It’s fair to say that interest in mayors has never been higher. Not only are the battles for this year’s mayoral elections under way, but metro mayors are also set to be elected in May 2017 in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, the North East, Sheffield City Region, the West Midlands, the West of England, Greater Lincolnshire and East Anglia – assuming all the deals currently on the table go ahead, of course. It’s one of the biggest transformations in the way the country is governed that we’ve seen in decades.
But before the new metro mayors come into place in 2017, mayoral elections in London, Liverpool and Bristol will take place on 5 May this year.
As the campaign develops in each city, the biggest issues will become clearer and clearer. During the eight years Boris Johnson has been in office in London, we’ve seen the delivery of major infrastructure projects including Crossrail 1 (the first station is set to open next year) and the Olympic Park, alongside changes to transport including “Boris Bikes”, new cycle super highways, the controversial Emirates cable car and new Routemaster buses.
But despite a lot of new buildings (not all welcome, according to writers such as Simon Jenkins) and some new houses being built, there are nowhere near enough to meet demand. And the prices continue to climb well beyond the reach of many living and working in the capital.
While debates about Boris’s contribution and legacy will doubtless continue, he leaves London still thriving as a global city offering world-class education, culture and places to work and do business. But it is also a city that urgently needs to tackle the challenges of an increasing population: dealing with growing congestion and ensuring availability of affordable, good quality housing to rent and buy must be top of the next London Mayor’s priorities.
In Bristol, the Mayor George Ferguson has been in office for four years, since the mayoral role was first introduced. He is standing again in a fiercely fought contest where his legacy will be debated at length, from the redevelopment of Temple Meads station to the benefits of Bristol’s status as a European Green Capital last year.
Bristol also faces big issues around transport, congestion and the cost of housing, reflecting the challenges that so many economically successful cities face as they grow. Expect debates on everything from parking to schools – and probably a few mentions of George Ferguson’s trademark red trousers.
In Liverpool, Joe Anderson has also been Mayor for four years, since the post was created, and is standing again. Since 2012, Anderson has played an important role in helping to raise the city’s profile, particularly as a destination for global firms to do business – something reflected in the fact that the city has been host to the International Festival of Business since 2014.
Some of the biggest issues in this election are likely to be around how best to grow the local economy further and make the most of the city’s proud heritage and shiny new city centre, alongside helping those facing the challenges of unemployment at a time when public expenditure cuts are hitting hard.
Both Liverpool and Bristol also face the additional complexity that these mayoral elections are for the local authority – but both places have now done devolution deals with their wider city regions. Metro mayoral elections are due to take place just a year later: that raises questions about how these cities make the most of the new arrangements, and how to prepare for them over the year ahead.
Alexandra Jones is chief executive of the Centre for Cities.
This article was originally published in the Centre for Cities’ Mayoral Elections 2016 blog series, in which experts from the worlds of business, housing, local government and academia discuss the big issues ahead of the elections on 5 May.
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