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The fight for a more natural capital must go on

With the local elections postponed, Neil Sinden, Director of CPRE London discusses where this leaves London in the midst of a public health, climate and nature emergency.

March 2020

If we’re to tackle the climate and nature emergency, we need action from all levels of government. That’s why all eyes were on the London elections which were due to take place, alongside local elections across England, on May 7th this year. These elections have been rightly postponed given the current, unprecedented circumstances. As a result, we have also postponed the launch of our joint manifesto for London – ‘A More Natural Capital’ which outlines ways the Mayoral candidates should improve London for people, nature and climate.

Action to address the climate and nature emergencies take centre stage in the manifesto. While also advocating the benefits to people’s health and wellbeing of contact with nature and green spaces, we were not to know that a public health emergency would emerge so rapidly as a third, existential threat.

Despite these challenging circumstances, we are delighted that more than 20 leading groups with an interest in the environment and quality of life in the capital came together to agree a set of priorities for the next Mayor. In our manifesto, we grouped 24 key actions under four broad themes – action to reduce pollution and waste, to secure nature’s recovery, to increase resilience to climate change and to improve health and wellbeing.

It is striking how any of these actions – such as connecting more people with local green space through the creation of new green walking routes and parks, improving air quality by promoting more active travel, and increasing tree canopy cover – would, if sensibly pursued, support the achievement of multiple climate, nature and health objectives.

We were pleased to meet some of the candidates and their teams to discuss our asks before the elections were postponed. This gave us much encouragement. It was clear that many of the actions we identify enjoy support across the political spectrum but there were also points of divergence over how best to achieve some of our objectives and some notable areas of disagreement. This included proposals for aviation expansion at Heathrow and City airports – just one of the issues that will require a fundamental rethink once the pandemic is under control. One thing everyone could agree on was that the Mayor needs greater powers and resources to secure the step change needed to deliver a healthier environment.

We now have an opportunity to consider in more detail how each of these priorities can best be delivered once we have overcome the current challenges we face. We also hope that the candidates will use this time to discuss our proposals further and be ready to promise the transformational change Londoners want and need.

We will continue to develop our shared agenda over the coming months, working up action plans and exploring new ideas. When the time is right, we intend once again to press the candidates to commit, if elected, to supporting and delivering as many of the objectives as they can. In the meantime, we would welcome feedback on the manifesto and further ideas on how to achieve its aspirations for a healthier, greener and more liveable London.

Neil Sinden, Director of CPRE London.

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The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.