Only three of the five main candidates vying to become the next mayor of London showed up to the debate on housing and infrastructure on Monday night.
Election frontrunners Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith were absent and both sent representatives to present pitches on their behalf. The other candidates in the race to replace Boris Johnson — Councillor Sian Berry (Green), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat), and Peter Whittle (UK Independence Party) — all attended.
Labour candidate Khan and Tory Goldsmith cited “unbreakable campaign commitments,” according to a Construction News report.
Event organisers Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) said an audience of over 400 infrastructure experts was eager to hear from Goldsmith and Khan, who had both agreed to take part months in advance.
London’s housing crisis features prominently in both candidate’s campaigns. In Khan’s manifesto, the housing crisis is described as the “single biggest barrier to prosperity, growth and fairness facing Londoners today,” and “fixing London’s housing crisis” is listed as a key mission in Goldsmith’s action plan.
“Despite the fact that housing, transport and jobs are the most important issues to Londoners, both Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan have expressed a dismissive and cavalier attitude to these issues this week,” a spokesperson for ACE said in a statement emailed to Business Insider.
The statement continued:
London is growing fast with nine new residents every hour. How the city houses, transports and employs these people will be the key challenge for the next mayor. The Infrastructure debate was to provide a forum of all the candidates to outline to the industry and public how they would meet this challenge but both Zac and Sadiq have bottled it.
According to the statement, a source at The Greater London Authority told the ACE:
The infrastructure challenge facing London is huge and it is highly concerning that the two men in line to be the next mayor have refused to sit down with the very industry that will help them meet this challenge. London needs to build 49,000 homes a year, build 600 new schools, and rapidly expand the transport network if we hope to keep London working,” the source added.
UKIP candidate Whittle accused Khan and Goldsmith during Monday’s debate of failing to attend two other events on housing and infrastructure, according to Construction News.
Khan and Goldsmith attended the first televised mayoral debate on Tuesday night which was hosted by Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) and ITV.
During the event recorded at Islington’s Union Chapel in North London, Goldsmith said he was in the “best position” to work with the government to secure investment to build homes in the capital. Khan promised to make housing more affordable by stemming the flow of new builds being sold for high prices to investors overseas.
A ComRes poll published this week said Khan was leading by 10 percentage points over Goldsmith, with only four weeks to go until Londoners elect the next mayor of London.
Representatives for Goldsmith and Khan were not immediately available for comment.