New powers for London Mayor give clear steer for environment

Ken Livingstone may not have quite got the independent city state he jokingly claimed to have wanted, but Westminster proposals giving more self governance to the capital will transfer a raft of new powers to the Mayor and Greater London Authority, many of which will impact on environmental policy.

While the Single Waste Authority desired by the Mayor – and strongly resisted by several boroughs – was not on offer, Mr Livingstone will get to lead a city-wide waste and recycling forum which will not be without teeth, as it will receive multimillion pound funding from the boroughs and the GLA itself.

Borough waste authorities will also have to fall broadly in line with the Mayor’s municipal waste management strategy, rather than simply viewing it as guidance, and City Hall will receive stronger powers to determine strategic waste planning applications such as large-scale material recovery facilities or incinerators.

Exactly what will constitute a strategic development is still up for debate.

Local development plans drawn up by the boroughs, which steer the building of homes, offices, commercial and industrial sites, will also be expected to conform to the broader London Plan, with the Mayor given power to rewrite them if they do not.

With the London Plan setting targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency in new build this will be a welcome change for the environmental sector, which will now have more certainty to plan its future in the capital.

The Mayor’s Climate Change and Energy Strategy for London, which outlines how the city will cut carbon emissions, reduce fuel poverty and become a global innovator in terms of power generation, has so far been drawn up and published voluntarily by City Hall but the devolution agenda will make it a responsibility of the office, thus giving the document added credibility.

There will also be a statutory requirement on the Mayor to publish a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy which will look at how the city will manage the unavoidable changes.

The GLA will also be expected to lead by example and take action to reduce its own emissions.

Minor changes will also be made to the role of the Mayor in helping to ensure London has a decent water supply, with the Secretary of State now taking into consideration his Water Action Framework when working with regulators to cap water prices.

Beyond the environmental arena the Mayor has also been given more control over education and skills in the capital as well as greater influence over housing allocation and development.

“I believe the Greater London Authority has been an outstanding success for London,” Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government told a gathering of the press and GLA dignitaries on Thursday.

“We’ve given London back its voice providing clear, accountable leadership. Of course not everyone will agree with every decision made by the Mayor but no-one can argue that it hasn’t enhanced our democracy and brought decision making closer to the people of London.

“That’s why I believe it is right that we should now build on this success and grant additional powers to further strengthen London leadership. It gives the GLA the tools to make London an even better place to live, work and visit.”

Mr Livingstone said the package was a very successful conclusion to a lengthy phase of consultation and negotiation.

“Have I got everything I wanted? Of course I haven’t,” he said, before acknowledging he had received about 80% of what he had asked for and that he felt anything short of an independent city state with its own defence and foreign policy would be a missed opportunity.

“We’ve demonstrated that city-wide London Government works and Londoners are directly benefiting. The additional powers granted to the office of the Mayor will enable us to tackle the problems of London head on.”

Sam Bond

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