We may all be increasingly distracted by the political manoeuvres, mishaps and misanthropy we are subjected to on a daily basis as the General Election approaches – the manifestos are being launched, one-by-one, this week - but the world beyond Westminster continues to turn.
Not least in West London, where a large swathe of land has just changed hands, hopefully unlocking regeneration that has been at stalemate for years, and in Lewisham, where a positive estate ballot has enabled the delivery of hundreds of new homes.
We also like to cleanse our political palates by taking a deep dive into TfL board papers and national housing stats (so you don’t have to) and the trends captured within are more interesting that you might expect.
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Developer Capco has announced the sale of most of its interests in Earls Court to developer Delancey and Dutch pension fund APG for £425m. The agreement, which excludes Lillie Square, brings a long, tumultuous chapter of the Earls Court saga to a close. Since 2014, Capco has been at loggerheads with Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s Labour leadership (and more recently with the Mayor of London) and has struggled to find a way to realise its vision for a 7,500-home neighbourhood based around the site of the former exhibition centre. Much of the challenge has been focused on the fate of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, some of whose residents were behind a campaign against Capco’s redevelopment plans. As news of the Capco-Delancey deal emerged, it was also confirmed that the Council has reached an agreement with the new owners to buy back these estates in exchange for £105m once the larger deal is completed. This sum corresponds to the money the Council (under its previous Tory administration) was originally paid for the site by Capco.
BELL RINGS ON FOUNDRY PLANS
Tower Hamlets Council’s Development Committee granted planning permission for the redevelopment of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on 14 November, where Big Ben was made in 1856. The site will now become a 103-room hotel. The proposals include the refurbishment of part of the Grade II listed building to provide a café and workshops accessible to the public, as well as the demolition of an unlisted 1980s building on the site to provide the new boutique hotel. While Historic England welcomes the ‘high degree of heritage benefits’ proposed for the site, the UK Historic Buildings Preservation Trust (UKHBPT), which has developed alternative plans for the site, says it may launch a judicial review to challenge the decision. The proposals, which were only given the go ahead after the Chair was obliged to cast the deciding vote, had been recommended for approval by officers despite having received over 700 objections and two petitions against them.
PURLEY TOWER HEARING TO GO AHEAD
The second Public Hearing for the proposed Purley Tower in Croydon is set for 3 December. Plans for the development of a 17-storey tower and 220 homes were given planning permission in 2016 by Croydon Council but were called in by the Government in April 2017 and rejected in 2018 by then-Secretary of State James Brokenshire on design grounds, echoing the concerns of campaigners against the plans, who argue that the height of the tower would not be in keeping with the surrounding area. The developer, Thornsett Group, subsequently challenged the Government’s decision in the High Court. The timing is interesting as Chris Philp, who hopes to be re-elected as Croydon South’s Conservative MP, is firmly against the proposals, and at odds with Croydon’s Labour-led Council.
Lewisham Council and Lewisham Homes now have the official support of residents to deliver around 450 new homes on its Achilles Street Estate. In the latest residents’ ballot to take place in the capital, 73% of those balloted voted in favour of the proposals, on a 92% turnout. The proposals are part of the Council’s plan to build 1,000 new council homes by 2022 and will see 87 homes and 15 nearby businesses demolished. According to the Council, no more than half of the homes will be private, with the ‘aim’ of the other 50% being Council-owned homes available for social rent. There has however been some controversy surrounding the ballot: opposition campaigners are concerned about the final number of social homes to be provided. They have also claimed that while a full 59 of 88 residents eligible voted in favour of the plans, a number of people living on the estate were ‘excluded.’ That said, the process seems to have followed the GLA’s rules defining who is eligible to vote, to the letter.
As expected, the parties have this week begun publishing their manifestos, beginning with the Greens yesterday. They offer a ‘Green New Deal’ across sectors, demographics and geographies; on housing, for example, they match Labour’s promise to deliver 100,000 new homes for social rent a year, but append a commitment to ensuring new homes meet Passivhaus or equivalent energy standards. The Greens also place greater emphasis on retrofitting existing properties (whether vacant or underused) to reduce dependence on new construction and in turn ‘reduce the use of steel, concrete, cladding and finishes, which produce massive amounts of carbon in their manufacture.’ The BBC provides a handy summary and analysis here.
LIB DEM MANIFESTO
Liberal Democrats (technically, for this election, the ‘Liberal Democrats - to Stop Brexit’) launched their manifesto earlier this afternoon. Having already trailed key policy pledges through Jo Swinson’s speech at Monday’s CBI conference, the party naturally leads with... you guessed it: Stopping Brexit. The other four flagship pledges highlighted on the manifesto webpage relate to tackling climate change, boosting spending on both children’s and adults’ education, as well as ‘transforming’ mental health services. A bit of digging is needed to find their policies on housing and planning, which include a familiar-sounding commitment to ‘build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year and ensure that total housebuilding increases to 300,000 each year.’ The Standard takes an (early) deep dive into some of the key points from the party's manifesto.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST?
Labour will issue its full manifesto on Thursday – and have promised to publish it along with a ‘Grey Book’ on its policy costings in the hope that they can dispel fears of an unsustainable increase in spending. The Conservatives are expected to release their manifesto over the weekend but both parties have already divulged key components of their platforms on the campaign trail. Many of these featured in the party leaders’ speeches at the CBI conference on Monday, where Jeremy Corbyn promised a brace of public spending allocations and Boris Johnson similarly reeled off new spending plans (also making a U-turn on lowering corporation tax to help pay for them). Over the past week Labour has issued pledges on everything from enabling access to education to a ‘£26bn real terms Rescue Plan’ for the NHS and free broadband for all by 2030. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have focused on crime and its victims, ‘taking back control’ of Britain’s borders, addressing regional economic disparities, and of course Getting Brexit Done.
Corbyn and Johnson duked it out in their first televised debate last night, broadcast by ITV and moderated by journalist Julie Etchingham. The discussion contained fairly little in terms of policy, but more than 6m people reportedly tuned in to watch it live. A YouGov poll of 1,646 viewers conducted immediately afterwards indicates that neither of the candidates stood out significantly (51% thought the PM ‘performed best’ compared to 49% for Corbyn). The smaller parties were relegated to a series of one-to-one interviews with Nina Hossain, held later in the evening. A legal attempt by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party to be part of the main event was thrown out by the courts, but they should have more opportunities to make their case in the days ahead:
- Sky News has proposed a leaders’ debate on Thursday 28 November.
- ITV has said it will also be broadcasting a seven-way election debate on Sunday 1 December
- The BBC has plans for no less than 10 special election programmes over three weeks, including a seven-way debate between ‘senior figures’ from the major political parties.
THE OBSERVER POLLING
We were interested to see the Observer publish results from the first three in a series of constituency surveys by Deltapoll. Aside from our particular interest in these seats, it is important to underline that localised polling is becoming increasingly critical: the fragmentation of the political landscape means that the days of using national polls to predict outcomes in individual seats are long gone. We hope – and fully expect – to see more polling of this kind to emerge in coming weeks. Deltapoll questioned 500 voters in each of the following London constituencies between 7 and 13 November:
- Finchley & Golders Green, held by the Tories’ Mike Freer since 2010, with a majority of 1,667 in 2017; the poll result: CON 46% (-1% from 2017), LD 32% (+25%), LAB 19% (-25%)
- Kensington, which was taken from the Conservatives by Labour’s Emma Dent Coad in 2017, with a wafer thin majority of 20; the poll result: CON 36% (-6%), LD 33% (+21%), LAB 27% (-16%)
- Wimbledon, held by Conservatives’ Stephen Hammond since 2005, with a majority of 5,622 as of 2017; the poll result: CON 38% (-8%), LD 36% (+21%), LAB 23% (-13%)
In a nutshell, these polls indicate a massive swing in favour of the Liberal Democrats, who in 2017 came a distant third in all three seats. But even if these surveys prove accurate, the Liberal Democrats would still place second, with Conservatives winning all three seats. The polls also offer interesting insight on voters’ approach to tactical voting – see more on this in the full Observer article.
There was slightly more positive news for Labour on 13 November, as they won a by-election in the City of London’s Aldersgate ward. Helen Fentimen was elected as a Common Councilman (as they are still known in the City) for the ward with 47% of the vote, holding the seat for Labour. This will of course be welcome news for Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the Cities of London & Westminster, Gordon Nardell, as he faces prominent London figures Nickie Aiken (the current leader of Westminster City Council), standing for the Conservatives, and Lib Dem candidate Chuka Umunna on 12 December. Umunna has this week been endorsed by Conservative peer and former editor of the Sunday Telegraph Baroness Wheatcroft, who said she welcomes the ‘pro-enterprise, pro-European’ values of the Lib Dems. All three candidates, as well as the Greens' Zack Polanski, were present at the London Chamber of Commerce’s (LCCI) Two Cities hustings event – OnLondon’s Dave Hill was in attendance.
- Beth West, currently Head of Development Management at Landsec, will join Balfour Beatty UK Construction Services as Managing Director for the South in the New Year. Beth joined Landsec two years ago from HS2 where she was Commercial Director.
- NHS Property Services has appointed Alison Davies as its new Head of Corporate Responsibility.
- Nick Swift, the Chief Financial Officer of Barking, Havering and Redbridge's hospital trust, has stepped down after slightly more than a year in post.
- Construction and infrastructure services company Kier Group has reported that Chief Operating Officer Claudio Veritiero is to step down with immediate effect, less than a year after he was promoted to the role. His responsibilities will be taken up by the CEO and CFO.
- Support services and construction company Interserve Group Chief Executive Debbie White will step down at the end of the year. Current Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer Mark Morris will take on White’s responsibilities.
- Property consultancy Allsop has appointed Jamie Hopkins, former CEO of Workspace, to its board as a Non-Executive Director.
New statistics published by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) indicate that England’s housing stock grew by 241,130 net additional dwellings in 2018/19 - the highest annual increase since at least 1991/92. Newly built homes accounted for 89% of that figure, with changes of use and conversions making up the rest. Detailed tables showing the evolution of housing supply in each local authority area (see Table 122) suggest that in London, housing stock grew by 35,959 homes in 2018/19, up from 31,723 the year before, but still below the capital’s current 42,000 target (NB: The figures for the last two years of Boris Johnson’s Mayoralty are 30,390, for 2015/16 and 26,843, for 2014/15). It should be noted that these numbers diverge somewhat from those reported in the London Plan’s Annual Monitoring report, for reasons we literally don’t have the space to explain here! It should also be underlined that, while the figures have been welcomed with unbridled enthusiasm in some quarters, it is a complicated issue. For example, most of the new-build homes included in these figures were permitted and started years ago and of course they tell us little about what proportion is affordable to people on middle and low incomes.
However, statistics on affordable housing supply released only today does suggest positive news for England, with 2018/19 seeing 57,485 new affordable homes delivered (+11% on an annual basis) and 61,056 new starts on site (+10%).
Following confirmation that Crossrail is to be further delayed (though still, hopefully, running sometime in 2021) and cost more (to the tune of £400-600m more than the last estimate), Transport for London’s Board convened this morning for its regular public meeting. According to the meeting’s reports pack, better-than-expected passenger demand on the Tube has bolstered TfL’s finances, but the latest Quarterly Performance Report does not appear to factor in the impact of Crossrail’s further delays and cost hikes, which will presumably lower fare income projections and potentially erode TfL’s credit rating. There is also much that is simply not covered in the reports, from the wonky ferries at Woolwich which have forced Sadiq to make a rare apology, to the impact of the fares freeze’s extension until 2020, confirmed only this week. The decision commits the next Mayor – whether that be Sadiq or one of his opponents – to a policy whose financial impact to date remains a hotly debated subject.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING
With all the fuss surrounding the General Election, LDN readers will be forgiven for perhaps missing the publication of new figures on English local authorities' Revenue Expenditure and Financing for 2018/19. Total service expenditure was £91.4bn last year, up from £89.8bn the year before (+1.8%). Education and social care take up roughly one third of spending each, with everything from roads to public health, housing, planning and culture making up the rest. Planning and development services specifically saw their funding increase from £ 1.18bn to £1.22bn (+3.9), but social care and housing services saw bigger hikes (ranging between +4.9% and +8.9%). And lest anyone thinks austerity is over for local government, some areas have seen a net reduction in expenditure, including highways and transport (--3.5%) and public health (-2.6%). For a sense of the scale of cuts seen across England, total net current expenditure by local authorities in England for 2009/10 was estimated at £121.3bn (in 2011 terms). Full details on councils’ expenditure in the last year, per local authority area, can be found here.
The King’s Cross Christmas trees never fail to capture the imagination, and this year is no different. Which is why we were delighted to manage the launch of ‘King’s Xmas, 2019’, the King’s Cross Christmas tree designed by artist David Batchelor. The striking 13.5-metre-high tree on Granary Square, which uses scaffolding and LED lights, comes to life at night-time, so make sure to head to King’s Cross and take a look. And while you’re there, don’t miss the magical makeover of Coal Drops Yard, plus all the other exciting festive activities taking place across the estate (including lots of Christmas markets), which you can read about here.
LCA PRESENTATIONS LATEST
LCA Directors Jenna Goldberg and Gabriel Abulafia presented to delegates at Inside Housing’s Communications Conference earlier this week on the thorny issue of estate regeneration in an increasingly political environment. A skate through the challenging and ever-changing political context concluded with a look at how best to build trust with communities and estate residents.
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