This is not a contest for the faint-hearted and the biggest challenge lies waiting for whoever wins the battle. Both Boris and Ken have made pledges towards crime, transport and reducing the high cost of living. London’s waste problem, however, seems to remain the elephant in the room, unaddressed as if it’s not even an issue. Sadly it is.
London is widely touted as a world-class city. Yes, it is hosting one of the world’s most prominent events but it cannot ride on the coattails of the Olympics forever. As an architect I recognise that a world-class city needs to be environmentally friendly, clean, accessible and boast some of the best design in the world. Design we are good at and we’re becoming increasingly environmentally friendly. But unfortunately, London’s accessibility and cleanliness leaves a lot to be desired.
You only have to take a walk around some of London’s public spaces to see the sprawling mass of bin bags and litter carelessly left in the streets – particularly around Westminster. I have travelled extensively in Europe and Scandinavia looking at best practice in creating great places. Other cities are in control of this issue so why aren’t we? Can we even be a truly world-class city if the basics aren’t being dealt with?
As the former chairman of PRP Architects, an international architectural practice that specified the first underground waste vacuum system in one of our schemes at Wembley City, I know that there is an easy solution to overflowing bins and the constant blot of bin bags.
Envac, which uses fans and an underground network of pipes to transport waste at 70kph over distances as long as 2km would sound implausible to most Londoners.
In fact, Barcelona had it installed in their Olympic Village over 20 years ago and large parts of Barcelona’s historic centre have since been equipped with the system. 20 years later we are still relying on bin men and heavily polluting waste collection vehicles, which limit the accessibility of our city and spend all day doing what the pipes takes five minutes to do – and at a much higher cost than automated collection.
Self-emptying litterbins, which put an end to overflowing bins and the associated smells when sensor levels detect if a bin is full and automatically begin the waste collection process, are now a reality in Stockholm – and yet we don’t hear Stockholm boasting about its world-class status.
As is common in many walks of life, it’s often those who shout the loudest that have the least to offer. London, which shouts louder than any other city about its world-class position, now needs to ensure that it can back up its claims or fear being stripped of its self-appointed status.
Whoever wins the next election must pay attention to the cleanliness of our streets and ensure that London continues to attract the level of investment, tourism and admiration that it has accrued over the years. Whoever wins must make waste a priority.
After all, this is the best city in the world.
Barry Munday is chair of the Housing Forum, a membership body representing organisations involved in the construction and repair of housing