Ivan Massow: “No matter how rich it is, a city that chokes its people is a poor one”

A cyclist on London's Primrose Hill, with the capital busily choking behind him. Image: Getty.

Ivan Massow is seeking the Conservative party nomination to be London mayor. Here's his plan for the capital.

Last week we learned that, instead of 4,000 deaths per year in London being linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, there are, on new estimates, nearly 10,000.

Despite current efforts to expand cycling and crack down on diesel engines, much more needs to be done. The recent revelation that London’s new Routemaster buses’ batteries are not working makes the urgency even greater.

Since the 1952 Clean Air Act, which banned emissions of black smoke in London after a smog that lead to more than 4,000 premature deaths, legislation has not kept up with developments. Today’s pollution, which is killing even more people, is invisible. The London electorate don’t want prescriptions or lectures on the city’s predicament – they want action to make our air cleaner.

Of course, governing a city that is a beacon – of finance, freedom, innovation, entrepreneurialism and culture – whilst ensuring we don’t choke on the externalities of our economic success is a fine line to tread. We must continue to attract investment, keep driving productivity, and, importantly, increase the housing supply.

A city, however must never embrace success at the cost of its citizens. The success of a city must be measured in quality of life for all, for which both economy and environment are essential elements.

So how can we make environmental improvements without shackling London’s growth? The answer is by investing in green tech, funding improvements in green infrastructure, incentivising greener transport and making sensible regulatory changes. We must be both bold and smart in our response, otherwise we risk harming people’s quality of life in other areas through economic damage.

For instance, Boris’s cycling revolution will have a long-term environmental benefit, but only if we build on his legacy. If elected, I will support resurfacing roads to make London safer and more welcoming for cyclists: they’ve done this in Paris, and many outer London boroughs have called for it, too.

This should be complemented by an outward expansion of the Cycle Hire network in more central areas. We should also increase the Congestion Charge for high emission engines, ban delivery lorries at peak times to improve cycling safety, and invest in electric car pools to help the government meet the Supreme Court’s order to clean the capital’s air, particularly of nitrogen oxide.

Should we crack down on parking spaces and try to make life difficult for motorists who don’t have dirty engines? Absolutely not. Great cities are alive with motion. Take this away and you get museum pieces like Florence – a city which has practically banned cars and, with them, the majesty of a real city.

But should we regenerate green belt land to make useable parks where Londoners can go, not just a no man’s land between us and the countryside? Absolutely. And should we back ultra-low emission zones, extend them to boroughs outside of the central activity zone and bring more and more networks onto the Oyster system? Yes. Should the GLA insist that all new taxis and buses should be hybrid engines or electric vehicles? Definitely.

On the flip side, we cannot understate the damage that would be done to London’s economy if we don’t finally get a grip on airport expansion. It is simply not sensible to rule it out – it should run as a complement to improved transport links to Luton and Stansted. Likewise, increasing aviation taxes yet further is not going to produce the routes that we need to remain competitive as an economy.

We must increase energy efficiency through upward, rather than outward, housing development. Standards of development must ensure sustainability as well as beauty. My priority as mayor will not be to build houses on the green belt, but to redensify the centre, and to decontaminate of 30km2 of brownfield sites.

Ultimately, these economic priorities will run in concert with, not be road-blocked by, my desire to make London a greener place to live and work. That must be the balanced approach that any mayor makes to the capital’s multi-faceted challenges, and I look forward to showing why I am uniquely suited to rise to that task. You can count on me to constantly lobby for this – the fact that Londoners deserve better air.

Ivan Massow is a gay rights campaigner and financial services entrepreneur. He is seeking the Conservative Party’s nomination to be the next mayor of London.

If you or someone you know is hoping to be mayor of London, and would like to put forward your own plans on these pages, then please do get in touch.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.