New City Hall Tory chief: Ulez is ‘bewildering’ to outer Londoners
The new leader of the City Hall Conservatives has pledged to continue challenging Sadiq Khan on his plans to expand the Ultra low emission zone (Ulez), as well as opposing rent controls and calling for improvements to London’s nightlife.
In a sit-down interview, Neil Garratt, the London Assembly Tories’ new group chief, said he would continue championing his party’s opposition to the Ulez expansion.
The Labour Mayor plans to expand the zone to cover the whole of Greater London on August 29 - saying it will allow five million Londoners to breathe cleaner air, and save lives.
The Conservatives argue that the £12.50 daily charge for driving non-compliant vehicles - which tend to be older and more polluting - will “punish Londoners during a cost of living crisis”.
Mr Garratt, who represents Croydon and Sutton on the Assembly, said that “in outer London, it almost is bewildering to people that the Mayor is doing it”.
He said residents objected to “the idea that people will abandon their cars for the fantastic new public transport, when there is really nothing”.
While he welcomed the recently-announced Superloop bus service as “a good idea”, he said “it doesn’t transform the transport landscape”.
He stressed however that he wanted his party to also focus on issues other than Ulez, such as concerns around the range and vibrancy of London’s nightlife.
“During the pandemic, it obviously all closed down, but there’s not a sense of it opening up and returning to where it was,” said Mr Garratt.
On housing, the group leader said he was concerned not only by its high cost in London, but also by Mr Khan’s requests that the Government give him the power to impose rent controls.
“It’s just cheap populism,” he said.
“Nobody thinks that rent controls work. In places where they’ve tried them, it actually makes it worse.”
Mr Garratt said he would instead favour efforts to boost the supply of homes - though he stopped short of criticising the group of 100 Tory MPs who pressured Prime Minister Rishi Sunak into making national housing targets advisory, rather than mandatory.
“Fundamentally, housing in London is the responsibility partly of the Mayor, and partly of the boroughs - and most of the boroughs are not Conservative. So I think that’s a difficult problem to pin on the Government,” he said.
He added that there were now several very tall buildings in outer London, including “a whole forest” of skyscrapers in Croydon, and that he would prefer “a more attractive, gentle density”, similar to Paris.
“As far as I can see, that is the only compromise option… I think this is a problem that lots of colleagues have, they represent a fairly suburban area, or a town outside London - and they just feel it’s being turned into a skyscraper capital.
“It completely transforms the place, and actually creates often the kinds of places that people don’t like to live in. Unless you’re right in the middle of a big city, living 30 floors up is not actually what most people want.”
Asked why he thought Labour still had an average national poll lead of about 15 points or more, he said: “I think it is difficult to remain in government for a very long period of time.
“We had a long period where we had been in government for a long time and remained ahead in the polls. It is quite normal that governments are not ahead, sort of, mid-term.”
Despite Mr Sunak making up some ground, the Conservatives have failed to recover the poll position they had before Liz Truss’s mini-budget.
Mr Garratt said it was “difficult to say” whether it was a mistake for his party to have elected Ms Truss as PM.
He added: “We’ve had this period of disruption and change… and people want a period of stable, competent Government.
“I think the gap you see in the polls is people withholding judgement on whether that works.
“Ultimately, that will be the test. Does Rishi Sunak deliver a period of competent and effective Government, and if he does, then that’s the route for people trusting us with another term in office.”
On the question of whether Ms Truss got a fair crack of the whip as PM, he said: “In hindsight, some of those things, that were blamed on her at the time, were not her fault or her responsibility…
“It is the nature of being in Government that you get the credit sometimes and the blame always… But if you’re PM, the buck stops with you.”
Looking ahead to the mayoral election next year, Mr Garratt confirmed he was not putting his own name forward to be Mayor, but would be “backing 100 per cent” the Conservative candidate, whoever is selected.
“They [the candidate] will need to demonstrate to Londoners that they have the skills, experience and aptitude and ideas that will take London forward, rather than leaving us stagnating, as we seem to be under Sadiq.”
Mr Garratt replaced Susan Hall as group leader, who has said she is considering running for the mayoral candidacy.