With the new Cabinet in place, a Budget ‘round the corner and a Mayoral election a few months away, it looks like everyone’s in the lobbying game at the moment.
Key London organisations are on the case when it comes to immigration policy, the Mayor has a position on Londoners’ EU citizenship and campaigns by London and England-wide local government associations are seeking to influence the Government’s financial, devolution and planning agendas.
Politics aside, there have been some big plays in London’s property market from Zone 1 to Zone 6, while a long-running planning battle comes to an end in Southwark and the vision of a transport 'super-hub' in West London becomes a bit clearer.
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HOW MANY POINTS DO YOU HAVE?
As talks with the EU shift to the nitty-gritty of Brexit-in-practice, immigration has returned to the fore. This is especially crucial for London, which is home to more than 1m EU nationals – almost one out of every nine Londoners, who are an integral part of life in the capital and a core part of the workforce. Last week, the Government released details of the new ‘points-based’ immigration system, which takes effect from 1 January 2021. Responding to the proposals, most London organisations have been reserved at best:
- Business associations London First and London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) have welcomed the lowering of the salary threshold for skilled workers from £30,000 in previous proposals to £25,000, while arguing that most companies will need more time to fill a possible shortfall of workers.
- The Centre for London think tank has also warned that key industries such as construction, hospitality and food, in which almost one of three workers currently come from the EU, will face especially ‘big challenges’.
- Speaking for all of England’s hospital trusts, NHS Providers has also highlighted that the new system will adversely affect the social care sector (even if it ‘fast-tracks’ visas for doctors and other skilled medical practitioners).
MAYOR TO THE RESCEU?
Meanwhile, the Mayor has vocally backed proposals previously floated by prominent Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt. These rather nebulous plans would award Britons ‘Associate Citizenship’ allowing them to retain some of the benefits of EU citizenship. However, aside from assuaging ‘heartbroken’ Brits, the plans do not contain any obvious reciprocal benefits for EU citizens. Furthermore, the Mayor does not, alas, have any actual power to implement his proposals. As for those who do – the Government and EU member-states – none have indicated any appetite for such a plan, as yet.
BISCUIT FACTORY GO
Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills Jules Pipe has granted approval for the Biscuit Factory development. The scheme was called in by City Hall after its refusal by Southwark Council in February 2019, over concerns about too-little affordable housing on the site (27.4% in the original plans). The application has now been given the green light by Pipe after amendments, including an increase in the amount of affordable housing to 35% (a total of 482 affordable homes, including 140 for social rent), an increase in the overall number of homes from 1,342 to 1,548 and an increase in the height of buildings (the tallest now being 35 storeys, from 28). As previously planned, it will also provide office space and an all-new new secondary school, but less retail and leisure space. Developers Grosvenor Britain & Ireland have warmly welcomed the decision, though the company had previously told the Estates Gazette that the revised plans mean that the scheme’s profits will be almost halved. For its part, Southwark Council has expressed ‘disappointment’, arguing that even after amendments, the scheme still fails to meet the council’s requirements for social and ‘genuinely affordable’ housing.
HS2’S OLD OAK PLANS UNVEILED
With the Government’s backing in the bag at long-last, HS2 has revealed designs for its planned passenger ‘super-hub’ at Old Oak Common, in Hammersmith & Fulham. The plans were submitted to the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) for planning approval on 19 February, with hopes of securing a decision this summer. The ‘super-hub’ is crucial to the OPDC’s plans for the regeneration Old Oak and Park Royal. While these plans are currently in flux, the enhancement of transport links enabling movement into and out of what remains a sprawling industrial site are key precondition for transforming it into a new neighbourhood. The planned station would bring together HS2, Crossrail, and Great Western Railway Services, and with eight platforms, to serve an estimated 250,000 passengers a day.
- Islington’s Executive Member for Finance, Performance and Community Safety, Councillor Andy Hull, is set to step down from the role after securing a job as CEO of a human rights charity. He will relinquish his cabinet role on 28 February, but will stay on as Labour Councillor for Highbury West ward.
- James Heath has been appointed as the new CEO of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). He will be joining the Commission from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), where he is currently Director of Digital Infrastructure.
- Fairfield Halls’ Artistic Director Neil Chandler has resigned after less than six months in the role.
LONDON COUNCILS TO THE FORE
London Councils – the group representing the capital’s local authorities – has just published a set of ‘proposals to the next Mayor of London’. Leading London towards 2030 covers everything from infrastructure to policing, economic growth, health and devolution. Crucially, it calls on the new Mayor, whosoever s/he might be, to be mindful of six ‘principles for partnership’ that are key to effective collaboration between City Hall and all 33 Town Halls. Property types on the other hand may be more interested in London Councils' third annual Guide to Development in the City of Opportunity, which outlines the boroughs’ visions for the development of their area, as well as providing handy contacts for those looking to learn more about opportunities in these locations.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
- Conservative Candidate Shaun Bailey and Sadiq Khan clashed over transport policy, with Bailey calling for the scrapping of the free passes for those who live with TfL workers, arguing that it would release £44m to spend on tackling crime.
- Bailey also clashed with Independent candidate Rory Stewart, who this week pledged to establish a potentially compulsory ‘London Youth Corps’ – which was condemned by Bailey, who warned that ‘any compulsory element will remind some of school and of being punished’.
- Khan was the subject of a lengthy interview for the Standard this week, which focused predominantly on national politics and defending his record as Mayor to date. But Khan also used the opportunity to repeat his now-familiar refrain that the election is a two-horse race between him and Bailey.
- All the available polling does indeed suggest that the Labour and Tory candidates are well-ahead of their opponents, but as Green Party candidate Sian Berry’s revamped website seeks to prove, tactical choices can produce some pretty interesting results in a Supplementary Vote system…
- Meanwhile, both Bailey and Khan have caused a stir in Japan. Last week, Bailey tweeted ‘the world might need us to step in’ if the spread of the coronavirus renders Japan incapable of hosting the Olympics as planned. City AM subsequently cited similar comments from a spokesman for Khan. Both the Governor of Tokyo and the president of the Tokyo Organising Committee have since complained of ‘irresponsible rumours’ being spread, and stressed that they were not considering cancelling or postponing the games.
QUID PRO... NO?
In his Standard interview, Khan also spoke about Labour’s leadership elections. While he did not specify which candidate had his support, he said it would ‘take a lot’ to vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey, and accused Lisa Nandy of ‘lazy analysis’ for describing the Blair years as a continuation of Thatcherism. Only today, and perhaps not surprisingly, Khan finally broke cover to declare that he will be voting for Sir Keir Starmer as ‘the best person to unite our party, take the fight to the Tories and put Labour in government’. This is despite the fact that Starmer was the only candidate of the three to refuse to sign Khan’s six ‘London pledges’…
Labour’s London Assembly constituency and Londonwide candidates have now been revealed. The headlines are that ‘Corbynsceptic’ candidates were favoured in constituency seats, in what centrist party faction Labour First called a ‘near wipe-out of Momentum candidates’. However, the same can’t be said for the party’s Londonwide list, where pro-Corbyn candidates, including some endorsed by Momentum, fared much better. As On London explains, the complex modified D'Hondt electoral system in place for the election of AMs means the more of the geographic seats a party gains, the fewer of the Londonwide (or ‘top up’) seats it wins. 'Moderate' members of the party in London will therefore be focusing their campaigning efforts on constituency seats, while Corbynites will hope to win as many Londonwide seats as possible. Although the London Assembly’s powers are fairly limited, a Labour Group stacked with Momentum-backed candidates could make life difficult for Khan in his second term – assuming, of course, that he is re-elected on 7 May.
It has been confirmed that the spending limit for Mayoral candidates has not changed since 2016, and will remain at £420,000. The limit specifically applies to the six weeks leading up to polling day, and from 24 March candidates will have to report all expenses on advertising, leaflets, transport costs, public meetings, staff, accommodation and administrative costs. This is considerably more than the spending limit for the West Midlands Mayoral election, which was £130,000 in 2017. However, it is only a fraction of the spending limit for candidates in the general election cycle of the New York Mayoral Election, lasting around two months, which is $7,286,000 for 2021 (around £5.5m).
AND ANOTHER ONE!
The BBC has picked up news of yet another 2020 Mayoral candidate! Winston McKenzie is a former boxer, Big Brother contestant, UKIP parliamentary and leadership candidate, aspiring English Democrat Mayoral Candidate (in 2016) and now Leader and Founder of the Unity In Action Political Party. His Crowdfunder page says his primary ‘ambition and dedication will be to help abate Gun & Knife Crime’ and he proposes that ‘peace-keeping surveillance teams from the Army could be deployed to keep our streets safe in various Boroughs.’
LAND BANKING RETURNS?
Less than two years ago, the Government-appointed Letwin Review into ‘build out’ issued its final report, which partly exonerated housebuilders from accusations of ‘land-banking’. But now research and a big media push by the Local Government Association (LGA) has again put unimplemented planning permissions in the spotlight. The LGA cites analysis suggesting that only 60% of homes granted planning permission by councils in England since 2009/10 have been completed, leaving a backlog of 1m homes unbuilt. Rather than take aim at developers, the LGA argues that the planning system itself is clearly generating adequate permissions and asserts that Government should ‘give councils powers to take action’. It specifically recommends giving councils boosted compulsory purchase powers, the ability to charge developers ‘full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires’, and rights to all receipts from homes sold under Right to Buy.
Why now, you may ask? The LGA’s planning push closely follows the appointment of former Policy Exchange housing boffin Jack Airey as the PM’s housing Special Advisor. Earlier rumours suggested that No 10 was enamoured with his proposals for a zoning-led approach to planning. It appears that Airey’s appointment has now raised fears, in some quarters, that a promised Planning White Paper may herald an effort to strip councils of their planning powers.
Planning gripes aside, business appears to be booming for London’s property industry. Last week alone:
INSIDE HOUSING REVAMP
Trade weekly Inside Housing has given its print edition a makeover, with refreshed layout, fonts, and paper stock. Editorially speaking, the revamp translates into a greater focus on sustainability and its implications for both housebuilders and planning authorities. But as underlined by editor Martin Hilditch, the drive to give the magazine a ‘fresh and more lively feel for the 2020s’ will not compromise the quality and depth of its news, research, and analysis, nor, for that matter, its ‘strong campaigning voice’.
LEE VALLEY ICE
Long-standing LCA client Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVPRA) has submitted plans to Waltham Forest Council for the redevelopment of its 34 year old Ice Centre. The plans, designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects, ‘have sustainability at the heart’ and will see two Olympic-sized ice rinks as well as a new gym, exercise studio, café and community spaces delivered on the site. Research commissioned by LVPRA found that the new centre will deliver an estimated annual health benefit of at least £16.2m as well as provide activities for young people which will ‘lessen social exclusion’ and ‘help reduce crime and anti-social behaviour across the local boroughs’. Once granted approval, work on the £30m, 80,000 sq ft development is expected to start in 2021, with construction being carried out over phases to allow ice skating to continue during almost all of the works.
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