In a packed room of nearly 400 business people and students, Siobhan Benita (Liberal Democrats), Sian Berry (Greens) and Rory Stewart (Independent) set out their positions on a range of key issues, alongside Labour’s representative, Cllr Clare Coghill, and the Conservatives’ representative, Stephen Greenhalgh.
A lively debate, chaired by LSE’s Professor Tony Travers, covered a range of topics, from transport fares and freight movement in London to delivering affordable housing and tackling knife crime.
On delivering the scale of housing needed in the capital, Stewart stressed that London is particularly unaffordable for key workers, such as teachers and nurses, pledging to use TfL land to deliver homes through a Mayor’s building company. A long-time renter herself, Berry made the case for a people’s land commission to identify new sites, adding that we need greater diversity in the housing market. Greenhalgh highlighted Shaun Bailey’s proposal to set up Housing for London for driving forward development, while Benita advocated the use new technologies, including modular offsite construction. She added that empty homes across the capital must be brought back into use and set out the need for more social housing. Cllr Coghill stressed the critical role of working with the boroughs to deliver homes, but also emphasised that the boroughs need to deliver on permissions.
Asked whether candidates would raise fares, Berry argued that she would reduce the number of zones and bring down fares overall, while Benita pressed the case for bringing suburban rail services under TfL’s control, adding that TfL finances would ultimately determine any future decision on fares. Cllr Coghill said that the fare freeze will live on if Sadiq Khan is re-elected, and highlighted positive initiatives launched in recent years, such as the night tube. Stewart made the case for making fares smarter with digital technology, calling the idea of flat fares ‘old fashioned’.
On LCCI’s manifesto call for a Freight Commissioner, Greenhalgh agreed that this is an important issue. Benita supported this call, arguing for better use of the Thames and the need to take a much greener and more ambitious approach. Berry praised this as a ‘fantastic idea’, adding that businesses should band together to use less vans and make last mile deliveries ‘truly sustainable’. Cllr Coghill agreed there is a need to plug gaps, including by investing in scrappage schemes. However, Stewart argued against having a large top team at City Hall, pledging to appoint no more than three deputy mayors. He called for the use of more electric freight vehicles and also highlighted the need to make better use of the Thames.
Tackling London’s knife crime challenge sparked a spirited conversation. Cllr Coghill underscored the need to have the right social infrastructure in place, stressing this problem can start from early infancy, while Stewart called for a return to good neighbourhood policing. Benita pledged to launch a London-wide youth service, and set out the importance of school inclusion and drugs policy reform in addressing underlying issues. Stop and search should only be used in line with intelligence, she added. Greenhalgh contended that stop and search works if carried out properly and respectfully. Berry challenged stop and search, calling it counterproductive and arguing that the job of policing is a job for us all.
In addition to the successful series of events with the key Mayoral candidates that LCCI has facilitated for its members over the autumn, the Chamber will continue to engage with the key candidates on the priorities for London businesses, namely making London a smarter and greener capital, addressing ongoing skills challenges and ensuring that housing and transport works for our workforce.