CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Lib Dem mayoral challenger: ‘Turn empty offices into new homes to ease crisis’

Candidate says worker will not be rushing back to the office after the coronavirus crisis

19 March, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Luisa Porritt is taking on Sadiq Khan

THE world has changed and empty offices should be converted into homes to tackle London’s housing crisis, the Liberal Democrat challenging Sadiq Khan at May’s mayoral elections said this week.

Luisa Porritt officially began the final leg of her run on City Hall with a socially-distanced manifesto launch in the Haverstock Tavern, close to her home in Belsize Park.

She has repeatedly said that the mayoral elections should not be viewed as a two-horse race between Mr Khan and Conservative candidate Shaun ­Bailey due to the supplementary vote system used to elect the mayor.

As part of her “Take London Forward” plan, Ms Porritt said that she would make sure affordable housing was included in new construction projects and that developers would not be able to wriggle out of the promises they make when first winning planning consent.

She would set up a “London Housing Company” to take control of the process and not give up on a “genuinely affordable” rate.

And Ms Porritt, a former MEP who is also a councillor in Camden, ­told the New Journal that the way the city would change because of the Covid crisis offered a chance to provide new homes.

“We need to seize every opportunity that’s available and we’ve got a really unique opportunity in the aftermath of the pandemic because this change in homeworking is here to stay,” she said, adding some companies will adopt “hybrid” models where staff split their working time between offices and homes.

“Sadiq Khan’s big idea is to have an advertising campaign to encourage people to go back to the office when it’s safe to do so – but that’s out of step with the reality of what businesses and organisations are planning for,” she said.

“It means it’s going to be a lot more empty office space on the market and there needs to be a plan for that, rather than wishful thinking that we’re all going to go back to the office five days a week. Let’s not pretend that living that way was some kind of paradise for Londoners. A lot of people were grumbling and quite miserable.”

With many office-based workers forced to operate remotely for most of the past year, often proving they could be just as productive, it is thought many companies are questioning whether they need to keep running high-cost offices in the future.

She said that central areas – including the south of Camden – could be mixed communities.

“People used to live there, it’s just that most Londoners can’t afford to live there any more,” Ms Porritt added.

“My parents tell me stories: My Dad’s first flat was in Fitzrovia when he moved to London after university from up north. “That’s unimaginable now, for a young person to be living in a decent size, quality flat in central London. I think if we can make the centre of London a place to live again, that’s no bad thing.”

Asked whether developers and landlords would buy into the idea, she said the mayor could play an “enabling” role.

Ms Porritt said places that the city was famous for like the West End and Soho would retain their own unique characteristics, but added: “This is a chance to also breathe life into central London areas.

“It’s actually making sure we are stimulating demand in the centre and if there are people living there, then they’ll also be spending money in their local area.

“That’s why this works as well to create and reinvent high streets so that they’re more fit for the future.”

Fellow Camden councillor Sian Berry is the Green Party candidate for the mayoral election on May 6 – the polls were postponed last year due to Covid. London Assembly elections will be held on the same day.

Met commissioner has ‘let women down’

IF Luisa Porritt was to win the mayoral election in May, she’d have an interesting first day at work meeting the head of London’s police force, writes Richard Osley.

The Lib Dem candidate this week very vocally called for Dame Cressida Dick to step down as the Met’s commissioner over the handling of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard.

There were clashes as police tried to move on protesters, citing Covid rules. Ms Porritt criticised Mr Khan for not saying whether he thought the vigil should go ahead last week, when organisers tried to win permission for a socially-distanced event. “Sadiq Khan should have called for her to resign on Saturday night but as usual he’s hedging his bets,” she said.

“On the one hand, he’s saying that women’s voices need to be heard and understands the issues, but on the other he is not willing to say where he stands on them. And just doing an investigation doesn’t feel like enough. Just today [Tuesday] the official organisers have come out and said they’ve met with the mayor and Cressida Dick and they don’t feel that she took them seriously enough and she only gave them 15 minutes –and they’re now saying she should consider her position.

“Ultimately, I stand in solidarity with them them.”

Ms Porritt added: “I’ve heard people say she should stay in post because she’s a woman – but she’s let down women, and these are the very people that are supposed to be there to protect us.”

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