London politicians have attacked the Mayor’s plans to move City Hall to east London – with his Conservative rival vowing to scrap the plans if elected next May.
Shaun Bailey told the Local Democracy Service that the proposed move to the Royal Docks, a regeneration area in Newham, was “utterly ridiculous” and “a step into obscurity” for the Mayor.
He is one of a growing chorus of voices in London politics raising concerns about the plans.
Sadiq Khan suggested moving City Hall to the Greater London Authority (GLA) owned Crystal building last month to save money amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The GLA has a £493 million hole in its budget over this financial year and the next because of the pandemic.
Moving to the Crystal would save £55 million over five years, officials believe – but these gains would be backloaded, with less cash recovered in the short term.
GLA staff would be split between the Royal Docks, Transport for London (TfL) headquarters and London Fire Brigade offices, the latter two both in Southwark.
But the plans rely on significant home-working, as the Crystal has much less space for desks than the current building.
Mr Bailey said a smaller base for the Mayor and London Assembly was “a ridiculous idea” and the move would undermine City Hall’s position at the heart of government.
“The Mayor of London is for all of London: you cannot move away from the centre and make it very hard for people to come and see us,” he said.
“City Hall works because it belongs to Londoners. If you move the heart to either north, south, east or west, you reduce that.”
The Conservative candidate said any Mayor must be “scrutinised vigorously” and suggested the move could “disrupt that process”.
“I think this is a step into obscurity,” he said. “You have to ask yourself as a Government, if the Mayor cannot be scrutinised, if the Mayor’s not acting a strategic role, do we need a Mayor of London at all.”
London Assembly GLA Oversight committee members raised similar fears about the plans.
Conservative group leader Susan Hall questioned the financial basis for the move – claiming more detail is needed to accurately understand the alleged benefits.
“Since the reason for us moving is to save money, surely the finances should be in order before anything else,” she said.
Ms Hall said the speed of the consultation and the absence of crucial details was “disgraceful”.
“How can you make a proper judgement when there are all sorts of things missing – not least the finances which are vital at this time.”
City Hall is four weeks into a six-week consultation on the plans – notice would need to be served with the current landlord, St Martin’s Property Group, on Christmas Eve, but a decision will be made earlier to allow time to prepare the Crystal.
Labour member Dr Onkar Sahota, who represents Ealing and Hillingdon on the Assembly, raised concerns about the impact of the move for West London residents.
His constituents will be “disenfranchised from their London government”, Dr Sahota claimed.
“They want City Hall to be accessible,” he added. “They already find it difficult coming to City Hall where it currently is.”
Conservative Keith Prince said he was “astonished” that the Mayor’s team will only consider alternative locations for City Hall if they’re suggested by Assembly members in the next two weeks.
“This is a real poor show, a real amateurish approach to how we should move forward,” he claimed.
“The Mayor of London represents what I would argue is the greatest city in the world and here we are messing around.”
But GLA boss Mary Harpley defended the decision to consult on the move, saying the pandemic has created a stark choice between saving money through relocating or cutting jobs and services for Londoners.
Ms Harpley said coronavirus has radically shifted attitudes on the future of City Hall.
“This thing [Covid-19] has arrived, it has changed our world and that’s why we’re now considering this substantial change of plan,” she said.
“I accept it is in a relatively short period of time, but I think it is our duty to do so.”