People Power: Question Time in Waltham Forest
Tuesday saw People’s Question Time (PQT) being held in Waltham Forest. It is one of two annual opportunities for Londoners to put their questions to the Mayor and a number of Assembly Members in an open (and sometimes heated) forum. Topics of discussion
Tuesday saw People’s Question Time (PQT) being held in Waltham Forest. It is one of two annual opportunities for Londoners to put their questions to the Mayor and a number of Assembly Members in an open (and sometimes heated) forum. Topics of discussion included the growth of London’s economy, housing, transport and the environment and policing and community safety.
The Mayor was on ebullient form from the off, noting his pleasure at attending PQT in Waltham Forest, describing the area as a ‘fabled wrestling ground.’ Prior to receiving questions, Johnson gave a brief opening speech, which made reference to the subjects due to be focused on. He described London’s building boom, asserting that developers have ‘come out of hibernation like some species of beaver’ and noted the abundance of building sites in the capital: ‘I see cranes; we need them my friends, as we need to accommodate stupendous growth.’ He also referred to the fact that life expectancy is up: ‘you live longer under this mayoralty, folks’ and took the opportunity, as ever, to note his other achievements at City Hall. He highlighted the fact that the London Living Wage (LLW) is now paid by 449 firms, Tube delays are down, projects like Crossrail are in place and made reference to his housing strategy. Johnson said that ‘we are on target to deliver 100,000 homes during this mayoralty.’ He emphasised the fact that growth is necessary for London, to make it ‘more enjoyable, more bearable’ as a place to live, but also focused on its existing position, as an ‘economic powerhouse’ and ‘the greatest city on Earth.’
Within the segment of discussion that focused on growing London’s economy, a question was asked about how growth will occur in a way that will benefit the poor, and not just through ‘low-paid jobs with zero hours contracts.’ This was met with cheers from the audience, who remained vocal throughout the evening. Johnson responded by saying that ‘we need to get Londoners receiving good pay’ and returned again to the establishment of the LLW. Jenny Jones AM (Green, Londonwide) stated that she believed zero hours contracts should be abolished and that the LLW is ‘still too low. Molly Samuel-Leport, the Conservative PPC for Walthamstow, was in the audience, asking how the Mayor thought the area was doing, and what could be learnt from other parts of London. Johnson responded that Walthamstow was ‘doing brilliantly’, particularly because house prices are rising, ‘great for those who have assets, but not for those who don’t…the solution is to build more affordable housing.’
Focus turned to London housing, something that encouraged the largest and most emotive response from the audience. A question was asked about London adopting a rent control strategy in a similar style to New York. Tom Copley AM (Lab, Londonwide) stated that the city has ‘the least regulated rental sector in Europe’ and that what is needed is ‘longer contracts, caps for annual increases in rent and the abolition of letting agency fees.’ Andrew Boff AM (Con, Londonwide), stated that the effect of rent control would be to ‘reduce the supply of housing’. Johnson agreed with this point, saying that it would ‘drive people away and reduce supply.’
Transport and the environment was then discussed, with a question about the need to prioritise cycling to reduce congestion. Johnson re-iterated his plans for cycling superhighways, while Navin Shah AM (Lab, Brent and Harrow) stated that the Mayor’s proposed ‘mini Hollands’ programme for outer London boroughs should be particularly promoted in areas with economic growth potential and where investment is increasing.
Policing and community safety was also debated, with questions about confidence in the police, violent crime and the prevalence of prostitution in the local area.
This was a meeting that was delayed by technical difficulties and a slightly lacklustre performance from the Mayor as the evening went on. This was particularly the case with regard to housing, a topic that is just as loaded with contention, emotion and public disgruntlement in Waltham Forest as it is in the rest of London.