IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
In the space of the last 24 hours, two famous London buildings and institutions have made the news, providing a fascinating contrast.
Yesterday, the City of London Corporation’s Planning Committee resolved to grant planning permission for the Museum of London to move from their home of 40 years, to the iconic West Smithfield markets site. We have worked for the Museum since 2015 and are delighted with this important milestone.
Meanwhile, the GLA announced today that it is considering a move from City Hall to the Royal Docks, to a building it owns called the Crystal, as part of a cost-cutting drive.
The question is now what will happen to these two vacated sites: there are exciting plans afoot for the old Museum of London site to become the home for the Centre for Music, but given it was originally designed very much for the GLA and we now find ourselves in the midst of an apparent glut of office space, what might happen to City Hall?
There’s much besides the above covered in today’s edition – from planning headaches in East London and elsewhere, to the Mayor’s latest media appearances.
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END OF AN ERA
Only this morning, the Mayor announced that the Greater London Authority (GLA) plans to consult on the idea of moving City Hall away from its current HQ in Central London, as part of cost-cutting efforts needed to address financial pressures caused by the pandemic. The GLA has been housed in a striking glass structure designed by Norman Foster, on the south bank of the Thames, since 2002. The building is rented from St Martins Property Group for £11.1m a year, on a 25-year lease struck in 2001. The GLA needs to move quickly if it is to take advantage of a December 2021 ‘break clause’. The Mayor argues that moving into new premises will save £55m over five years. However, it is unclear if this takes into account relocation and other costs and the small print of the Mayor’s announcement notes that some staff will be housed in space already leased from the London Fire Brigade and space to be leased from Transport for London (TfL), both in Southwark.
So where to for City Hall? The Mayor has identified a building in Newham, East London, as the preferred option. Built in 2012 and already owned by a GLA subsidiary, ‘the Crystal’ is thought to be more environmentally friendly and less expensive to run. The Mayor also says that the move will help stimulate the Royal Docks’ regeneration. A formal six-week consultation with the London Assembly, GLA staff and trade unions will now be carried out, before a final decision is taken.
A NEW MUSEUM FOR LONDON
The City Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee yesterday approved plans by the Museum of London – the only museum wholly dedicated to exploring the history of this great city - to create a new, world-class cultural destination within a series of historic buildings in West Smithfield. It is the most significant milestone to date for the project since it was announced in 2015 and LCA is proud to have worked on what is not only a key project for the future of this city, but one of the largest cultural projects happening anywhere in Europe. Due to open in 2024, the new museum will redefine what it means to be a 21st century museum for London and will reach existing and new audiences through an unrivalled collection, vibrant programming and dynamic storytelling. To borrow a phrase from the Museum’s Director, Sharon Ament, we can’t think of a more fitting time than right now for the City to look ahead at ways to help people connect with and understand both their past and their future. The application will now be considered by the Mayor.
KHAN'S PERSONAL STRUGGLES
The Mayor’s latest interview, with the Sunday Times, focuses on Khan’s mental health and the challenges he has faced over the course of the lockdown. This is not the first time he has raised the issue of his personal wellbeing in recent months; it was also the central topic in an interview with Glamour back in mid-April and mental health more generally also featured prominently in subsequent interviews with Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. In this latest case, however, it is remarkably honest of Khan to be quoted as saying ‘there are days when I’m not providing proper leadership’. Some critics, such as Conservative AMs Susan Hall and Tony Devenish, have suggested the statement is an admission that he’s not up to the job – whereas other commentators have argued it is a sign of strength. We tend to agree with the latter; at a time when mental wellbeing is so important, the Mayor is showing both bravery and honesty in opening up. Beyond the headlines, the Mayor’s latest interview covers much more besides mental health, from his clashes with central Government, to his vision for London after lockdown.
TfL is both a point of friction between the Mayor and No 10 and a key factor in plans for the capital’s recovery. Since our last edition, Sky News has revealed that KPMG will be tasked with carrying out a review of TfL’s finances – a core condition of the Government’s controversial £1.6bn bailout package. The Government seems less concerned about unpicking the finances of other rail companies, which, as it emerged towards the end of last week, have been awarded £3.5bn of emergency funding since the outbreak of the pandemic. Meanwhile, back in London, a ‘temporary’ hike of the congestion charge, from £11 to £15, kicked in earlier this week, with the twin aims of averting a surge in car usage and bolstering TfL’s balance sheet. This was also a condition of TfL’s bailout deal, but the Government did not specify how much the charge should increase, enabling Conservative London Mayoral candidate AM Shaun Bailey (and others) to vociferously campaign against it. All of which creates a political minefield for Andy Byford, who formally steps into his role as London Transport Commissioner on Monday. Outgoing Commissioner Mike Brown reflects on his five years in the role in an interview with the BBC published this week.
Last week saw the High Court quash – for the second time – the approval of plans for redeveloping Holborn Studios in Hackney, generating headlines in both the local and national press. Summarising the site’s entire planning saga here is impossible but suffice it to say that it has dragged on for at least seven years. The plans would see an iconic photography studio, located in a conservation area, partly demolished to make way for a mixed-use development of 50 flats and 5,700+ sqm of space for commercial and other uses. The latest, revised application approved by Hackney Council last year offered a payment of about £757,000 for off-site affordable housing (none is offered on-site), a payment of almost £47,600 for carbon offsetting and 24% affordable workspace on-site. These proved to be of little consequence, as the judge’s primary grounds for quashing the application were the methodology and disclosure of the developer’s viability assessments, as well as Hackney Council’s strict policy of resistance to the direct lobbying of councillors, even by objectors. As explained in articles by barrister Richard Harwood QC (who represented the objectors in both High Court cases) as well as specialist solicitor Simon Ricketts, this case sets an important precedent – and Hackney’s Chair of planning has already signalled that this is a ‘hit from the courts’ that the Council ‘shall have to learn from.’
THE FOURTH OF JULY
On 23 June, the Prime Minister laid out the much anticipated next steps in the easing of the lockdown. As expected, following a review, the two metres required for social distancing will be reduced to one metre from 4 July, though it was clarified that two metres should continue to be adhered to where possible. In addition to this, from the same date, bars, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open, though only with table service and with customers’ contact details being taken on entry. Also permitted to open, as long as they are ‘Covid secure’, are businesses including hotels and hostels, museums and galleries, hairdressers and leisure facilities including cinemas. Theatres will also be permitted to open, but live performances will still not be allowed to take place. Others, such as nail salons, spas and indoor gyms will remain closed for the time being, and those able to work from home have been told to continue to do so. The Government has published more detailed guidance for those businesses which are now able to open. What was not included in the PM’s announcement was the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops and other enclosed spaces, something that the Mayor has called on the Government to impose (and is already mandatory on London’s public transport network).
BUILDING SAFETY LATEST
Following the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June, the National Audit Office (NAO) has published a report into the remediation of dangerous cladding on high rise buildings. The report found that there is still a ‘long way to go’, with the private sector being a particular concern as the Government was found to have struggled to identify who is legally responsible for the remediation on privately-owned buildings, though the majority of removal work appears to have been done on social housing blocks. The report also found that COVID-19 has had an impact on the progress of remediation, despite the Government’s commitment to continuing the work during the pandemic. Progress on remediation has been so slow that the report estimates that there will still be high rise buildings clad with dangerous material in 2022, five years after the Grenfell Tower fire.
PLANNING REFORM LATEST
This week has seen further press speculation surrounding the future of planning reform. But the latest, sweeping statements promising a sea-change for planning are – again – paired up with rather more modest, piecemeal measures. The Prime Minister’s advisor Dominic Cummings was only yesterday quoted by The Times as fulminating against an ‘appalling’ planning system, identifying it as one of the ‘long-term problems’ the Government is dead-set on addressing. However, a set of more concrete, but pretty modest policy changes announced by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) the day before that focused on pragmatic and mostly temporary changes to the existing structures. More specifically, the Ministry announced that it will: extend planning permission deadlines for schemes with consent expiring between the start of lockdown and the end of this year to 1 April 2021; speed up planning appeals by permanently granting the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) the ability to use more than one procedure at the same time; and make it easier for builders to ‘quickly agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council’, for a temporary period. Separately, the PINS’ Chief Planning Officer has issued an update on small grants to support Neighbourhood Planning. All rather helpful measures – in favour of which the industry has long lobbied – but more of a ripple than a tsunami.
PRINTWORKS (STILL) CHURNING OUT HEADLINES
Speaking of storm-like events, as of writing, a Google News search for Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick’s name almost exclusively produces headlines relating to the Westferry Printworks debacle, more than a month after he was forced by the courts to quash his approval of the scheme. The Sunday Times and The Times seem to have had had all the latest on Jenrick over the past week: first, with a report which seems to undermine Jenrick’s claim that he did not discuss the controversial development with its backers before approving it; then, with an article on a potential conflict of interest relating to an entirely different planning appeal recovered by the Secretary; and then, with an article raising questions about how he secured planning approval for the extension of his own home in Westminster. None of these ‘scoops’ appear to constitute cast-iron proof of misconduct on Jenrick’s part but, to extend our liquid-based metaphor spree, it is clear that he is in hot water. Indeed, The Guardian has reported that No 10 seems to be distancing itself from him, while the Independent speculates that he is among ministers ‘who may be in line for the sack in the next cabinet reshuffle’ – possibly scheduled for September. As LDN went to press Jenrick was still being interrogated by MPs on the Westferry Printworks decision, during an Opposition Day Debate in the Commons, over the course of which he committed to releasing more relevant documents.
It has been widely reported that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will unveil a package of stimulus measures next month in an attempt to boost the economy as lockdown restrictions are lifted. While the Government is not expected to publish a new Budget until the autumn, Sunak’s ‘fiscal statement’ looks likely to include an extensive financial support package to counter the expected recession and high unemployment rate resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown. The Chancellor is reported to be considering: a temporary VAT cut and changes to the business rates system for the hardest hit sectors like hospitality and tourism; a cut to employers’ national insurance contributions in an attempt to protect jobs; and more funding for education, skills and training. And as previously reported in LDN, the Communities Secretary’s call for ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure projects suggests the statement may also include funding announcements for major projects (in London the Mayor has thus far only mentioned the Hammersmith Bridge as being included in his wish-list). Separately, Khan has called on the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme to curb a ’looming unemployment crisis’ in the capital.
ABOUT THAT STATUE
Amid the international debate about statues and street names memorialising people linked to the slave trade, colonialism and other controversial aspects of our history, the Palace of Westminster is the latest institution to re-evaluate its collection. Its curator, Melissa Hamnett, who is also the Palace’s head of heritage collections, has said that the Speaker’s advisory committee on works of art is set to examine its 9,000 statutes and artworks, many of which Hamnett says have a ‘colonial and imperial past’. The review will also consider commissioning new works, particularly of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and female figures. Many of London’s boroughs are also on the case, with some being well ahead of the curve; following a two-year selection process a panel appointed by Hackney Council has announced two new artworks to ‘celebrate and honour Hackney’s Windrush Generation’, to be unveiled in 2021.
As more and more events have successfully migrated online, and with the lifting of lockdown raising hopes that public events may also be an option in the not-too-distant future, a number of built environment sector award schemes are kicking back into gear. Architects’ Journal has revealed its shortlist of nominees for the AJ100 Client of the Year 2020 award, with contenders including the London Borough of Camden, as well as LCA clients British Land and Crosstree Real Estate Partners. Meanwhile, EG has unveiled the list of finalists for the EG Tech Awards 2020, which includes VU.CITY and British Land.
GETTING INTO ARCHITECTURE
We are proud to be working with HKS Architects on the launch of ‘Getting Into Architecture’, a toolkit they have produced in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. This interactive booklet aims to give students a basic understanding of what an architect is and what they do, as well as providing an overview of the sort of jobs available in the wider construction industry. HKS is keen to support widening access to the architecture profession and through this booklet show that anyone from any background can follow a career in architecture. As part of their campaign we worked with Director of Education, Alfonso Padro on this piece in BD, calling for the industry to tackle issues around social mobility in architecture. Into Architecture can be downloaded here.
LCA is backing the Walk with Carmela campaign by making a donation to Muscular Dystrophy UKon behalf of our clients and staff. Six-year-old Carmela Chillery-Watson is among thousands of people in the UK with a muscle-wasting condition who continues to shield as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. But she has still been doing her bit to help Muscular Dystrophy UK – which is facing a £2.8m shortfall in donations as a result of the pandemic – by walking 26 laps of her personal therapy course in her garden. Carmela’s campaign, launched earlier this month via the world-famous Piccadilly Lights, calls on people who can, to walk to their work or school and donate £3. To take part, you can text WALK to 70140 and find out more at: www.walkwithcarmela.org
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