Starting from Sunday afternoon there has been a steady stream of Mayoral press releases about the Mayor’s new London Plan. The press releases make bold declarations about how London will soon change for the better.
Some of the headlines of these press releases are worth recalling:
“Mayor plans for more public toilets to be built across London”
“Mayor to set out bold plans to shape London’s new housing and infrastructure around cycling”
“Mayor cracks down on opening of new hot-food takeaways around schools”
“Mayor protects pubs in his London Plan”
“Mayor vows to protect ‘the lungs of the capital’
“Mayor says ‘no’ to fracking in London”
“Mayor calls on Government to ‘step up’ as he boosts fire safety in his new draft London Plan”
These press releases have generated extensive media coverage in the last few days.
Now as a general rule I don’t believe in criticising journalists and the media. Every politician and certainly political party believes they could be better presented in the media.
And indeed, far from complaining I believe the media have an important job to do.
We need more journalists covering local and regional government and certainly more investigative journalists covering all forms of government and how public money is spent. I would like to see our media strengthened through more routine access to documents and information.
We certainly need a stronger Freedom of Information Act.
However, for once I will break my rule and just say that I believe some of the recent media reports this week have not seen journalism at its best.
For a start, all the media reports in the last week have been based on a document that has not even been published until today.
Should claims by the Mayor’s press office about the proposed new London Plan really be taken word for word, without even an opportunity for anyone to see the Mayor’s proposals?
Instead of questioning the Mayor’s proposals many have simply repeated what his press office have churned out. It almost seems that some reporters have started to behave more like royal correspondents, simply reading out and repeating statements they have been given, instead of asking tough questions.
There are two further points to make.
Firstly, the draft London Plan is exactly that – a draft.
If you look at the GLA website it is quite clear that a consultation will run to the beginning of March 2018. There will then be an examination in public in the Autumn of 2018, with the final London Plan published in Autumn 2019.
Effectively the plan will not be in place for two years. And what it will eventually include is still open to potential change. In many areas its specific proposals will not be formally confirmed for another two years.
There is another issue to consider as well. Until we have a new London Plan we are operating under the current one, which came in under Boris Johnson.
This is a detail Sadiq Khan and his team seem to conveniently ignore.
They certainly see no desire to ensure that the policies currently in place are fully implemented.
To just give one example.
If you look at the current London Plan it clearly states that all new developments must have a policy of ensuring one in five parking spaces provide an electric charging point. For anyone wanting to check the details it is section D, under paragraph 6.13 of the London Plan, which can be found on page 267.
Such a policy makes real sense. It would deliver a huge growth in electric charging points in new housing developments taking place across the capital.
Yet can we be confident that the policy is being implemented?
The answer is an emphatic no. Under Sadiq Khan (and under Boris Johnson as well) there has been no monitoring of how this key policy is being implemented. Under questioning Sadiq Khan even admitted back in March that:
“GLA officers have sought to collect data on EV charging points through the London Development Database, but have not received the required agreement from two-thirds of the London Boroughs that would make it a requirement for them to supply the information.”
There are many other examples that could be given.
I really hope the Mayor does bring forward some bold policies in the new London Plan.
There are a host of areas where London could be made a better city through improved strategic planning.
However, let’s be clear on a few things.
Getting the new London Plan even passed is a marathon and it will be almost two years before it is in place.
Ensuring it has the best policies for London will involve lots of questions being asked and extensive scrutiny, including I hope by the media.
And finally, the policies need to be implemented and enforced if it is to be truly effective.