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Did we manage to influence the London Mayoral Election candidates? Yes!

Annabel Rutherford, Policy & Campaigns Volunteer
By Annabel Rutherford, Policy & Campaigns Volunteer
15th May 2024

The urgent need for A More Natural Capital – did we manage to influence the London Mayoral Election candidates? Well, yes!

It’s already been a week since Sadiq Khan won a historic third term as Mayor of London. How time flies. The new Mayor saw off Conservative rival Susan Hall by a comfortable majority, with Rob Blackie for the Lib Dems winning third place and Zoë Garbett for the Greens coming fourth. There were 13 mayoral candidates in total, and elections for London Constituency Assembly Members and London-wide Assembly Members also took place on 2 May.

The run-up to the London Mayoral election was a frantic time for all the candidates and their teams as they went into overdrive to get their messages heard by voters. The A More Natural Capital Coalition was also working very hard. After all, the raison d’être of this coalition of 20 environmental groups and charities is to persuade the Mayor, London Assembly Members, and local borough councillors, to adopt the environmental actions that we believe are vital to deliver a better future for Londoners and nature. So, what did we do?

Getting our message across to candidates

The AMNC’s agenda to place the environment at the heart of policy and decision-making for London is ongoing, including lobbying politicians on our top ten asks, working with other campaigners, and holding the Mayor to account. But the pace picked up as the mayoral election approached, with the AMNC taking a series of focused actions to impress upon the candidates the urgent need to prioritise green issues in this critical mayoral term for climate and biodiversity action.

At the start of the year, Anna Taylor, Director of CPRE London, set up meetings with AMNC members and the four main mayoral candidates and their teams. We met with candidates Rob Blackie (Lib Dems) and Zoë Garbett (Greens). We also met with Alex Georgiou representing Conservative candidate Susan Hall, and Shirley Rodrigues representing Labour candidate Sadiq Khan.

Aside from picking up useful intelligence on the candidates’ positions on key environmental issues, we sought to persuade them to commit to the AMNC’s asks.

We also thought it would be useful to take the main candidates on site visits to see important environmental projects taking place across the capital. Diary clashes meant that not everyone was available, but Alice Roberts, Head of Campaigns at CPRE London, met with Zoë Garbett on a trip to see the site of one of our Ten New Parks campaigns. A photo of Alice with Zoë at the site even made it into the Greens’ manifesto (page 16)!

A highlight of our campaign was the hugely successful London Mayoral Environment Debate, chaired by CPRE London’s Chair Tony Burton. It was a great opportunity to hear the mayoral hopefuls, or their representatives, set out their stalls. An audience of over 200 participants attended in person and online, many of whom asked questions on a wide range of environmental matters, from protecting the Green Belt, to low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) and mitigating London’s flood risk. It was a lively, good-natured, and informative evening. And it was heartening to see so many fellow AMNC members and other campaigners turn up in person for the event. Taking everyone together, there must have been more than a thousand years of environmental expertise in the room.

But did the candidates adopt our policies?

As for whether the AMNC’s asks made it into the manifestos, the Greens’ very detailed manifesto scored top marks in that all our asks were reflected in full or in nearly identical terms. Needless to say, we were very happy to see that our campaigning had made an impact.

By contrast, Labour’s manifesto described its climate commitments in broad brushstrokes. The section on cleaning up London’s air captured some of our asks – in particular, the plans to continue promoting active travel by investing in expanding London’s cycling and walking network. We were also pleased to see some of our asks around green space essentially endorsed, with Labour pledging to build on its work to restore and protect nature by adding to the tree canopy and creating new green spaces, focusing in particular on London’s most nature-deprived areas. A new London Green Roots Fund will also enable councils and communities to bid for funding to pay for trees, wildflower meadows, parklets and other new green spaces.

Sadiq Khan also promised to clean up London’s rivers which we were delighted to see. This ties in closely with our policy to deliver an urgent programme of ‘rain garden’ construction (which is fundamental to tackling river pollution).

We were disappointed, though, that there was no specific mention of Green Belt protection, or of our campaign to create Ten New Parks, for instance, and we will be seeking reassurances on Green Belt protection in particular in due course.

The AMNC’s asks were reflected to some extent in the Lib Dems’ manifesto with its commitment to promoting cycling and walking options by, among other things, creating a significantly larger integrated and connected cycle network across London boroughs. On housing, the manifesto stated that the Lib Dems would increase the number of brownfield sites allocated for development, particularly near transport hubs, and update the Brownfield land register. However, it was a disappointment see that a firm commitment to avoid building on the Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land was noticeably absent. Like the other parties’ manifestos, the need for more trees was highlighted, with commitments to boost tree planting and to protect mature trees that make the best contribution to biodiversity, and trees that are most effective at countering climate change. The manifesto also pledged to protect and enlarge London’s wetlands, and increase allotment space by offering ‘pointless patches of grass’ and other spare land owned by London government to local people.

The Conservatives put forward a range of green policies that aligned fully or partially with some of our asks, the main pledges being to fully protect the Green Belt from building, expand tree planting and allotment maintenance, and take targeted action to reduce air pollution. Contrary to the AMNC’s stance on transport and pollution, the Conservatives pledged to help communities to remove unwanted LTNs and remove 20mph zones ‘where safe to do so’. And there was nothing in the manifesto to encourage active travel, aside from a possible commitment to installing more Santander Cycles as one measure to target poor air quality.

What next?

Even before the Mayoral election was over, the AMNC was planning our next steps. We will be busy on a number of fronts, but one area that we plan to prioritise is water management in London. The next four years are critical to tackling flooding and water pollution. In this regard, we will be ramping up our calls for action, urging the new Mayor to support woodland and other habitat creation and construct more rain gardens and create wetlands to capture, retain and absorb excess storm water, and filter it. We will also be calling for individuals to act – for example, restoring front gardens, installing rainwater planters in their front or back gardens, and supporting rain gardens in their street.

Our work is far from over.