ARE WE THERE YET?
If only we could have put our clocks forward by three to six months on Sunday, when daylight saving kicked in…
Wishful thinking aside, LDN’s editors and the wider LCA team remain focused on the job and we are glad to see that we are not alone. This week’s bumper edition brings you the latest on how organisations across the capital are keeping calm and carrying on, as we all battle to cope with COVID-19 and keep this city ticking along.
Away from the pandemic, we also cover people moves, expert assessments of Sadiq Khan’s time in office, the semi-frozen (but not entirely cold) Mayoral campaign trail, the parliamentary Boundary Review, recently published research and much, much more.
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COVID-19 IN LONDON
- Last Friday, Mayor Sadiq Khan warned Londoners that there will be 'a large number' of deaths from coronavirus in the city and that 'we know the peak is coming soon, three to five weeks away.'
- Khan's comments followed extensive coverage of statements by Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, who warned that London hospitals are facing a ‘continuous tsunami’ of coronavirus patients and that some are likely to be overwhelmed in a matter of days.
- This week, reports underlining the immense strain on the capital’s health system have begun emerging. See for example articles of inadequate protective equipment in the London Ambulance Service and a spike in coronavirus-related deaths not yet reflected in official Government figures.
- Infection rates among key workers are a particularly pressing concern. According to the latest reports, 25% of doctors are unable to come to work and the GMB union has said that there are over 4,000 paramedics off work, across just eight NHS Trusts. As for the Metropolitan Police Service, there are about 3,600 officers away from work. Transport for London (TfL) is also affected in this respect – read on for more on public transport issues.
- It is however reassuring that help is on its way: with the support of the Army, a 4,000-bed ‘Nightingale Hospital’ has been erected within the ExCel arena in little more than two weeks. It should be able to accommodate patients any day now, alleviating pressure on existing hospitals.
- Meanwhile, relations between the Government and City Hall appear to have returned to a familiar pattern. In his latest salvoes against Whitehall, the Mayor has branded measures to support renters as 'inadequate' and called on the Government to provide more support to those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and those on low incomes.
- However, the pan-London Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG), which brings together dozens of elected and unelected public authorities in the capital to face emergency situations, is gearing up to face the inevitable increase in infection and death rates.
- Last Thursday, the cross-party association of London Councils announced that boroughs have agreed to allow NHS staff and the social care workforce to park their cars for free in council parking locations.
- And in case you missed it, earlier last week Centre for London Director Ben Rogers published a blog post considering London’s resilience, asking whether we can expect COVID-19 ‘to hit the capital harder than other cities and regions?’
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- The war of words over the Mayor’s decision to reduce Tube and bus services has spilled over into a second week. The Mayor insists that further services cannot be introduced due to almost a third of TfL staff off sick or self-isolating.
- While there remain reports of overcrowded transport in the capital, the latest figures, as presented by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at the 30 March daily press conference, show a drop in passenger numbers of more than 90%, on both buses and the Tube. Heidi Alexander, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, has welcomed the acknowledgment that efforts to get Londoners off public transport are working.
- As for London’s airports, Gatwick has closed its North Terminal and City Airport has closed entirely until at least the end of the month.
- In some slightly more positive news, since the imposition of the current ‘lockdown’ rules, air pollution levels across the world have, not surprisingly, fallen. In central London, there has been a ‘massive decrease in NO2 emissions’, according to Air Quality News which analysed the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs’ nitrogen dioxide (NO2) monitoring data (the same cannot, however, be said for Bromley).
BUSINESS... NOT QUITE AS USUAL
- While it is too early to know what the precise impact of the pandemic will be on the capital’s economy, City Hall’s latest London’s Economy Today update makes for dire reading. Entirely aside from lost profits and dividends, the private sector employs more than 85% of the city’s workers and provides goods and services that are central to Londoners’ lives.
- Many private enterprises across sectors are facing strong headwinds, and the wider built environment is no exception. As have other major developers and construction contractors, FTSE 100 landowner and developer British Land has halted works on several London developments as part of a comprehensive plan to protect its staff as well as sustain the business through this tough period.
- London’s already-battered retail sector in particular is beginning feel the pressure: Arcadia Group (which owns TopShop and Dorothy Perkins) is among retailers to have announced extraordinary measures, while major landlords like Intu and Hammerson, as well as Capital & Regional have already seen their rental income impacted.
- It’s not just retail: in London’s media sector, City AM (the Square Mile’s freesheet) and local news publisher Newsquest (which runs dozens of titles in London) are putting a significant number of staff on furlough; and much-loved website Londonist has announced it is ‘going to take a little break’ as its business dries up.
- However, it is great to see more public and private sector landlords stepping forward by the day to offer commercial tenants rent relief and other support, from the City of London Corporation, TfL and Network Rail, to Argent, Cadogan and Grosvenor.
- Beyond property and development, we have also been encouraged to hear of initiatives from a range of other businesses in the capital and beyond, from Deliveroo and Uber offering NHS staff free trips and food, to supermarkets including Sainsbury’s and Asda’s delivery services prioritising elderly and other vulnerable people, and fashion brand Burberry shifting to producing surgical gowns and masks.
- And beyond business entirely, in the charity sector, ‘over one-third of London’s child poverty charities’ are reportedly ‘at risk of closure due to coronavirus.’ But thankfully, London Funders is spearheading the London Community Response to create an ‘easy to access process’ for these and other community organisations across the capital to receive financial support.
- Finally, we have previously reported how major arts and culture venues were among the first public spaces to fall victim to social distancing advice – with museums, theatres, cinemas and similar now long shuttered. However, beleaguered creatives will be relieved to hear that Arts Council England is now offering a £160m emergency fund for artists and creative organisations, has postponed the selection process for its 2022-26 National Portfolio, and has extended current portfolio arrangements to 2023.
- Chief Planner Steve Quartermain CBE has stepped down after 11 years in the role. In his final planning update newsletter, Quartermain said that he would ‘wait for another occasion’ to reflect on his time in central government.
- Jeremy Pocklington has been appointed Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government following Melanie Dawes’ departure in February.
- Rob Whitehead has rejoined the Centre for London as Director of Strategic Projects.
- Yesterday it was reported that Alan Jones is to temporarily step down as RIBA President. RIBA’s Honorary Secretary Kerr Robertson is to step in on an interim basis, for the next ‘four to six weeks’.
- Finally, it was reported only today that Barking and Dagenham Council’s Chief Executive, Chris Naylor, is to be ‘seconded’ to Birmingham City Council as its Interim Chief Executive starting in May. It remains to be seen who will step up to replace Naylor here in London.
ON KHAN'S HOUSING RECORD
Amidst reams of press coverage fixated on the pandemic, we’ve noticed a couple of recent pieces in the trade press which refreshingly focus on an issue we’d normally be focusing at this time of year: the performance of the Mayor in his first term. Both articles explicitly reference the sweeping criticism contained in the Communities’ Secretary’s response to the latest draft of the new London Plan. The first, by Planning Resource, is an excellent article assessing Khan’s performance against his various housing targets – a considered and thoughtful piece, which compiles data and assessments from multiple sources and judiciously notes the various factors that complicate any comparisons between the current Mayor and his predecessors. Its verdict is accordingly nuanced: in terms of housing completions and even starts, across most tenures, it finds scant evidence of any roaring successes, while highlighting early indications of an uptick in planning permissions for new affordable housing in general. However, it also underlines that it is simply too early to tell whether flagship Mayoral policies, such as the 35% ‘fast track’ threshold, are actually producing substantial numbers of new affordable homes for Londoners.
AND WHAT ABOUT HIS BALLOTS?
The second, by the Architects’ Journal, offers a similarly even-handed assessment of the estate regeneration ballot requirement, a flagship policy implemented by Khan as a prerequisite for Mayoral funding. Crucially, it finds that fears that the policy would block the redevelopment of estates have not materialised, and that there is ‘no trail of stalled schemes.’ However, the article also unpicks elements of the policy which, to some critics, appear problematic. There is, for example, a potential deficit of transparency on certain ballots: City Hall GLA only publishes data on successful ballots, and the article suggests that the results of several which have taken place remain (for unclear reasons) under wraps. It further cites various other concerns: for some, the policy contains multiple ‘loopholes’ enabling many landlords to avoid a ballot; yet others remain dissatisfied even with the ballots that have taken place, complaining that it is merely a ‘PR exercise’ which does little to actually improve the quality of consultation with residents. Ultimately, it is too early to assess this policy in the round, but the AJ’s article provides a useful overview of the issues at play and the evidence currently at hand.
FROM THE (OTHER) CANDIDATES
The above stories prompted us to wonder what Khan’s competitors are up to these days. Quite a lot, it would appear:
- Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey has found another reason to attack Sadiq Khan amidst the debate over TfL services. In a recent article for City AM, he criticises the Mayor’s policy, arguing that the Tube is ‘the most dangerous place to be’ and offering three steps that the mayor should take to ensure that essential workers do not have to risk their lives to get to work.
- Independent candidate Rory Stewart was also interviewed last week, with a brief Q&A in Prospect Magazine which moved quickly from COVID-19 to personal questions such as the best year of his life, which historical figure he would invite to dinner, and the first news event he could recall. He notably said that governments were always too slow and mild in their response to crises and that life has taught him to ‘act immediately and aggressively’.
- Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita has ceased all campaigning, and has instead launched Calling with Kindness, a new coronavirus initiative to help the elderly, utilising her party’s networks to identify those most at risk and linking them up with charities, councils or local groups offering help.
- And, balaclava-clad London rapper Drillminister, who announced his Independent candidacy for the mayoral elections in January, was interviewed by GQ last week. The magazine described him as ‘the dark horse’ catching up with the main candidates. In the interview, he called for more action to protect Londoners from the pandemic and for a more sensitive approach to policing in the capital.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry suspended its Phase 2 Module 1 hearings on 16 March in order to keep those involved safe. However, arrangements to ‘resume hearings on a remote basis’ are being looked into. Last week, it was announced that Nick Hurd (former Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner and former Minister for Grenfell Victims) has been appointed the Independent Adviser to the Prime Minister on Grenfell. The news came following the publication of the fifth and final report of the Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, set up following the incident to work with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) to create and put into place a long term recovery plan for ‘the bereaved, survivors and wider community’. The report found that the Council had made progress ‘against all of the recommendations’ set out in the Taskforce’s July 2019 report, though ‘they are not yet fully implemented’. This was enough, however, to conclude that the borough can carry on with this work without the assistance of the Taskforce, which has been stood down as of 31 March.
SOUTH EAST LONDON CCGs
Plans for a major merger of key NHS organisations in south east London appear to have proceeded as planned, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. The Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark are, as of today, merging into a new body. The new NHS South East London CCG’s chair is Southwark GP Jonty Heaversedge and its Chief Officer is Andrew Bland, formerly of NHS Southwark CCG. It is responsible for planning, paying for and monitoring most of the health services used by 1.9m residents of the six boroughs under its stewardship. It is understood that Borough-level boards will also be set up under the new CCG to ensure local accountability.
BOUNDARIES REVIEWED, SEATS UNTOUCHED
Back in January, we highlighted reports suggesting that the long-delayed parliamentary constituency boundary review will maintain the current number of seats (650) while still ensuring that all have an electorate more or less equal in size. Last week, what has been labelled a ‘Tory u-turn’ has confirmed this is indeed the Government’s plan. Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith explained in a statement that the coalition government’s plan to reduce the number of seats to 600 has been abandoned due to... an increased workload as a result of Brexit. The statement explains that primary legislation will be introduced, to set the framework for future boundary reviews, also making provision for constituencies to remain at 650 (and in doing so, removing the obligation to implement the recommendations of the 2018 Boundary Commission in full). The new legislation will also bring about other changes to the boundary review process. MPs will no longer vote on the decisions of the Boundary Commission, which will instead be implemented automatically by an Order in Council. Additionally, boundary reviews will be conducted every eight years instead of every five, as the government plans to abolish the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act. It would therefore appear that London is keeping all 73 of its seats (even if many are likely to see their boundaries ‘tweaked’).
While there’s little by way of sport on the telly these days, the pandemic has still thrown up all sorts of sport-related news. In terms of key headlines from London:
- Chelsea F.C. has issued a statement regarding the planning permission for a new stadium granted in March 2017. In 2018, the club had said that the project had come to a standstill due to the ‘unfavourable investment climate’ in the lead up to the UK leaving the EU. This latest statement says that the club recognises that the planning permission expired on 31 March and that it is grateful to ‘fans and stakeholders’, as well as the local council, Hammersmith & Fulham for ‘their patience and understanding’. The club clarified that it will explore ‘options’ for the new stadium, ‘should economic conditions improve’.
- The hosting of the Anniversary Games at the London Stadium this July have been cast into doubt amid speculation that the Premier League could be extended into the summer months, meaning West Ham’s matches would clash with the athletics event. UK Athletics and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) have urged the football club to waive their priority use of the Stadium and agree to a compromise. West Ham has, however, voiced its opposition to playing in a Stadium ‘inappropriately set up for an athletics meeting’. UK Athletics is set to make a decision on the Anniversary Games in the next couple of months.
- The Mayor has this week called on the capital’s football clubs to help in the fight against COVID-19. This includes using the clubs’ facilities, redeploying their medically-trained staff to the NHS, as well as allowing NHS staff to use their car parks and catering facilities.
- However, LCA client Tottenham Hotspur F.C. did not need any encouragement: its stadium is already being used as a food distribution centre as part of the Food for London Now campaign. The Evening Standard initiative has been created with partner The Felix Project to deliver surplus food to vulnerable people in the capital amid the COVID-19 outbreak. More about the campaign can be found here.
- Finally, away from football, it was announced today that this year’s Wimbledon Championships have been cancelled ‘in the interests of public health’. The All England Club (AELTC) and Committee of Management of The Championships have said that they will now focus on ‘contributing to the emergency response’ by offering their facilities and medical equipment to the NHS and London Resilience Partnership.
With the results of the Labour Party leadership contest set to be announced this Saturday (4 April), LabourList has reported that the three remaining contenders have been asked to film themselves giving victory speeches ready for the day. The original plan had been for the contenders to participate in a livestreamed announcement of the results, but this plan has since been scrapped. MP for Holborn & St Pancras Keir Starmer remains the firm favourite and The Times has reported that the new leadership will enact so-called ‘scorched earth’ plans to break entirely with the 'Corbynite' faction of the party, including appointing a largely new shadow Cabinet.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have confirmed that they have postponed their leadership contest until May 2021. The leadership is currently shared, as per the party’s Constitution, between Deputy Leader Ed Davey (MP for Kingston and Surbiton) and newly-elected Party President Mark Pack. Contenders for the leadership are (so far) Davey and Layla Moran (MP for Oxford West and Abingdon). It is thought that new MP Daisy Cooper (St Albans) will also enter the contest.
HEART OF LONDON
Heart of London Business Alliance announced last week that it had become the first Business Improvement District (BID) in the UK to achieve four simultaneous ballot wins. Heart of London asked its 600 members to vote on its 2020-2025 vision for London’s West End. Currently, the alliance represents businesses and property owners in the Leicester Square & Piccadilly Circus and Piccadilly & St James’s areas and members from each area voted in Property Owner ballots on which the alliance received 96% and 98% favourable votes respectively. The ballots asked members to vote on Heart of London’s business plan, outlining how they will ‘continue to deliver more on-street services within a multi-agency framework to improving the public realm’. There were also two ballots for the St Martin’s Area, an Occupier ballot and a Property Owner ballot, asking members to vote on the alliance’s proposal for the area and their Business Plan, which details how St Martin’s could benefit from joining Heart of London. They received positive votes of 98% in the Property Owner ballot and 89% in the Occupier ballot.
A couple of blessedly non-coronavirus-related pieces of research were recently issued and are worth highlighting here:
- The Affordable Housing Commission has published its final report, following its 18-month review of housing affordability in England. The report makes over 50 recommendations and calls for the government to rebalance the housing system to make housing more affordable to people of all incomes.
- The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has published a report on devolution in England, advocating (no surprises here) further redistribution of power to England’s regions, towns and cities, in order to combat regional inequality.
LAMBETH HOSPITAL CONSULTATION LAUNCH
LCA recently helped launch a consultation seeking views on proposals to improve inpatient mental health services for adults at Lambeth Hospital, whose wards are no longer fit for purpose. The 12-week consultation, led by South East London CCG and supported by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, proposes to move adult inpatient mental health services from their current site in Landor Road, to new, high-quality facilities on the Maudsley Hospital site, in Denmark Hill. Of course, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, face-to-face engagement and a series of planned public events in Southwark and Lambeth have been rendered impossible. We are therefore using a variety of alternative methods to promote the plans and gather feedback, including virtual site tours, Facebook advertising, a flyer drop and encouraging people who would like a conversation about the proposals to directly contact the consultation team. LCA has drafted and designed a range of materials for the consultation and is now helping to ensure as many people as possible have their say. For more information, have a look at the consultation website. A virtual fly-through of the proposed new facility, designed by colleagues at IBI Group, can be seen here.
Slowly but surely running out of things to do? Well, King’s Cross could have just the thing to keep you (all) entertained. We have been busy supporting the team across their social and digital channels to bring you the best of King’s Cross from home. Why not try a morning workout? Or learn how to make the perfect cheese toasty? Or... you could try something less taxing, with a cocktail making class (after 6pm of course). Find out more and get involved KX2U.
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