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Planning the future of London – what the next London Mayor can do

18 April 2016 Author:

The London mayoral election is now less than three weeks away, taking place on May 5th along with three other direct mayoral elections in Bristol, Liverpool and Salford.

 Within the global context, the visibility of mayors has increased over the past years, from Enrique Peñalosa’s inclusive urban transformation in Bogotá to Paris’ Anne Hidalgo co-hosting the Climate Summit for Local Leaders on the margins of COP21 with Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-Generals Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and himself former mayor of New York. More recently the OECD has launched the Inclusive Growth in Cities campaign and a global coalition of Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth, following a publication calling to address inequalities in metropolitan areas and cities. Organisations like EUROCITIES, which was funded by the mayors of Barcelona, Birmingham, Frankfurt, Lyon, Milan and Rotterdam, bring the local governments of European cities together to share knowledge and exchange ideas on the challenges facing cities.

Benjamin Barber argued in If Mayors Ruled the Word that cities, and the mayors that run them, offer the best new forces of good governance, and a result initiated a Global Parliament of Mayors. Robin Hambleton argued in a RTPI blog last year that “the introduction of a directly elected mayor has resulted in a startling increase in the visibility of city leadership” in Bristol. Yet mayors are not commonplace in the UK  and encounter suspicion - in 2012, nine out of ten cities having a referendum rejected the option of having an elected mayor, at the exception of Bristol.

Directly elected mayors were first introduced to England and Wales by the Local Government Act 2000, including in London. The Mayor of London has got Europe’s second largest direct electorate, and significant powers over planning in the capital. The Mayor through the London Plan sets a strategic direction for areas such as housing, transport, environment, health and regeneration, and collaborates with the London boroughs on strategic planning applications. Yet there has been some debates on the lack of finance raising powers of London –which retains just 5% of its total tax take for local spending, compared to over 50% in New York and over 70% in Tokyo.

The Mayor of London has got Europe’s second largest direct electorate, and significant powers over planning in the capital.

London is facing important challenges, such as population growth, housing supply and affordability, transport capacity, the health of Londoners, air quality and resilience to climate change. These were the focus of a RTPI London mayoral series and a manifesto for the new Mayor of London, following a consultation exercise involving round table discussions across the capital, the South East and East of England (as many issues go way beyond Greater London’s boundaries and require strategic planning and cooperation), and a member survey. The following priorities have been identified:

1. Increase the supply of genuinely affordable housing across a range of tenures
2. Empower local authorities and other public bodies to help solve London’s housing crisis
3. Ensure that growth is matched with infrastructure
4. Tackle air pollution and congestion by investing in low-carbon transport
5. Demonstrate leadership on climate change
6. Boost resilience by reducing London’s energy demand and planning for new low-carbon infrastructure
7. Adopt a more integrated approach to the delivery of green infrastructure and integrate health in planning decision-making
8. Enable the continued development of a vibrant London economy
9. Increase cooperation across the wider South East on key strategic issues

London Photo Credit Barnyz Flickr

 Within these issues, housing has been identified as the key issue for Londoners. The manifesto argues that while there is no single solution to the current housing crisis, the contribution of the public sector in delivering housing has been much reduced over the last three decades. Therefore the Mayor should focus on supporting the public sector to play a larger role in the delivery of housing, specifically affordable homes for social rent and shared ownership. This can be achieved by lobbying central government to raise the borrowing cap for local authorities, supporting land assembly and remediation, and offering central technical assistance to make sure that land assets are used in a way that benefits local communities and generates long-term revenue streams.

 The lobbying role of the Mayor would be critically important in light of the differentiated some national policies will have on London. RTPI London’s manifesto outlines that Starter Homes can be a welcome addition to that mix, but are not designed to meet the needs of lower-income households (according to research by KPMG, first time buyers would need to earn £77k a year to live in London); and the lack of replacements for homes sold under the extended Right to Buy scheme means that certain areas of London risk losing a significant proportion of their affordable housing stock. The next Mayor of London has the potential to play an important role for the future of the city and the lives of Londoners, in a context of increasing visibility and initiatives by mayors.