London can be greater still, says Goldsmith

29th Apr 2016
London can be greater still, says Goldsmith

Conservative London Mayoral Candidate Zac Goldsmith tells The Muslim News, Editor, Ahmed Versi his aims and vision for the capital (Photo: Muslim News)

Ahmed J Versi

Zac Goldsmith insists that as the directly elected Mayor of London would have the opportunity to do much more to improve the lives of people who he would represent in what he described as the “greatest city in the world.”

“I do think London has boomed, London has prospered, we are the most important and best city in the world. We can be greater still,” said the 41-year old MP for Richmond Park who is standing as the Conservative candidate in May’s elections to replace Boris Johnson.

“I want to protect what Boris has done over the last eight years. It has been a success story, we have flourished in so many different ways. But the problem with London is that too many people have been prized out of their own city,” he told The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi, making specific reference to the escalating price of housing in the British capital.

“If someone earning an average salary cannot get close to the property market; someone who is earning double the London average salary has very little prospect of buying their own home, that is a dangerous place to be in. And my principle goal is to make London affordable to Londoners so that people who are living in London can afford to continue living here and who work here can also afford to live here.”

“I want London to be a prosperous and happy place, I want it to be a safe place. I don’t want London where any of our diverse communities feel isolated, ostracised. I do believe London has a potential to be the greenest and cleanest city in the world, to show the world how it is done. So we have massive potential. We have done well. I don’t want to play it down. But we could do better.”

As the son of the late Anglo-French billionaire financier James Goldsmith, his background being one of the wealthiest MPs in Parliament could not be more different than his main Labour rival candidate Sadiq Khan, who was not educated at Eton but came from a council estate and whose father was a bus driver.

“We need to greatly increase the number of homes being built. We need to do more than double the number of homes being built to around more than 50,000 per year,” he said. The Tory candidate specified that this could be achieved by making the Government to “part with very large chunks of brown filled land” owned by the MOD, the Ministry of Justice and the NHS.

His housing policy is to provide “first of all many more homes for the people across the income spectrum.” But he admitted that what he cannot do was to somehow divide social housing and market housing as it would be “completely irresponsible”

“If that is your approach then you leave out everyone in the middle which is £360,000 loan today to qualify for social housing you have to be at the bottom of the ladder in the capital which is very unlikely you are going to achieve that. And to be able to buy a home in today’s market you need to have enormous amount of money. So you need build homes across the spectrum – social housing, in starter homes, plugging into London home to buy, it is shared ownership which is very important in London.”

The multi-million pound question is how does one get social housing. “You get it by getting the developers to pay for it? So in every development there is certain amount of fat. And the Mayor’s job is to extract that fat and for me it is wrong to spend all of it in social housing as if you do that you are locking out the vast majority of Londoners.”

Goldsmith expressed his opposition to setting social housing targets. “They might look good on paper, but in reality they don’t work. Ken Livingstone was elected on the promise to have 50% social housing but he never came close to meeting them. Boris was elected without any targets at all. He built more social housing than Ken,” he argued.

“Every application (to build houses in London) has to be scrutinised and interrogated by the Mayor. If I am elected Mayor I will get the maximum number of affordability after every application for every single development as I want mixed communities, I want communities where anyone of any income is able to live.”

As well as wanting to be more ambitious about housing plans, Goldsmith said that what also was needed was to “keep our streets safe”. Compared with many other cities, like Paris, “we have a very diverse population, and broadly speaking it is harmonious, and that is something very precious which we need to protect. Look at Paris where tensions are really bubbling up between different groups.”

As Editor of the Ecologist magazine his green credentials was to want London to be the “greenest and cleanest city” in the world. “I want our kids to have more access to outdoors. I want education to have more focus on environmental issues. I want us to generate more energy and clean up the pollution which is costing10,000 lives a year. We are not starting from ground zero but need build on success but we need that success work across the board.”

With regard to the congestion charge area, the Tory candidate said that it “did its job when it was brought in, but it doesn’t deal with the biggest issue we face, which is air pollution.” It was a different approach he wanted. “I am not going to close the congestion charge and I don’t think expanding it is the answer.” What he wants is to make the whole of Greater London a pollution free area, saying there was the technology and most of the tools to achieve it.

“We can reach the point where all our cabs and our black cabs and our buses are clean, either electric or with very close to being zero emission. We can do that very quickly. We can get the HGVs off the roads, not entirely, but we can greatly reduce their number and make them more efficient.” Goldsmith also spoke of making greater use of trains as well as the river for haulage and added that he wanted to bring Boris’ bike equivalent to electric cars.

One of the consequences of the increasing number of cyclists has been the corresponding rise in accidents which he said he was going to challenge. He said Boris had invested a lot of TfL money on cycling provision and has begun a process to improve dangerous junctions, which he was “committed to following through.”

London’s underground is the most expensive in Europe with never ending annual price increases but Goldsmith was not prepared to make any commitment to contain fares. “I would love to make promises around the fares but I know that if I do I have to break them and if I did break them it would be a disaster.” He referred to the need for the transport network to grow with the city’s population increasing by 100,000 a year. “We need to upgrade the network, we need a night tube, we need to take over the suburban franchises and we need to increase Cross Rail 1, we need Cross Rail 2. All of these things are incredibly expensive. We have to make that a priority.”

Goldsmith wasn’t convinced that bus services were as efficient as they should be and said there need to be a review of routes. “We need to review the entire bus network with a view to improving it, not cutting it. We need to breathe more life into the bus system.” When challenged about the cost, he said that what went almost unnoticed was what Boris has brought in as a “cap of three journeys in a day which means that you can have as many journeys as you like but you won’t be charged for more than three journeys for £4.50. That is a good compromise.”

On employment, he said the first job the mayor has to do is to “make sure that London is as business and environmentally friendly as possible. Governments and mayors do not create jobs they create an environment in which jobs are created.” What was needed was to ensure that valuable office space was not being lost as it was doing too quickly. “It means we improve our digital connectivity which we are lagging well behind in Europe. We are 26th out of the 33 in Europe,” he warned. It means this will happen when business rates are devolved in London which they now will be by the Chancellor.

With regard to the worst rates of unemployment among London’s 40 per cent ethnic population which also live mostly in deprived areas, the Tory candidate suggested that as “the person in charge of the City Hall and bodies that are associated with the City Hall, like the police, tfl, the Mayor can do directly to ensure that those institutions will look like the London they are serving. And that is a very direct lever.”

He denied that his support for Britain to leave the EU contradicted what he was saying about trying to make London diverse in being business friendly and that large numbers of companies would want to leave the capital. “London is the most important city in the world not because it is a part of Europe but because it is big global city. It is the fifth biggest economy in the world. Soon it will be the fourth biggest economy in the world. People come here because of our legal system that they trust, because we have a language which is global language, we have a Parliamentary democracy in which people have confidence.” His job as mayor was “not to take us out of Europe or keep us in Europe,” he argued. “It is to make sure that whatever decisions people take in a democracy, works for London.”

When asked about why it was always counter terrorism police sent out to mosques and Islamic centres instead of community police when there were any meeting about community issues or security, Goldsmith said he was not questioning what was being said but that it “depends where you are and relationships that are built between the police and mosques.” In his own constituency of Kingston, he maintained that there was a very thriving and successful mosque and the relationship “couldn’t be better” with the police.

“We had a fire a few months ago and people were not able to use a mosque, so they prayed in a local church. When you have remembrance services on Saturday in a synagogue representatives of the mosque come. When the mosque was attacked by the EDL some years ago. A very sinister and frightening moment. Incredibly it was transferred into a positive one, the whole community came together. I remember going to the mosques the next day. We had all the faith representatives, all the politicians from different parties, councillors came. It became almost like a celebration.”

Following the huge 170% increase in Islamophobia attacks following last November’s attacks in Paris, he accepted that hate crimes were “massively” on the rise. “It is really worrying. Harmony in London is under threat. If you talk to the Jewish community, they will say exactly the same things as Muslim organisations, the same things as other groups as well. This is a clear concern for London and one of the direct things that the Mayor can do as the person who is effectively in charge of the police is to mandate that stamping out hate crime is an absolute priority.”

“I will be producing a crime manifesto but I will make explicit that this is a top priority. My concern is that hate speech can very quickly move into hate violence. I worry that the harmony we have in London is more fragile than people think. We have to use every tool to prevent those tensions bubbling over and damaging something that is incredibly precious. It is more than that, it is about celebration of culture, it is about celebration of different communities and contributions they make, it’s like things Eid in the Square, it is about making sure that different communities are not just looked after and thanked and welcomed but that they are publicly celebrated.” He did not seem to be aware that Eid in the Square was being turned more into a cultural event under Johnson but said he did not want Muslims to be unhappy about the way the event was being run.

His main Labour rival, who is favourite to become mayor, has faced a barrage of pernicious newspaper headlines demonising the former Shadow Justice Secretary with having links with radicals. These include Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, jumping on the bandwagon, saying he was “unfit” for office. Goldsmith insisted the he didn’t believe anyone has suggested that he has “extremist” views. But he claimed that the stories published had “many examples of having shared platforms” at events. It was more a question of his “judgment.” There was “no evidence” of him using his position to challenge extremist views.

With regard to his own position in sitting at meetings where extremists were present in the room, the Conservative candidate admitted that he had been told that there had been people in the audience with extremist views. “But I am certainly not going to take responsibility of what someone says in the audience. What I wouldn’t do is share a platform with someone whose views I believe poses a threat not just to the country, in my view is fundamentally undermine the Muslim community. Overwhelmingly majority of Muslims don’t share platforms with people with extremist views.”

 

 

Every Londoner must have chance to fulfil their potential, says Khan

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