BUDGET BLUES FOR LONDON?
While the response to COVID-19 was of course the focus of today’s Budget, we were also looking out for signs of how serious the Government is about its ‘levelling up’ agenda and our early take is that the new Chancellor’s approach does indeed entail at least some ‘levelling down’ for London.
This puts the Mayor in a very difficult position, especially as we head towards the election, but Sadiq Khan will certainly be cheered by the results of the latest YouGov voting intention poll which strongly suggests he remains by far the favourite to win come 7 May.
We won’t compete with the coverage of the main headlines from today – the Budget’s allocations for the wider economy, tackling COVID-19, and core services like the NHS – instead we have focused on what it all means for London, and for the broader housing and planning sectors.
Along with an expected statement on the planning system in the near future, much has been deferred to the Comprehensive Spending Review, which has now officially been launched and will conclude in July. This will set out “detailed spending plans for public services and investment,” covering resource budgets for three years from 2021-22 to 2023-24 and capital budgets up to 2024-25.
But pestilence, public finances and polling aside, this week’s LDN brings you much other news from Westminster and Whitehall, TfL, City Hall and several London Boroughs, touching on housing, transport, smart cities and more.
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As of this morning, a total of 373 cases of the COVID-19 virus had been reported across the UK – up 54 from yesterday – of which 91 were in London, the highest number of cases in a single region. Sadly, six deaths have been reported across the UK so far. Organisations across all sectors are preparing for an expected worsening of the outbreak over the coming weeks and while for now we are in BAU mode, the virus has affected everything from the content of today’s Budget to the 2020 Mayoral election campaign.
In London specifically, the Mayor remains in regular contact with Public Health England and other authorities (under the watchful gaze of the London Assembly) and has not ruled out the implementation of extraordinary measures. TfL has meanwhile announced the rollout of an ‘enhanced cleaning regime’ across the Tube and bus network. Several major events have gone ahead as planned and last week’s Women’s Day March was attended by the Mayor among other politicians and celebrities. The Mayor has also said that Euro 2020 and London Marathon are still on. However other fixtures have been cancelled or postponed, including the London Book Fair. Meanwhile, some businesses in the capital have taken more drastic measures: Facebook temporarily shut three of its London offices for a ‘deep clean’, while Deutsche Bank is one of several financial institutions in London to have split its teams to work across multiple locations.
Health secretary Matt Hancock is meanwhile expected to make a statement to the House of Commons on the novel coronavirus this evening.
HOUSING DESIGN SPG
Back to more familiar territory for LDN, as City Hall has released an early draft of its Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) document on housing design. This is one of several new SPGs to be released in the coming months. They are intended to help planning authorities, architects and developers alike comply with the new draft London Plan, which in turn looks increasingly likely to be formally adopted only after the May local and regional elections. The ‘Good Quality Homes for all Londoners’ SPG has, unusually, been released by the GLA in the form of a ‘pre-consultation draft’ which is ‘for information only’ and its publication has gone almost unnoticed by the trade press. With sections covering areas such as design-led approaches to optimising site capacity and housing design quality and standards, it is a must-read for architects and planning professionals working in London.
Aside from scrubbing down buses and trains, TfL has had a very busy week on several other fronts:
- It has revealed its plans for a ferry connecting the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf – following the scrapping of the proposals for a bridge last year. The plans will go to consultation later this year, with the aim of starting construction in 2021. TfL has said that the ferries will be ‘as environmentally friendly as practicable’ and will encourage walking and cycling.
- Figures have shown that Tube delays caused by faulty trains have increased by a third over the past three years. The London Assembly Conservatives called the finding ‘unacceptable’ and criticised the Mayor for what they call a ‘black hole’ in the TfL Budget.
- In the first project of its type, warm air from the Underground is being used to heat homes. More than 1,000 homes in Islington are now being heated by air from the Northern line via an energy centre located in what is left of the City Road tube station, which closed in 1922. The system can also be reversed to channel cool air into Tube tunnels. TfL has said that is has identified a further 56 sites where the system could be implemented.
- Last week’s London Assembly Plenary session saw AMs put questions to the Mayor and TfL Commissioner Mike Brown (his last Plenary session before stepping down in May). Tomorrow (12 March), the Assembly Transport Committee
IN ANTICIPATION OF THE BUDGET
There was plenty of discussion about ‘levelling up’ ahead of today’s Budget (more on its contents below), and the Chancellor’s statement was – unsurprisingly – preceded by a flurry of reports, press releases and other public interventions. Widely-publicised research by centre-right think tank Onward found that Tory governments for the past decade have spent three times more on transport, five times more on affordable housing, and nearly five times more on culture more in London than the rest of England. However, London Councils and the Centre for London think tank have hit back at this report as ‘misleading’ and overlooking London’s ‘acute housing demand and need.’ Separately, a report by Centre for Cities found that a lack of transport investment in London would cause a ‘hard landing’ for the economy, while Shelter has urged the government to use the Budget as an opportunity to address the housing emergency, which is acutely felt by Londoners. In the event, emerging analysis of the Budget suggests that London is indeed losing out at least in some areas – though we will have to wait for more rigorous analysis to really know where we stand.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that the long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy, which will crucially outline how billions in public funds will be spent on transport and digital infrastructure across England, has been delayed again. Initially expected last Autumn, it was then postponed until March and was supposed to be released alongside today’s budget. It has now been deferred to a date later this Spring in order to allow the Chancellor to refocus the strategy towards achieving a ‘net zero’ economy by 2050.
A BUDGET FOR ENGLAND-WITHOUT-LONDON?
It is too early to offer a comprehensive analysis of the budget’s regional distribution in hard cash terms. However, the rhetoric and regional ‘name-checks’ of both the Chancellor’s statement in the Commons and the more detailed Budget documents suggest that the Government’s approach to ‘levelling up’ the regions involves some ‘levelling down’ for London. Indeed, the phrases ‘level up’ and ‘levelling up’ turn up 31 times in the main Budget document, against 24 for ‘London’. Where there are references to London, they mostly appear in connection to: regional imbalances, such as variations in productivity and economic growth; things to be removed from the capital, such as 22,000 civil service jobs over the next decade; and initiatives explicitly targeting areas outside London, such as 'international trade advisers' for other regions and a new £90m fund for 'cultural regeneration proposals outside of London.' It is also useful to consider what is not mentioned in the Budget: Crossrail 1 and 2, Heathrow and hoped-for Tube upgrades are entirely absent, while none of the Housing Infrastructure Fund’s latest named allocations are in London. Additionally, while various allowances for regional and local authorities across the UK are name-checked, none are explicitly identified for London.
IS THERE ANYTHING FOR LONDON?
As for specific funding allocations in the Budget which will explicitly and directly benefit the capital, we only picked up the following:
- London-based institutions are to benefit from an (unspecified) share of an £80m uplift in funding for “specialist institutions”, including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal College of Art and the Institute of Cancer Research.
- The Government has pledged its support for the construction of the Lower Thames Crossing, which will “increase road capacity across the Thames east of London by 90%.”
- The Greater London Authority will “continue to benefit” from business rates retention, and will receive 67% retention in 2020-21, in line with a previous funding agreement made in 2017-18.
Presumably, more than the above will be coming London’s way, even if it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Budget. This should include a proportion of the ‘further £9.5bn’ for the Affordable Homes Programme – which will ‘allocate £12.2bn of grant funding from 2021/22’.
The reactions of key London organisations are also indicative of what this Budget offers (or does not offer) the capital:
- London First welcomed the measures for businesses dealing with the impacts of coronavirus, and commended the Chancellor’s focus on infrastructure investment across the UK. The statement also affirmed support for the levelling up agenda but argued that the ‘missing piece’ was Crossrail 2.
- The Centre for London concurred that Crossrail 2 ought to be prioritised, and lamented its omission while also warning against regarding London’s funding and governance model as the ‘ideal end state’ when levelling up devolution across the country, arguing that ‘London needs help too’.
- The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the Chancellor’s commitment to reviewing the business rates system, and expressed hope for a Spending Review for infrastructure investment that would ensure levelling up did not come at the expense of London.
- G15 welcomed many of the Chancellor’s housing-related announcements, including expanding the affordable homes programme beyond 2021, the new funding package to end homelessness, and the Building Safety Fund. G15 also welcomed the additional stamp duty for overseas buying, with the expectation that it will help ensure London’s homes are bought by people who need them.
- On a less positive note, the Mayor of London has expressed disappointment at what he deems to be insufficient funding, arguing that the Building Safety Fund is ‘simply not enough’ and that the Government has failed to appreciate the scale of the crisis. Similarly, he tweeted that while he was pleased to see the Government ‘taking the potential economic impacts of coronavirus seriously’, a decade of austerity had left the country ‘poorly placed to weather this storm’.
- Similarly concerned about the Building Safety Fund, London Councils urged the government to reconsider the commitment to remediation only on buildings over 18 metres high. Additionally, the statement welcomed increased funding for affordable housing and tackling homelessness, but lamented that the Budget had failed to deliver ‘everything [they] had hoped’.
WHAT ABOUT HOUSING AND PLANNING?
Aside from additional funds for the Affordable Housing Programme and Housing Infrastructure Fund allocations (mentioned above), the Government has pledged ‘an additional £1bn to remove unsafe cladding from residential buildings above 18 metres, and the introduction of a Stamp Duty Land Tax surcharge of 2% for non-UK residents, from April 2021. Crucially, the Budget confirms that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will ‘shortly set out comprehensive reforms to bring the planning system into the 21st century’, followed by a more comprehensive Planning White Paper in the spring. It remains unclear what the substance of those reforms will be, but Local Authorities will probably perceive some of the hints offered as fairly ominous, including threats of ‘a stricter approach taken to the release of land for development and greater government intervention’ for areas which ‘fail to meet their housing need’. Councils will also likely view a promise to ‘explore long-term reforms to the planning system, rethinking planning from first principles’ with some suspicion. Nevertheless, the National Housing Federation and the G15 group, representing housing associations, and the private sector British Property Federation, have broadly welcomed the Budget with various caveats.
LONDON POLLING LATEST
The results of the latest poll on Londoners’ Mayoral voting intention by YouGov on behalf of Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute, have been published. They show that the Labour incumbent, Mayor Sadiq Khan, has strengthen his lead and is now on 49% for first preference votes (+4% from the previous poll in November), approaching the 50% share of the first-preference vote that would enable him to win outright in the first round. Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey remains a distant second at 24% (+1 point), and Independent candidate Rory Stewart remains third at 13%. Green candidate Sian Berry is also steady at 7%, but Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita’s share has dropped to 4% (from 8% in November). With second preferences taken into account, the poll suggests that in the second round Khan would still beat Shaun Bailey by a comfortable 67% to 33%. Furthermore, it appears that Khan is ahead of Bailey in almost all demographics, including across ethnic groups, genders, and socioeconomic classes - only pro-Brexit voters seem to prefer Bailey. A press release from QMUL and Evening Standard report offer more extensive overviews of the results – and Professor Philip Cowley offers some more in-depth analysis in a comment for the Standard.
Last week, LCA attended the Women of the World festival's Mayoral election hustings at the Southbank Centre, eager to see all the main candidates on stage for once. We were somewhat disappointed to find that Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey had sent Waltham Forest councillor and Assembly candidate Emma Best in his place, though she did join Sadiq Khan, Rory Stewart (Ind), Siobhan Benita (LD), Sian Berry (Green) and Mandu Reid (WEP) on a panel chaired by BBC London’s Riz Lateef. Given the nature of the event, the female candidates on hand were perhaps unsurprisingly insistent that London is ready for a woman in the city’s top job, with Benita challenging Khan and Stewart to commit to only attending hustings that the female candidates have been invited to. For his part, Stewart reiterated his pledges to halve rough sleeping (praising Andy Burnham’s A Bed Every Night initiative in Greater Manchester) and boosting community policing and discussing. As for the current Mayor, Khan took the opportunity to list his feminist credentials (including having appointed seven female Deputy Mayors and reducing the City Hall pay gap), defending his record and calling for misogyny to be made a hate crime.
A MAYOR FOR SMALL BUSINESS?
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has published its Mayoral Manifesto, calling for the next Mayor of London to improve renting conditions for businesses, after a survey found that 46% of SMEs require an increase in the availability of commercial space. The FSB is also asking the next Mayor to champion best practice in procurement, particularly for women and minorities, build environmentally-friendly infrastructure, take measures to increase diversity and improve wellbeing in the workplace, and make the apprenticeship system work for London.
MOVEMENT SOUTH OF THE RIVER
Recent weeks have seen significant movements in several councils south of the Thames. In Southwark, candidates to replace outgoing Leader Peter John are mostly keeping a low profile – though Labour Councillor Sunny Lambe has publicly thrown his hat in the ring – even as a campaign to open the leadership vote to ordinary members gathers pace. Further to the east, in Greenwich, Labour councillor Tonia Ashikodi has resigned after being sentenced for property fraud (a by-election for her Glyndon ward seat will be held on 9 April). Also in Greenwich, Councillor Matt Hartley has announced he will step down as leader of the council’s Conservative Group after five years in the role, though he will remain on the council (and ‘fully intends’ to run again in 2022). And down in Bromley, Deputy Leader Peter Fortune has been selected by the Conservatives to run for the Bexley and Bromley London Assembly seat in May. The seat has been held by fellow-Conservative Gareth Bacon since 2016, who will be stepping down following his election to Parliament last December.
BETTS IS BACK
The Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s membership has now been confirmed with Labour’s Clive Betts MP returning as Chair. The full list of members, which includes London MPs Bob Blackman (Conservative, Harrow East) and Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour, Erith and Thamesmead), can be seen here. Following the re-formation of the Committee, it has resumed its inquiries into the delivery of social and affordable rented housing, the progress of dangerous cladding remediation and devolution in England – all critical issues throughout England, but in many ways especially in London.
PINCHER IN ACTION
Newly appointed Housing Minister Christopher Pincher is meanwhile settling in and has recently made a couple of public appearances in his new role. On 2 March, he launched a competition inviting applicants to put forward ideas for new homes ‘fit for the future’, focusing on energy efficiency, meeting the needs of elderly people, and using the latest innovations. Three finalists will have the opportunity to partner with developers to deliver homes on a site owned by Homes England. The competition was launched following the completion of the government’s consultation on a new future homes standard which would require all new homes built from 2025 to have 80% fewer carbon emissions. On 4 March, Pincher delivered a speech at the Planning Inspectorate Annual Training Event, where he self-consciously touched on his relative lack of experience in planning and housing matters.
STREET SMARTS AND SMART STREETS
The LCA team is ever amazed at the proliferation of initiatives using digital tools and big data to make London a better place to live, work and play. We have been working with Vu.City to promote their breath-taking 3D modelling of the city’s built environment and we keep a close eye on the growing range of digital resources that seem to be springing up daily. Witness UCL’s Colouring London built environment knowledge exchange platform (also supported by Vu.City), City Hall’s London Development Database and Cultural Infrastructure Map, Neighbourhood Planners London’s interactive map, and the superb Mapping London website.
Most recently, we were interested to see that the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) has run a week of activity focused on ‘smart street infrastructure’, bringing together partners from the public and private sectors to explore the key issues facing London boroughs installing internet of things (IoT) sensors in streets and other public spaces. LOTI was set up by London Councils and the GLA last year and provides support for digital transformation in the boroughs. Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney and London Councils’ Digital Champion, has written about its work here.
PENNY FOR A PLUNGE?
Plans by the City of London Corporation to increase – from £2 to £4 – and more diligently enforce charges for use of the three Hampstead Heath swimming ponds have proven controversial among some local residents. However, the Corporation has argued that the current ‘self-policed’ ticketing system enables many people to swim for free and so is not working, as ticket sales generated only £67,000 last year against maintenance and staffing costs in the region of £747,000. The increase in the number of swimmers over the last decade, from 296,000 a year to 655,000, has also caused long queues and antisocial behaviour.
ON A HAPPY NOTE
LCA is pleased to be working with City of London Corporation on the proposed Centre for Music, and has just announced a further £1.95m support from the City to take the development forward. Housed in a world-class building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro on the site of the current Museum of London, the Centre for Music aims to inspire a new generation with a love of music, harnessing the power of three internationally recognised cultural organisations, the Barbican, LSO and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and acting as a focus for the City’s emerging Culture Mile. With the City’s support, the next phase of work will further develop the Centre for Music’s funding model, and a broader site masterplan to create new public spaces and improve access to and around the site.
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