What we learnt from the London Infrastructure Debates

On Monday, London’s mayoral candidates sat down in the great hall of One Great George Street to discuss all things infrastructure. So what did we learn about their plans and positions on important issues?

ICE London Vice Chair Lawrie Quinn contemplates the Mayoral candidates’ positions after the London Infrastructure Debate held on Monday 4 April
ICE London Vice Chair Lawrie Quinn contemplates the Mayoral candidates’ positions after the London Infrastructure Debate held on Monday 4 April
  • Updated: 07 April, 2016
  • Author: Lawrie Quinn, ICE London Vice Chair

Candidates included Caroline Pidgeon AM for the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Sian Berry for the Greens, and Peter Whittle from UKIP. Rail Minister Claire Perry MP, representing Conservative Zac Goldsmith, and London Assembly Member Val Shawcross AM CBE, representing Labour’s Sadiq Khan, completed the line-up. Antony Oliver, the leading infrastructure journalist, chaired.

Housing most important

So what did we learn from the candidates about their positions on infrastructure? The first is that housing is the most important issue in this election.

Each candidate had a number of policies which they think will alleviate the housing shortage – from setting up a ‘homes for London’ agency to accelerate house building (Sadiq Khan’s policy) to dividing up large publicly owned sites and giving them to people to build their own homes (Sian Berry’s idea).

Keeping London moving

However, all candidates agreed that a good transport system was key to solving the issue. Almost all agreed that Crossrail 2 was a priority (the exception being Peter Whittle who wants a referendum on the scheme) and all were for the redevelopment of brownfield sites. The Bakerloo line extension and the devolution of suburban rail services were all mentioned positively as ways of unlocking new areas for housing. As one of the major recommendations in our Infrastructure for London Manifesto, it is good to see some consensus on this.

On other issues, however, the panel were in complete disagreement. Sadiq Khan’s proposed fares freeze, which would see rail prices frozen over the next four years, was called a gimmick by Claire Perry, who heavily disputed that funding for transport improvements would not be affected. Val Shawcross rebutted with the claim that efficiency savings within TfL and better use of their large land holdings would ensure that Londoners received the benefits of low fares whilst retaining the funding needed to increase capacity and connectivity.

Airport expansion

When it came to connectivity internationally the candidates were in agreement, but were keen to point out the insincerity of each other’s positions. They all are against a third runway at Heathrow, a fact that will provide a considerable obstacle for the Government in the summer should they decide to proceed with the Davies Commission’s recommendation. Claire Perry, however, stated that Zac had always been against Heathrow expansion, unlike his Labour opponent, while Sian Berry was clear in her opposition to all airport expansion due to air quality and climate change concerns.

One month to go

Overall, the debate showed that all the candidates have some clear policies on how infrastructure investment can help London remain a success. All were aware of the great issue facing the city – population growth – and all had a long list of policies and strategies to overcome it.

Yet many felt that what was lacking was a vision of what their London will be – how their policies and strategies translate into a growing, prosperous, competitive, green, liveable city. With only a month until the election, there is much for each candidate to do to convince us of their vision.

About the Author

Lawrie Quinn FICE is the secretary and honorary treasurer for the Railway Civil Engineers Association (RCEA) and the chairman of the Railway Engineers Form (REF), overseeing its strategic direction from July 2013 to June 2015. He is also rail project delivery manager at Bechtel Limited and was previously the new works delivery manager from August 2005 to March 2008. Lawrie was MP for Scarborough and Whitby and a parliamentary private secretary from May 1997 to June 2005. He is a Chartered Engineer and fellow’s champion for ICE London. From March 2016, Lawrie has been a project director for Transportation at Atkins.

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