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As a response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Government announced on Friday that the local and mayoral elections which were due to take place in May would be postponed to 2021.
In London, this means that Sadiq Khan will have another year in power, so which policy priorities should he focus on during this extended mayoral term?
Policy priority one: the mayor must focus on housing delivery and affordability
This one won’t come as a surprise. Housing supply has been unable to keep pace with an increasing demand in recent decades: only 35,000 homes were built in 2018 in London, falling short of the 60,000 that we need per year. As a result, housing prices and land values have continued to rise sharply in the capital – much faster than incomes.
This has contributed to making housing the number one concern for Londoners: in a recent survey we commissioned with the polling institute Savanta Comres, housing was picked as a top three priority by 56 per cent of respondents – the highest of any city region – while 61 per cent of them want the mayor should have more powers over the provision of affordable housing.
The priority for Sadiq Khan’s extra year should be to stem further falls in the affordability of housing. To do this he should undertake two measures.
The first is to reform green belt restrictions, and allow housing development around train stations in the green belt. A recent Centre for Cities report estimated that releasing green belt land within 800 metres of 567 rail and tube stations surrounding London would unlock more than a million new homes.
The second is to allow densification of existing neighbourhoods through the London Plan. The large majority of London’s residential stock is low-density, terraced housing, resulting in higher housing costs because a low number of households share London’s expensive plots of land.
The Mayor should immediately amend the current draft London Plan and submit it for consultation. The draft has recently been rejected by the Secretary of State for Housing on the basis that it would not meet London’s current and future housing needs. Taking into account these criticisms, the new draft plan should make green belt release possible – the current draft blocks it – and include a commitment to identify zones where the low-rise, semi-detached stock can be knocked down and replaced by mid-rise developments.
Policy priority two: the mayor must continue with policies to reduce congestion and air pollution
Despite the introduction of a congestion charge in 2003, London is the sixth most congested city in the world. It is also one of the most polluted in the UK, with more than 40 per cent of roads above NO2 legal limit, and one in sixteen deaths in the capital caused by fine particulate matter.
Transport and air pollution matter for Londoners, and the Mayor’s recent policies have been noticed: when asked to name Sadiq Khan’s achievements, 21 per cent mentioned either the improvement of public transport, the fare freeze or his actions on air quality, while 37 per cent mentioned transport in their top 3 policy priorities.
In the coming year, the Mayor should use his control over transport to take these policies further.
First, the congestion charge should be improved, extended to 8pm and operate on a 7-days a week basis. These changes must be implemented as soon as possible. This will not only tackle congestion outside of the charging hours, but raise money for TfL at a time when fare revenues have fallen.
These changes should be short-term improvements in advance of a more effective road pricing system to reduce congestion fairly. A new charging system, incorporating the time, distance, route and vehicle weight and emissions of journeys – instead of the current system where drivers pay the same price whether they spend 10 minutes or the whole day driving – is technically possible now if submitted to consultation. It is also unavoidable if London is to meet its target of 80 per cent of journeys by public transport, walking or bike by 2040.
In the next year, the Mayor should also reduce the amount of space for private vehicles in central London, and allocate the space more effectively to help people get around. Too much public land is given to low capacity uses – private vehicles – and too little for high capacity uses such as walking, cycling and public transport.
Banning cars from the busiest roads at peak times should be extended to other central areas such as Trafalgar Square or Oxford Street. Although this is unlikely to be implemented in just a year, setting targets in the Transport Strategy and starting on small sites, as is currently being done around Bank by the City of London, can be done as soon as possible.
Around 85 per cent of Londoners support greater devolution of powers to the Mayor, especially on issues they feel the most concerned about such as affordable housing and transport.
An additional year in power is therefore an opportunity for the Mayor to address these concerns, push his current policies further while making significant changes to policy documents such as the London Plan, and help London deal with the negative costs of its economic growth.
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