatives affected by HS2 to hear their concerns, and I believe that local people must be heard before any final decisions are made.

Q4. Cycle Superhighway and the impact on Regent’s Park?

  • Caroline Pidgeon – Lib Dems : I support the proposals for the CS11 and recognise the many benefits that they will bring to pedestrians, cyclists and bus users, as well as improvements to the public realm. I am pleased that the scheme will create a safe cycling route between Swiss Cottage and the West End. However, I do have some concerns about the scheme. It is regrettable that some bus routes will be slower as a result of the changes, so I urge Transport for London to do everything it can to mitigate this phenomenon, including measures to speed up these routes in other locations. I am very aware of concern among local residents that traffic displacement caused by the scheme could lead to increased congestion, journey times and pollution in some areas, so I have recommended to Transport for London that these are looked at closely to consider what steps could be taken, perhaps outside this scheme, to ameliorate the effects. I have also suggested to TfL that given the aspects of CS11 that require more detailed consideration, it may well be necessary to carry out a second round of consultation.
  • Sian Berry – Green Party : I’ve worked in transport for many years and so I know that what works when you’re trying to get more people cycling is to make it safe, with proper space on quality cycle infrastructure. This is how Amsterdam and Copenhagen (which weren’t at all cycling havens originally) transformed themselves and now put London to shame when it comes to how many people of all ages cycle. I’ve guaranteed funding to complete Transport for London’s current cycling vision and superhighway plans, and the impact of CS11 on Regent’s Park will be overwhelmingly beneficial. It will make it a much safer and more pleasant place to walk as well as cycle, and will be a wonderful opportunity to introduce many more people to the joys of safe and convenient cycling as the best way of getting around London.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour : I’m in favour of cycle superhighways in London. We have got to make cycling easier and safer for Londoners. But we need to learn the lessons from what’s worked and what hasn’t worked with previous schemes. The proposals for CS11 from Swiss Cottage to the West End, which I know are very controversial – have been out for public consultation. It is really important that the Mayor listens to all the views and concerns expressed by residents during the consultation, and if changes are needed to the plan, then they should be implemented.
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative : I want to make cycling easier and safer in London. It’s already doubled under Boris, and my Action Plan will double it again. For me, the question is not if we accommodate cycling and make it safer, the question is how. I recently spoke at a packed public meeting on the Cycle Superhighway Scheme 11 in St John’s Wood, and heard strong feelings from residents throughout the evening. I am very clear that changes of this scale on London’s roads need community consent. If elected I will ask TfL to demonstrate clearly that they have taken a holistic look at the combined impact of HS2 construction and other developments on pollution, local buses and the school run. I expect the Cycle Superhighways to do a great job, but policy needs to be based on evidence, and if residents’ fears about congestion are borne out, then we will have to look again. We need a cycling programme that works for everyone.

Q5. Air quality issues in London

  • Caroline Pidgeon – Lib Dems : Air pollution causes huge health problems, leading to over 10,000 premature deaths per year. My manifesto will deliver a big switch to pollution-free electric vehicles, a healthy increase in walking and cycling, and achieve higher clean air standards. I will speed up the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone by two years, starting in 2018 rather than 2020, with additional charges for polluting vehicles. By 2024 small and medium-size diesel vehicles will not be able to enter this zone, which will be expanded to cover London inside the North and South Circular roads. Also by 2024 I plan to introduce charges for diesel vehicles in the Low Emission Zone to deter usage and promote a shift to cleaner vehicles. I would want to increase the number of electric single-decker buses and expand the planned trial for double-decker electric buses so that all new replacement buses will be fully electric, while hybrid buses will be modified to operate on electric power for more of their journeys. The shift to electric taxis will be speeded up.
  • Sian Berry – Green Party : Air pollution is a problem throughout London, including my council ward in Highgate and everywhere with high levels of traffic – so of course that also means Primrose Hill. It causes 9,500 premature deaths a year in London and the time for half-hearted efforts is very much past. London has seen too many delays under Boris Johnson – including ludicrous schemes like trying to glue the pollution to the roads – and we need a new Mayor with a comprehensive plan to bring our air within legal limits as soon as possible, using every tool at our disposal. In the short term, if I’m elected Mayor, I will immediately exclude the most polluting cars, vans and lorries from central London. I will cancel road-building plans and oppose all airport expansion and speed up replacing diesel buses with hybrids and electric vehicles. In the longer term, we need a truly effective new Ultra Low Emission Zone, much stronger car-free policies built into the London Plan, and a new electric car charging network with at least 25,000 charging points for cleaner vehicles, including the new taxis.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour : London is also one of the world’s most polluted cities. Too many of our family and friends are suffering from London’s filthy air and we need to act now. I have lived here all my life and have never smoked, but I now have adult onset asthma. I want to be the Mayor who makes London one of the world’s greenest cities, and our most pressing environmental challenge is cleaning up London’s air. So many pollution hotspots in the city are around schools, exposing our children to dangerously polluted air and putting them at greater risk of respiratory conditions. We need to act now and I have set out a host of measures in my Manifesto, including embarking on a major tree-planting programme across London, setting a target of only buying clean electric or hydrogen buses from 2020, and consulting on extending the Ultra-Low Emission Zone.
  • Zac Goldsmith – Conservative : Air quality has got so bad that that the effect on life expectancy is equivalent to 10,000 deaths a year. This is unacceptable and we must take action. So my Action Plan for Greater London will clean up London’s air. As Mayor I will double cycling, massively increase the amount of solar power we generate, clean up London’s bus and taxi fleet, consult with communities on strengthening the Ultra Low Emission Zone and make it much easier to drive an electric vehicle. This includes creating an electric car version of Boris Bikes. I’ve been an environmental campaigner for twenty years, and this is an issue that matters to me. As Mayor I want to make London the cleanest big city on earth.

Here is the list of all the  candidates, in alphabetical order

Date of the election: Thursday 5 May
Polling Station: Primrose Hill Community Centre, 29 Hopkinson’s Place (off Fitzroy Road), NW1 8TN [map]
Opening hours for voting: 7.00 to 22.00

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