London Needs Self-Reliance to Weather Austerity

London Needs Self-Reliance to Weather Austerity

I don't like it, and have marched against it, but City Hall is going to face further austerity up to 2020. We need to come up with creative responses to further budget cuts, and to a government unwilling to give the Mayor of London more powers.

One revolutionary premise of Green politics is that we get elected to spread power and resilience, not to develop a slightly greener top-down policy. An anti-austerity City Hall could create and grow spaces in which green values of care, cooperation and self-reliance flourish. Here are five "self-reliance" ideas I think we could support.

1 - Train private tenants to enforce their rights

Councils are cutting their enforcement teams back to a bare minimum, and were never very good at enforcing consumer protections anyway. We need rent controls and more secure tenancies, but this government is unlikely to budge. So for the next few years a Green City Hall could train and support a network of tenants groups to enforce their own rights.

For example, Waltham Forest Renters checked which letting agents in their area were complying with new rules on publishing their fees.

I'd help tenants do this across London, and enforce against agencies that fail to comply with the law.

2 - Give every Londoner a tree to plant

Boris has funded 20,000 new street trees across London over his two terms, but it was a very traditional top-down project. City Hall and councils called the shots.

We could follow New York, which is aiming to plant one million trees with the help of its citizens. You can take home a free tree, and the City authorities will lend you materials, manpower and expertise to transform a community space.

Paris did something similar - why not London?

3 - Help social tenants regenerate their own homes

I visited the Sweets Way Occupation on Monday, where the community is renovating a house - trashed by the investors that own it - into an attractive show home.

Across London, comunities have tried to take the lead in regenerating their estates and building new homes. Some - like St Clements in Tower Hamlets, and the Leatherhead community in Southwark - have succeeded because City or Town hall got behind them. Others - like Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill in Lambeth - have been quashed by a top-down council that wants its own way.

We could train a network of tenants with the skills they need to refurbish and build homes, and to regenerate estates. I'd proposed setting up a £2 billion fund using City Hall money to establish a London Housing Co-operative, giving them real backing.

4 - Crowdfund a solar revolution

Boris is a climate change sceptic, so it's no surprise that his climate programmes are falling far behind his science-led targets. This government is now slashing key programmes to insulate homes and subsidise renewable energy. There's no way City Hall could raise the funds necessary to get the climate change strategy back on track with top-down policies.

But there's a brighter future here - the price of solar panels is plummeting, and there's potential for solar to generate up to one fifth of London's electricity.

I'd get City Hall behind groups like Repowering London with another co-op - a London Solar Co-operative. Seeded with £80m of public funds, it would give every Londoner a right to claim a £10 stake and invest more. The co-op could then channel hundreds of millions of pounds into solar on schools, homes, warehouses, car parks - everywhere possible, with the profits going back into Londoners' pockets.

5 - Allow neighbourhoods to trial road closures

TfL is making excrutiatingly slow progress on safer streets for walking and cycling. Partly it's because it takes a lot of money and staff time to develop new street designs.

In Denmark they trial new street layouts with temporary cones. They see what happens, get feedback from local residents and businesses and tweak the design. They only spend big money on the permanent changes once they get it right.

We could get local neighbourhoods involved in doing this themselves. Imagine being able to trial the closure of one end of your street, so motorists can only drive in for access, while pedestrians and cyclists can move through freely. With the right training, and the involvement of TfL and/or your council, citizens could become involved in transforming London into a walking and cycling paradise, freed from rat-running and dangerous roads.

These are just five ideas, and I'd like to know what you think of them.Fill out my super-quick survey here, and give me your own ideas for a self-reliance London.


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