Our commentary over the last few weeks has mainly and rightly been about how we all feel – whether about the empty streets of central London or Black Lives Matter. Like many, we now feel it is time for action.
Whilst things are by no means back to normal (whatever we actually mean by 'normal'), signs of life going back to something close to what it was before are now appearing.
Every business can do its part, which is why we have backed the London Alliance’s 'Because I’m a Londoner' campaign, launched by London & Partners today. We have supported this both financially (you can give as much as you want) and by promoting it here and through our other channels. This is about encouraging all of us Londoners to – safely and sensibly – support our retail and entertainment sectors as they re-open.
Meanwhile, like many others we would hope to see more government action to resolve the issue of unsafe cladding, three years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which saw 72 innocent people lose their lives. And we also would like to see government address the growing financial burden faced by London’s hard-pressed local authorities, as the true impact of the pandemic hits their budgets, to the tune of £1.8bn (and counting) this year.
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Sadiq Khan has been supportive of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that have taken place over the last two weeks. However, on Friday he published a statement urging people to stay at home and find ‘a safer way of making [their] voices heard’. And while BLM protests were comparatively scaled down at the weekend, 113 arrests were made and 23 police officers injured after far right counter-protests around the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square turned violent. The Police Federation for England and Wales has urged the Home Secretary to impose an emergency ban on all protests. All quite upsetting, but if you need your faith in humanity restored, here is a video of BLM activists rescuing an injured far right protester. Unsurprisingly, the handling of the protests has become a political issue: the Mayor has faced a backlash for boarding up statues in London to protect them from vandalism, the Home Secretary has accused him of ‘failing to stand up to thuggery’, while in an article in The Telegraph, Conservative MP and London Assembly Member Gareth Bacon has argued that the boarded up statues show Khan has ‘lost control of the capital’s streets.’
Meanwhile, national, regional and local government have launched a host of initiatives to examine and tackle the root causes of inequality and discrimination – including a new national Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to be headed by No 10 Policy Unit chief (and former London Deputy Mayor for Culture) Munira Mirza. Culture and the public realm are emerging as especially prominent issues. Numerous committees have been set up to re-examine London’s street names and statues, and a nationwide call for the establishment of a new museum to educate Britons on the history of the slave trade has been supported by London’s Mayor.
GRENFELL TOWER ANNIVERSARY
Meanwhile, this past weekend marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. A virtual memorial service was attended by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan published a statement saying that ‘we owe it to the people who died, their loved ones and those who survived to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.’ Khan also spoke on BBC Radio London and wrote an article for The Times, in which he argues that the government has been ‘slow to respond and has failed to grasp the scale of the building safety crisis that still exists.’ Despite a series of policy announcements and initiatives towards the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding from all high rise residential buildings over the past three years, the process is far from complete and only in March, the government announced a new £1bn Building Safety Fund to accelerate this work. The full applications process will open by the end of July 2020, with potential applicants able to register now. The Grenfell Inquiry’s public hearings are still suspended, though it is proceeding with other work and planning to resume hearings on 6 July.
Monday saw ‘non-essential’ shops in England allowed to open their doors with great fanfare and a Prime Minister urging consumers to ‘shop, and shop with confidence’. However, images of long queues forming outside major retail outlets on Oxford Street and other high streets belie the fact that footfall is expected to remain at no more than a fifth of pre-crisis levels for a while yet. The two metre social distancing requirement poses a particular challenge. TfL has for many weeks warned that it severely restricts the capacity of public transport and the rule has recently been branded excessive by some major retailers, many Conservative MPs and a number of experts, among others. The Government has already signalled that it is mulling a change. That will doubtlessly prove crucial for other sectors that make London a thriving capital of culture and entertainment, such as restaurants, pubs and bars, museums and galleries, as well as theatres and music venues, all of which remain closed and may open only on 4 July at the very earliest.
Sadly, people are still dying of COVID-19 in London’s hospitals, care homes and the wider community (though the number of deaths has declined significantly) and the region’s ‘R’ rate still hovers close to 1. Meanwhile, the threat of a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic is very real indeed, even as hospitals are facing an immense backlog of postponed surgeries and other treatments.
LONDON GOVERNMENT FINANCE
London’s local authorities are crucial players in the complex process of returning to relative normalcy. They run many of the city’s schools, regulate and maintain the majority of its streets and public spaces and run social care for the most vulnerable (among a range of other responsibilities). The scale of the challenges they face are clear from the papers of yesterday’s London Councils’ Executive meeting. The cross-party committee of elected Council Leaders, chaired by Southwark’s Councillor Peter John, discussed the role played by the boroughs in the shifting array of London’s cross-agency recovery and renewal structures, as well as the financial challenges they face. The total estimated impact of the pandemic for 2020/21, across all 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation, amounts to £1.8bn, comprising £1.1bn in lost income and £709m in increased expenditure. For comparison, that’s almost double the estimated reduction in revenues that England’s 20 Premier League clubs face for the 2019/20 financial year. London’s councils have, to date, received £499m in emergency funding, leaving them with an estimated funding gap of £1.3bn for this year alone. The report identifies ‘an urgent need for another round of funding’ with five boroughs ‘likely to face cashflow difficulties by the end of July’. Let’s hope they get it.
Meanwhile, just this morning, the Mayor issued a press release stating that the wider Greater London Authority group of organisations (comprising City Hall, the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade, and TfL) also faces a ‘budget shortfall’, of up to £493m over the next two years. Unsurprisingly, the release calls for Government to ‘urgently act’ to support local and regional authorities in London and across the UK.
8 ALBERT EMBANKMENT CALLED IN
LCA client U+I's plans for the 8 Albert Embankment scheme have been called in by the Communities Secretary, more than six months after they were approved by Lambeth Council. The decision means that the redevelopment of the site - which has already lain vacant for almost a decade - may be considerably delayed. The plans entail the delivery of 443 homes (40% affordable), 100,000 sq ft of workspace, plus new public spaces, a new fire station for the London Fire Brigade and a new permanent home for the London Fire Brigade Museum. U+I had hoped to start construction next year for completion in 2025 and along with partners, London Fire Brigade, have expressed their disappointment at this decision.
PLANNING KERFUFFLES CONTINUED
This latest call-in comes as the Secretary of State faces continued scrutiny for his decision to quash his own approval of another London scheme, Westferry Printworks. Since our last edition, the story has generated significant coverage, in both the mainstream and trade press and while Jenrick has flatly denied any wrongdoing in the Commons and statements to the press, his critics seem set on pursuing a full investigation. Only today, the Chair of the Commons' HCLG Committee requested access to relevant documents and correspondence. Meanwhile, in terms of the ‘big picture’ for planning, last week’s flurry of rumours surrounding a root-and-branch reform of the planning system have subsided, giving way to clearer signs that the Government is primarily focused on kickstarting major development and infrastructure as part of its economic recovery agenda. Towards the end of the week, it emerged that Jenrick had written to regional Mayors and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) with an urgent call for ‘shovel-ready’ projects with potential for boosting the economy and that the Government can help accelerate through new and existing funding programmes. Politics, the need to deliver on long-standing promises to reform the planning system, as well as the urgent need to boost economic activity as we emerge from the pandemic are all at play here – and will continue to collide in the coming weeks and months.
- The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has appointed Joanna Averley as Chief Planner for England – the first woman to hold the position. She replaces Steve Quartermain who retired earlier this year after serving in the post since 2008.
- The CBI has announced that Tony Danker is to succeed Dame Carolyn Fairbairn as new Director-General at the end of the year, while Lord Bilimoria has been formally elected as its new President, the first in the organisation’s history from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
- Emily Sheffield has been named as the new Editor of the Evening Standard, replacing George Osborne, who will become Editor-in-Chief.
- Hammerson has announced the departure of Chairman David Tyler and his replacement by Rob Noel, former Chief Executive of Landsec.
- Roland Rudd, who has served as a Tate trustee since 2017, will succeed Lionel Barber as Chair of Tate on the conclusion of his term in January 2021.
- The Prime Minister has appointed Chris Grayling, former Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Transport, as a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.
We’ve noticed a host of recent reports that could be of interest to our readers:
- New research commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation on the impact of the pandemic on its sectors, which projects London alone may lose 16% of its creative jobs (109,800).
- NLGN’s quarterly Leadership Index, which surveys chief executives, mayors and leaders of local authorities across the UK on key issues affecting local government.
- A collection of essays from Policy Exchange on reforming the planning system for the 21st Century – in part responsible for triggering last week’s rumours of an imminent shakeup.
- A Centre for Policy Studies report on a new scheme to protect and sustain the housebuilding sector.
- A Centre for London report calling on the government to introduce a support package for the further education sector and give more powers to the Mayor of London to allocate funding to where it is needed most in light of the epidemic.
- The results of a CPRE survey showing that two-thirds of over 2,000 people surveyed want to see green spaces enhanced with more plants and wildlife.
OUR PARTNERSHIP WITH NLA
We are pleased to announce that our Managing Director Jonny Popper has been asked to Chair the NLA’s Expert Panel on Planning, one of a series of panels being established to feed into the NLA’s research and event programming. LCA was a founding Member of the NLA when it was established back in 2005 and even during COVID-19 it has strengthened its place as the forum for debate and discussion about the built environment and is a headline sponsor of “Changing the Face of London” later this year, which looks back on the original exhibition of 2005 and looks forward to the next 15 years. Over the course of last week alone, LCA team members participated in two NLA webinars: Board Director Chris Madel addressed a webinar on digital planning attended by almost 100 participants, while Account Director Jay Allan participated in the NLA's Next Gen Sounding board on post-COVID urbanism. On top of that, the NLA recently published a blog by our Account Director Sam Cranston on the 'new normal' for consultation and engagement in planning.
OUR WEEK HELPING LONDON REBOOT
As noted above, high streets up and down the city are today rolling up their shutters to welcome back visitors from near and far. The LCA team has been directly involved in helping some of the city's top destinations prepare for a safe reopening and boy has it been a busy few weeks for us. At King’s Cross, we have been delighted to help welcome people back safely to the iconic neighbourhood, supporting tenants return and spreading the message through PR and social media. We are also proud to be financially supporting the London Alliance's new 'Because I’m a Londoner' campaign, encouraging all Londoners to rediscover their neighbourhoods and support their local businesses. We would urge all business involved in London’s economy to support the campaign any way you can. You can learn more and join the campaign here.
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.
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