As Boris steps down from his role as London Mayor to make way for newly elected Sadiq Khan we examine the legacy and the future. Love him or hate him, Boris has kept us amused over the last eight years of his tenure. His brand and bumbling gift of the gab has given London global exposure. As Boris bows out he will undeniably be remembered for Boris Bikes and Buses, the Olympics and the Cable Car even if despite promises to the contrary, Boris Bikes and the Cable Car cost the taxpayers £17m a year. But what is his property legacy and what does Sadiq hope to bring to the table? The first thing to note is the power of a London’s mayor is restricted. The Berlin Mayor can overturn central governments legislation, the Mexico City’s former mayor introduced legalised abortion and gay marriage and the New York Mayor has a budget of $67.1bn (around £46.5bn, equivalent to roughly 50% of the money generated by the city). Although, rather bizarrely New York’s mayor exerts no control over transport. In comparison the London Mayor has a budget of £17bn (approximately 7% of money generated by the city).
So what can London’s mayor influence? The 1999 GLA Act identifies seven major functions, of which four directly influence the city’s real estate:
- strategic planning and environment
- transport and
- economic development
So let’s examine the outgoing and incoming incumbents.
One of the few areas where the London Mayor can exert genuine control is planning. The 1999 Greater London Authority (GLA) Act gave the Mayor the power to intervene and override local planning decisions. This was previously the solitary domain of the secretary of state and has led to allegations of anti-democratic behaviour. In Boris’ ‘reign’, the Mayor intervened in 14 schemes with 13 of those decided in favour of the developer. However that total is derived from the 2,300 planning applications made between 2008 and now.
New Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has already stated that he will chair the Tfl board, who already have in hand a planned move of their Lillie Bridge facilities to Acton, freeing up 10.1 million sq.ft. of developable land. However, they have already signed a legal agreement to sell it to Capital and Counties PLC (Capco) with a proviso for 7,500 new homes (of which 760 are replacement homes and an additional 740 are affordable homes). A school, a private hospital, transport improvements, community, cultural and green spaces and 10,000 new jobs are also in the deal. However, as the scheme stands ‘affordable’ housing only amounts to 11% of the areas additional homes – a long way from Sadiq’s pledge that 50% of all housing built each year will be affordable.
Following tense negotiations with residents seeking ownership under section 34a of the 1985 Housing Act, we have already seen Capco MD, Gary Yardley stated ‘We can’t go on like this’. Capco’s shares have fallen and sales of the yet to be completed Lillie Square properties have slowed. With a new Mayor now in the seat we could be in for a few more twists and turns. Any alternative plan will now be subject to Sadiq’s policies no doubt causing further delays. Indeed the new Mayor has already committed to seeking a review of the Earl’s Court project master plan.
In addition the incoming incumbent faces two imminent ‘called-in’ planning applications: the £800m Bishopsgate Goodsyard scheme and the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium. From the start, the former has faced opposition from both Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils, as well as groups concerned about the impact it will have on Shoreditch. At the end of March, the latter was called in because of both ‘the scale and nature of public representations received’ and ‘because the nature of the proposals raise important considerations as to the future of cultural and sporting venues in London’ (see letter)
Having gained the public vote, Sadiq will now need to decide whether to give these projects the go-ahead. If he does he may incur the wrath of those that voted him in, if he doesn’t he is likely to hear calls that the new mayor is anti-property and anti-development.
For very obvious reasons, housing has been identified as the major concern for Londoners’. London has faced two major issues: a population spurt, with the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) estimating that 50,000 homes a year are needed to meet the demand; and an increase in house prices of up to 500% since 1983.
Source: Land Registry
Clearly, the general consensus is that London does need more homes but as it stands re-developing brownfield sites (that’s land that has previously been used for industrial or commercial purposes) can be complex, painfully slow and very expensive. In addition the CPS report states that building only on brownfield sites won’t resolve this issue as almost 22% of land within London’s boundaries is classified as greenbelt and around 60% of this greenbelt is located within 2km of an existing rail or tube station. Whilst this would provide some ideal space for housing, how much are Londoners prepared to forego? Public access to greenspace is vital to London’s success as a global city. These areas don’t just need protecting, they need enhancing. However the reality is that London’s designated greenbelt is not all parkland some of it consists of derelict buildings and wasteland. Local authorities need to be encouraged to take another look at their greenbelt listings and review greenbelt land with good connectivity that offers little environmental value or public benefit. This could be re-designated for residential development incorporating greenspace that the public could actually use.
Whilst Boris has had a positive impact on space and design standards, many of which are now adopted by other cities, he hasn’t manage to build enough houses to fulfil the need. As Sadiq takes over, he has ruled out building on greenbelt land which means his target is also likely to fall short unless this policy changes. Indeed Sadiq, and his former main rival Zac Goldsmith, were heavily criticised in the lead up to the elections for failing to attend a debate on housing and infrastructure, despite the fact that both prioritised London’s housing in their manifestos. Arguably if projects have limited commercial viability or we simply do not have the skilled manpower to build and fulfil these requirements we could well end up with 50% of nothing.
Boris Johnson’s first election manifesto in 2008 slated predecessor Ken Livingstone’s enthusiasm for tower blocks and promised to stop their explosion in growth to protect London’s skyline. Fast-forward to now and the 436 towers in varying stages of planning permission and construction makes Livingstone permitted 27 towers look positively subdued. This surge is leading to a backlash against tall buildings with a YouGov survey concluding that 48% of Londoners believe the 436 proposed new buildings will impact negatively on London life, whilst only 34% believe they will be of benefit. So where does Mr. Khan lie on this issue? He appears to be in favour of fewer towers but how comfortably does that sit with his desire for significant rise in affordable housing? At some stage he is going to have to address the question of desirability versus commercial viability. Tower blocks can take 2-5 years to pull off and together with an uncertain market that takes a certain leap of faith from the developer.
Whilst Boris might not have been directly responsible, the tidy up to Exhibition Road, Jubilee Gardens and Granary and Leicester Squares in response to the 2012 Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Equally worthwhile has been the overhaul of less prominent public spaces such as Archway, Highbury Corner, Hammersmith, King’s Cross, Vauxhall, Waterloo and Old Street roundabout. Arguably the biggest transformation to the City’s infrastructure in over 50 years. So what can our new Mayor offer? Mr Khan has pledged to work with communities, boroughs and the private sector to improve our public spaces, streets and spaces. His manifesto prioritises high streets, squares and public spaces right across London. Pledging the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, Sadiq states his ambition to turn ‘one of the world’s most polluted streets into one of the world’s finest public spaces – a tree lined avenue from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch’. He also plans to pedestrianise Parliament Square and integrating it into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster Abbey and Palace.
Boris has extended the overground, secured governmental support for Crossrail, improved bus services with his hybrid diesel-electric, double-decker buses and introduced the congestion charge. In addition, whilst it was Ken Livingstone that introduced cycle hire and Barclays that sponsored them, they were universally and unapologetically rebranded as ‘Boris Bikes’. This has lead to cycle routes being installed across the city and TfL predicting that London bikes will shortly outnumber the City’s cars, an achievement that no other capital city has achieved. Less successful is the Thames cable car where peak usage in 2012 reached a heady 16 regular users and the number of current regular users is precisely none!
Sadiq’s manifesto states his ambition ‘to create a transport network which offers commuters a world-class and affordable experience’. Among his transport pledges are the freezing of TfL fares and cycle hire charges for the next four years; and a new bus ticket with unlimited changes within 1hr. Although this arguable significantly reduces his income to support his manifesto. However, probably the most important transport project for the new mayor is the confirmation of the Crossrail 2 route and how it is going to be funded. There is a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) tax on development right across the country but in London, the mayor can add an additional CIL. This decision could have serious implications for developers.
Boris’ major commitment to culture lies with Europe’s tallest public artwork, the Olympic Park’s Orbit sculpture, although it has had relatively low visitor numbers since the Games ended. Sadiq has now pledged to produce a Cultural Infrastructure Plan for 2030 with plans to set up Creative Enterprise Zones, providing dedicated small work and live-in space; strengthen planning protections for London’s pubs and for small industrial and creative workspaces; and introduce the ‘Agent for Change’ rule forcing new developments built next to existing venues to pick up the soundproofing costs.
There is no doubt that Sadiq Khan in his new role as London Mayor has some pressing decisions to make.
Please leave your comments below.