Features editor Fred Taylor talks climate, communities and crime with Zoë Garbett, the Green Party candidate for London Mayor.
The Green Party have long been the darling of the youth. Currently polling at the same rate as the Conservatives amongst the 16-24s and having recorded as much as 11% in this subgroup, the Greens seem relatively at home with the youth- at least compared to the meagre 3% of over 65s they are able to convince. So, with a London Mayoral election right around the corner and public dissatisfaction with Sadiq Khan, it seems natural that the youth may want to look to the left of Khan for some opposition. To find out more about the London Green’s position on student issues, Roar spoke to Zoë Garbett, their candidate for mayor.
Most domestic students at King’s College London (KCL) have probably seen the majority of their maintenance loan eaten up by their rent, having to rely on their parents’ generosity or employment to be able to make a living in the capital. Garbett was quick to recognise that the housing situation in London has spiralled out of control, saying that we are “beyond a housing crisis now”.
Her response to the housing crisis is to bring a changed approach to housing, where it is treated as a human right. “We want everyone to have access to safe, affordable housing”. She underlines that, “if people need a social house they [should] be able to get one”.
One criticism the Greens level at the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, is the proclivity of demolition and rebuild projects. Over the past ten years, London has lost 23,000 homes to projects of this kind, while only 12,000 additional units were built. The Mayor recognises the carbon impact that these projects have but nevertheless justifies them where there are “valid reasons” to the contrary or when it is “more financially viable” to do so. Under the Greens, the approach would be much more centred on retrofitting homes.
Garbett also outlines the Greens’ push for 50% of all developer constructed housing to be provided at social rent. This was already proposed by Khan and is still a strategic target of the Mayor, despite only one-third of newbuilds currently being affordable.
The issue here is that affordable housing has to be subsidised by someone. This can either be done through government funding or through a section 106 agreement which requires a developer to provide a certain proportion of its added stock as affordable. If the government continues with cuts to the affordable housing budget, then the fear is that developers’ profit margins will be too small or non-existent if 50% of the housing they provide is not done for profit. Even currently, it is alleged that Khan’s excessive focus on affordable housing is the reason he has continually missed his housing targets.
I put this issue to Ms. Garbett who argued that the current approach to housing is unsustainable. She says that even Khan’s lowered targets aren’t being met due to “there not being enough regulation to build those homes that they promise in the first place”. Her approach would focus on community led housing, “using what we’ve got, respecting peoples and communities that already exist in the area, bringing empty homes back into use and buying the supply … making sure that homes are working for residents and tenants, not landlords”.
She compliments this approach with calls for central government to allow the London Mayor to implement rent controls and an effective landlord register- all part of an approach that seeks to “rebalance the power” between landlords and tenants and fix the system which, according to the Green candidate, “is completely broken”. Her approach includes introducing the concept of a student living rent- which would aim to limit rents to a proportion of the maximum maintenance loan, currently 55% but which could be lowered.
A litany of measures and a new approach to housing would perhaps be refreshing to many readers. However, most housing experts agree that lack of supply is a major issue behind high rents in London. So, with the power to build housing resting almost entirely in the hands of private parties and the power to introduce rent controls resting in central government, a Green Mayor may have to compromise on several of these proposed reforms.
The Environment and Public Transport
The major selling point of the Green Party is the environment. Dealing with the climate crisis, clearing the air in our city of pollution and protecting green spaces and biodiversity are key missions for the Greens. So much so that these green considerations would be central to every decision made by her mayoralty- the environment will be “the lens that we look through [in] all decision-making”.
Garbett is quick to highlight how she differs from Khan when it comes to the environment. Firstly, there is the Silvertown Tunnel, a new road passage currently being constructed in East London. Garbett describes the project as being inconsistent with taking action on climate and which will do little more than “bring more traffic, more pollution, more emissions … into some of the most deprived communities [in London]”. Since the tunnel has already been partially constructed, the Greens would rather see it be repurposed “into a tunnel for public transport, walking, and cycling”.
Garbett also discussed the inadequacy of ULEZ as a fully comprehensive regulation on the impact cars have on our environment.
“Large SUV vehicles can be ULEZ compliant but we know that there are major impacts of these vehicles: the emissions, the safety elements.
“So when we are looking at that policy it’s how we are looking at all those elements and how it impacts other people in the city as well as the climate.”
A policy particularly tailored to the young is her support for free travel for under-22s. While third years will probably have surpassed that age by the time this policy could be implemented, younger students have something to hope for as Garbett has described this policy as something that she is, “really committed to”. She expanded on the reasons behind the proposal:
“Young people and the affordability of the city is a really big issue. Especially with young people being impacted by the pandemic and us wanting young people to be able to afford to move around the city and do the things they need to do.”
While the Green candidate did describe the need to “explore and … see whether the budget is there”, she believes that there is a “real opportunity to try and get more and more people back on to tube and bus travel so that we can increase that revenue that comes into TfL”.
Drugs and Crime
An extra £115 or so in the bank account saved from not having to purchase travelcards is perhaps all the motivation students will need to vote for the Green candidate- but their manifesto also backs a more lax approach to drugs, something countless students will doubtless be happy with. Garbett is the author of Green Party drug policy, which recommends the end of the prohibition of drugs and recognises that, “in the majority of cases the limited use of drugs for recreational purposes is not harmful and has the potential to enhance human relationships and human creativity”.
How does this translate to her role as Mayor? Well, while she would not be able to legalise cannabis or stop enforcing the law altogether without a change in approach from the state, she has pledged to deprioritise the policing of cannabis and reduce the incidence of stop and searches in her use of the powers to set the strategic objectives of the police. The Green Party advocates using these powers further to change the approach to policing in the capital:
“The policing should be according to the priorities that residents want to be policed. Possession in itself: an adult possessing a small amount of cannabis, is that a top priority in terms of people’s safety?
“Reprioritising policing resources around tackling hate crime as well as prioritising violence against women but also challenging bike theft and road deaths.
“I think it’s all about listening to people over what they need to keep themselves safe.”
An especially key issue for students is the quality of the leisure industries in London, especially given the unstable environment which the industry is being plagued by at the moment. In the first half of 2023, 46 pubs have shut down and a quarter of London’s clubs have been lost since the pandemic.
Garbett, a self-declared clubbing aficionado, described these venues as “the core and the fabric of London”, recognising that clubbing is an important part of the city’s culture and not just a pastime.
While the reasons behind the closure of these venues are complex and varied, many venues, including the esteemed Printworks in Rotherhithe, have had to close due to a lack of planning permission- something the Mayor has the power to influence. She declared that she would use her powers in accordance with the ‘agent of change’ principle.
“I think that that is incredibly important … [that] people moving into a new area can’t complain and shut down a venue that has been in existence for a long time.
“I’m a councillor in Dalston, so I spend a lot of time speaking to the nightlife venues here. They talk about how that only works if developers have properly soundproofed their developments. To make sure that people can’t complain about the existing infrastructure.
“I’ve just been working with venues locally with some provisions coming in in Hackney Council to make sure that they work for venues, taking into consideration that we need to be respectful to residents living in those areas and make sure that they are safe but it’s how we make sure that that enforcement work is happening”.
From free travel to a more vibrant night scene and everything in between, a Green-led city may be the way forward for hopeful students. But with Khan polling nearly 50% and the Greens finding themselves tied with the LibDems in third, victory may be slightly out of grasp for Garbett this time round.
Listen to the full interview here:
Roar News thanks Zoë Garbett for her time.