London mayor Sadiq Khan is set to move City Hall to the capital’s Docklands to save £55m over five years and protect front-line services hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The dramatic move would mean the Greater London Authority (GLA) breaking its lease half a decade early, at the end of 2021, after 20 years in the Norman Foster-designed building on a prime riverside spot on the south bank of the Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge.
Dubbed by former mayor Boris Johnson the “glass gonad”, City Hall costs £11.1m a year in rent to private landlord, Kuwaiti-owned St Martin’s, as well as service charges and rates.
Khan will consult on relocating to The Crystal, a building owned by the GLA in the Royal Docks in east London, from December next year as part of a wider move to regenerate the area.
The London mayor, who last week said he would be taking a personal pay cut of 10% as a gesture of solidarity to staff hit by the Covid-19 crisis, said the move was needed because the London authority was facing a budget shortfall of up to £493m.
Even with the savings of relocation, lost business rates and council tax income will mean significant cuts across the entire GLA group – including to public transport, the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade.
Khan, who is facing reelection next year, has regularly sparred with Johnson’s government over funding and recently secured £1.6bn for Transport for London (TfL) in emergency funding to keep Tube and bus services running until September.
Under the bailout’s terms, he was expected to restore a full Underground service as soon as possible and to increase bus and Tube fares by 1% above inflation.
Khan said he wanted to use the first “break clause” in the 25-year lease agreed on City Hall back in 2002 – the year the Queen opened the building alongside its first directly elected mayor, Ken Livingstone.
“My first priority will always be to protect funding for front-line services, including public transport, the Met Police and the London Fire Brigade,” he said.
“Leaving our current home would save £55m over five years, which would help us to protect and invest in the things that matter most to Londoners, as well as supporting the regeneration of the Royal Docks.”
The idea was welcomed by Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, whose borough includes the Docklands, and by the bosses of the ExCeL conference centre nearby, which was recently converted into the UK’s first Nightingale Hospital to cope with possible surges in NHS coronavirus cases.
Khan said The Crystal building - near London City airport and Johnson’s infamous cable car - had “outstanding” rating for environmental sustainability that would mean its running costs will be lower than the current City Hall.
The GLA moved into the current City Hall building in 2002 as part of the regeneration of the ‘More London’ development, near London Bridge.
The Mayor said moving the seat of London’s government to the Royal Docks could have a similar impact on a much larger regeneration project in East London, which is set to lead to 25,000 new homes and the creation of 60,000 new jobs within the next 20 years, supported by the arrival of the Elizabeth line.