This post was first published on The Croydon Citizen on 04/03/2016
“Croydon needs the opportunity to fulfil its potential”: interview with Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London
First of all, I’d like to ask you about the same areas I discussed with your colleague Marina. What’s your plan for housing?
London’s the greatest city in the world, but we’re at a crossroads. Typically, Londoners are being priced out of London because of the housing crisis and the cost of commuting. Croydon is a good example of some of the challenges our city faces, but it also presents an opportunity. Croydon is wonderfully diverse, not just ethnically, but in age and finance as well. Therefore what Croydon needs is the opportunity to fulfil its potential, and that means making sure that homes built are genuinely affordable for local residents, and that the ridiculous situation of homes being sold off to investors overseas before they’ve even been built needs to stop. I have a plan for Homes for Londoners: an agency in City Hall that will do what it says on the tin, and give first dibs on properties to Londoners.
As mayor, what would be your priorities for transport?
We’ve got to make sure we build a transport system that’s modern, but also affordable. My fully funded package to freeze fares over 4 years will mean that people in Croydon who work in the city in Zone 1 will pay the same fare in 2020 that they’re paying now, but they’ll be doing it on the next generation of public transport. The plans for extending the trams would have been done by now if Boris Johnson hadn’t cancelled them in 2008. Look at New Addington, how trams being extended there have regenerated parts of Croydon. We need to do much more to improve public transport.
What are your plans for small business?
Regarding people’s livelihoods, there are many people in Croydon who work for small to medium businesses and they need a mayor that’s going to be on their side. This means supporting businesses to grow and be more productive, training up local people to gain the skills needed in the workplace. I plan to set up ‘Skills for Londoners’; it’s an idea I ‘nicked’ from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, so I’ll be working with employers to help me train up today’s youngsters to gain the skills they’ll need for tomorrow.
Crime and policing are a big part of the mayor’s responsibilities. What are your priorities there?
Another real issue for Croydon, as well as London as a whole, is concerns around knife crime, both the perception of crime and being the victim of crime. Now what Ken Livingston did, which was really good was something called neighbourhood policing. Each ward would have one sergeant, two police officers and three community support officers. That’s all gone now and we have the police in their cars racing around. We need to go back to having the ‘bobby back on the beat’ so that people will know their police officer and feel safer. This includes young people having constructive things to do rather than being caught up in gangs and knife crime.
Boris Johnson promised Croydon residents an extension to Sutton and Crystal Palace which failed to materialise. Zac Goldsmith has pledged to take up the baton to resume the project if he gets elected, but there’s still a big question mark as to where the funding is going to coming from. If you gain office in May, is this something you plan to act on?
What’s really important is that people from Croydon understand who’s to blame for the tram not being extended as it was promised and if you remember, Ken Livingstone in 2007-8 got plans going for the extension but Boris Johnson cancelled it. At the eleventh hour, he’s claiming it’s now back on the agenda, and Zac Goldsmith is also making the same promises. But if evidence from the past is what we can rely upon, you can’t believe a word the Tories say. I live down the road in Tooting, I love Croydon and I’ve spent many weekends shopping and visiting friends down here. I understand the difference that good public transport links make, not simply because my dad was a bus driver, but also because I was a transport minister.
It’s crucial that we have a modern transport system that includes an extended Tramlink and what I’ll do if I’m elected mayor on 5th May is look at how we can improve transport across London. That means Crossrail 1 (now the Elizabeth Line) is going to open in 2018-19, which is east-west of London, but what about a Crossrail 2 from the south-west to the north-east? What about a Crossrail 3, and extending the trams and Bakerloo line? One of the promises I’ve made is not only to freeze fares until 2020 but also to introduce a ‘hopper’ bus fare. At the moment when you can change tube lines as many times as you like and pay the same fare. But if you change buses more than once, you pay a fare each time. I plan to introduce a ‘hopper’ bus fare whereby you can change buses as many times as you like within the hour. That’s the sort of thing that will help people in Croydon.
We’ve seen videos of you on Zac Goldsmith’s Facebook page with the caption, “Khan can’t explain how he’ll pay for his £1.9bn transport experiment – which means you will”. What’s your response to that?
Firstly, I’ve got a fully funded package to freeze fares over 4 years. You won’t pay a penny more. Now, the question Zac Goldsmith has got to answer is, if he says that there’ll be a £1.9 billion bill for fares freezes, that’s what he says. He’s got to explain to Londoners whether or not he’s going to increase fares by 17%. Because if he accepts that figure of £1.9 billion, that means the fares that you pay for a Zone 1 to 6 travelcard will be another thousand pounds more than it is now, which is an increase of more than 17%.
Did you know the fares we pay in London are more expensive than any city Europe? They’ve doubled over the last 8 years. I’ve got a fully funded fares freeze package; he’s got secret plans to increase fares by more than a thousand pounds over the next fours years. I’m quite clear where I stand, I’ve got the experience of being a transport minister, the experience of running a successful business, and I’ve made tough decisions so you compare and contrast my CV with his. I’ve got the political will to freeze the fares, because it affects my family, friends and constituents, so when someone starts playing negative politics and spends all of their time talking about their opponent, it tells you something about their campaign.
You don’t need to tell any Londoner about the misery when it comes to the cost of public transport, and the cost of living is a major issue for Londoners. What are your thoughts on this?
The number one expense people have is housing, many Londoners spend more than half of their salary in housing, and the second biggest expense is public transport. So you’ve got two people who could be the mayor: Zac who doesn’t understand the impact of the housing cost or transport, which he has no experience of, or myself, who understands the difference affordable housing and transport makes. We’ve got friends who in week 3 or 4 are choosing between fares and food. London last year saw hundred thousand people use a food bank. In-work poverty – poor people who are working – hit a record high. Which is why I’ll be a mayor on the side of Londoners, making sure we have housing and public transport that they can afford, supporting business to expand and be more productive, but also keep our city healthier and safer. So the choice is clear: a candidate with the experience, the vision and the values, or somebody who is a serial under-achiever, bereft of ideas and is now doing negative campaigning.
Any closing statements for your mayoral campaign and Croydonians?
Well firstly, thank you to the Croydon Citizen for the work that you’re doing – and I mean this in a non-patronising way – to educate the people of Croydon about what’s happening, because it’s really important that people know what’s going on in their community. London is the greatest city in the world, but it could be better. Croydon is a great borough, but it could be better. I want to be the mayor that fulfils the potential of Croydon and London.