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A telling debate

Janet Miller | 15 Apr 2016 | Comments

Since the Industrial Revolution there’s never been a more critical time for London’s infrastructure. The city is clamouring for new housing and schools, and better sewage systems, airports and transport links – at a level which we can’t afford to ignore.

With the city’s mayoral election just a few weeks away, the future leader of London is at a critical point in their campaign – now is the time when a clear vision for the future, and a firm grasp on the risks that threaten that vision, make all the difference.

On 4 April, Atkins partnered with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) for its infrastructure hustings with the London Mayoral candidates and over 350 people from across the industry. While the event had been planned for months, the morning of the debate we found out that Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) and Sadiq Khan (Labour) – front runners in the election campaign – had both pulled out of the evening’s debate, which set out to cover a range of topics including housing, transport, airport capacity, skills, climate change and a number of other infrastructure issues.

Interestingly, each prospective candidate sent along a strong and well informed woman to tackle some of the industry’s biggest questions about the infrastructure and housing challenges facing London. Minister for Rail Claire Perry (for Zac) and London Assembly member Valerie Shawcross (for Sadiq) took to the stage along with other mayoral candidates including Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats), Sian Berry (Green) and Peter Whittle (UKIP).

The debate was chaired by Antony Oliver, former editor of NCE and Infrastructure Intelligence, and raised some very interesting points:

  • “We need to set up a special energy advisory group in London to really tackle sustainability and create new green targets to tackle recycling and waste.” – Valerie Shawcross, Labour
  • “Cycling and walking are the most efficient way of using space. 40% of TFL’s budget comes from fares; just 2.5% comes from car drivers – something has to change.”– Sian Berry, Green
  • “Zac, like me is absolutely committed to infrastructure investment, which has been neglected by all Governments. But we need a mayor who can work with central government. We don’t want to see Londoners make the mistake of promising a lot and delivering little.”– Claire Perry, Conservative 
  • “I'd set up a construction academy and a London-wide career service to tackle the skills shortage across the Capital, and invest in STEM apprenticeships.” – Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat
  • "700 private hire vehicles (PHV) licenses are given out each month by City Hall which are destroying the black cabs; but are also causing significantly increased congestion on the capitals roads affecting how we travel." – Peter Whittle, UKIP

But over the course of the evening the audience began to question whether the housing and infrastructure challenges facing the capital are simply too big for individual Mayoral candidates to answer and suggested it might explain the absence of the election’s front runners.

So this raises an important question for us as leaders in the infrastructure sector: What can we do to give city leaders confidence to engage on the big infrastructure issues?

It's more important than ever for us to work closely with city mayors and their teams in City Hall, creating two way dialogue to ensure we keep the city moving, find solutions to its challenges and future proof it for the next generation.