Recent London Mayor Articles
Boris Johnson loves property investors because they help developers build homes. But homes for whom? The reality is that these expensive homes benefit rich investors and developers far more than ordinary Londoners, who are seeing their city sold off chunk by chunk.
Today I asked the Mayor about One, The Elephant, a 37 storey tower block with 284 flats built on council owned land. He signed it off last November, and launched the construction on site this August saying it would “bring quality homes into the area”.
But its studio flats will start at £330,000, and were marketed in Hong Kong and Singapore before they went on sale in London. That price is twelve times the average income in Southwark, and even further from the incomes of residents in the Elephant area.
There is no affordable housing at all, just a contribution towards some affordable homes elsewhere in the local borough of Southwark.
In the officer’s report to local councillors, the reason was clear. If they mixed affordable and private housing together, it would have “significant implications on the values of the private residential properties” – the developers wouldn’t get as much profit because investors don’t want flats next to the hoi polloi of London.
Some developers have actually put separate entrances and lifts in for affordable housing, like servants having to enter via the back door in Edwardian times. But the council officer’s report said the “practical and financial implications” ruled this out.
Elephant and Castle used to be called the ‘Piccadilly of the South’, and at the moment seventy per cent of the residents in the area live in secure, affordable social housing. In the new “regeneration” projects around the Elephant, only eight per cent will be social housing.
Londoners just get crumbs from the property feast, as I argued in a detailed report published last month.
The Mayor should threaten to refuse these applications unless they offer enough affordable housing. He should also lobby for taxes on investors to damp down demand, for a social housing budget big enough to actually meet London’s needs, and for regulation to stabilise private rents.
Another day, another cycling death in London, yesterday. That makes it two in two weeks, both killed by HGVs which are the cause of most cycling fatalities in the capital.
The London Cycling Campaign has already announced a protest ride, to be held in Russell Square today, at 6 30 pm, following from the demonstration on Friday following the death of the French Boris bike rider at Aldgate a week ago. Several hundred came to that demonstration but, in truth, there needs to be a bigger more forceful response from the cycling community and its supporters.
The fantastic growth in cycling in London in recent years has not been met by a commensurate response from those in charge of our transport and road systems. The increase has been organic, not the result of any government action or stimulus but, rather, a realisation that cycling represents a cheap, health, environmentally friendly way to travel.
Despite vaguely supportive words, the London mayor has failed to realise that this fantastic surge in cycling is a game changer on London’s roads. We need roads that are cycle friendly, where bikes are given priority wherever possible and where high speed traffic is discouraged. More cyclists on the roads would, in fact, lead to a reduction in risk as has happened in countries like Holland and Denmark which have a higher proportion of cyclists than the UK.
There were 16 deaths in London last year, the highest number since 2006, and a 4 per cent rise in serious injuries (a much more accurate assessment of risk since the numbers are greater)
Indeed, in the past year there have been three deaths on what was supposed to be the mayor’s landmark project, the Cycling Superhighways, all on the Aldgate to Bow route. This is a terrible mishmash of blue lines on a very busy road with no protection for cyclists which, remarkably, cost more than £10m to create. Super, it is not.
Thankfully, with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as the mayor’s cycling adviser, a more coherent and radical policy towards cyclists is being introduced, but Gilligan is still hamstrung by the mayor’s insistence that nothing must be done to impede traffic flow. Without a re-allocation of road space to cyclists, the dangers will persist.
In the Netherlands, when there was a spate of child cycle deaths in the 1970s, the protest by parents of the victims led to a change in policy, ensuring that cycle safety was taken seriously. We need a similarly vocal movement on our streets to bring about quick change.
One policy I advocate is reducing the number of freight lorries in central London at peak times. Several other European cities already havesuch rules. Conversely, in London, there is presently a night time ban on HGVs – implemented in 1985 when lorries were much louder – which dramatically increases HGV congestion during the day.
Separating lorries from cycles at peak times is an urgent priority and greater flexibility on delivery times is c part of the solution. We need more than warm words from the mayor. We need leadership and action on this key London issue.
At long last, after more than a year of being told that the much-vaunted New Bus For London (NB4L), a.k.a. the New Routemaster, was unable to keep its occupants warm in winter or cool in summer, the press has woken up to the fact that this obscenely expensive vanity project has not even produced a usable end product for its additional full life cost of well over half a billion pounds.
And the problem the NB4L has is as obvious as it is insoluble: you cannot reliably heat (in winter) or air condition (in summer) a vehicle that has a thwacking great hole in the back of its bodywork. Last winter, there were complaints about how cold the buses were, especially downstairs. There will be more next winter, for the problem remains unsolved, because there is no solution to be had.
Some pundits, like self-appointed engineer Harry Mount, have convinced themselves that this is all about “The terrible design fault with modern windows – they don’t open”, which is total crap. It is because the bodywork is all too open. “When the air con breaks down, as it has this week, there’s no refuge from the heat”. It is working, Harry.
Had the BozzaMaster been designed only with conventional automatic doors which only open when required for passengers to board or alight – like the twin-staircase three-doorway double deckers operated by the BVG in Berlin – all would be well. The wilful insistence on both air-conditioning and an open platform at the rear was a guarantee of failure.
So now the Standard has picked up on the sauna that is the upper deck of the NB4L, and moreover its editorial had demanded that something be done. The story has been deemed sufficiently important for the Mail to lift it, suggesting that other papers will pile in later. But nothing can be done while that rear platform is open. Were it to be closed all day, the travelling environment might improve.
But that would merely underscore what a colossal waste of money the NB4L has already become. And, as Boris Watch has noted, there are questions to be answered as to how Heatherwick got the contract to design this vehicle. They had no previous experience in the field, had not gone through any process of competitive tender, and have produced a bus that is too heavy, as well as too hot.
And it’s hot around that cramped area into which the engine, electric traction pack and exhaust system have been shoehorned in order to accommodate an open rear platform and all that oh-so-stylish sweeping glass exterior.
How long will it be before a journey on the 24 up to Hampstead Heath is cut short by overheating, or, worse, fire? What was that about bendy buses being hot and hazardous?
Boris Johnson really surpassed himself this week. Monday’s rambling, poorly structured article in the Daily Telegraph is so full of inconsistencies, non sequiturs and inaccuracies I doubt it would even get him through the 13+ Eton entrance exam.
His clumsy attempt to link immigration, education and welfare makes David Cameron’s Sun on Sunday article look like a piece of high quality prose.
Boris makes a bizarre argument (based on a half comment by a single recruitment consultant) that the reason Brits account for only 10% of the jobs in the London catering industry is the education policy of the last Labour government, specifically because of Gordon Brown. Interestingly, Tony Blair is let off the hook.
Gordon’s policies are apparently directly responsible for the poor skills and poor work ethic among our own population, in direct contrast to the highly motivated and skilled immigrants. And apparently children are now leaving primary school unable to read, write or do basic maths because of Gordon Brown, so they aren’t equipped to work in restaurants. What, at the age of 11?
More pertinently, one of London’s leading restaurateurs, who employs over 650 staff of 47 different nationalities but predominantly British, told me today there was actually no direct correlation between nationality and work ethic; there are hardworking people across all nationalities and all age groups. I was also informed that the number of British employees in this company, currently standing around 30%, is growing all the time as traditional industries downsize and school leavers and graduates start to think about hospitality as an alternative career.
The Mayor goes on to say that the poor British work ethic has allowed foreigners to fill the vast majority of catering jobs, and yet at the same time he says immigrants are not taking British jobs. This is rather confusing.
Making a giant, unrelated leap to the hot topic of benefits, Boris goes on to claim that Labour have “nothing” to say about welfare. Presumably he totally missed all the headlines and ensuing kerfuffle over Labour’s plans for a shift on welfare payments.
I also couldn’t quite understand why Boris was waxing lyrical about “a pretty little vixen gambolling in the garden” when just 2 months ago he was calling for action to tackle the “menace” of urban foxes.
I think the Tories have come up with a clever phrase in “Why give the key back to the guys who crashed the car?” But slamming it in as his final sentence was Boris being about as subtle as dangling from a zip wire in the full glare of the world’s media.
Boris boasts that he knocks off these “chicken feed” Telegraph articles in no time. But I think he’d be getting detention for this piece of work.
Giselle Green ran Siobhan Benita’s media campaign in the London Mayoral election
Today a large number of damaging changes to the social security safety net come into force, with more expected through the year. I have spent ten days casting a light on the damage these will do. But there is an alternative.
The Mayor of London set out his reasons for supporting the welfare reforms: reward and incentivise work, drive down rents, protect those who need it most and deliver savings to the London taxpayer.
But the welfare reforms fail to meet these tests. The housing benefit cuts, combined with the Mayor’s yearly inflation busting transport fare increases, are making it harder for people on low incomes to live and work in inner London. Rents in the cheapest part of London’s private rented sector rose 6% in the last year, twice as fast as inflation.
Those most in need of protection are already suffering. The housing benefit bill has continued to rise as more working people sign on to cope with low pay and high rents.
We could incentivise work by ensuring it covers the cost of living, for example by raising the National Minimum Wage to a living wage.
This would put an extra £268 a month into the pockets of a living wage worker in London. We could ensure our social security system incentivises work by scrapping the complicated and costly means-testing and introducing a citizen’s income.
The best way to drive down rents is to do so directly, not to reduce the spending power of the poorest Londoners. The Mayor could press for councils to be given the freedom and funds to build tens of thousands of low cost homes for rent and sale.
He could look at the more secure tenure and the various smart rent controls used in other European countries, and lobby for a private rented sector fit for a quarter of London’s households.
These measures would protect those who need it most and deliver savings by reducing the housing benefit bill.
The Mayor is spending £3 million investigating ways to expand airport capacity around London. He needs to put the same money and imagination into helping his most hard-pressed constituents.
James Forsyth at the Spectator says it will take more than Eddie Mair to stop Boris.
Writing as someone who’s never really fancied Boris Johnson’s chances at the top, I’m pleased the Tory right will continue flying the flag for him.
There are however two ways in which I think yesterday’s interview was significant.
Firstly, it could open the floodgates. Interviewers have usually treated Boris with kid gloves on the basis it makes for more fun viewing. But the Eddie Mair interview yesterday set a precedent, and may make journalists realise it makes for better viewing to make Boris squirm and fall apart.
The questions about his past were just the start – there is plenty more they can ask about his u-turn over policies for London, and the lies he told during the re-election campaign.
The second and more important point is yesterday illustrated how hopeless Boris is under scrutiny. He already fumbles and fudges through explaining himself every week:
At Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall, the best of them repeatedly leave Boris Johnson looking just as bad as Eddie Mair did this morning. Yet those evasions and calamities normally get almost no attention. What’s made Eddie Mair questions really have impact is that they were carried out on national TV.
As Adam Bienkov points out – the Boris strategy has been to avoid the glare of the media and restrict himself to quid-pro-quo puff-pieces with the Evening Standard.
I said the same in a piece for the Guardian last year:
Johnson has been given a free pass for so long, he’s used to it. He has the media eating out of his hands; he makes false claims about knife crimes without challenge; he promised more access as mayor but drastically cut the number of open press conferences. He even wastes money at city hall and gets away with it.
The Tory right can carry on pretending that Boris is their saviour for all I care – but yesterday showed why the Left has less to fear.
On the 1st April the Government will introduce a raft of changes to our welfare system, arguably the largest since the 1940s. Despite all the press coverage of the bedroom tax, and endless stories about scroungers on the make or families stuck in B&Bs, the public are still in the dark about the full range of changes coming in and the impacts they will have.
The housing benefit caps are already making parts of inner London a no-go zone for people on low incomes, a point the New Policy Institute backed up my warning on. The 1st of April changes, combined with extension of the right to buy discounts, will accelerate this process.
Councils are struggling to understand how so many overlapping changes will work, and people who receive help with childcare or housing costs are struggling to understand how they will be affected.
These changes have been brought in on the back of a distorted public debate. Other politicians and most of the media have paid a lot of attention to the cost of welfare, extreme cases of fraud or laziness, and what they believe to be a ‘culture’ of milking the system.
People have been led to believe that the welfare system has supported four million people who have never bothered to work, but most of those four million are students, people unable to work due to disability or people looking after their family.
Last year a study found that a significant number of people think more than half of benefit claims are fraudulent, when the actual rate is only 1%.
So I am going to spend ten days leading up to the 1st April trying to shine some light on the state of the welfare system in London and how these changes will affect our city.
As a London Assembly Member, I will be focussing on the impacts in London, and the role the Mayor of London has played in supporting the welfare cuts.
I’ll expose how little we actually know about the impacts of the changes, the role of the Mayor of London has played since his famous ‘Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing’ remark, the myths the Government and Mayor have both put about to justify the changes, and finally a different approach to welfare that the Mayor could push for.
I’ll also be tweeting about this every day. I hope that others will join me, using the hashtag #socialcleansing on social networks to shine a light on similar stories from around London and the rest of the country.
by Damian Kahya
Britain should get fracking, says the Mayor of London in a surprisingly detailed intervention into the UK’s energy policy in the Telegraph on Monday.
We give 10 of his claims the once over in the same good humour as he makes them – albeit with far, far too many numbers.
1) The cost of disposing of their [nuclear] spent fuel rods is put at about £100 billion – more than the value of all the electricity they have produced since the Fifties.
This refers to an article in the Sunday Times which adds up the cost of decommissioning with the cost of nuclear power stations and compares it to the cost of power generated from Nuclear power calculated in today’s prices.
The decommissioning cost is not discounted and the cost in today’s prices may not represent the actual cost. Furthermore Mr Johnson appears to have ignored the construction cost, discussed in the article.
2) A new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester
False – external source.
3) The total contribution of wind power is still only about 0.4 per cent of Britain’s needs.
It’s unclear what units Mr Johnson means here. Does he mean our electricity or energy – which includes, for example, the gas we burn for heating or oil we burn for transport.
In terms of our electricity needs, wind generated 16Twh of power in 2011 compared to total generation of 364.9Twh. That works out at 4.4%. Relatively modest by European standards. The government wants total renewable generation to triple from 9.4% in 2011 to 30% by 2030.
Perhaps the Mayor meant energy. In that case you want to divide wind generation in 2011 by primary demand in that year. By our calculations you get 0.6%, which is closer – but still not 0.4. It’s likely there is a calculation which yields that number for energy – we just don’t have it to hand.
4) We are prevented from putting in a new system of coal-fired power stations, since that would breach our commitments under Kyoto.
False – but we’re being pedantic.
Our commitments under Kyoto don’t specify what we can and can’t build, they relate to emissions. The government has decided to rule out coal new build as one of the ‘least cost’ ways of reducing emissions.
5) We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas
Figures from UK Trade Info suggest we don’t import any gas at all from Russia.
We do import lots of gas from Qatar which – coincidentally – helped to build the energy guzzling (apparently) Shard.
6) ..Or on the atomic power of the French state.
We imported 4.7Twh of (almost certainly) atomic power from the French state. That’s 1.3% of our electricity needs. Some may find even this modest level of imports from France utterly humiliating.
7) There is loads of the stuff [shale gas], apparently – about 1.3 trillion barrels – we could power our toasters and dishwashers for the foreseeable future.
Again with the units. Gas, being a gas, doesn’t really come in barrels. Oil comes in barrels. We presume Mr Johnson meant barrels of oil equivalent (BOE).
By our (rough and ready) calculations 1.3 trn BOE of gas works out at 7,293 trn cubic feet of gas, which is, as Boris might put it, oodles more than anyone, anywhere, has estimated for the UK.
8) The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately needs them.
Cuadrilla has forecast that it’s operations in the UK could generate 5,600 jobs with around 1,700 of them being in Lancashire over nine years – presumably a ‘part of the country that desperately needs them’.
Shale drilling is also expected to take place in the Mendips and East Sussex where Cuadrilla are prospecting.
Shale in the UK however would generate revenues for the Exchequer and could – if reserves are sufficient – help the UK’s balance of payments as Poyry point out irrespective of what impact it has on jobs or bills.
9) And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal
True – probably
Generating power from gas is about half as polluting as using coal.
However, fracking is slightly more complicated. The process involves repeatedly using high pressure water to break up rocks so the gas is released up the well. However the water used itself returns to the surface still containing large amounts of methane. If this is not captured, but released into the air, it is 21 times more polluting that Co2.
As a consequence of these so-called ‘fugitive emissions’ some studies – including this study of atmospheric data around fracking wells by the US National Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - has found shale to be almost as bad for the climate as coal.
10) As for the anxieties about water poisoning or a murrain on the cattle, there have been 125,000 fracks in the US, and not a single complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The US EPA has recieved complaints about shale, like this one. UK regulations would be likely to be tougher than those in the US however, potentially reducing worries about localised environmental impact – according to the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. Tougher regulation, however, may also drive up some costs.
contribution by Giselle Green
Boris’ Bollywood Blitz could hardly have produced more glowing images than if he’d been doing a photo shoot for Hello magazine.
Over the past week we’ve been bombarded with pictures of the London Mayor drinking with the England cricket team and basking in their reflected glory, bending it like Beckham while playing Slumdog Boris in a 23-a-side football match, and rubbing shoulders with India’s leading film star, who embarrassingly had to tell Boris who she was.
I’m amazed the Mayor’s aides didn’t arrange for the wistful pose in front of the Taj Mahal. But you get the picture. And so did we all.
Having shelled out to send their journalists On Tour with Boris, it was only natural that the Evening Standard, ITV London Tonight and BBC London News would want a return on their investment. Hence the double page spreads, front page articles, editorials and nightly TV reports. But what were they, and the national press, actually reporting on, other than Boris’ attempt to be seen as an international statesman?
Boris used the opportunity of a foreign trip to fire off political salvoes in all directions without fear of a counter-attack. In the past week he’s called for a cut in the both the top rate of income tax and stamp duty for first time buyers, criticised Theresa May over immigration and student visas, mocked the French, attacked Google, done a U-turn over Europe (an EU- turn), attacked Leveson and plugged Boris Airport.
He even used the circling of his plane over Heathrow on the flight home to further push that last cause, with two of the reporters accompanying him almost simultaneously tweeting his thoughts. Spinning while circling, impressive.
While Boris was in Mumbai singing the praises of Brompton bikes, back at home Londoners were more concerned with the rising number of cycling casualties, not to mention the closure of hospitals, A&E units, fire stations and police stations, bus strikes and the millions wasted on a cable car that hardly anyone uses.
But it’s so much more fun and instantly and easily reportable to see Boris “batting for Britain” on a picturesque beach in Mumbai, or dancing Bollywood-style, just as it was to see him dangling on a zip wire, rather than reporting ongoing complex issues without the entertaining pictures.
I’m not claiming Boris is given a free ride by the media, but it’s all too easy to become part of his PR machine. Pictures of Boris, however ridiculous, always outweigh the words around them and enhance his reputation.
Many have questioned the motives behind Boris’ escapades in India, from Ken Livingstone (who reminded us that it was Boris who closed down the British trade offices in Delhi and Mumbai) to the Financial Times (which queries whether trade missions like these achieve anything anyway). But banging the drum for Boris will certainly bear fruit for him.
Apparently Boris’ aides tried to secure him a walk-on part in a Bollywood film but Boris decided that would be “too frivolous”. Too frivolous? Clearly he has his eyes on the starring role in another job.
Giselle Green ran Siobhan Benita’s media campaign in the London Mayoral election
contribution by Giselle Green
David Cameron isn’t the only party leader who should be worrying about the rise and rise of Boris Johnson. Ed Miliband, it’s time for action.
The Olympics triumph has meant the Mayor walking away from the Games with more gold (in the bank of Boris) than the British Olympians and Paralympians combined. His pop-star performances in Hyde Park and outside Buckingham Palace have made it clear he can work a crowd as well as Dizzee Rascal, even if he can’t dance like him.
Indeed today the Spectator reports that fourteen Tory MPs have already written to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee calling for Cameron to be removed as party leader.
The problem for Labour is that the incumbent Mayor of London is very good at evading proper political scrutiny while safely ensconced at City Hall.
Barely called to account, he is able to lurch from one PR stunt to the next, plastering his name all over the Olympics parade, cosying up to royalty (the Queen and David Beckham), and planning a world tour to personally kick-start the economy, a clever way of building his international credentials.
The magic cloak of invincibility that is wrapped around the Mayor while at City Hall needs to be deactivated quickly, or otherwise he could take over the reins of the Tory Party relatively free from negative political baggage.
For Labour to start making something stick to Boris’ Teflon-coated invincibility cloak, Ed Miliband could usefully put in place a Shadow Mayor team, capable of holding Boris to account on a regular basis, leading a feisty assault on his spurious statistics and fatuous facts.
The problem with our mayoral system is that there is no official position of Shadow Mayor. Labour London Assembly members don’t exactly land any killer blows at Mayoral Question Time and are barely known outside City Hall.
The departure of Tessa Jowell would be a good moment to ensure that a high profile successor is put in place who can keep Boris in check – for the sake of Londoners, and the whole country. Unless Boris is forced to take seriously his job of representing eight million Londoners, the next few years will be one big PR junket for the man who may lead the Tories into the next election.
David Cameron may well be hoping that Ed Miliband can save both of them from Boris.
Giselle Green ran Siobhan Benita’s media campaign in the London Mayoral election
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