Conservative Homes: A Conservative offer for London has to include a presumption in favour of building (Pt 3)

Published 09 Feb 2023

Michael Liebreich is an entrepreneur, expert on clean energy and transport, member of the Board of Trade, former member of the board of Transport for London, and an Olympic skier. In this series, he explains what it would take for a Conservative candidate to win an unexpected victory in the 2024 London Mayoral race.

So far I have shown how the 2024 London Mayoral race is likely to be much closer than many people think, and laid out an overall campaign positioning (not a slogan) for the Conservative candidate to appeal to both traditionalist and progressive voters – “a well-run city with a glorious future”. This stems from an analysis of previous election results by Alex Crowley, Boris Johnson’s advisor during his two London victories.

Alex and I have not yet started to test specific policy proposals. However, I am laying out some ideas in a number of policy areas in order to spur debate and discussion early in the process. Having considered the economy and the environment, here we’ll look at security, safety, and housing.

Security matters

London is facing a security crisis – one whose magnitude has not been grasped by the current Mayor. The next Mayor needs to deliver an integrated approach to Londoners’ physical safety and to the city’s resilience.

One of the most urgent problems for the next Mayor will be to drive through root and branch reform of the Metropolitan Police, working with Sir Mark Rowley, the new Commissioner. This reform is not “someone else’s problem”: the Mayor of London is equivalent to the city’s Police and Crime Commissioner, and has to play a leadership role. The interim report of the Casey Review revealed that the Met’s ranks include hundreds of racist, women-hating and corrupt officers and there are, according to Rowley, hundreds of officers who should be kicked out of the force. The same with the London Fire Brigade – the next Mayor must take responsibility for its reform too, in the wake of a devastating racism and misogyny scandal.

It’s not just about the Met and the Fire Brigade: the next Mayor needs to address the full range of criminal and antisocial activities that degrade our streets and harm Londoners and visitors. Property crime in London is almost never investigated. Minorities are harassed by the police instead of being served by them. Women feel insecure. Exhaust catalysts are stolen in broad daylight on suburban streets. Online scammers prey on the old and vulnerable. None of this should be tolerated; the next Mayor needs to say so and act accordingly.

The solution is not for the police to be more woke, it is for them to be more effective. Modern IT, digital policing, less paperwork. Streamlined use of information and images from the public. Swifter prosecutions, better-presented evidence, better coordination with the courts and prosecutors. Less dancing at Carnival, more catching the bad guys. London’s minority communities need effective policing more than any other, it’s time to listen to them and to meet their needs.

Security must also be provided for the most vulnerable and marginalised. There are an estimated 133,000 undocumented children and young people in London. These are the most likely Londoners to be subject to violence, modern slavery, exploitation and sex crimes. London has a long and honourable history of providing refuge to people in their times of need; the next Mayor must make their protection and integration a priority.

Security must also mean safety. It is a scandal that London’s roads are the least safe of any major European city, with Transport for London buses involved in 24,000 collisions and 5,000 falls each year, killing a dozen people and putting 1,500 in hospital. It is a scandal that nearly 20 per cent of London’s roadworks are non-compliant with safety regulations.

In his usual cynical way, Khan declared Vision Zero – no deaths or serious injuries on London’s roads by 2041 – but has done little or nothing to deliver it. His lack of commitment to the safety of Londoners is perfectly summed up by the fact that TfL’s Head of Safety, whom he appointed in the wake of the Sandilands crash without advertising the role, had neither qualifications nor prior experience in safety management.

A Conservative offer for London would place priority on the security, safety and wellbeing of all Londoners, and deliver an integrated package of meaningful funded policies to improve it.

The home front

Housing remains one of the most pressing concerns for Londoners. Too many Londoners part with far too much of their income on property, too much of which is sub-standard. London needs more homes, but it also needs better homes.

Khan’s plan on housing is to bang on about affordable housing and rent control. The entire edifice of “affordable housing” does little but impede development: it slows down the planning process and destroys the economics of projects – resulting in the delivery of less affordable housing, not more. As for rent control, it’s a policy the Mayor has no power to deliver, and which has been described as “the best way of destroying a city short of bombing it”.

What is needed instead is a ruthless focus on two things: building more homes of excellent quality and enforcing existing regulations relating to the ones we have.

There’s plenty of land, what with London’s major Opportunity Areas, the land banks of the big developers, and brownfield sites. Each Mayor talks about releasing buildable land from the GLA and TfL’s vast public holdings – enough talk. There is no need to build on the Green Belt and no need to consign Londoners to ghastly Paris-outskirts-style tower blocks. Crossrail 2 must be given the go-ahead not just because it will make existing journeys easier, but because it will enable tens of thousands of new homes to be built.

Responsible overseas ownership of housing is to be encouraged, not excoriated – as long as anything built is of a type needed by Londoners and does not sit empty. Land-banking has to stop – any developer failing to deliver in a reasonable timeframe on developments that have received planning permission should find subsequent projects stalled or rejected. If you want to do business with the next Mayor, respect London’s priorities and you’ll do fine. If not, find a different city in which to ply your trade.

In terms of inadequate housing, what is needed is not virtue signalling or public shaming, not websites, anonymous ratings of landlords; what is needed is resources dedicated to the enforcement of regulations. And we need to allow Londoners to build higher, so they no longer need to tunnel down and live subterranean lives in ever deeper basements.

London has always been a city of dense, liveable streets, interspersed with green spaces and beautiful public buildings. A Conservative offer for London has to include a presumption in favour of building, as long as the resulting homes are of a quality any of us would be proud to live in.