His policies are also having an impact on the physical appearance of London. He has the power to reject planning applications, which gives him the opportunity to push for his preferred type of development, namely high-density affordable housing.
Any scheme that does not have 50% affordable housing risks being rejected by Livingstone. Often this means developers have to build higher to create enough private apartments to subsidise the affordable housing. Ken’s fondness of tall buildings may help developers build affordable homes but it has annoyed English Heritage and may lose him votes in next Thursday’s election.
Mayoral candidates Steven Norris and Simon Hughes believe that Livingstone wields too much influence. If they became mayor they say they would handover local planning issues to the local authorities and leave major planning decisions to a panel of experts. They also believe that London is incapable of absorbing the 800,000 extra inhabitants expected by 2016. Instead they would implement policies to encourage people to seek employment in the regions.
Hughes and Norris would also make fundamental changes to Livingstone’s Architecture and Urbanism Unit. Hughes would sack its head Richard Rogers and turn it into a design panel of younger architects. While Norris would half its size and its influence: Norris does not think the mayor should be the sole arbiter of design quality.
It looks like Ken all the way, though. A poll in The Times this week found that Ken Livingstone would convincingly beat Norris in a run-off for major. The outcome would repeat the result of the 2000 election, with Livingstone polling 58% of the vote and Norris 42%.
Even if the mayoral race is a foregone conclusion, the electioneering has thrown up some serious questions about Ken’s development policies for London.