THE NEW YEAR MEANS NEW JOBS IT SEEMS
The Prime Minster has undertaken a not terribly exciting reshuffle, albeit with a new Minister for London in the shape of Jo Johnson and a rebranded Department or two.
There are now only six London MPs in the top tier of Government, down from eight. Meanwhile, a number of London’s local authorities and development corporations have seen changes at senior level.
Furthermore, as we continue to track developments ahead of the local elections, we’ve noticed politicians keen to court the EU vote and parties eager to get their heads round the power of grassroots campaigning and social media.
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NEW YEAR’S RESHUFFLE
Prime Minister May has finally shuffled the ministerial pack but much of her hand remains as was. Housing and Social Care have both been upgraded to Cabinet positions with the former now part of the newly branded Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and part of Secretary of State Sajid Javid’s brief. The latter has been added to Health Secretary’s Jeremy Hunt’s title and brief. Former civil service head Sir Bob Kerslake has already taken aim at the government’s wordplay, saying ‘it will take a lot more than a name change to tackle the housing crisis in the country’. There is some new blood in Javid’s department, bringing in Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, as new Minister of State for Housing, alongside Heather Wheeler (MP for South Derbyshire) and Rishi Sunak (MP for Richmond, Yorks) as Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State. Reflecting what some commentators have characterised as a ‘shambolic’ reshuffle, Chris Grayling now owns the dubious accolade of shortest-serving Chairman of the Conservative Party, having been mistakenly announced on Twitter as such by CCHQ. He stays on as Transport Secretary; joining him as new minister of state is Jo Johnson (MP for Orpington), who will also take on the additional role of Minister for London (leading to the inevitable speculation that he might have sights on his brother’s old job at City Hall). Justine Greening (MP for Putney) has notably lost her brief as Education secretary and refused an offer to lead the Department for Work and Pensions, leaving the Government leadership team with six London MPs, down from eight; it also deposits Greening on the backbenchers alongside other Conservative Remainers from London, such as Stephen Hammond (MP for Wimbledon) and Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst), from where she might prove to be another thorn in May’s side. Elsewhere, former London Assembly Member Kemi Badenoch, now MP for Saffron Walden, is now the Conservatives’ Vice Chairman for selections, while James Cleverly, MP for Braintree, another former Assembly Member, has been made the party’s Deputy Chairman.
ASSEMBLY TO MAYOR: SHOW US THE MONEY
The London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee has had a busy two weeks scrutinising the Mayor’s budget proposals for the 2018-19 financial year. Over the course of four dedicated sessions over three days, Assembly Members interrogated Sadiq Khan and senior officials from City Hall, Transport for London (TfL), the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). City Hall is increasingly intervening to control and accelerate housing development on LLDC and TfL land and future Joint Ventures on LLDC land will directly involve GLA Land and Property (GLAP), while – according to TfL Commissioner Mike Brown - the relevant TfL and GLA teams have ‘pretty much moved in together, literally and metaphorically’. There were also indications that the further independent funding and finance review for Crossrail 2, due to ‘take place imminently’, could delay the relevant hybrid bill from 2019 to 2020. For his part, the Mayor aggressively criticised his predecessor and the government for ‘astonishing’ cuts to subsidies for TfL and the city’s security and emergency service – as we reported last week he is raising Council Tax to help make up the shortfall - even as he sought to convince the Assembly that they will still be able to deliver core services and the improvements he has pledged. Published on 21 December, the Mayor's draft Budget will remain open for consultation until this Friday; it is expected to be finalised and agreed by 22 February.
NOTABLE PEOPLE MOVES
Victoria Hills, chief executive officer of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) is set to join the Royal Town Planning Institute as its new chief executive this April, following the resignation of current chief executive Trudi Elliot in July 2017. Hills has a track record of over 20 years working in senior posts in planning and transport, with a large share of this time spent at the GLA. On her departure, OPDC chair Liz Peace commended her work ‘in managing the multiple relationships with the Board and key stakeholders’ and playing ‘a clear role in enhancing the impact and profile of Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Area.’ An interim appointment is expected in due course.
Meanwhile, Enfield Council has announced the appointment of Sarah Cary as its new executive director of regeneration and environmental services. Cary was previously head of sustainable places at British Land and is expected to take up her post by the Spring of 2018. Finally, Kingston upon Thames has appointed three new directors, who will be in position by April 2018:
- Sarah Ireland joins as Kingston’s new Director of Corporate and Commercial; she is currently the London Borough of Croydon’s Director of Commissioning and Improvement.
- Nazeya Hussain joins as Director of Growth; she is currently Corporate Director at both Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council, responsible for a wide portfolio which includes (among other areas) planning, corporate assets and regeneration.
- Stephen Evans joins as Director of Communities; he is currently Assistant Chief Executive for the London Borough of Barnet, where he is responsible for corporate strategy, communications, customer services, community engagement, governance and organisational development.
Sadiq Khan has given the final green-light to plans for a new Westfield shopping complex – London’s third – in Croydon’s town centre. Relevant plans submitted by Croydon Partnership - a joint venture between Westfield and Hammerson - were first granted permission in 2014, but an updated application was submitted last year and ultimately approved by Croydon Council in November 2017. When completed, the £1.4bn scheme will include a new multiplex cinema and more than 300 retail points, restaurants, cafes and leisure facilities, as well as about 1,000 new build-to-rent homes, of which ‘a minimum of 20% will be provided at below market-rent levels’. Following a 13-month long demolition programme, construction is expected to begin in 2019.
KPMG RESIGNS FROM GRENFELL INQUIRY
KPMG has stepped down from its role as project management advisor to the Grenfell inquiry, after more than 70 individuals, including Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad (Lab), penned an open letter to the Prime Minister raising potential conflicts of interest. Residents specifically voiced concerns over KPMG’s auditing of Celotex (who produced the insulation on Grenfell Tower), Rydon Group (the contractors who refurbished the tower), and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Though a spokesperson for KPMG maintained that no conflicts of interest existed, they echoed the views of the letter’s authors, saying it ‘shared the view that nothing should distract from the important work [the inquiry] is undertaking to better understand the causes of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower’. The first evidence hearings are hoped to take place after Easter.
PARTIES IN CAMPAIGNING MODE
The country’s political parties are clearly getting into campaigning mode. Keen to connect with voters, crack marginals and expand its reach into new territory, Labour has set up a new ‘community organising unit’ to support constituency Labour parties and trade union campaigning on key local issues. Meanwhile, the party is running a social housing review – announced during conference season – with a call for evidence open for submissions until 31 January. As for the Conservatives, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet reshuffle may have been rather unedifying, but the simultaneous change-of-guard at CCHQ is evidently meant to beef up the party’s campaigning machine, with a focus on outreach to young and minority voters, upgrading its social media presence and training up new activists. And it is interesting to note that the Liberal Democrats have quietly been making gains in local government by-elections across the UK in recent months, indicating that their local machinery is still a force to be reckoned with (gaining 10 new seats, holding four and losing none in a total 69 contests during October-December 2017). It will be interesting to see how all these efforts play out in London – and whether they will affect the result of the 3 May 2018 Local Elections.
EU BETTER BELIEVE IT
Meanwhile, as the local elections draw nearer, politicians are beginning to make a discernible play to woo EU voters. EU citizens resident in the UK cannot vote in General Elections; however, they are entitled to vote in local elections. In her New Year’s message, Westminster City Council’s leader Nickie Aiken (Con) made overtures to her borough’s 25,000 registered EU nationals, saying the council would be ‘running a series of public events during 2018 to reassure our residents affected by the decision to leave the EU about their rights and status in the UK.’ Meanwhile, 70 Labour councillors from Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham have signed an open letter to shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer for a shift in the party’s Brexit position, in order to avoid compounding ‘increased levels of anxiety and depression, brought on by the shameful delay in securing [EU citizens’] rights’ in the boroughs they represent. It thus appears that at a local level, the parties are willing to chart their own policy and narrative on EU citizens to firm up their voter base.
NEW US EMBASSY: IT’S GONNA BE HUGE
The new U.S. Embassy in London will be open to the public starting 16 January. The building has been at least a decade in the making, with the two-hectare site in Nine Elms purchased back in 2008. Designed by Philadelphia-based architects Kieran Timberlake, its façade hides a host of security features. It sits at the heart of the Nine Elms Opportunity Area which spans 230 hectares along the south bank of the River Thames from Vauxhall to Battersea and which is also home to Battersea Power station, the new London Fire Brigade HQ, New Covent Garden Market and a number of high-rise residential towers.
NURSES PRICED OUT
Former NHS sites in London being developed privately are too expensive for nurses, according to research, with calls for a People’s Land Bank earmarked for genuinely affordable housing. Nationally, four out of five homes on sold NHS land will cost more than nurses can afford, with only one in 10 offered at social rent, according to the New Economics Foundation (NEF) thinktank. The report found a midwife will have to wait over a century to afford the deposit for a market-rate home in Enfield where Chase Farm hospital is being redeveloped into 138 residential dwellings. The research involved analysis of 59 NHS sites sold under the Government’s public land sale programme. The findings follow a government pledge that nurses would have first refusal on affordable housing through the sale of surplus NHS land. But the NEF says that in London even affordable rent, which can be as high as 80% of market rent, is out of reach.
Islington Council has asserted the Holloway Road Prison site must include 50% affordable housing and a women’s centre incorporating a ‘safe space to support women in the criminal justice system’ when it is brought forward for redevelopment. The Council has warned that it will not accept anything less, after undertaking its own viability assessments and adopting a relevant supplementary planning document with the support of the Mayor of London. Local campaigners have long fought for the site’s redevelopment to serve local community needs first and foremost, organising relevant protests and petitions. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) owns the site, and is currently looking for developers to buy it.
LUMIERE KINGS’S CROSS
Following the success of the 2016’s Lumiere London, King’s Cross will once again be lit up this month (18-21 January) when 12 breathtaking new light installations emerge as part of this year’s London-wide Lumiere London light festival. The full programme of installations, which are free to visit, have now been announced and are set to transform King’s Cross into a canvas of colour and light, allowing visitors to explore the area in a new way. The LCA team are busy supporting the media launch and look forward to the extravaganza starting next week. LCR’s Leake Street Arches will also be lit up as part of the festival.
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