It’s time to for London Underground to ditch the toxic Airbnb ads

No idea. Image: Generation Rent.

It started with a snap of a tube ad in Bond Street from property management company Hostmaker. The ad in question imagines a Landlord complaining that their long term let is “ticking along terribly”, and suggests that by ditching long term tenants they can make up to “30 per cent more” on the short term let market.

Hiding behind the cutesy image of a cartoon pigeon is a disgusting ad which feeds the narrative that tenants are disposable, and that profiteering from property is more important than providing long term homes.

It’s already hard enough being a renter in London: inflated rent, poor conditions and no-fault evictions. And on top of all that there’s the capital’s growing holiday let market, fueled by online “sharing economy” platforms that encourage landlords to abandon the long-term market in favour of offering their properties for short rents, in the process forcing people out of the communities where they’ve always lived.

Right now, Airbnb alone takes 17,000 homes out of London’s rental market while councils are putting up households in temporary accommodation. In fact, London Renters Union’s Newham Branch were protesting outside Newham Council just yesterday over the treatment of their members in temporary housing. The union told of one family who had been living in “temporary accommodation” for over 20 years whilst another were forcibly displaced to Bradford when they struggled to pay the rent

The authorities have already identified short term lets as a problem, and landlords in London now need planning permission to let their properties out on this basis for more than 90 days in the year. But overstretched council planning departments are unable to keep on top of illicit holiday lets, and some platforms are complicit in landlords breaking the law. A BBC investigation in February found that several platforms, including Hostmaker, offered to help landlords get around the 90-day rule. They are deliberately working against the best interests of Londoners.

That’s why Generation Rent are taking matters into our own hands. We kicked off a petition, that at the time of writing, has already garnered the support of over 8000 people, all calling for the ads to get the axe. People have come together under the banner of #homesnothotels and are ramping up pressure on the Mayor to get moving.

This isn’t the first time Londoners have called for advertising restrictions across the network. Three years ago, the mayor announced bans on ads for “unrealistic beauty standards” and fast food posters after a successful petition

And it’s not like there isn’t political will. Within minutes of Mark Platt’s tweet, GLA members Tom Copley and Sian Berry alongside MP Karen Buck were calling for action with public letters being posted online.

We know that one petition won’t solve the London housing crisis but it’s an important step forward, to treating tenants like people, not paychecks. So, Sadiq: the ball’s in your court.

Georgie Laming is a campaigner at Generation Rent, which represents 11 millions renters across the UK.


Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.


Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.


The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.

The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.