With London’s economy growing at twice the rate of the rest of the country, it is fashionable to conclude that its future growth and prosperity is assured. The implication is that the challenge for a future Mayor is to grapple with the problems that arise from this future growth. However, I do not believe that London’s future growth and prosperity can be taken for granted. We should remind ourselves that London’s population was in steep decline for 40 years. It has taken another 35 years since 1980 just to get back to the same number of people living in London as there were in 1940!
London’s population density is half that of New York or Paris. London covers a very large area even if by world city standards its population is not as great as others – by way of comparison New York city with 8.5 million people covers some 305 square miles whereas London has 8.6 million over 607 square miles. Londoners therefore are more likely to have to travel further on average to get to work and yet tube and rail fares in London are far and away more expensive than any similar metro/rail systems in any other comparable city in the world. This disparity if not checked will act as a brake on future London growth. It is not just desirable to reduce the burden of tube and rail fares, it is an absolute necessity if we are to continue to provide a prosperous future for our citizens.
As leader of Hammersmith & Fulham council, people told me that I would not be able to reduce council tax and yet we cut it 6 times over 8 years such that it ended up the 3rd lowest council tax in the country. When I promise, I deliver! Now people tell me I will not be able to reduce tube/rail fares. As a Conservative London Mayoral candidate I have pledged to cut tube and rail fares by 3 per cent each year so that the average fare payer would be £900 better off over a mayoral term.
TfL is a multi-billion pound a year entity which owns 5,700 acres (c9 square miles, equivalent to bigger than the entire borough of Camden) of land, 1,000 shop units and 61 car parks. TfL does not need to retain all this land to deliver a world class public transport network! It is wrong for TfL to have the ambition to become the London’s largest development company. If its land is surplus to operational requirements it should be sold in a way which would provide a better return. The key to building more homes in London is better use of public land. In Hammersmith & Fulham, I sold off over £100 million worth of council property, which delivered hundreds of new homes. In my current role as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime(MOPAC) for London, I have taken the police out of buildings and put them on the streets in neighbourhoods. Releasing underutilised police buildings will have raised £1 billion to reinvest in policing. However the benefits go beyond policing and also boost London’s economy with these buildings providing at least 4,000 new homes, 12,000 jobs, 9 new schools and 10 acres of open land for London. If elected Mayor of London, I will take the same approach with TfLand have pledged to sell 1,000 acres of surplus land in my first term. That’s enough for 50,000 new homes and would raise £20 billion. TfL is also by the way a massive procurer of multi-million pound contracts as well as maintaining a huge bureaucracy occupying large costly central London locations. As I have done in the past at Hammersmith & Fulham and MOPAC, the organisation will need to be restructured, improved and made fit for purpose.
In these ways I will be able to reduce the proportion of the fares going to cover overheads and maintain the capital investment programme which is so necessary to delivering the greater capacity (and the increased number of travellers) on the Tube. It is right that fare payers should reap the reward of this in the form of cheaper fares. In this way a future Mayor can tackle the high cost of living burden on Londoners and help to secure the future prosperity of our city.