London’s leading mayoral candidates struggled to win over 350 of the property industry’s elite at the LandAid Debate on housing at Central Hall Westminster last night. Issues including the green belt, foreign investment, affordability and Brexit were contested by Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan, Caroline Pidgeon and Darren Johnson in a 90 minute head-to-head chaired by the BBC’s Sir Martyn Lewis and sponsored by Savills.
Housebuilding on London’s green belt proved a key topic of the debate. Cross-party consensus over its protection – ‘we undermine the green belt at our peril’ – dismayed the property industry crowd, who had demanded the release of green land in order to build the 1.8 million homes needed by 2030.
Yet when questioned on their USP in relation to housing policy, the four candidates each signed up to building 50,000 new homes a year, but could not pinpoint a single defining policy.
Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith argued he could ‘secure a good deal from government’ on making available publicly-owned land and expanding the TFL network. Goldsmith slated Labour rival Sadiq Khan’s plans for a transport fare freeze, claiming that such a policy would leave a ‘£2bn black hole’ in the mayoral budget.
Sadiq went on to criticise Zac’s plans for £450,000 Starter Homes as unaffordable, and promised half of all new homes built under his leadership would be genuinely affordable ‘homes for Londoners’ to rent and buy.
Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon proposed to turn the £20 Olympic council tax paid each year by Londoners into a housing levy to raise £50m for new homes. Darren Johnson, standing in for Green Party candidate Sian Berry, retorted that ‘the ship has sailed on the Olympic precept’.
Pidgeon provoked the biggest reaction of the night from the audience when she lambasted the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater as ‘a blight on London’.
The 350 strong property audience were later left frustrated by the candidates’ views on foreign investment. When asked ‘so you’re saying to developers take a hit on your profits by not pushing for sales abroad?’ Khan simply replied ‘I am.’ Goldsmith tried to reassure the audience that he wouldn’t ‘turn the taps off’ foreign investment, but did commit to ‘strengthening’ the three month period when homes are marketed solely to Londoners.
The one issue where there was full agreement across the panel though, was homelessness. Khan labelled the capital’s homelessness crisis ‘a scar on London’, and applauded LandAid’s ambition to tackle it. He proposed a London-wide taskforce and an early intervention charter as means of ending rough sleeping. Goldsmith agreed, calling the issue a ‘source of huge shame’ and suggesting the roll-out of a No First Night Out scheme.
Commenting on the debate, Paul Morrish, CEO of LandAid, said: “You don't often encounter unanimity at a hustings. But at last night's Landaid Debate, you couldn’t separate the panellists with an Oyster Card! The audience heard all four candidates agree over the protection of the green belt, foreign investment and importantly, the disgrace that sees over 7000 sleeping rough every night on the streets of London.
We are delighted that each candidate has pledged to tackle rough sleeping and especially the disturbing rise in young people becoming homeless. With the property industry beginning to unite behind LandAid's campaign to end youth homelessness, it is encouraging to know that whoever wins the mayoralty is on our side. And we can be rest assured that a multi-billion pound industry will be holding them to account. A pledge is a pledge after all!”
The LandAid Debate is a staple in the property industry calendar and raises money for projects which support young people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This year’s Debate has raised over £50,000.