With Sadiq Khan newly elected to City Hall, Assembly meetings offer a good opportunity to assess which direction the Mayor’s administration is moving in, and which of the manifesto pledges are being prioritised.
Today saw Sadiq Khan take part in his second Mayor’s Question Time (MQT). The dynamic of the new MQTs doesn’t seem as spikey as in previous years – perhaps a reflection of the egos and style of Khan’s predecessors – although there were some suitably confrontational patches with particular AMs. And new Chair of the Assembly, Tony Arbour, brought a mix of dry cynicism, humour and wit to proceedings to keep things moving on well.
By the end of the two and a half hour session, we had seen the Mayor answer questions covering a broad range of issues, including housing, planning, energy, transport and security. Importantly, we got a good indication of the way in which the Mayor is planning on proceeding over his term of office.
In terms of additional appointments to his team, Kahn confirmed that he is looking to add planning and environment leads shortly. He said he would not be rushed into making decisions, though, and we can perhaps conclude that no appointments are imminent. These briefs would be covered by others in his team for the time being.
Sadiq has wasted no time in making clear he wants additional devolved powers from the Government. Over the course of the meeting he spoke of gaining more of a say over the private rented sector and took up the refrain of previous Mayors calling for Transport for London to take over London overland rail routes
Housing was at the top of Khan’s agenda during the election. A little more knowledge was gleaned about his definition of affordable housing – he continues to differentiate between the standard model of ‘affordable’ used by his predecessor and others in government and his own desire for new housing in London to be ‘genuinely affordable’. After some probing from Andrew Boff AM, he did give three separate definitions of what constituted ‘affordable’ but it is still unclear how these different measures might be applied consistently. We learned that a review of Housing Zones was underway, but the Mayor confirmed he supports them in the meantime, with a £50 million scheme in Hounslow signed off by his officers last week. Significantly this had been done on the proviso that the affordable element of the scheme was increased from 40% to 50%, which the Mayor yet again confirmed was his ‘long-term target’ for London.
The Mayor spoke of his wish to work with everyone, including investors and developers, to accelerate investment into housing across the capital. He called for Londoners to have ‘first dibs’ on new housing, which led to a couple of interesting exchanges with Conservative and Green members of the Assembly: the former questioned whether this was ‘foreigner bashing’ as only 3% of new buys were by foreigners each year, and whether this would impact on foreign investment; the Mayor denied this. The latter point made by the Greens questioned whether a residency requirement would then be built into his affordable housing targets. This is perhaps an issue to keep an eye on in future.
Labour AM Nicky Gavron returned to a pet subject of hers – modular housing. She evangelised the concept to the Mayor, who seemed keen to take up the idea, saying his team were already in talks with industry on the subject.
On planning, the Mayor confirmed that the new London Plan would take around two years to complete due to the extensive consultation required. However, he announced that he was hoping to publish supplementary planning guidance in the near future to demonstrate a direction of travel, and to allow a degree of certainty for developers. This is an important statement and we will be watching closely for signs of what this guidance might contain. In passing, the Mayor also stated that there would be an updated Transport Plan for London published in the Autumn.
Sean Bailey AM raised the subject of affordable business space in the Capital, to which the Mayor replied by saying he supported local authorities gaining opt-outs from permitted development: it was vital that office and industrial space be retained. He also spoke of his support for mixed living and working space.
If you are interested in more insight or a more detailed briefing of this meeting, or of other developments from City Hall, contact:
T: +44 (0)20 8819 0555
D: +44 (0)20 3637 5963