How did regeneration become a dirty word in Boris Johnson’s London?

My piece in City Metric:

In Boris Johnson’s London, argues Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron, regeneration is just a synonym for redevelopment.

In the capital today, long-standing communities are being bulldozed to make way for luxury developments that most Londoners could never dream of affording. Popping up in their place are residential skyscrapers, with no regard for the character of the local area or the needs of local people. Londoners are concerned that the capital will become unrecognisable.

It does not need to be like this. Regeneration should be about making an area better for the people who live there. It is about offering the chance for a better life by producing more diverse communities with improved public transport; a good range of local shops and other amenities; places to meet and congregate; good schools and health facilities; a range of jobs, and the skills training and education people need to access them. It should be about turning areas which don’t work well into areas which do.

When he came to office in 2008 Boris Johnson was dealt a great hand. He had the London Development Agency. He had £5m for affordable housing. He had swathes of land.

Most importantly, the vision was there: the previous mayor had set out the route to accommodating a rapidly growing population within the boundary of Greater London, by co-locating denser mixed-use development with a vastly improved and expanded public transport system. One of the big ideas was to direct development to the east of London to redress the huge disparities in wealth and opportunity between east and west.

It was a vision of London being an exemplary sustainable world city economically, socially, and environmentally. But Boris brushed it aside, replaced only by the grand but meaningless ambition of becoming the “best big city in the world”.

The mayor of course continued with the Olympics, which has been a great boost to the inner east, but what has he done for outer east London? Cancelled the DLR and East London Transit Scheme. Cancelled the river crossing. Some of these proposals have been belatedly resurrected, but in the meantime we’ve lost years when we could have been moving forward.

The Olympics themselves did not achieve their full regeneration potential under Boris Johnson. There has undoubtedly been a striking transformation of this part of east London, turning a former industrial wasteland into a diverse cluster of shopping, culture, and sport. The park achieves high visitor numbers, and there are exciting plans to move academic and arts institutions and new tech firms to Stratford.

However the ambition to make this a mixed income residential area is being undermined by a mayor unwilling to commit to maximising affordable housing. In the former Athletes Village, now the East Village, 49 per cent of homes are affordable, albeit only half of them at social rented levels. The targets for the later neighbourhoods are slipping; Johnson has compromised from 35 per cent down to 31 per cent affordable housing on the west side, and the split means less than ten out of every hundred will be at genuinely affordable rents. The next mayor will need to negotiate the final totals for the southern neighbourhoods.

There is no better example of what regeneration means under the Johnson mayoralty than Earls Court, the £12b development of 7,600 primarily luxury flats with not even one additional affordable rented home. This was not some derelict and dilapidated site; Earls Court opportunity area was a vibrant area with established communities and thriving businesses.

Yet the plans, which Johnson pushed through, will result in the destruction of an iconic exhibition centre supporting an ecosystem of local businesses and contributing £1bn to London’s economy. It will also mean the demolition of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green housing estates, and the potential loss of 550 high-skilled manufacturing jobs at the Lillie Bridge tube depot. Earls Court is not about regenerating an area for the people who live and work there, but about making big money for developers and providing luxury properties to international investors.

Earls Court is one of the 38 Opportunity Areas identified as sources for new housing and jobs. There had been existing Opportunity Areas for which Johnson was very slow to create planning frameworks, but he created one for Earls Court in order to drive through his enormously destructive plan for the area. Meanwhile, other Opportunity Areas with far more brownfield land remain untouched.

Earls Court is particularly outrageous because it is on land owned by TfL. The mayor, as chair of TfL, is the owner of the largest portfolio of developable land in London, much of it around transport hubs and in town centres.

That presents the next mayor with an opportunity to lead on a model of true regeneration across the capital. That land should be developed to provide affordable homes and affordable workspace in walkable, well-connected, mixed-use and diverse neighbourhoods. That is the bare minimum we should demand of the next mayor.

Nicky Gavron AM is Labour’s London Assembly planning spokesperson.

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Stay of execution for PCSOs after opposition forces Met to push back decision on cuts

I am pleased by the Met’s decision to push back a decision on the fate of all London’s PCSOs after fierce opposition forced the Met to abandon plans to take a decision on their future this week. Despite a discussion being scheduled for the Met’s Management Board meeting on Tuesday 29th September, I understand the Met has pushed back the decision until December after significant political and public opposition to the plans.

Despite this stay of execution for PCSOs its clear the future of local policing in the capital remains at grave risk. We cannot be complacent and will be spending the next two months making the case for neighbourhood policing in the capital. There is no doubt that Government cuts are putting great strain on the police force, it’s time the Home Secretary understood that the decimation of neighbourhood policing is not a price the London public are willing to pay.

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Ten extraordinary years of the C40

I am so excited to be in New York celebrating the anniversary of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. It is ten years ago that Ken Livingstone and I invited cities from across the globe to London to launch what was then the C20.

In 2005 the UK hosted the G8 and G20. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair unprecedently put climate change at the top of their agendas. We knew that altogether nations are critical for international agreements, national targets, and regulatory and financial frameworks. But we also knew that cities are centre stage when it comes to practical action on the ground to deliver and even exceed those targets.

Leadership is crucial, but cities will not meet great success if they work in isolation. Leaders need to collaborate to meet high targets. Cities can go far on their own, but together they can go much further.

Underpinning all of the C40’s accomplishments has been this ethic of extraordinary collaboration. It has been a huge collective effort, under the leadership of successive Mayors Livingstone of London, Miller of Toronto, Bloomberg of New York, and currently Paes of Rio de Janiero. It has also been bolstered by the enduring support of President Clinton. As we enter the next decade the C40 is in the very good hands of executive director Mark Watts, who was there with us at the beginning.

We are looking ahead as well to a decade that is absolutely critical in the world’s efforts to combat climate change. As we approach the Paris conference later this year, nations must step up the plate, but it is the cities that will be powering the action.

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Final nail in the coffin for neighbourhood policing: plans to cut ALL local PCSOs in London

The Metropolitan Police will consider plans to axe all local PCSOs at its Management Board meeting on the 29th September it has been revealed. The cuts could see neighbourhood policing teams reduced to just a single police officer for each ward despite having six officers (3 PCSOs, 2 PCs and a sergeant) only 3 years ago.

This is the clearest sign yet that Government cuts are decimating London’s police force. Axing all of London’s PCSOs would be the final nail in the coffin for neighbourhood policing and mean far fewer officers on the beat in our communities acting as the eyes and ears of the Met.

Boris Johnson has already cut neighbourhood police teams from six officers to only two, axing every PCSO would leave just a single officer left to police vast areas of the capital.

With at least £800m of expected cuts hanging over the Met, there is a real question as to whether the police service as we know it will exist in ten years’ time.


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Summer Budget is attack on environment and economy

Yesterday I was proud to support a successful motion calling on the Mayor to seek an urgent meeting with Government Ministers to discuss ways of mitigating the worst effects of the Government’s summer budget and to lobby for stronger national policies that will facilitate a cleaner, greener London.

I seconded this motion because I’m appalled by the Government’s reversal of the good progress we’ve made. Some of what is proposed would be funny if it wasn’t so destructive – like charging a carbon tax on renewable electricity.

As chair of the Planning Committee, I’m particularly alarmed by the decision to abandon Zero Carbon Homes.

For the past ten years there has been a deadline that by 2016 all new homes would emit no carbon. Or, where they did, the developer would offset that carbon elsewhere.

The policy received broad support. The coalition Government moved ahead with it, as did the GLA under a Tory Mayor.

But just as it’s about to flower and blossom, it’s been mowed down.

For Londoners, this means weaker standards for our future homes, offices, schools and factories. Future residents and building users will be locked into higher energy bills for decades to come. It also means we are building new structures at standards below what we should be, which will require expensive retrofitting in future.

It is also a blow to the businesses who have spent many millions of pounds investing in innovative new techniques and technologies. Those businesses did not react kindly to the policy; nearly 250, including some of the UK’s largest construction and property firms, wrote to Chancellor George Osborne urging him to reconsider the government’s decision to axe the standard. They warned:

“This sudden U-turn has undermined industry confidence in Government and will now curtail investment in British innovation and manufacturing in low carbon products and services.”

I can’t really say it better than that.

We all know that green goods and services is a key growth sector. But in just one Budget, this Government has undermined that growth, hurting not only the environment but the economy as well.

The full text of the amendment is:

The Summer Budget and the Environment

Tuesday, 8 September 2015 – 1:00pm

This Assembly calls on the Mayor to seek an urgent meeting with Government Ministers to discuss ways of mitigating the worst effects of the Government’s summer budget and to lobby for stronger national policies that will facilitate a cleaner, greener London.  Looking ahead to the Paris Conference in a few months’ time, this Assembly believes the budget was a historic missed opportunity to set out an agenda for a change and show real leadership amongst the world’s leading economies.

It is increasingly cities around the world that are leading the charge against the biggest environmental challenges of our age.  However, London, like other global cities, can only act in the parameters of the policies set down by national governments.  This budget is the latest in a long list of retrograde steps since reports appeared in the press of the Prime Minister calling for an end to “all this green crap”.[1]

The decision to abandon the commitment to zero carbon homes, which was due to come in next year, will severely limit the ability of the Mayor to meet his carbon reduction targets and deliver sustainable homes in the capital.  London already has an uphill battle in making its existing housing stock energy efficient, following this announcement it is likely that many new homes being built today will require retro-fits in the near future.

This Assembly also notes with concern the changes to Vehicle Excise Duty, which will dis-incentivise consumers buying low emission vehicles.  These changes will create policy uncertainty at the very time when London needs to up its game in tackling poor air quality.  Given that it is low emission vehicles that is driving growth in the UK new car market, this policy change will damage business and consumer confidence.[2]

The attacks on renewables outlined in the Budget, such as the changes to the Climate Change Levy, will result in renewable electricity effectively paying a carbon tax, a measure described as “totally bizarre” by Friends of the Earth.[3]  It is deeply disappointing that London’s domestic solar power generating capacity is the lowest of any region in the country and these changes will do sustained damage to industry confidence.

[1] The Guardian Online 21.11.13 (Accessed 21.8.15)

[2] Information from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) (Accessed 21.8.15)

[3] Spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, as quoted in 21.815)

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London Assembly unanimous: #RefugeesWelcome

London has a proud history of providing a safe haven for refugees of war and conflict. I know this because my mother fled from the Nazis as a teenager and came here alone. She was placed with a foster family and allowed to train as a nurse. She always told me that London was her safe haven.

These people are desperate refugees fleeing for their very lives. London should be willing to play its part in helping them.

London’s councils have led the way rightly saying they stand ready to help with the crisis. It’s time the Government stepped up to the plate and made sure the UK is not shying away from its responsibilities in responding to this humanitarian crisis.

This is a truly tragic situation affecting millions of people and whilst the Mayor is right that the root cause of this refugee crisis needs to be resolved we cannot abdicate our moral responsibility to help those affected now.

I am proud that the Assembly unanimously agreed a motion recognising the need for London to play its part.

The full text of the Motion is:

“This Assembly wishes to continue London’s proud history of providing a safe haven for refugees of war and conflict.

This Assembly agrees that, while the root cause of the conflict in Syria and current refugee crisis in Europe needs to be resolved, we cannot abdicate our moral responsibility to help those affected now.

 We welcome London Councils’ statements that they stand ready to help with the Syrian refugee crisis, and urge the Mayor and the Government to ensure refugees are welcomed to London as part of the UK playing a full role in the international humanitarian response to the current crisis.”

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Hate crime has no place in London

The 70% increase in Islamophobic hate crime is a shameful blight on London’s reputation as a welcoming, inclusive and tolerant city. The situation is made even worse by the fact that 60% of attacks are reported to be against women, at times in front of their children.

The Mayor has consistently attributed rises in hate crime to increased confidence to report. Yet behind every report there is a person, who is being targeted, abused, and living in fear of the next attack. Dismissing this as a statistical reporting rise without taking account of the human cost is entirely wrong.

These figures show the rocketing scale of the challenge. If, as the Met say, local policing is the answer, its time the Mayor of London recognises the importance of local neighbourhood policing and invests to ensure it is able to work effectively. The Mayor needs to take a lead and make clear that London will take a zero tolerance policy on such horrendous hate crimes.

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