Friday, 18 October 2013

What if Lord Adonis ran for mayor?

A map from the Abercrombie plan for London

Thus far, the only person to have publicly declared his desire to be Labour’s next London mayoral candidate is the eminent transport writer Christian Wolmar.

Disappointingly, in the first poll assessing the chances of the candidates, Wolmar was not included. While he is a long way from being the favourite, his work on trains is constantly interesting and informed and such is the importance of transport in the London Mayor’s brief he deserves to be taken more seriously.

The poll, published in the Evening Standard, found comedian Eddie Izzard favourite amongst the public, followed by Tessa Jowell, Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Andrew Adonis and Sadiq Khan. Izzard is unlikely to stand, Jowell is a strong candidate, especially after her performance during the Olympics while Abbott has a high profile and has a reputation for outspokenness, which hasn’t proved a political obstacle thus far, in the short existence of the London mayoralty.

While not commanding such a prominent media presence amongst this group, Lord Adonis is perhaps the most interesting potential candidate. Closely linked with Tony Blair, Adonis was the architect of academy schools and HighSpeed 2 (HS2): all these factors might be regarded as politically damaging. But they also reveal a man keen on promoting large, transformative projects, thoughtful and unwilling to play safe.

A few weeks ago, Adonis gave a few hints as to what his ambitions might be, as Mayor, in the annual lecture to the Vauxhall Labour Party. He began:

‘London needs a plan – a plan to become both a bigger world city and also a better working city for Londoners.’

And he continued, highlighting the problems which undeniably face the city. London has five of the 20 local authorities with the highest levels of income deprivation in England, youth unemployment is at 24 per cent, it boasts amongst the lowest apprenticeship take-up rates in the country, a 20-year difference in life expectancy between Oxford Circus and some distant stops on the Docklands Light Railway, as well as housing costs and transport problems.

‘Looming behind all this is a population explosion – caused by London’s success, but making all these problems steadily worse and more urgent.’

Adonis was scathing about Boris’ vapid 2020 Vision:

‘It is a blowing of London’s trumpet and a collection of suggestions to support London’s growth, but with little coherence, or assessment of priorities, timescales or deliverability.

‘We have a Vision without a plan. We have a succession of documents called plans which aren’t plans, some of which promise real plans at some point in the future. Then, depending on which mayoral non-plan you read, there are anything from 19 to 43 areas for priority development across the capital, but only 10 have an actual development plan. And there is a Plan Implementation Plan which promises further work on the key components of what should be included in the plan it is supposed to be implementing.’

‘Well, that’s all clear then,’ he added witheringly.

He compared it with the ‘inspirational’ Abercrombie plan, the first volume published in 1943, the second in 1944. (For more information on this ambitious, but largely unimplemented, project see this excellent piece.)

Sir Patrick Abercrombie
With the air of a philatelist who has stumbled across a particularly spectacular collection of stamps, he continues:

‘In 400 pages, plus dozens of maps, charts and photos, it surveys the historic development of London. Its analysis and recommendations are incisive and panoramic…. the tone throughout is of expertise and passion, tempered by urgency and practicality, summed up by Abercrombie’s opening words “All things are read if our minds be so”.’

He went on:

'London needs a plan for a population of 10 million. Boris hasn't got one. In practical policy, Boris has essentially been implementing parts of Ken Livingstone's unfinished programme - the parts, like Crossrail, that don't offend Tory boroughs - without developing a credible successor plan for a population of 10 million.'

So were he to stand for mayor, what post-Boris plan would Lord Adonis develop? He identified five priorities.

Three new East Thames road crossings: the Thames Gateway bridge; the Silvertown Tunnel; the new lower Thames Crossing.

Facilitating the development of London Gateway Port, which opens next year, helping it become a 'world class logistics centre. He noted that already Marks and Spencer are building a 900,000 square foot distribution centre at the site; and 'impediments stopping others from following suit - including infrastructure, skills and housing' need to be overcome to enable other firms to follow suit.

As well as 'significantly expanding Basildon', Adonis has a vision for another 'successful new town'. Already with good transport links - just 17 minutes from St Pancras via HS1 -  'Ebbsfleet is an obvious candidate.'

'It was, in effect, supposed to be a private-sector new-town but it hasn't happened because the private sector hasn't been able to put in the required infrastructure up front and take on the associated risks.'

Then, Adonis lists the Lower Lea Valley, Stratford, the Royal Docks, London Riverside, Woolwich, the Greenwich peninsula and Canada Water as 'priority areas for substantial housing and community development'.

And finally, he wants to emulate the Victorians and endow London boroughs with 'great parks and cultural attractions'. He mentions a 'serious proposal' of a £2billion Paramount theme park at Ebbsfleet, to rival Paris' Disneyland, and, (perhaps more my cup of tea), 'a kind of new national park covering the wetlands and associated habitats in the Estuary'.

It may well prove to be the case that Lord Adonis lacks the public profile and acknowledgement to carry him to the London mayoralty; too much technocrat, not enough showman. His closeness to the Blairite project may prove to be a hindrance within his own party (it shouldn't but it could). But he displays a knowledge of the capital, of its ways and means, its history and cultures, successes and challenges, to be an invaluable ally and source of inspiration to whomever Labour select as their candidate

In just one speech, Lord Adonis presents a plan for London of much more focus and significance - and much more human and celebratory - than anything Boris has proposed in his six years of office. All that is missing is a clown on a bike.

Note - Further pieces on potential mayoral candidates will appear as and when their vision for the job becomes clearer.

1 comment:

  1. Lord Adonis is possibly the most thoughtful of the list of possibles, and one in whom I would repose a great deal of confidence. Whilst he might seem a cold fish to some on first viewing, as Chuka Umunna can do too, I think he has a quiet determination to see things through and get things done. The Abercrombie Plan was a treasured possession in my childhood and I would pore over its visionary concepts, so far ahead of their time. Of course it was flawed, but given the time it was conceived it was part of a real adventurous mood of 'Things Need Not Be The Way They Are', which therefore chimes in with Ed Miliband's current 'Britain Deserves Much Better'.theme.

    I don't see Christian Wolmar as a possible Mayor, as his speciality is on one topic, rail transport, but he might make a handy Deputy Mayor for the transport brief, though he might need a bus specialist adviser..


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