Siobhan Benita: We must weave green issues into London policymaking

By Tierney Smith

Independent candidate Siobhan Benita would like to see green issues addressed in all aspects of London life.

Environmental issues should be woven into every facet of life in the Capital, says Independent Mayoral Candidate Siobhan Benita.

Aimed at running green policies throughout her manifesto and bringing issues from across the board together into one package, she says she hopes voters will like her approach to policies.

The London Mayoral Elections will be held on May 3 this year. The Mayor controls a budget of £14 Billion – and the effects of climate change are expected to be increasingly felt in Britain’s capital, in part due to its low level and susceptibility to flooding.

“I am doing this not just on the green issue but the way I package my policies in general”, Benita told RTCC.

“It is more about keeping London moving; better, cleaner, safer neighbourhoods. I am trying to do that rather than put everything into boxes of transport or the environment.”

VIDEO: Siobhan Benita talks about her plans for the Thames, making cycling in London safer and what to do with unused buildings…

Making London safe for cyclists

Earlier this year, a new campaign by The Times newspaper, brought cycling in the city back into the headlines.

Since its launch figures including cyclist Mark Cavendish, Lord Sugar and cricketer Freddie Flintoff have got behind the campaign, along with all the candidates for the Mayoral Elections.

For Benita making the city safer for cyclists is about being flexible and a little creative.

“London is quite a crowded city so I don’t think we are ever going to bring in the model you find in Holland and places like that, we just don’t have the physical space to do it.”

“Other cities have used more creative shared space ideas, for example sometimes you can give over a whole pavement, where you have two pavements, to cyclists or rollerbladers. It is a different sharing of space and I think that is what we need. We can take loads of good ideas and best practice from other cities in this area.”

For example, New York uses a three tiered approach – where possible bikes are completely separated from traffic via greenways through parks, in more crowded spaces, they are separated with concrete barriers and finally where this is not possible they are separated through white lines.

“I think the approach here has been to try to do it one way or not at all and then we end up with a system that doesn’t really work for anyone,” says Benita.

Airport expansion

Cycling is not the only area of transport Benita’s manifesto focuses on. As well as cheaper travel for students and those on minimum wage, free travel for those seeking employment, and later travel allowing greater access throughout the night, Benita aims to add her voice to the growing debate over airport expansion.

While objecting to the current plans for a new airport within the Thames Estuary – named Boris Island by many after London Mayor and proponent of the scheme, Boris Johnson – Benita does argue that airport expansion will still be necessary for the capital.

“Even if it proved feasible it [Boris Island] is going to take at least 20 to 30 years to build and environmentally it would be hugely damaging to build a whole new airport on a green site like that.”

“I don’t think we can say we don’t need any more airport capacity. I have looked at the evidence and think that the least environmentally damaging option is to go with a third runway at Heathrow.”

One of the more controversial proposals for the capital, plans for a new runway at Heathrow airport were scrapped in 2010, when the coalition government came to power, a move welcomed by environmental groups.

The debate did not end there though, as earlier this month industry lobbyists stepped up attempts to get the third runway back on the agenda.

Benita says expansion of Heathrow would help ensure West London continued to thrive.

“We have invested in East London a lot recently. We now need to invest in West London and actually if we go down the route of another airport, eventually the economy in West London will die out.”

Better use of buildings

With a shortage of affordable housing in the Capital, Benita says if elected, she will not only push for the building of 32,000 new homes, but also target derelict buildings which can be turned into affordable housing.

Acknowledging the difficulty of working with older buildings when it comes to ensuring energy efficiency, she believes this is one area where the Mayor can be really hands on.

“I would much rather be using the old buildings that we have but you need to make sure as you do it you bring them right up to current standards,” she explained. “What the Mayor should be doing is looking at regulations that currently exist because some of the regulations at the moment conflict with one another.

“If you are dealing with replacing some like for like features in buildings, they don’t always meet the latest energy requirements and I think wherever we can the energy efficiency requirements should trump everything else.”

She also says she wants to see buildings left empty overnight or at weekends put to better use.

“There are government public buildings all over London that when it comes 5.30 go unused…I would like all boroughs to do an audit of the space available and give as much of that over to the charities and organisations in their borough either at a really reduced rate or ideally wherever possible for free.”

London’s Young Mayor

One of Benita’s biggest aims for her campaign is introducing a youth voice into the city’s politics. If elected she aims to hire a Young Mayor for the city – to look at not only youth issues, but every aspect of London life from education to transport to the environment.

“Whoever becomes Mayor they are building the future for that generation so if you don’t engage those people in a whole range of policies you are not going to get it right for that generation.

“I would want the Young Mayor to be working on all policy areas so transport, environment, housing not just tuning to them when it is a youth issue.”

Contact the author on [email protected] or @rtcc_tierney.

For more on what the candidates for the London elections have planned for the Capital, check out RTCC’s London series including Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones.

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