Sian Berry: We should be housing as many refugees as we possibly can

LFF speaks to the Green mayoral hopeful about housing, wages and solving London's pollution problem


In July Left Foot Forward hosted an online hustings with the Green Party’s London mayoral candidates. To follow up on this, I interviewed Camden councillor and winning candidate Sian Berry to talk about her plans for London. Here’s what she had to say.

On rent controls

“I’m fighting for an amendment [in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill] to allow for rent controls. It would have the power to bring in caps on rent rises, in or between tenancies like they have in Germany. [I also want to] redefine affordable housing according to local wages, not according to market prices. I’m trying to persuade MPs throughout London to support it.”

On housing redevelopment

“We’ll create a Community Homes Unit in City Hall to restore the balance up when housing developments take place and give the community the same level of expertise as developers and councils to redesign their own areas.

“At the moment what happens is developers and councils with big PR firms produce a load of nice drawings and lots of numbers and local communities are asked to just accept or reject a finished plan. They end up running quite negative campaigns against what is being proposed when actually they have a lot of good ideas themselves and just need help to create alternatives that are credible and viable.”

A tram for Oxford Street?

“The air pollution on Oxford Street is the worst in Europe. The people who work there, in shops or on stalls, are getting ridiculous levels of air pollution. What I want to do is clear the taxis and the buses from Oxford Street and use a tram to bridge that gap in the bus route.

“The shuttle tram is really compatible with pedestrians in terms of safety. And it’s cheap. I think we should buy second hand trams, as one of the things that’s held up tram projects around the country is the idea of getting a bespoke tram. I think we would probably be able to get second hand trams from somewhere like France – we’d only need a couple.

“I think the other thing is it has to be free. Even if you’re just shopping there you should be able to hop on it.”

On devolution

“I think housing policy [could benefit from further devolution]. All aspects of housing policy should be done at a London level, some at a council level. I think the mayor should be the one who sets the regional strategy and has control of all the projects.

“The Right to Buy and the forced sell off of council buildings – those do not work for London. Those are the worst policies for London, and the mayor should be able to say ‘they’re not appropriate for my area’. For London it’s disastrous – certainly in Camden it will do an awful lot of damage. What do they expect us to do? Our citizens will be forced out – it’s social cleansing.”

On refugees

“We’re only talking about tens of thousands – I definitely think London could cope. We are in lots of ways really well set up to deal with refugees – we have a very diverse population at the moment, we have a lot of language services, we have a lot of people who are immigrants who need support, we already look after a lot of people who are traumatised from torture. We have far better services for things like this than a village or rural town would.

“So [London]’s the right place for refugees to come. We should be housing as many of them as we possibly can.”

On where refugees could live

“We have a lot of closed fire and police stations, [as well as] loads of other place that maybe a have a hundred habitable rooms, office spaces,workshops, things like that, and there’s about eight people living there with others just acting as property guardians. London ought to be doing its bit [by housing refugees temporarily in these spaces].

“Did you know they have two parliaments in Europe, one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg? So once a month they go to the office in Strasbourg – it’s the biggest waste of money you’ve ever seen. There’s an entire parliament building in Strasbourg that they’re basically not using.”

On fighting for the Living Wage

“Not enough companies pay it. Lots of councils have signed up to be Living Wage councils but they’ve not pushed for Living Wage contracts very quickly.

“Did you see the Camden dinner ladies story recently? They unionised, fought really hard, bought loads of deputations to the council, and petitions to the government and fought to get the living wage brought into their contracts early. They weren’t going to sit there until 2018 being paid £6.30 an hour.

“The really annoying part of that was the company [also has workers in Islington] who had insisted that the Living Wage went into their contract early. So there were people doing the same job in different boroughs being paid £2.50 an hour difference. It was so unjust.

“It’s a case of political will, shaming people, showing companies that they’re the odd ones out, showing companies that they can pay the Living Wage, because they can do it. If there was a clear justification for paying low wages I’d maybe listen to it – but there’s not.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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19 Responses to “Sian Berry: We should be housing as many refugees as we possibly can”

  1. Jacko

    You’re going to house refugees in closed fire and police stations?

    Then why don’t you house London’s existing homeless in these places?

  2. Zarniwoop

    According to the latest figures there is a 1million house shortfall in the UK so that means 1million extra houses are needed to house the existing population. QED there is no space for refugees

  3. jj

    Firstly that tram…. oxford street isn’t nearly wide enough… chaotic.
    On refugees… yesterday I was in London, and there are dozens of homeless at each and every single station, shop, pavement corner, park, bus stop…. official figures on the homeless problem in London are far lower than the actual truth. Many were asking for a rail ticket, I had one I wasn’t going to use, so gladly gave it to him. What struck me was their accents, many from eastern Europe and places like Spain also. These people on our streets, as well as all the ex service men and women who are literally festering in London and every other city, many with mental problems need the help, otherwise you can look forward to even more homeless. Just come back from Lithuania, the capital city Vilnius has very few homeless in comparison…. and we call ourselves a first world nation!!
    Homeless first please…

  4. jj

    I do wonder if LFF will interview the other London mayoral candidates? Such as those who don’t follow the LFF rhetoric.


    I thought there was a severe housing problem in England. So how will her idea be achived?

  6. Sian Berry

    I think that we should do that too – it does happen in places like disused offices sometimes in winter already, but there’s a lot more we could do. Leaving people homeless on the streets isn’t civilised at all.

  7. jj

    Maybe you have a point!
    Now I think about it, we should be using trams far more, we ripped them all out in the 60s, people in countries like Poland really do benefit from the dirt cheap trams that run regularly and on time. where is this picture taken from btw?

  8. jj

    And it doesn’t help that countless people came from Romania and Bulgaria to seek a better life, all in the false hope that life will be a ‘doddle’ (maybe bad use of words there), and ultimately failed, resulting in even more homeless to support. My local church now uses its space as a night shelter due to the increase. It isn’t just about homing them, heath is a huge issue, the average age for a homeless person’s death is a mere 40

  9. Charlatans

    Exactly! We are already Europe’s most populous country per square km and are currently taking in extra hundreds of thousands every year for most of the last decade!.

    Fantasy ‘do gooders’ need to ask those already trying to get on housing ladders, kids school places, GPs appointments, hospital services, most other Councils and national pressed infrastructure trying to cope already.

    Possibly spending our world beating example .7% of our GDP on the Foreign Aid budget, (and so much more when crisis arise), is by far the best refugee solution.

    Combined with not allowing Labour Party ‘spinners’ with their NEOCON US brothers to set the Middle East on Fire, with the millions of displaced, wounded, dead, that is the origins of the current dreadful catastrophe they caused, would also be a great help.

  10. Copyright101

    Amsterdam – This street is called Damrak, the view is north east and the building furthest away is Centraal Station. Furthermore, looking at Google street level, I would say the photographer was standing just within in Dam Square.

  11. Copyright101

    Net immigration is claimed to be at least 800 people per day. Safe to assume that’s a low end estimate. So that’s 800 extra people who need to be housed every day, 365 days a year, aside from any other population increase.


    Sian you are obviously a middle class type that feels comfortable being a goody goody person.
    Some people on the streets do their own thing as they just do not want to conform to the lifestyle you have. The refugees moreso the younger ones should be standing up and fighting and not expecting our lads to intervene. We will not be thanked but it will be the same old story we are fellow muslims. Have you noticed the thousands of British muslims waiting in line to join the British Army to fight ISIL?
    Any idea how much is being spent by the Gov at present tailing fanatics? And you want to increase the problem.


    I would agree with Sian on trams as they are possible. I would abolish the following gravy trains. The NI, Welsh, Scottish and London Assembly and get out of Europe. No need for them at all. Westminster Government and local councils is sufficient. They are just buarocracy and a waste of taxpayers money a lawyers dream. We could have trams in every city with the savings.

  14. damon

    There are no available council houses in London for people already on waiting lists.
    As someone in charge of housing in Harrow said on BBC London radio today, they are sending people from Harrow to live in Stoke and South Wales.
    So if we are to take in a lot of refugees, they can go to the places where you can buy a house for £5.
    Not to flipping London where no ordinary people on regular wages can afford to buy a house anymore.

  15. Jacko

    No, I want you to help the existing homeless first before we let in tens of thousands more.

  16. John Addis

    one stupid pc cpw

  17. John Addis

    have a guess

  18. Keith M

    Urgent need for rent controls NOW.

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