Apparently I started it! So Mike Slade, President of property charity LandAid, reminded me at their recent 6th annual debate. It's true that I came up with the original idea of a debate to raise money for LandAid but the event has since gone from strength to strength. This year's sell-out debate took the form of a London mayoral hustings, providing a useful snapshot of the views of the main contenders.
The invited property audience were able to enjoy the spectacle of the mayoral candidates going head to head. The line-up included Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem) and Darren Johnson (Green Party) standing in for Sian Berry. The debate chaired by former TV presenter Sir Martyn Lewis got off to a lively start with Tory contender Zac Goldsmith accusing Labour's Sadiq Khan of basing his entire campaign on “fantasy” policies.
On housing, all agreed that London needs 50,000 new homes a year but it wasn't quite so clear how they were planning to build them. Faced with similar sounding housing policies, Martyn Lewis, trying for some differentiation, asked each candidate to give their single USP on housing. Sadiq Khan and Caroline Pidgeon endeavoured to win round the audience by saying that they would work with developers to get homes built.
Zac Goldsmith took a different tack, saying that to be effective as London mayor you have to be able to stand up to government to get the best deal for London. He believes he has demonstrated his ability to do this as an MP and in his housing bill amendment. Caroline Pidgeon claimed to have a funding plan and even intends to set up a building company. She also proposed that one in four new homes should be council homes. However, despite questioning from the chair, none of the panellists were able to confirm the timescale to get their plans under way.
In response to the perceived problem of sales to overseas buyers, Sadiq Khan made several mentions of his policy of giving "first dibs to Londoners" on new homes. He intends this to be a planning condition in the London Plan with local authorities bound to enforce it. Zac Goldsmith rose to the challenge of "turning a negative into a positive" and at the same time gave a boost to the build to rent sector by promoting institutional investment in building new homes for rent. He pointed out that you don't need to turn taps off to international investment in this sector. This suggested solution to the housing crisis seemed to go down well with our property audience.
Most of the candidates skirted round the issue of tall buildings. "Size isn't everything," said Sadiq Khan, hopefully. It was Caroline Pidgeon who elicited a shocked intake of breath from the property audience when she described the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie as “blights on London’s skyline.”
It was an entertaining and enlightening debate. Congratulations to LandAid for assembling the candidates particularly as, according to Martyn Lewis in his summing up, they receive 268 requests for similar hustings and only accept a fraction of these. Their attendance enabled the charity to raise £50,000 from the evening so a good result all round. Good luck to all the candidates for 5th May.