Response to the Government’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow Airport

The government’s announcement on Heathrow is hugely disappointing – it assumes that every increasing numbers of flights are inevitable without any debate about the damage that this is doing to the environment and whether a few of the billions Heathrow will cost should be used to improve less damaging forms of transport. But even if we accept that more capacity is needed this is the wrong way to achieve it. It was only in May that Londoners overwhelmingly backed mayoral candidates who are against Heathrow expansion. The decision is a kick in the teeth for democracy. The Gatwick alternative might actually be delivered and could certainly happen much quicker.

Once more, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is providing leadership on this issue and I welcome his comments today;-

“I will continue to challenge this decision and I am exploring how I can best be involved in any legal process over the coming months.

“Most urgently, the Government must set out how it’s possible for Londoners not to suffer from the additional air and noise pollution that we know will be created by an additional runway at Heathrow.

“They also need to guarantee that they will fully fund the billions of pounds needed to improve road and rail connections to Heathrow – Londoners cannot be expected to pick up the bill for this.”

My South London Press column, 14/10/2016

The oldest building in Lewisham is the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Ladywell which was built in 1774 although there had been a church on that site for over 1000 years. I am very fortunate as mayor to be invited to visit many places of worship from time to time – some are ancient like St. Mary’s while others are much more recent and have involved the conversion of buildings originally built for other purposes like the Lewisham Islamic Centre just down the road. What many of them have in common is that they are much more than places of worship – they play a vital role in our borough in different ways and serve not only their own congregations but the wider community too.

I was at St Mary’s because they were celebrating the success of a fund raising campaign to enable them to repair the church roof. As is always the case with such appeals there are a mixture of individual donations and some larger ones from institutions. In this case the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has provided a significant grant and the Leathersellers’ Livery Company has also helped out. The HLF are supporting a number of projects in Lewisham which enable existing facilities to be restored or brought back into use, and at a time when public bodies are short of cash they play a vital role.

The Leathersellers’ Company is one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London dating back to 1444 but they have been active in Lewisham for many years and have strong local connections, not least through their work in supporting schools. The Leathersellers’ Federation which consists of the three Prendergast schools has its origins in the first girls’ secondary school built in 1890, on a site provided by the Leathersellers’ Company.

The banking crisis of 2008 led to a prolonged period of austerity in our country and since the vote to leave the EU in June this has been exacerbated by great uncertainties about the future for many individuals in our city, but also for the economic well being of the city as a whole. Those of us who are active in politics have also been involved in different ways in difficult issues for our own parties.

As I sat in St. Mary’s I was firstly grateful for the way our faith based groups of all kinds work together and with the wider community in these difficult times. But then knowing that men and women had visited that very site for hundreds of years in war and peace, good times and bad, reminded me that we must keep our current challenges in perspective. Our community is resilient and will come through those challenges just as generations before us did, and as future generations will too I am sure.

A response to Sajid Javid’s conference speech

Speeches at Party Conferences are notoriously strong on rhetoric and light on detail so responses to them always need to be caveated that the detail will be awaited before reaching a final conclusion. Nevertheless we have a new government in office and the Conservative Conference is for many minsters the first opportunity to indicate how they are approaching their portfolios.

Inevitably it is what they have to say that is relevant to meeting London’s Housing crisis that attracts my attention and whether there is anything to offer hope that the efforts being led by the Mayor and supported across London’s Boroughs will be joined by government support at pace and scale.

To begin to solve that crisis there needs to be an unprecedented increase in the number of new homes built in London each year and most of that increase will involve units for rent not for sale. Those rental units will have to meet the needs of a wide range of Londoners of varying incomes and family sizes and a significant proportion must be genuinely affordable.

The availability of land and construction capacity will also be key considerations while the regulations that will be published shortly subsequent to the passage of the Housing and Planning Act will need to be scrutinized very carefully for the effect they will have.

So what did we learn from Sajid Javid’s speech in Birmingham today?

Three major initiatives were announced starting with a £3 billion Home Builders Fund. The aim of which is to help build more than 225,000 new homes and create thousands of jobs. No one is going to decry more money for housing and hopefully this will not be overly constrained so that the money can be allocated quickly and fairly. 

The second announcement referred to a new initiative described as Accelerated Construction on public land, taking Government-owned land and partnering with contractors and investors to speed up housebuilding. This may be intended to build on the work that started in the capital with the London Land Commission and the key question will be what the involvement of local authorities is going to be. He also spoke of the creation of new supply chains using offsite construction, the aim being to encourage new models of building to make houses that people want, more cheaply and at pace. It is hoped that these measures will allow work to get started on 15,000 homes by 2020.  It is reassuring that the minister has recognised the significance of this form of construction but 15,000 seems a modest target?

Next came a reference to bringing forward of a package of measures to encourage urban regeneration and to build on brownfield land. For example, abandoned shopping centres being transformed into new communities, and increasing density of housing around stations to build homes that people want to live in. Perhaps it’s because I was doing a topping out at one of the towers in Lewisham Town Centre on Friday but this did sound like a statement of the obvious!

Of course these were really just whetting our appetite for the White paper he intends to publish later with “further significant measures” towards the ambition for a million new homes by 2020. It is helpful to have a government that recognises the scale of the problem we face but they in turn need to recognise that local government woke up that quite some years ago and has been addressing the need for more new homes imaginatively since. Whatever the detail of the minister’s plans they need to enable local authorities and housing associations as well as the private sector to get on with things rather than have to meet excessively restrictive requirements imposed from the centre.