Cllr Philippa Roe, the Leader of Westminster City Council, and a candidate for the Conservative nomination for Mayor of London, answers our questions.
1) Why do you want to be Mayor of London
I am a Londoner through and though. I was born in Hampstead, brought up in Bromley and have lived in various places across the city – Wandsworth, Fulham and Westminster.
I have raised a family in London and know every part of the city. I will bat for every individual community that makes up this great city.
I believe I have the experience to be Mayor of the best city in the world.
I have been Leader of Westminster City Council for the past three years, managing a budget of £1 billion a year and running one of the most complex areas of London.
Having set up and run and sold two small businesses, becoming the chief executive of another and rising through the ranks to become a director at a leading global investment bank, I understand London, not just as a resident but also from a business perspective.
I am a Conservative who is a fundamental believer in the importance of aspiration. If you work hard, build a career and provide for your family the Conservative Party will support you with policies that allow you to reach your full potential.
Being Mayor of London is not just something I would be honoured to do, it is a role I believe I am qualified to do to build a better London.
2) How would you increase housing supply in London? What sort of housing needs to be built?
The priority must be to build affordable housing for people on lower and middle incomes, many of whom work in central London but currently face very long and very expensive commutes.
In Westminster we have developed a number of housing offers for those on lower and middle incomes, including a home ownership option open exclusively to those earning under £60,000 a year.
This keeps the price of the property affordable for its life and is not a hand out to the first lucky person on the ladder. These have proved extremely successful. The first development sold all properties to residents earning less than £30,000 per year.
There are areas in London where the building of high-rise properties will alleviate the housing issue, creating tens of thousands more homes. Although the height of these buildings must be carefully considered, taking into consideration the nature of the area so that historic value in our city is preserved, there are undoubtedly many areas where such buildings could be sensitively sited.
The Land Commission in London is already identifying underused public sector land in London that could create thousands of homes. I would ensure that a balance is reached between maximising development and taking into consideration the local environment and providing the social infrastructure alongside new homes such as doctors surgeries and schools.
London also has a number of privately owned brown field sites which are currently not viable due to a lack of infrastructure. It is essential that this infrastructure is developed and the sites opened up, bringing not only much needed housing but economic regeneration as well.
3) Would you favour a third runway at Heathrow?
No, I support expansion at Gatwick. Not only are the noise and air pollution issues significant with Heathrow expansion and large numbers of residents disrupted, I do not believe it can be delivered as quickly as the Gatwick solution. London needs increased airport capacity as soon as possible. The Heathrow option is highly likely to be challenged from a number of different stakeholders, which will delay implementation for many years. I do not believe that the Davis Commission took this into account in its economic analysis. I believe that Gatwick could deliver the additional airport capacity we need far sooner.
4) How would you achieve a further reduction in crime in London?
Horrible though it is for victims when a crime is committed, fortunately most Londoners will never experience a serious crime.
However many Londoners will experience antisocial behaviour which does not seem to be a priority for the police. Anti-social behaviour must be tackled early on as blights the lives of residents and can lead to more serious crime.
As Mayor, I would make antisocial behaviour, aggressive begging and low-level crime such as pickpocketing a police priority and set targets to tackle it.
The MOPAC 7 targets have been useful in reducing certain types of crime but police prioritisation must be broadened.
The police should work more closely in partnership with London councils. In Westminster, for example, we have two police officers embedded in our licensing team so that they work closely with us as issues arise. This has proved very effective in dealing with difficult premises particularly in the West End and could be extended to other areas.
5) Would you increase or reduce the Council Tax precept if you became Mayor?
I would reduce the precept.
Boris has done a good job at beginning the reduction in costs within the GLA but we must go further.
Having run a local authority during some of the most severe budget cuts local government has ever seen and taken 40% out of our net budget, I believe that I am well placed to find further savings at City Hall.
I will take a no nonsense approach and review all services provided by City Hall and assess if they are really necessary. This will also highlight areas where budgets can be reduced without any adverse effect on the service quality.
It is vital that an analysis of the way services are delivered is undertaken. All services then need to be looked at from the point of delivery backwards to ensure that the highest quality is provided as efficiently as possible.
By taking this approach in Westminster we have saved over £100m and in many cases improved services at the same time.
6) What extra powers – if any – would you like to see the Mayor given, and why?
I want to create a devolution revolution in London.
There are a whole host of powers that should be devolved to the Mayor and the boroughs in order to get better results.
Top of my agenda is fiscal devolution.
The Greater London Authority currently retains just 7 per cent of taxes raised in the capital, compared with 50 per cent in New York and 70 per cent in Tokyo.
As Mayor, I will campaign for London to retain more of tax raised through business rates raised in the Capital.
There is an urgent need for a more joined up approach to ensure our young people are suitably equipped for work. The Mayor and the boroughs must be given the power to work together to map local, regional and pan London skills shortages and work with colleges to plug this gap.
Tackling the issues of long-term unemployment can be much more successful if done at a local level. As Leader of Westminster Council, I led the central London pilot scheme to deal with long-term unemployment in eight of the central London boroughs. This should be rolled out across the whole of London.
As the Conservative Group lead on London Councils for devolution, I am actively working on devolution proposals covering additional powers and funds to integrate health and social care budgets, reforming current right to buy proposals, integrating Job Centre Plus and council teams to provide a local seamless service, raising the HRA borrowing limit so that more homes can be built, integrating back office and realigning court services, probation and community rehabilitation programme to provide a more joined up approach locally and devolution of the London element of the currently centrally controlled business development budgets. If agreed, devolution of these powers and resources to a local level will improve services as well as save money.
7) How do you see reviving London’s high streets?
A big challenge when revitalising high streets is dealing with multiple landlords who do not take a long-term view of the street. Therefore, key to transforming high streets is bringing landlords together to agree a long term vision for the street and a long term lettings strategy.
The Mayor, in partnership with the local authority and the business community, should make a small amount of investment into the public realm to make the street more attractive and pleasant as well as eradicating crime hotspots. This can be achieved at relatively low cost through better lighting, planting and some repaving.
A good source of advice for regenerating streets are developers and retailers themselves.
Westminster has used senior people from local businesses to guide and advise us on our struggling high streets and as Mayor I would establish a number of panels so that each borough could have advice on their high streets.
High street regeneration should be part of broader regeneration programmes that provide market homes alongside homes for working people who cannot afford market homes. If the street has an attractive array of shops these new residents will shop there, supporting these local businesses.
8) Do you support the Thames Water Super Sewer?
It is clear that sewage capacity is inadequate in London and that this situation will only get worse if action is not taken. However, I do not think the case has been made for the Super Sewer as the best solution.
9) What would you do to reduce unemployment in London?
There are over 300,000 unemployed people in London and around half will find work within a year. Some will need a little support but there are many programmes available provided by both the public sector and charities which help.
The long term unemployed often have mental health or substance misuse issues and can lack confidence and the skills required to gain employment. An intensive programme of support is required along with working closely with employers in London prepared to give these individuals a chance.
In Westminster we have developed our Workplace Coordinator Programme which provides one to one support to coach the people back into work. We work with local hospitality and retail businesses that have suitable entry level jobs and place the residents we are working with in their businesses. The Workplace Coordinator continues to work with the new employee after they have got the job to support them in the transition. This has been hugely successful and has helped hundreds of people back into work and supported them to ensure they remain in work.
10) How would you improve air quality in London?
Air quality is of significant concern to Londoners. I would introduce measures to help combat pollution levels. I support the current Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and the introduction of measures to reduce traffic such as freight consolidation.
Currently each business premises in London organises its own freight and waste collection using a number of different firms. This results in multiple contractors with multiple vehicles servicing each street.
In Westminster we have begun a freight and waste consolidation programme where businesses club together to let one large contract. This significantly reduces the number of vehicles on our street and consequently reduces congestion and pollution.
Reducing vehicle emissions by encouraging electric car use and reconfiguring some road networks to ensure that traffic flows better will all make a difference.
Investment in public transport is vital to ensure that residents and visitors make the positive choice to use it rather than their car is also a crucial part of reducing vehicle emissions.
11) What experience do you have that would qualify you to be Mayor of London?
I was born and brought up in London. I have spent my entire working life in London and am currently bringing up my family here.
I have run small businesses as well as been a director at a global investment bank. I am now the Leader of Westminster City Council, I sit on the London LEP and its Infrastructure Delivery Board, I sat on the London Crime Reduction Board and I currently sit on the board of Royal Parks, which is responsible for some of the Capital’s most iconic open spaces both in central and outer London.
All this experience gives me an insight into multiple aspects of London governance, the issues the city faces and some of the solutions.
I have an in depth knowledge and love for London developed from being both a resident and from working here. I am used to running organisations in both the public and private sector which allows me to bring some of my commercial expertise to public service.
Westminster City Council has a £1bn turnover and covers one of the most complex areas of London where we are already finding solutions to some of the capital’s most intractable problems.
All this experience makes me ideally suited to step up and become Mayor of the greatest city on earth.
12) What do you think has been Boris’ worse mistake during his past eight years as Mayor?
I think Boris has been a fantastic Mayor and has created a great platform for the Conservatives to win the next Mayoral election. If there is one mistake he as made, it has to be getting on the zip wire that got stuck during the Olympics!
As Mayor, I would ensure that initiatives like this are rolled out across London, funded by devolved Department of Work and Pensions budgets.