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Capital ambition

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Given the tightness of Norris' itinerary and his lengthy lunch, the AJ's slot was cut back from 20 minutes to 10. So we start off with the most important issue for the capital's architectural community. What does he make of Livingstone's London Strategic Plan? 'The plan has very little of surprise in it and there is certainly a lot of common sense running throughout, ' he says diplomatically.

'But I do think it is based on one fundamental flaw: the demographic predictions.

'Ken says he is absolutely convinced that London's population is set to rise by 600,000 in the next 10 years, but I disagree. There will be increases in the UK, but this does not mean we cannot mitigate against them.

There are many successful cities in the rest of the UK that need more labour and could handle an increased population.'

Throughout the interview - which takes place overlooking the sea, rather than in a meeting room, 'because I could really do with getting some air' - Norris shuffles around. At first sitting, then standing, then stretching with legs asunder, the politician gives the impression that he has either a massive energy surplus or is very bored. Or perhaps both.

Yet this doesn't stop his answers being a first-class example of the politician's art - serious, thought-out and smooth, without really saying anything much.

'Another important issue is affordable housing, and the way Ken is dealing with local authorities, ' he says, referring to the mayor's ongoing debates with London's boroughs over their levels of social housing negotiated in Section 106 agreements. 'Ken is demanding the boroughs get 40 per cent from all developers. I'm not saying that is not achievable, but it makes more sense to negotiate and come to sensible arrangements.

'Like all old socialists, Ken has this attitude that developers are there to be taken from.

They are not. They are an intrinsic part of the economic future of the city and should be respected as people who add to this success.'

And then, without seeming to take a breath, on to the meaty issue of tall buildings.

Traditionally the one-nation Tories, which to some extent Norris represents, are seen as bedfellows of the capital's powerful conservation lobby. But Norris seems to be treading a fine line between this heritage attitude and Livingstone's increasingly populist pro-skyscrapers policy, manifested in the widespread acclaim that greeted the 'Erotic Gherkin'.

'I have nothing against tall buildings at all, providing they are in the right place and are of a high architectural standard, ' he says. 'I wrote to the inquiry to express my support vociferously for the Shard of Glass, as I think it's terrific. That is an example of the right building in the right place.' One gets the feeling he is keen to back them more passionately but doesn't feel diplomacy would allow it.

One topic of conversation that does rile the so-far unflappable candidate is his ongoing association with Jarvis, the construction firm heavily involved in the future of London's Underground. Critics have written off Norris, arguing that while he retains the firm's chairmanship his campaign will be constantly hit by accusations of a conflict of interest. 'That is complete nonsense, ' he says angrily.

'Of course I would give up the position if I won the election, ' he stresses, as his eyes finally light up. 'But what do people want?

Do they want someone who works for a living, unlike the other two candidates?

Someone who knows what it's like in the real world? Or do they want someone who has only ever been inside politics? I think it's really important that I give them that choice.

I know people will understand the options.'

Somehow, it doesn't seem unlikely.Mayor Norris? I, for one, wouldn't bet against it.

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