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Can new London mayor Sadiq Khan deliver for construction?

After eight years of Boris Johnson and following eight years of Ken Livingstone, Londoners have chosen Labour’s Sadiq Khan to be their third modern-day mayor.

So how can Mr Khan reconcile London’s continued growth ambitions with the reality of a shrinking funding pot available for new infrastructure in the capital?

“The new mayor has no jacuzzi of cash to splash around in”

Campaign debates brought violent agreement on the need to ramp up housebuilding in the capital, as well as sustained investment in transport and other infrastructure projects required to keep a growing city functioning.

Yet Mr Khan inherits a spending settlement from government far tighter than London has been accustomed to in recent years.

The new mayor has no jacuzzi of cash to splash around in – and there is limited prospect of the spending taps suddenly being turned on again.

Moreover, Mr Khan has pledged to hold transport fares at current levels until 2020, limiting his room for manoeuvre still further (though it is fanciful to think that any mayor would in practice have raised fares year on year as TfL’s business plan so naively hoped).

Scope for hope

Squaring this circle will require leadership, persuasion and a bit of creativity from Mr Khan.

While ‘efficiency savings’ have long been the refuge of politicians desperate to plug inconvenient holes in their sums, most observers of TfL see considerable scope for both reducing costs and increasing commercial revenues.

More on Sadiq Khan

But extracting those savings without falling out with the workforce and unions will test the mayor’s diplomatic skills.

Inevitably, the mayor will also face uncomfortable choices about priorities.

While continuity can be expected on existing projects like the resignalling of sub-surface tube lines and, encouragingly, on emerging ones like the proposed new Silvertown tunnel, elsewhere contractors might brace themselves for a period of uncertainty.

“It is good news then that Mr Khan has already indicated he will fill his mayoral team with experienced figures”

Major projects such as the Piccadilly line upgrade, the New Tube for London and station upgrades at Camden and Holborn will be very much under the microscope – with at least some of these destined to slip to the right of current aspirations.

Mayoral ambitions for shiny new projects, like the much-needed Crossrail 2, will only be met by persuading the chancellor that London is itself shouldering some of the funding burden.

Mr Khan will also have to prove that every opportunity is being taken to build new homes, including those on underused public land.

Encouraging moves

Expect months of hard bargaining ahead.

It is good news then that Mr Khan has already indicated he will fill his mayoral team with experienced figures such as Andrew Adonis and ex-Olympics aide Neale Coleman, who can reach across the political divide and get things done.

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo famously said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

A dose of hard-headed pragmatism could be just what London needs from its next mayor.

David Leam is infrastructure director at London First

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