Crossrail 2, green belt & the CPRE: how the Queen could stop her successor getting his own tube line

“Oh, you shouldn’t have!” Queen Elizabeth II modestly unveils something named after herself. Image: Getty.

The coolest thing about being a monarch is that your subjects name all their big shiny new construction projects after you. So, when London's new Crossrail opens for service in a few years, it will be branded the Elizabeth Line after our long-reigning Queen Elizabeth II.

A second Crossrail line is currently being planned to succeed the first. That’ll take a while to build but it means that, when the Queen's time is up and the crown passes to her son, there could be another line under construction just waiting to be branded Charles.

It's not only the fact that London's transport system is full-to-bursting that justifies these new underground railway lines. London has the least affordable housing in the world: new homes are urgently needed to ease the pressure on the capital's painfully high rents and house prices.

And so, Crossrail 2's £30bn price tag is being justified by its ability to unlock 200,000 new homes, putting a helpful dent in the housing shortage. The increase in land values that’ll come from granting planning permission for these new homes should also mean more revenue to help fund the line: that’ll help get the project approved by those all-important Treasury officials.

This all sounds promising, but can a few miles of new railway really deliver all these lovely new homes? That's a question that Crossrail 2's independent Growth Commission has tried to figure out in a new report. It found that, yes, it is possible – but the only way to get to 200,000 homes is by looking at green belt land at sites near the stations served by a new Crossrail 2. Despite its name, the green belt often isn't very green, so the report recommends a review of low environmental quality green belt land on both sides of London's official border.

The Growth Commission are far from the only ones calling for a good hard look at the green belt, which the Adam Smith Institute has labelled a green noose, due to the way it places a choking pressure on a fast-growing city. As another detailed new report from the London School of Economics points out:

“We have reached a point where we cannot keep on disregarding the Green Belt as an option for well thought out development. Brownfield sites simply cannot supply enough land to meet projected housing needs in London and the Wider South East.”

It is now becoming impossible to ignore the overwhelming evidence that the green belt has become a major factor in London's growing housing shortage.

All the same, you can't suggest building homes on the green belt without causing a bit of a fuss, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England is not best pleased with any suggestion that we change what is currently designated green belt. CPRE's recent headline-grabbing press release found that the biggest new “threat” to the green belt over the last 12 months had been the proposal to build 20,000 homes on land released from the green belt that is due to be served by Crossrail 2.

Without those new homes, a huge hole is blown in the case for Crossrail 2. It will be harder to raise the money to get it built, and it won't be fully delivering on the line's potential to ease the housing crisis. There is a danger that no green belt review means no Crossrail 2.

And guess who the patron of CPRE is? None other than Queen Elizabeth II. So, if the Queen’s favourite pressure group gets its way, there may well be no successor to the Elizabeth Line. Now that's what I call a royal mess.

Duncan Stott is director of Priced Out, which campaigns for affordable house prices.

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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.