Boris Johnson and the Met

Boris has never missed an opportunity to dismiss legitimate criticisms of the police and to defend t

Two years ago, Boris Johnson's Policing Deputy declared that he and Boris had their "hands on the tiller" of the Metropolitan Police.

No longer would The Met be obsessed with managing media relations, he told the Guardian. No longer would they be obsessed with fighting headlines rather than fighting crime.

And yet on the very next day, another one of Boris's Deputy Mayors was charged with five counts of fraud.

Unable to keep his own deputy mayor's hands off the City Hall credit card, it is not surprising that Boris has also failed to get his hands around the far trickier problems at Scotland Yard.

Since then the Met has continued to blunder on from crisis to crisis, and since then Boris has actually loosened his shaky hold on the force.

Despite his election promise to exert greater power over the Met, Boris soon resigned his Chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and handed it over to a man whose main crime-fighting concern so far has been to tell Londoners which breeds of dog they should own.

From the controversial policing of recent protests, to the abysmal investigation into phone hacking, Boris has never missed an opportunity to dismiss legitimate criticisms of the police, and to defend those that now look indefensible.

In the London Assembly and in his £250k Telegraph column, Boris described the phone hacking story as "a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party," a "song and dance about nothing" and persuaded his readers that celebrities actually wanted their phones to be hacked.

Claims about phone hacking had, he told us, been "substantially investigated" and he was therefore "completely satisfied" that the Met had done a good job.

It is not clear whether Boris's dismissals were simply the "extraordinary and unwise" actions of a partisan politicians or whether they were informed by darker memories of his own time as a journalist.

But what is now clear is that the Met actually did the worst of all possible jobs investigating criminal activities at the News of the World. And even now as the second police commissioner in three years steps down, Boris is still pretending that any problems are merely superficial and the fault of at most a handful of corrupt officers.

Now with Sir Paul Stephenson gone there is an opportunity for somebody to finally get a steady hand on the shaky tiller of the Metropolitan Police.

But whoever the Home Office finds to do the job, Boris Johnson is somebody whose tiller-holding advice they can clearly manage to do without.

 

Adam Bienkov is a journalist and blogger covering London Politics. He writes a regular column and blog for Snipe London Magazine.

Adam Bienkov is a blogger and journalist covering London politics and the Mayoralty. He blogs mostly at AdamBienkov.com

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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