ZOOMING THROUGH THE LOCKDOWN?
In week six of lockdown (and as illustrated by this edition's stories) everyone's focus is starting to shift to the horizon. What does London’s exit from lockdown look like anyway, in terms of its timing, process and outcomes?
The Mayor has convened a new housing taskforce to help him kickstart housebuilding, the boroughs are looking in dismay at their gutted budgets and TfL is in talks to secure its future. We also have updates on planning policy and decision-making in the capital but also further afield.
We have been watching the shifting planning landscape closely as it affects much of our work, as well as the future fabric of the capital. You can read more here about our approach to public engagement and consultation in a time of social distancing.
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- According to the GLA’s latest coronavirus update, on Monday 27 April 88 people who tested positive were confirmed to have died, bringing the total number of deaths in London hospitals to 4,781.
- The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan published new evidence last week showing dramatic improvements in air quality as a result of the halving of traffic in London due to the lockdown.
- Khan also announced a further £4m for the London Community Response Fund to support community and voluntary organisations affected by the impact of coronavirus (for a total of £16m now in this pot, along with contributions form other funders).
- Tension between the Mayor and central government continues to escalate, as Khan hit back at Health Secretary Matt Hancock, saying that he was ‘totally wrong’ for refusing to advise the public to wear facemasks.
- Khan has meanwhile taken flak for comments on a videocall with the Mayor of Tehran, with critics arguing they have been exploited as propaganda by Iranian media.
ENTER THE HOUSING DELIVERY TASKFORCE
It was reported earlier this month that London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley was convening a new advisory group to support the recovery of London’s housebuilding sector and yesterday City Hall confirmed the full membership of this new body. The new ‘COVID-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce’ consists of umbrella organisations representing business more generally (London First), councils (London Councils and the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge), construction (BuildUK, the Federation of Master Builders and the Home Builders Federation), unions (the Trade Unions Congress), and housing associations (the G15 and National Housing Federation). The group will ‘consider how the sector can adapt and maintain resilience’ and also ‘look at specific support needed from Government’ to maintain housing supply and build market confidence. It will meet fortnightly, to discuss ‘specific challenges and consider appropriate responses and interventions that can be brought forward from across the sector’. Despite the conspicuous absence of taskforce members representing architects, private developers and political parties other than Labour, it is encouraging that the Mayor is reaching out to the wider housebuilding sector. We hope this new body proves to be a (task)force to be reckoned with and not just a talking shop. We also wonder whether there will be similar taskforces to support other key sectors in London’s built environment, such as high streets, retail and commercial development.
LONDON VIRTUAL PLANNING LATEST
LCA continues to keep a close eye on the growing number of London boroughs holding planning committee meetings remotely, using videoconferencing technologies. Different boroughs are deploying a variety of means and meeting protocols. MS Teams is proving quite popular as a platform and in most cases, boroughs are streaming their meetings and allowing public participation (though this generally requires registering prior to the meeting). Some examples of London boroughs which held their first virtual meetings over the past few days include:
- Enfield, whose Planning Committee met over MS Teams last week to approve a Section 73 for amendments to a major housing scheme and a separate application for the relocation of a parking lot.
- Croydon, which met, also using MS Teams, to approve three fairly major schemes, including one comprising five buildings (ranging in height from 7 to 29 storeys) providing 421 new flats.
- Hackney, whose Planning Sub-Committee was convened using Google Meet to approve the latest phase of the Woodbery Downs scheme and the redevelopment of a former police station site.
- Newham, whose Strategic Development Committee met twice last week, using Zoom (but streaming to the public on Facebook Live), to approve multiple schemes, including an application to extend an ‘Activated Sludge Plant’ at Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.
Other planning committees that have met virtually over the past few days include Barking & Dagenham’s Planning Committee, Islington’s Planning Committee, Lewisham’s Planning Committee A, the second and third remote sessions of Kensington & Chelsea’s Planning Applications Committee, Richmond’s Planning Committee, Southwark’s Planning Sub-Committee A, Wandsworth’s Planning Applications Committee, and Westminster’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee 2.
Looking ahead, we will be keeping an especially close eye on Camden’s first virtual Planning Committee, which is due to convene tomorrow , as well as others to come. Read on for more planning-related news.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed that it is in talks with the Government to secure a bailout for London Underground. The huge reduction in the number of passengers paired with the temporary suspension of other income sources such as the congestion charge has meant that TfL could run out of money ‘by the end of the month’. Only last week, 7,000 members of staff were placed on the Government furlough scheme (even though they are technically public sector employees).
- It is not just TfL’s day-to-day operations which will be affected: Lib Dem London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon has talked of her concern for TfL’s capital projects which may be be cancelled or delayed as a result of the pandemic.
- Another issue still making headlines is the safety of those working on the TfL network. The Telegraph has this week reported that attempts to resume services may be thwarted as trade unions urge their members to stay away if measures are not put in place to ensure their safety. The RMT has said that there is ‘zero chance of agreement to increase transport services in the current climate’. The Union has also called on TfL to make travel free for their cleaners.
- In other transport news, The Times has reported that HS2 could face further delays after the High Court asked HS2 Ltd to provide evidence that planned tunnelling works are safe. A homeowner has brought a case against the project over safety concerns regarding a wall outside Euston station, alleging it may collapse as a result of construction work. HS2 is required to provide the relevant information ahead of a hearing in May.
...AND OTHER TALK OF RECOVERY
As the pandemic appears to be reaching its peak – or at the least some kind of plateau – more attention is turning to when the country returns to a semblance of normality and also, critically, how. It is becoming increasingly clear that this will be a staged process leading to a new kind of ‘normal’. London’s nature as a densely populated metropolis, its status as global city and its central role as a major driver of the UK economy makes its recovery a particularly challenging case. As noted above, the Mayor is beating the drum for wider use of face coverings, which in combination with TfL’s troubles and rumoured peak travel curbs could make our commutes look very different indeed, as well as create huge logistical challenges for businesses. Furthermore, the impact of the pandemic on sectors from retail to aviation and tourism to higher education – all major employers and economic engines in London – is hard to predict but certain to be wide-ranging and complex. We are closely watching the evolution of discussions concerning the pace and shape of London’s recovery. For fellow ‘Londoncentrics’ similarly interested, we highly recommend following relevant webinars run by Centre for London, New London Architecture and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Our readers are also welcome to share any others they feel are worth featuring in future editions of LDN.
BETTS IS BACK
The Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, chaired by veteran Labour MP Clive Betts, is now back in action and recently held its first virtual evidence session on the financial and service delivery impact of COVID-19 on local authorities. The committee heard evidence from the Chairman of the Local Government Association, who said that the £2.3bn awarded by Whitehall to date had given councils ‘breathing space’ but that the sector could eventually need three or four times that amount in order to get through the crisis. The HCLG committee has also launched a new inquiry into local authority commercial investment. Evidence can be submitted until 6 May and the public evidence session will take place on 11 May. The committee will question officials from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on gaps in commercial skills in local government, the extent to which the department monitors commercial activity and the long-term exposure to risk, as well as the ministry’s response to COVID-19 and the impact of the pandemic on local government finances.
BUILDING SITES LATEST
Developers including Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Bellway have revealed plans to gradually resume work on closed building sites. While there has been no blanket requirement for building sites in England to close amid the COVID-19 crisis, many developers and contractors had shut down sites where they found it impossible to adhere to social distancing rules. Industry leaders are now reported to be drawing up a ‘recovery plan’, making recommendations to the Treasury on how best to support a restart for the sector. Contractors resuming work are understood to be implementing numerous measures to ensure that social distancing rules are kept to, including encouraging their staff to travel to work alone in cars, introducing temperature checks and even hiring ‘wardens’ to issue warnings to those who fail to abide by social distancing rules. Unite the Union has, meanwhile, insisted that sites should remain closed if the strictest of social distancing cannot be guaranteed. The decision to reopen building sites comes as Knight Frank published its latest research, which has found that 35% fewer homes will be built this year in the UK than previously planned, as a result of site closures.
PLANNING DURING A PANDEMIC
Even as we closely follow the evolution of London’s planning landscape, there’s more afoot further afield as the wider built environment sector grapples with the challenges posed by the pandemic:
- Planners cited by Planning Resource have warned that new, virtual planning committees ‘face technical and legal obstacles’ and ‘could limit public participation.’ This is also reflected in concerns recently expressed in London, by stakeholders including the London Forum and Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet Theresa Villiers.
- We are hearing of ever more planning authorities exploring a more flexible approach to S106 contributions and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments, to support struggling developers during the pandemic (and by the way, the CIL regime celebrated its tenth anniversary earlier this month).
- A new paper by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) sets out a list of ‘priorities for planning reform’ – and notably highlights ‘harness[ing] technological innovation to foster more efficient and inclusive planning, building upon the innovations by planners under the COVID-19 lockdown.’
- Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) has published a paper outlining suggestions for the adaptation of the existing Development Consent Order (DCO) regime to account for the challenges created by the lockdown.
DIGITAL CONSULTATION: REACHING PEOPLE AT HOME
As reported previously in LDN, LCA is working with our clients get to grips with a fast-changing environment. We have seen public engagement and planning consultation in particular - a core component of our services - profoundly affected by social distancing guidelines, which largely rule out established, in-person methods of communication. Fortunately, we have already spent years developing and deploying digital engagement strategies. Having an in-house design team also means we have been able to rapidly create or refine websites, social media content, digital engagement platforms and high quality video presentations for our clients. Meanwhile, our dedicated Research Team has kept us informed of how requirements for planning consultation evolve and the differing attitudes and approaches across local authorities. For more information on how we are leveraging the company's intelligence-led approach to deliver meaningful public engagement strategies, visit our website or contact LCA Account Director Sam Cranston.
LCA PARTNERSHIP WITH THE FESTIVAL OF PLACE
LCA is delighted to announce that we are the Communications Partner of the Festival of Place. We were hugely impressed with the debut event in July 2019. This brought together a different set of speakers and a really diverse audience, in a very interesting format, to tackle issues that are close to much of our work across our placemaking, consumer and lifestyle campaigns. Due to COVID-19, the organisers – The Developer – have announced a new date of 13 November 2020. The event will still be held at Tobacco Dock, East London, but now with a winter market instead of summer fete theme. Tickets are available here and if you can’t wait till November, The Developer will also be brining you a special series of ‘Bytesize’ events between now and then. It kicked off with a talk by Carolyn Steel, Author of Hungry City, titled ‘Can food rebuild our communities’, which you can tune into here.
NEWS FROM OUR CLIENTS
We were pleased to see the London Borough of Enfield, an LCA client, shortlisted for the 2020 Planning Awards, whose winners will be announced this autumn. The borough’s New Local Plan and Heritage Strategy have both been shortlisted for the award for plan-making. Meanwhile another LCA client, the Museum of London, has announced that it is collecting objects and experiences from Londoners, so that future generations will be able to learn what life was like during the lockdown.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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