Mayor answers to London
Question by Nicky Gavron
How do your Draft London Plan Opportunity Areas impact on your housing policies and targets?
Answer by Boris Johnson (1st Term)
Thank you, Nicky [Gavron]. It is a slightly opaque question but I am grateful to you nonetheless. The answer is really of course that the opportunity areas contribute about 46% of the expected provision up to 2021, I think I am right in saying, and, therefore, they are very, very important for our housing targets. It may be that some of you have accidentally imbibed some misleading statistics. I gather some Labour Minister was on television recently saying that our housing plans were unambitious. That is completely the reverse of the case. As I never tire of telling you, we built, last year, 12,000 affordable homes. That is we built, completed, 12,000 affordable homes. That is more in one year than in any previous year of this institution.
Nicky Gavron (AM): I wanted to talk about one of the opportunity areas and it is one you have newly created. It has come in-between the proposals document and the actual draft Replacement London Plan, and that is the Earls Court one. You are aware of that one, yes?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Do you know the names of the estates on that one?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I can readily get back to you with more detail on that opportunity area if that is what you desire, Nicky.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Yes, I would like to talk about that one for a moment.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Fine. I am all ears.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Do you know the names of the estates?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As I say, Nicky, if you want to ask me about the names of estates across London then I am more than happy to oblige. Perhaps we could have a game of Pelmanism and you and I will learn all the names of all the estates in London, Nicky, and we will see whose memory is more attentive.
Nicky Gavron (AM): This is West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. You do not, obviously, know how many people or how many homes are on those estates? No.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Through you, Chair, with great respect to Nicky, if you want to extract very detailed answers about estates in the Earls Court area then it might be helpful to everybody if you identify that in your question, because then I would come to this occasion with a little bit more detail about the estates in Earls Court and I would be happy to satisfy you in greater detail about the numbers of people living there and all the rest of it. It is a little bit unfair on my officials and everybody in the GLA, if you want very detailed conversations of that nature, to phrase your question in such a high level way, I may say.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Last time I raised Hammersmith and Fulham you said I was scaremongering and I am raising this in particular - and I thought you might have thought about this - because you are threatening 763 homes on those estates --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Nobody is threatening anybody, Nicky, except the Labour Party, which is in a state of abject funk about losing this election and is pathetically attempting to scaremonger in Hammersmith and Fulham where there is an excellent council delivering an unparalleled record of success and service to its local community. I think it is unbelievable that you should disguise this naked party political act in the sheeps clothing of this opaque and nebulous question.
Nicky Gavron (AM): This is an estate on an opportunity area where you are the land owner with Hammersmith and Fulham. It is Transport for London which owns half the site and Hammersmith and Fulham owns the other half of the site. I would have thought you would know about it because it is very unusual to just create a new opportunity area. These homes --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Are you against the creation of an opportunity area in Hammersmith and Fulham?
Nicky Gavron (AM): I just want to get on to these 763 homes. These homes --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Are you? You are saying it is something unusual. I think it is a very good idea to create an opportunity area in Hammersmith and Fulham.
Darren Johnson (Chair): Let Nicky [Gavron] ask her question.
Nicky Gavron (AM): You are not answering the question.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not know what the question is!
Nicky Gavron (AM): First of all I asked you, Are you aware of the estates? and you are not. Are you aware that these estates have been called concentrations of multiple deprivation, barracks of the poor and ghettos? This particular estate --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am certainly aware that the Labour Party, in its desperation and scrabbling to hold on to office, is trying to mount some kind of scare operation in Hammersmith and Fulham. I am certainly aware of that.
All I can tell you is that the London Plan is absolutely categorical, indeed our revised London Plan is absolutely categorical, and if there are any amendments or improvements made to estates, then it is very, very important that any estate redevelopment should not incur the loss of affordable housing. That is not only in the current London Plan; it is in our revised London Plan as well.
Nicky Gavron (AM): So you do not agree then with Councillor Greenhalgh [Leader, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham] who says that he wants to attract very rich people into these estates and if that means knocking down houses he will? You do not agree?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I very much doubt that I am in disagreement with Councillor Greenhalgh, but I doubt even more that you are accurately quoting the great man. The more you continue with this pitiful attempt to scaremonger about very, very sensible Conservative housing plans, the less convinced I think people in west London will be.
Nicky Gavron (AM): There is no reason to create an opportunity area if you do not intend to knock down houses.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): So you are against this opportunity area?
Nicky Gavron (AM): There is no reason to create one if you do not intend to knock down houses. Do you intend to see these homes knocked down?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I cannot work out from your question whether you are in favour of this opportunity area or not. Normally speaking, Chair, through you, in these conversations I am rebuked by Nicky Gavron for our failure to be more enthusiastic in knocking down houses and building more.
I should remind you that our housing targets are incredibly ambitious. Not only are we on course to achieve 50,000 affordable homes by 2011, but the figures --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Boris, let us stick to this.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, no, no because this is what --
Darren Johnson (Chair): We have got a specific question from a Member.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): What is the specific question?
Nicky Gavron (AM): I asked you if you were going to knock down these houses. These are very decent homes. A third of them have gardens, have garages and have drives. It has a low crime rate. It is a decent estate. It is not a ghetto like Stephen Greenhalgh says. Are you going to knock down these homes?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Listen, Nicky. I do not want to go into the details of the plans for redevelopment and improvement in west London. All I will say is that it is our absolute intention to safeguard the proportion in the number of affordable homes. That is a commitment made in the London Plan. It is absolutely clear.
I really think that this is needless scaremongering by Labour. Shall I tell you what Labour politicians love to do? They love to resist change. They love to keep people in sub-standard accommodation and in houses and homes that are not decent, because they think that is how they can build their vote bank and be endlessly returned to power. It is absolutely true.
Nicky Gavron (AM): These homes are not sub-standard. These are very decent homes. A lot of them have been built in the last decade --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Absolutely true. You should be ashamed of your policies.
Nicky Gavron (AM): -- and the residents are sitting in the gallery because last time you said I was scaremongering. What they want from you is support for them to take over their estate under a new law which allows for community ownership. Will you support that?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Not even you, Nicky, would flout the constitution of this place as to try to bring into the debate members of the gallery and invite them to participate.
Nicky Gavron (AM): I am not asking them to participate; they are watching. Will you support them? Will you knock down their houses or will you support them? There is no middle way here.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am sure that whatever proposal that Hammersmith and Fulham has is very much in the interests of the people sitting round this horseshoe [Assembly Members] --
Nicky Gavron (AM): That is to knock down their houses.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- and I am sure --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Are you siding with Stephen Greenhalgh?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): For their mental sanity I would advise them, very strongly, not to listen to the sad and increasingly fragile propaganda of the Labour Government. What you are listening to is the shrill wailings --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Are you siding with Stephen Greenhalgh? Are you going to knock down these homes?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- of a Government scrabbling on the oubliette of history, and no wonder.
Nicky Gavron (AM): You are just filibustering. Are you going to knock down these homes? Yes or no?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I am personally not going to knock down any home --
Nicky Gavron (AM): OK. Are you going to back them being knocked down?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Obviously I am happy to take part in any act of sensible demolition, if I am invited to by Hammersmith and Fulham, with high visibility clothing and with a hat on --
Nicky Gavron (AM): These are decent homes.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- with the proper boots and all the rest of it --
Nicky Gavron (AM): These are decent homes.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- equipped and properly briefed about the procedures. Provided we go through the health and safety drill and I am convinced that the removal of the homes in question is in the interests --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Boris, you are going to knock these down. That is what you are saying. You are going to see them knocked down.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- of the people of Hammersmith and Fulham and in the interests of local residents and it is going to lead to an improvement of that --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Why can you not just answer the question?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): -- area, then, yes, I certainly will take part in any act of demolition, but only under those circumstances.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Under what circumstances?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Chair, I think the questioner is guilty of what we used to call ignoratio elenchi. She is not listening to the debate.
Nicky Gavron (AM): You are not answering the question. I have just asked you if you are going to side with these residents and tenants?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Of course I side with the residents.
Nicky Gavron (AM): They are asking to be supported. Many ministers are supporting them --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I support them completely.
Nicky Gavron (AM): They are asking to be supported in taking over the estate and keeping it; for it not to be demolished. Are you going to support them?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): As I say, I am a localist; I believe in local democracy. I am interested in the point that you make and I have said that, provided that I can be adequately equipped with safety equipment and provided I do not breach any rules, that I will certainly take part, as I said just now, in any act of demolition that leads to the improvement of the estate. I think I cannot say fairer than that.
Nicky Gavron (AM): So you are siding with Stephen Greenhalgh. David Cameron, your leader, has said that this scheme should not involve people having to leave these homes if they want to live here.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Of course that is right. Not only is the future Prime Minister completely right, but he is in complete agreement with Stephen Greenhalgh.
Nicky Gavron (AM): He is not.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You cannot say fairer than that.
Nicky Gavron (AM): He is not. You are distorting everything. He is actually saying the exact opposite of Stephen Greenhalgh. Let us finish this. You are siding with Stephen Greenhalgh --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not know, Nicky, whether I count you as a faithful and accurate reporter of the views of Stephen Greenhalgh, with the greatest respect to you.
Nicky Gavron (AM): He is the only one who actually thinks this estate should be knocked down and that these people should be moved out of their estate, their lives turned upside down and the community blighted. They are sitting in the gallery and they are listening to all of this.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I understand. I understand the panic that you are trying to whip up and I understand the game that you are playing, but I do not think that Stephen Greenhalgh is remotely minded to do any damage to the interests of the people sitting in the gallery - and I congratulate them, by the way, for coming this morning. As I say, any existing affordable housing will be protected and the proportion of affordable housing will certainly be protected as it is requested under the London Plan.
Nicky Gavron (AM): So these homes then will be protected? They will not be knocked down? Fantastic; they are not going to be knocked down. These 763 homes, 300 of which are houses, some of which have been built recently, are going to be protected? £14 million has been spent on the estate. You are going to protect it. Fantastic.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No. No. What I said, Nicky, was that we will ensure that any improvement of this part of London will be in full conformity with the London Plan which insists that there must remain the same proportion of affordable housing. That does not preclude that there could be improvements to those estates.
Nicky Gavron (AM): Your London Plan does not say that. Your London Plan says in areas of high social rented housing you will introduce market housing with no reciprocal policy, so your London Plan does not give us any comfort.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is not true, Nicky. I dislike contradicting you --
Nicky Gavron (AM): I just want to say that, in fact, if you are going to see these homes knocked down - which are really decent, have had a lot of money spent on them, there is low crime, this is a really thriving estate, with a wonderful working population - you then are involved in social engineering.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think that is extraordinary. I am afraid the real social engineering is conducted by a party that relentlessly refuses to improve the quality of housing stock in London because it knows that, by keeping people in sub-standard conditions, that is the best way to keep a Labour vote bank in the areas that, it hopes, endlessly returns it to power. I think that is a disgraceful way to conduct policy --
Nicky Gavron (AM): Boris, the residents asked me to go and see this estate and I went to see for myself before I came to ask you about it because it is not sub-standard. It is really a very, very decent neighbourhood and a good estate. I know you would think that if you were to go there. You have now said you are not going to protect them and I think, before you finalise that, you should go and see it and meet them.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I just want to repeat --
Nicky Gavron (AM): You must. I just think you have no idea what it is you are part of and colluding with.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Let me, just for the record, say that Policy 3.15 of the draft - ie our new - London Plan states that, Loss of housing, including affordable housing, should be resisted unless the housing is replaced at existing or higher densities with at least equivalent floor space. That is the position. It seems very sensible to me. I am sure that Stephen Greenhalgh and Hammersmith and Fulham who are, as I say, doing an excellent job, have kept Council Tax cut year after year after year. It is to be congratulated on its approach.
Nicky Gavron (AM): That is because he wants to make lots of money out of this kind of estate.
Listen, I just want to finish by saying I think you owe it to the residents to go and see this estate because I think you will be astonished by what you find. It has got a concierge; it has got the most wonderful community officers. Just go and see it.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Have you got a concierge, Nicky?
Nicky Gavron (AM): Will you come with me for a visit?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I visit all parts of London, as everybody knows, on a regular basis and I am more than happy to visit Hammersmith and Fulham. Whether or not, Nicky, I come in your presence depends on further, more detailed, negotiations. I have bad experiences of arranging jaunts with some of you guys. First of all, you do not know where anything is so we all set off in the wrong direction, even though you claim to be representing these areas! I remember vividly when we were meant to go off for a bike ride to Elephant and Castle with Val Shawcross and nobody had the foggiest idea where Elephant and Castle was! It is absolutely true.
Valerie Shawcross (AM): Can I make a point of personal explanation. Chair, that is an absolute lie and a slander.
Darren Johnson (Chair): I will take a personal explanation from Valerie Shawcross on this.
Valerie Shawcross (AM): I cycled to Elephant and Castle with the Mayor and we had a successful meeting, I think, on the site. I think that was far better than the Mayor taking a £90 taxi which he had done previously!
Darren Johnson (Chair): Nicky [Gavron], do you want to finish your questions?
Nicky Gavron (AM): Boris, what I have established so far is that you are not minded to protect these particular homes, that you are minded --
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not think you have established anything of the kind, Nicky [Gavron]. I have to say that, after almost 20 minutes of catechism, I do not think you have established anything, except possibly this: that you are a valiant defender of the interests of your constituents and so am I. What we will ensure is that, insofar as there is affordable housing provision in that part of London, that any development, any improvement, that takes place, we will make sure that it preserves the balance of affordable housing.
Nicky Gavron (AM): That means you are going to knock them down and they need to hear that. They are in the gallery.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think that is called attempting to put words into my mouth.
Nicky Gavron (AM): No. It can only mean that. You either have an opportunity area because you are trying to replace them or you do not have an opportunity area.
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Well if you are against the opportunity area and you are against new housing in London, then I think that is a novel development in Labour policy and I think it should be brought to the attention of what is left of the party command.
Nicky Gavron (AM): I am against opportunity areas that knock down very good housing.