Three weeks from now, Londoners will head to the polls to decide who will fill the sizeable Boris-shaped void in the capital’s City Hall
Three weeks from now, Londoners will head to the polls to decide who will fill the sizeable Boris-shaped void in the capital’s City Hall. The two clear front runners in the mayoral race - the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Sadiq Khan - do not yet rank anywhere near as highly in the national public consciousness as Johnson or his predecessor Ken Livingstone; and perhaps, in the absence of an Olympics to host, neither do the challenges they face with London’s built environment. But in fact, with another 1.4 million people forecast to join the capital’s already heaving population by 2030, the pressure on the next mayor to adapt and grow the city’s built realm has never been greater.
The limits to the mayoral powers in London - not least the politically daunting requirement to work with the capital’s 33 elected borough councils - mean that the mayor alone cannot solve the challenges facing the city as it attempts to cope with such dramatic growth. But with the role wielding significant influence over housing, transport and planning strategies, it will fall to Johnson’s successor to set policies that will be critical to whether or not those challenges can be met.
That, combined with the fact that a huge amount of construction’s work is bound up in the capital, makes the outcome of next month’s vote of much more than passing interest to the sector. So as the mayoral race enters its final stages, we kick off this week’s London special with a close look at the dividing lines between the two challengers on the issues affecting the built environment.
Perhaps unusually for a UK political race, both candidates have set out clear long-term ambitions designed to benefit the city long after their first term in power would end; Goldsmith pushing for a tenfold increase in energy from solar power by 2025, and Khan eyeing a Crossrail 3 and a long-term programme of improved orbital rail links around the suburbs.
Perhaps unusually for a UK political race, both candidates have set out clear long-term ambitions designed to benefit the city long after their first term in power would end
This longer-term approach has also given rise to some intriguing ideas, like Goldsmith’s desire for a chief architect. Even if this smacks a little of tokenism, it still indicates a laudable desire to plan a city that can counter accusations it is becoming architecturally less than the sum of its parts rather than more.
But while the focus on these ideas is a welcome shift from short-termist policy making on the built environment, the biggest priority for both challengers, and the one on which their success will be judged by the industry and public alike, is addressing London’s housing crisis.
Both candidates have pledged to increase the supply of housing - Khan to 80,000 and Goldsmith to 50,000 a year, the figure that most commentators agree is needed to address historic backlogs and cope with future population growth. Both also acknowledge the need for a focus on affordable homes, but their approaches to achieving this differ substantially.
Khan’s efforts are focused around increasing the supply of what he terms “genuinely affordable homes”, stating that these should amount to half of all homes built. In direct contrast, Goldsmith has rejected the 50% target, but wants a league table to name and shame developers that are not deemed to be providing enough affordable housing, and a “mayor’s mortgage” lasting nine months rather than the standard six to encourage off-plan sales and help first-time buyers.
But with just over 30,000 homes in total added in 2014/15, increasing London’s supply to the 50,000 a year needed is a huge task, and so far neither Khan nor Goldsmith seem to have ideas radical enough to make it happen.
There is tacit acknowledgement from both that more work on their policies is needed for them to be successful - Khan wants to establish a “Homes for Londoners” team at City Hall, while Goldsmith wants to create a small developers panel that would help such firms be more successful in bidding for public land. But looking at the manifestos, there is a strong sense that there will need to be much more detail around the headlines, and, in all likelihood, an additional raft of ideas, once a victor is in place.
From the industry’s perspective, whoever triumphs in May will never be more open to the sector’s advice and influence than in their first few months in post. One of the outgoing mayor’s many quotable phrases, delivered back when he found himself dumped from the Tory front bench in 2004, was that “there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters”. When it comes to addressing London’s housing challenge, the sector needs to play its part in ensuring the last of those does not happen under the next man in charge.
Sarah Richardson, editor