Home Property Exclusive: Zac Goldsmith tells us his game-plan for solving London's housing crisis

Exclusive: Zac Goldsmith tells us his game-plan for solving London's housing crisis

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10th Nov 15 9:27 am

Zac or Sadiq? The London mayoral election is on. Who will win? You decide.

Boris Johnson’s eight-year residency at City Hall will cease in just six months’ time. Fresh blood is on its way in.

The big showdown will be between Labour’s Sadiq Khan, who edged past party grandee Tessa Jowell to win his nomination, and the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith, who sailed through the Conservative nomination process as favourite.

Both are currently London MPs, both increased their majorities at the last election, and both have track records indicating they’re more than capable of deviating from official party lines.

In recent weeks, a few more similarities between the two have begun to stack up, with both Khan and Goldsmith saying they’d oppose Heathrow expansion, both have said they’d support pedestrianising Oxford Street, and both have given the controversial Garden Bridge the all-clear.

But the similarities end there. Their backgrounds could not be more dissimilar. Khan grew up in south London, the son of Pakistani immigrants. Meanwhile Goldsmith was brought up a few miles further west, became a multi-millionaire at just 22 when he inherited a portion of his father’s wealth, and he subsequently became editor of his uncle’s magazine, the Ecologist.

London Loves Business spoke to Khan earlier this year ahead of his campaign to become mayor. But we recently caught up with Goldsmith to find out more about his vision for London.

Why do you want to be mayor of London?

I love this city. I’ve been here all my life and I worry about the future. I think that if we don’t get to grips with the housing crisis, for example – I think that probably is the number one crisis – London will become a very divided and unhappy place and we’ll see that the great people who make London what it is are being priced out.

How would you solve the housing crisis?

We’re going to have to build in the region of 50,000 houses a year just to narrow the gap between supply and demand. There are loads of ideas around housing, but the bottom line is we need to build more.

How will you ensure that people can afford to buy or rent them?

You can’t artificially manage prices if the gap between supply and demand is as wide as it is today. They’re miles apart, so you do have to build more homes, and the fact is that much of the land on which we need to build those homes is already publicly-owned brownfield land, owned by TfL, the GLA, local authorities and so on. TfL actually owns the equivalent of about 16 Hyde Parks. It gives us the opportunity and the ability to be much more picky about what and how we build on that land.

How would you finance it?

I think one easy approach and one which can raise really significant sums of money is to create an investment vehicle, and an investment opportunity which is geared towards pensions funds for example, who want long-term investment. Also, we know that there’s a big appetite around the world among investment funds – banks and so on – to invest in London property. In a volatile world, it’s considered to be a relatively safe investment.

But the problem is that a lot of homes are being bought up as investments and not being lived in. That negative needs to be turned into a positive. But we can enable those outside investors and internal pension funds to invest in a development corporation that would develop on brownfield land. You get the finance you need, but also more importantly you get the homes that normal Londoners need.

What do you think about building on greenbelt land or re-classifying some greenbelt land?

I don’t think you need to. Look, we’re lucky in London in that we do have a fair bit of green space. We’ve got our Royal Parks, we’ve got a lot more besides, and I think we need to protect that. With the figures we have about the publicly available brownfield land, we can build the houses we need for at least the foreseeable future without touching the greenbelt and without having to re-define it.

What’s been the biggest surprise of your campaign so far? What have you learned that you didn’t know before?

I, er, well that’s a very good question. I think that on some issues what is surprising is that the split in London is more to do with geography than party. So you’ll find that there’s quite a big gap in relation to some policies between inner London and outer London, where you’ll find people from different parties in absolute agreement in where they are, but absolute disagreement with even their own fellow party members on things like right to buy for example. This will have a very different impact on the outer boroughs, than the impact it’s going to have on the inner boroughs, no matter how it’s shaped up.

So I suppose it’s logical, but it’s been quite an eye-opener – you know I’ve been to every borough talking to every group, talking to people from different parties. That’s something that’s come through very loud and clear.

How do you view Sadiq Khan now that he’s been selected by Labour?

Well, I don’t know Sadiq all that well, so I don’t have a personal view, but I think he’s obviously very good at mobilising people and he’s a very good campaigner, so the Conservative party is going to have to work very hard.

He said he would oppose expansion to Heathrow, so that’s something you have in common with him.

I’m pleased about that. It means we can focus on the big issues for London, and Heathrow will not be a political football during that time, which I think is a good thing. It’s such an all-consuming issue that sometimes it can displace other issues which affect everyone in London.

Without Heathrow, what would be the solution to increasing London’s air capacity?

Well I think the choice is between a giant mega-hub monopoly provider, versus a more competitive network. I’ve always believed the network is the answer. For me that means investing heavily in linking up our three main airports, and linking those airports up to the London transport network, as well as we possibly can and allow the three airports to compete.

So you don’t think much of Boris Johnson’s island idea then?

That’s not my view, and my starting position is the same as Boris’s, and that’s that Heathrow expansion would be catastrophic from an air quality point of view and a noise pollution point of view. It would cause unbearable gridlock to west London’s road infrastructure, and it would be bad for competition and do damage to the competing airports, and all that for what? 12 extra international routes, we’re told by the airports commission. It just seems like an awesome price to pay for such small upsides.

Do you cycle in to parliament?

No, I don’t. I cycle, but I don’t cycle to parliament. It would take too much of my day and I have too much to do. Too many letters to write, phone calls to make, and I prefer to take alternative forms of transport.

Where do you live roughly?

I live in my constituency

It’s only about eight miles isn’t it?  To parliament.

Yeah, I know, but it’s a chunk of time. I don’t have a lot of time. I work all the hours that exist, and probably more besides. And I also enjoy getting the train into Waterloo, it’s a very civilised journey, I like it, it’s reliable, I get there on time, and it serves me well.

TfL’s budget for cycling is just 1% of its entire budget, and when you look at the statistics for traffic in rush hour, cycling makes up a quarter of all journeys, and on some routes
makes up 60% of traffic. The budget doesn’t seem very reflective of how people are getting around in London. What’s your view of what needs to change there?

If we’re fair about it, then we’ve never had a more pro-cycling politician in London than we have had in Boris Johnson, he’s massively emphasised the importance of cycling.

But what’s your vision? Boris has already had eight years.

I don’t think it’s about percentage of budget, because clearly the cost of expanding our Tube network is always going to be more expensive than cycle lanes, so I don’t think the financial comparisons are necessarily all that useful, but I do think it’s important to keep on, and maintain, the emphasis on cycling. And not for frivolous reasons – there were 200 million cycle journeys last year and, according to TfL, there will be 400 cycle journeys happening in the next 10-15 years, per year.

What do you think about plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street?

I’m attracted to those proposals. I’m not in a position to make that decision – I haven’t had any kind of detailed consultation with TfL or with local businesses as to what impact it would have on them, but my starting position is that I’m enthused by the idea.

Oxford Street is an air quality disaster at the moment and I think it’s very antisocial for people who work and use Oxford Street to have a great train of buses there.

How will you make sure that London remains attractive to people who want to build and grow their businesses here?

The London economy is underpinned by its transport system. So we need to keep up record levels of investment. I am pleased that George Osborne has signalled that he intends to proceed with Crossrail 2. But it’s not just the big stuff, it’s the smaller stuff as well. We need to ramp up investment in our transport.

London needs to be liveable for people who work in businesses in order to continue to work for those businesses.

In Richmond I was part of a campaign calling for free 30-minute parking for high streets and small shops, and that is now being rolled out by the council, and that’s also been picked up by neighbouring Kingston council and they’re doing the same.

A large part of the parking problem is due to the number of minicabs and Uber and things isn’t it?

You’re right. But Uber’s an important part of the transport mix, and I certainly don’t want to close down Uber and I don’t think we could anyway, but the numbers are overwhelming, something like 2,000 licences a month.

Do you think Boris has made a huge mistake in allowing all these licences to have been granted?

I think he is taking the necessary steps. I don’t think he underestimates the scale of the problem. But there is a problem there. The figures that I’ve seen tell me that 2,000 licences were issued every month – that has massive implications for congestion and obviously there’s a big question mark over the future of black cabs.

If we want to get fewer cars on the road, granting more licences isn’t the way to do it

You can’t build more road, you can’t invent more road, there’s no space for that, and we know the population is soaring – another one and a half million in the next 15 years, so we’re going to have to find alternatives. There’s no way that all these new people coming to London or being born in London are going to be able to drive around London in cars. It’s not possible, there isn’t room. The thing will grind to a standstill. Bikes, public transport, car clubs, all these things are going to be important. But for those people who do continue to drive – and I drive from time to time in London, if I’ve got time on my hands – we need to have a big push towards the cleanest possible vehicles and towards phasing out the dirtiest vehicles and that’s an absolute no-brainer.

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