Tony Devenish is London Assembly Member for Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and the City of Westminster.
No-one will deny we Tories have had better weeks. My Virgin train journey to Manchester was on time, but Philip Cowley’s London Poll ruined my lunch – we Tories are 25 points behind Labour in our capital, three points down since June’s general election.
ConservativeHome was spot on, when it noted that the media’s fixation on Leadership stories overshadowed what was a conference fringe programme buzzing with ideas. Our MPs and borough leaders are head and shoulders above the Labour ones – so cowed by John McDonald’s thugs. Joy Morrissey (former Ealing Acton Parliamentary candidate) and the Centre for Social Justice team were especially impressive.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcements especially on housing, but our governments since 2010 have all too often been ”incremental”. Yes, much of government (including local government) is necessarily about crossing t’s and dotting i’s. But bold policies which ”cut through” with busy consumers (especially in London) are essential.
So here’s my three, ahead of November’s Budget, which I’ve road tested anecdotally with a large cross section of Londoners and business over the summer months. As I wrote before: Chancellor, it’s your call sir.
1. A four year (2018-22) London wide Council Tax 50 per cent rebate for those under 30 year of age. Call it a bribe if you like , but young Londoners deserve ”a hand up, not a hand out”. It’s their hard earned money and the cost of living is crippling those busy establishing careers, struggling with debt. Otherwise London will start to look very middle aged.
2. Pay for the Council Tax cut by land receipts. Force boroughs to dispose of land for which they have not submitted planning applications by May 1st 2021 to develop themselves or operationally really need. The odd borough (out of 33) will inevitably have to be subsidised but we cannot allow such bold policies to be watered down. Land banking is a scandal which the development industry and the public sector are equally guilty of abetting over decades. The money alone offered by the Prime Minister will not unlock more housing – it is access to land which is key to unlock capital, public and private.
3. Despite being handed £3.15 million of taxpayers money, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, is moving at a snail’s pace to build just 90,000 homes by 2021 (or rather start to excavate land by that date). We London Tories may be an endangered species by then. So we must also force the Greater London Authority, one of the biggest landowners in London, to sell surplus land. Transport for London alone owns land 16 times the size of Hyde Park (the size of Camden). It needs to accelerate the disposal of all land which it does not need operationally nor has bothered to submit planning applications for by 1st May 2021. Three and a half years may seem a long time but housing associations, cooperatives, developers and councils tell me this is a typical and reasonable time scale. Well before that deadline is reached it will force a major step change of pace across London.
These policies would demonstrate to Londoners next May that we Conservatives are on their side and not that of big business and a big state – like Jeremy Corbyn’s comfortably off middle class Labour Party.