Q and A with Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for London

In four months’ time the Londoners will choose their next Mayor. Having driven environment and transport policy throughout Boris Johnson’s term of office Isabel Dedring understands the challenges facing the capital.  

Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport

Interview by Antony Oliver

What are the critical issues facing the next mayor?

I’ll pick three. First congestion on the road, with a rising population and a road network that isn’t getting any bigger there is massive pressure especially in areas of big growth. Second is how to bring the rail network across London into better use. Everyone recognises that we are upgrading the Tube but we are going to continue to need growth in capacity and the only places we can really get that is from new build or from bring the railway into better use. We have a massive network but much of it is underutilised and without a turn up and go service. The third thing is how we link housing with transport in the growth areas. One million of the population growth identified will come from 30 growth areas – to get them to deliver these homes you need the right infrastructure in place. 

Can London grow while also hitting other quality of life targets?

Yes, definitely. It is just a matter of execution and often also means thinking about quality of life in a different way. Parts of London are going to get denser but that doesn’t meant that can’t have better road safety, more trees, cleaner air, nicer playgrounds alongside a denser built environment – those things can coexist.

Why is it still so difficult to get private sector funded transport schemes such as witnessed at the Northern Line Extension going in the capital?

The funding streams are there and the financing techniques are available. What we don’t have is enough deal makers with in the industry who are senior enough and have the ability to draw these complex deals together and to get the deals done. With NLE there are a lot of complex issues around risk with the developers, local authorities, TfL, and the utilities involved. You need a particular skill set to get the deal done.

Could the private sector fulfil this role?

Yes I think it is a huge gap in the sector generally. We don’t have those people in house. Bringing in private sector thinking is something that we are actively looking at.

What can Crossrail 2 learn from the Northern Line Extension deal?

For Crossrail 2, the starting point has always been that it should be at least 50% funded by sources within London – fare-box plus business rates, CIL, land value capture. My own view is that it actually should be 100% funded through non-grant sources and that we must really persuade ourselves that any residual amount of funding is absolutely needed from grant funding. I think that there is a lot more that we can do to capture the land value uplift - what Crossrail shows us is that we have massively underestimated this land value capture.

Are there radical ways to bring in alternative funding for transport?

I think there are but actually it is about using the tools that we have much more actively of aggressively but we just don’t at the moment. Often because we have the grant funding anyway but that is not the way we should do it.

The mayoral candidates all talk about the need for all electric bus fleets – is that possible?

Single deck electric buses exist and we have now started to roll them out across whole routes. But this is constrained by operational issues such as route length – based on exiting technology so that about 10-20% of single deck routes can now be converted. For double deck buses there isn’t a vehicle on the market right now but there is a prototype now being trialled – and as soon as they are available we will start buying them.

Are we doing enough to convince the public that investment in infrastructure is vital to improving life in the capital?

No, I don’t think that we are. What people like are the outcomes from infrastructure, so we need to describe what we are delivering in the form that people understand and care about. That means talking about more cycle ways, pedestrian crossings or creating a new public plaza with shops and trees. It is about forcing ourselves to create a narrative that a normal member of the public can understand.

What is the legacy of this Mayoral administration?

The roads programme is something that I am very proud of and I hope that we are now on a longer trajectory to much more investment in the network to tackle road safety, cycling issues and to make London a nicer and more liveable place. But there are many other things such as linking transport investment with the housing growth plus all the work that we have done on low emission zones and the ultra-low emission zones coming into force in 2020.

What are you going to do next?

You’ll be the first person to know!

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email antony.oliver@infrastructure-intelligence.com.