Over 100 students, visitors and staff members took to the Henry Thomas room at London Metropolitan University on Tuesday, to grill local government figures on the problems Londoners face when it comes to housing in the capital.
Made up of five influential individuals, the panel included Green Party candidate for the Mayor of London Sian Berry; Tom Copley, a member of the Labour London Assembly; Andrew Boff, a GLA Conservative member of the London Assembly; Dr Kristian Niemietz, the head of Health & Welfare at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Betsy Dillner, the director of Generation Rent in London.
London Met Student Elijah started the debate by asking, “Is studying in London a privilege rather than a right?” which Berry was quick to respond to stating, “Student housing costs are ludicrous!”
Berry was praised for her comments by Dillner. Boff was quick to disagree, however, saying, “Studying in London ‘isn’t a privilege or a right – it’s a choice!” which got a huge reaction from the audience.
Student housing, first-time buyers and building on the Green Belt were top of the list of concerns put forward by London Met students. With the debate in full swing, there was a perfect mixture of serious statements, heated disagreements with an added flare of comedy.
The panelists showed that, although they disagreed with each other at times, they weren’t afraid to share their laughter. When the panel were asked by student Wendy Abiri, “Is it okay for landlords to charge students to live under the stairs?” Dr Niemietz answered with a humorous, “I don’t have stairs.”
Berry responded with a more serious answer however, commenting that something has to be done about the standard of student living. “We shouldn’t have people living under the stairs, in damp, and in horrible conditions,” she says. “UCL students have been protesting about this!”
Student Laura Mendes then asked the panel, “How or when can we get affordable housing in London if we leave it to the free market?” Dr Niemietz’s answer elicited more laughter. “These problems are uniquely British problems. I would abolish London’s Green Belt,” he says. “When someone mentions Green Belt they think of the landscape in the Lord of The Rings. It is simply a blanket ban on land in London.”
Boff then joked, “I will absolutely agree with building on the Green Belt if we start on Hyde Park.”
Berry said the Green Belt is important to London to stop it becoming a “city of sprawl.” “It’s also to provide access to the countryside for people and this is countryside that might be a golf course. It might be a walk, it might be a playing field.”
Student Kartel Brown asked the question, “Will the Housing and Planning Bill prove to be the new poll tax for this Tory government?”
The Bill is “the worst legislation in history”, said Copley. “This legislation was dreamt up in a panic when the Tory party thought they were going to lose.”
The debate came to a close at 18:10 and the panel stayed behind to enjoy the crisps, nuts and cheap wine that the university had provided. They chatted with students, answered more questions and took pictures for The Holloway Express.
If you’re interested in knowing more about what went on during the debate, visit www.hollowayexpress.co.uk to read the live blog and much more.
By Molly Arnold & Josephine Tamburello