Since my re-election in May , my team and I have made good progress on delivering on my manifesto commitments. Only a few months into my second term, we have already launched London’s biggest ever domestic tourism campaign to get the central London economy moving again; committed over £32 million for the funding of skills academies to help Londoners take advantage of job opportunities in key growth areas; expanded the world-leading ULEZ to an area 18 times the size of the original central zone; agreed a new £3.46 billion deal with the Government to build more genuinely affordable housing; secured £10 million of investment to help deliver interventions for up to 2,500 children and young people at the greatest risk of serious violence; invested nearly £2 million to help young Londoners exit criminal gangs; invested £150,000 in a new programme to support London’s under pressure nurseries and childminders; announced a retrofit revolution in a partnership with up to £10 billion to deliver large-scale, low-carbon upgrades to our city’s social housing, cutting carbon whilst supporting the creation of green jobs; invested £6 million to create and improve green space as part of London Climate Action Week, and the list goes on.
My manifesto is an ambitious plan for a brighter future and is targeted specifically to address the scale of the challenges our city faces at this unique point in its history from the climate emergency to the urgent need to rebuild our economy after the pandemic. The manifesto commitments include actions for the GLA and the functional bodies, and in areas where the powers are not devolved and we currently receive insufficient funding, issues we plan to lobby Government on. We have been working hard to build bridges across party lines, both within London and with the national Government, to get the best for our city. My manifesto is aimed at delivering a safer, greener, fairer and more prosperous city.
Thank you, Mr Mayor. Actually, I was not going to ask you about those manifesto pledges; you made lots. In your 2021 Manifesto, you made commitments about transparency or being transparent five times. You also said last year that you were, and I quote, “proud to be the most open and transparent Mayor of London ever.” Do you think you are delivering on that commitment?
I do and if you look at the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) [requests], we answered more than any Mayor over an eight-year period in just five years. When you look at the number of Mayor’s Question Times (MQTs) and Plenary sessions and Assembly meetings I go to, when you look at the number of People’s Question Times, events I do where I take questions from members of the public, I am far more transparent than any Mayor in the history of this great city and I will carry on doing so as long as I am Mayor.
I am glad you said that because you say it very often and if you say things often enough, people tend to think you are correct, but at the last meeting of the Audit Panel, Internal Audit brought the most recent Review of Public Correspondence report for us to consider. It showed that the Mayor’s Team had only 44%, 43% and 50% of responses within the two-week statutory deadline for the months May, April and March respectively, which compares to a target of 90%. In fact, it was noted that the Mayor’s Office was, and I quote, “the worst performing Directorate for public correspondence ...” With this in mind, can you possibly say that you are the most transparent Mayor ever, and will you admit that you are failing in your commitments to be transparent?
-- and it is interesting that the Member looks towards a comparator during a pandemic to try to find examples of bad practice. The reality is in the five years plus I have been Mayor ‑‑
There is analysis, which shows that we are more transparent than either of the previous two Mayors, there is analysis that shows we respond more speedily than either of the previous two Mayors, but also analysis that shows we receive far more volumes than any of the previous two Mayors. When it comes to percentages, what it hides is the vast volumes and in aggregate numbers, the responses are far greater from my team. We will carry on being transparent and it is really important that Londoners have confidence in the process but also in speedy responses.
Just for information, the Mayoral Team only had 3.5% of all requests and you cannot blame the lateness of responding on that. I will go on to something different. In your manifesto, Mr Mayor, you promised “to review how to further involve local communities in the planning decisions that affect them ...” and that is a quote. Do you think that building inappropriate tower blocks on TfL station car parks, against the wishes of thousands of local residents and three local planning committees so far, is a good example of involving local communities in planning decisions that affect them?
Let me give examples of what we have done to address the issue of engagement that has been referred to in the question asked by the Member, which is community engagement and planning. We have a community engagement handbook, which has been produced by me since I became Mayor, which is on the principles of community engagement and the principles are currently being fed through into the work the Planning Team is undertaking. We also have, since I have been elected Mayor, community engagement on call-ins. We have committed to continue to hold hybrid meetings for call-ins, and I held the first ever one. Chair, there are more people to participate in the process, and this experience post-manifesto shows that our approach is already enabling more people to engage. Officers are currently working on an enhanced engagement strategy to supplement statutory consultations, so over and above what we are required to do.
Additionally - I was asked the question - we have community engagement as part of plan making. We carried out a significant engagement programme to involve a broad range of Londoners in the development of the London Plan, more than any other Mayor in the history of our city, another example of engagement, which was a question asked by the Member in relation to planning. This included significant numbers of community events and panels, as well as more traditional consultation. We are, indeed, undertaking bespoke approaches to engagement on the London Plan guidance. Another example ‑‑
It is not Tory Question Time, Chair. It is MQT. Another example of the engagement, which was what I was asked about, was our digital platforms. The Planning Team has led the way on using different digital platforms to engage with communities, which was the question asked by the Member. The problem is there are too many examples of our engagement. I will give you another example of engagement.
No, I do not need any more examples. With respect, I am on a timer.
The point is: you may want to engage with people, but the idea is that you listen to them. You do not ask them a question and then take no regard of their answer whatsoever. You have got thousands and thousands of people that have signed against development on TfL land. In fact, the excellent Member of Parliament (MP), Theresa Villiers, has just handed in a petition of another 2,627 signatures against the High Barnet development. Thousands and thousands of people do not want these developments. It is no good saying you have asked them, if you are not listening to the answers. Will you listen to these people?
You also pledged in your manifesto to oppose ‑‑
OK. The next question: you also pledged in your manifesto to oppose tall buildings and I am quoting here “that don’t enhance London’s skyline, or which provide little social or economic benefit.” Do you think building tower blocks that harm conservation areas, listed buildings and listed parks, as TfL is proposing at places such as Stanmore, Canons Park, Arnos Grove and Cockfosters, is a good example of “social or economic benefit”? Well, why do you not listen ‑‑
-- because this is -- let us try something else, Mr Mayor, because this is on everybody’s mind, even people opposite. There are many local concerns about the impact of removal of commuter parking on the safety of female and vulnerable transport users particularly late at night. Do you agree that nothing should be done by TfL or any other GLA body that puts people at risk, and will you therefore agree to review TfL’s development schemes on this basis?
All TfL schemes that go to a planning committee and a council are properly considered by the officers. There is a proper consultation, and the officers make a recommendation to the councillors on the Planning Committee. In relation to TfL sites that are surplus to TfL’s requirements, the Government has now required TfL as part of the deal to make sure there is property development of those sites and TfL will continue to accede to the requirements of the Government deal to develop those properties surplus to TfL’s requirements.
Mr Mayor, you are complaining there is a decrease in fare money coming into TfL. It does not help when people cannot drive and park at a station in order then to come into London, using public transport, which every one of us wants people to do. I will leave it there because of our time.
Could I just ask you another question on the back of that because I believe you would want to be helpful on this. The fact is that that all the work has now been done by the trade on retrofitting Euro 5 to 6 but, in order to authorise these, there needs to be road testing of the system, which, as you may well know, is the final step before they can be approved, but TfL has yet to even look at a converted cab. Would you, Mr Mayor, be kind enough to ask Mr Byford [Andy Byford, Commissioner, TfL] that before the next MQT next month he can report on progress on TfL working with the cab trade to ensure that these conversions are authorised?
Yes, I know it is a bit complicated. That is fair dinkum. All right. By the way, next Thursday I will be sleeping rough in Romford to raise money for the homeless. Would you like to join me, Mr Mayor?