Gareth Bacon is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
Having run our city for eight years and been a London MP for the last four, even Boris Johnson’s fiercest critics would struggle to deny that our new Prime Minister gets London. He understands the capital’s problems and is in the right position to offer solutions. Make no mistake, Johnson’s premiership is a gift for the capital.
London desperately needs a new Mayor, but in the meantime the Prime Minister is able to partially fill the leadership vacuum left by Sadiq Khan. I have written to Johnson to set out exactly what he can do to build on his London legacy and mitigate some of the damage being wreaked by the Mayor when it comes to crime, transport and housing.
Firstly, the new Prime Minister needs to take a robust approach to crime. Khan’s crime epidemic has taken the lives of far too many Londoners, and it is essential that the new Prime Minister counters the inaction exhibited by the Mayor. While the Mayor has entirely dismissed our fully-costed plan to get nearly 1,400 more cops on London’s streets, Johnson has hit the ground running by promising an additional 20,000 police officers across the country. This is a brilliant start, but not the entire solution.
For too long the Metropolitan Police have suffered from uncertainty when it comes to funding. The Prime Minister could fix this by offering the clarity provided by multi-year funding settlement. Multi-year funding settlements are nothing new, and there is no reason why the UK’s biggest police force shouldn’t receive one.
In addition, it remains the case that Londoners are shouldering too much of the burden for policing the capital. The Met shells out £346 million every year on national work which takes place in the capital such as diplomatic protection and policing major events such as protests, major football matches and state visits. The National and International Capital Cities (NICC) Grant is meant to refund Londoners for these costs, but it is currently underfunded by £172 million. This imbalance urgently needs addressing by the new Government.
Secondly, transport. Johnson is entirely right to have such a passionate belief in the transformational impact of certain big transport infrastructure projects. In London, this attitude should translate into an unshakeable commitment to completing Crossrail 2. The Prime Minister shouldn’t let Khan’s abject failure to deliver Crossrail 1 on time and on budget undermine the case for its successor, which will bring enormous benefits to London through new homes and regeneration.
However, the new Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for infrastructure projects shouldn’t be unconditional, and he should maintain his passionate opposition to the plans to expand Heathrow. It cannot be denied that, in the face of stiff and growing competition overseas, it is an economic necessity for Britain to increase its share of the aviation market. But a third runway at Heathrow will not do this, it will merely slow the pace of our decline. Furthermore, as they stand the Heathrow expansion plans are eye-wateringly expensive, environmentally calamitous, and hugely disruptive for south west Londoners.
The new government needs to hold a review into the UK’s long-term airport capacity problem which we believe will show that plans for a third runway should be scrapped and alternatives urgently developed.
Alongside sorting Brexit, cracking down on crime and securing the right transport infrastructure upgrades, Londoners need the new Prime Minister to help ease our city’s drastic housing shortage. We need to ensure that young Londoners are able to take their first step on the housing ladder while families aren’t forced out of out of our city. Unfortunately, Khan’s London Plan is set to fail to achieve either aspiration. Perversely, his plan will encourage developers to build small units rather than family-sized homes in entirely the wrong places, with the protections around back gardens set to be removed. While encouraging development on green spaces, Khan is simultaneously making it harder to build on large swathes of disused brownfield land. This back-to-front approach needs scrapping which is why Johnson needs to block the Mayor’s London Plan.
Londoners don’t just need Johnson to clear up after Khan, we also need him to get Brexit done. London voted by 60 percent to remain in the EU, so Brexit was never going to be universally popular in our city. But this is no excuse to kick the can down the road – we need to get Brexit over the line so we can once again focus on the other big issues Londoners care about.
London’s preference will always be to leave with a good deal, but in light of the approach to negotiations taken by the EU so far, it is vital for the new Prime Minister to prepare our country comprehensively for the possibility of leaving without one.
But in the midst of Brexit uncertainty, we must guarantee one thing: the rights of the one million EU nationals living in the capital. It is frankly unacceptable that these hard-working Londoners have had to endure three years of uncertainty, so it is encouraging to see that Johnson has already pledged to guarantee these rights irrespective of the Brexit outcome.
The UK now has a Prime Minister with a deep affinity to London and a proud track record of delivering for our city. If Johnson is able to harness the optimism, can-do attitude and uplifting energy which has characterised the early days of his premiership and combine this with the approach outlined above, he will once again be credited with making the greatest city in the world even greater.