SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP
It’s been a lively week for London’s Mayor, as Sadiq clashed with Conservative Assembly Members at City Hall on one day and having had his say on the release of convicted rapist John Worboys the next.
Meanwhile, there were ups and downs for the developers of Battersea Power Station and Earls Court, two of the biggest and, at times, most contentious schemes in London over the past decade. The former is being touted for a potential £1.6bn sale and the proposals for the latter have been labelled ‘undeliverable’ by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.
It’s also been a week of comings and goings in the Capital and several key appointments have Caught our Eye – all covered in the relevant section below.
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SADIQ ON STAGE
Whether challenging President Trump’s tweets and plans to visit the UK, or embarking on trade missions to India and Pakistan, Sadiq has been keen to expand his role as national and international spokesperson for a progressive, outward looking London. In a similar vein, the Mayor this week suggested he may launch a legal challenge against the release of convicted ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys by the Parole Board, in the absence of a government-led challenge. Elsewhere, he added his weight to a cross-party letter from England’s elected mayors asking the government to rethink its policies on international students. Some commentators have accused Sadiq of using the Mayor’s pulpit to stray beyond his job description and into the national government's territory; yet others have applauded his initiatives as appropriate for an elected leader of a world city.
Elsewhere, tempers flared in City Hall as Sadiq and Conservative Assembly Members clashed during recent Assembly sessions. An intensive series of committee meetings on the Mayor’s Budget proposals earlier this month saw some snappish exchanges between the Mayor and Gareth Bacon, the Conservative Chair of the Budget and Performance Committee, on the issue of who is responsible for cuts to the Metropolitan Police Service’s budgets (a final showdown is expected during the Assembly Plenary this Thursday). More recently, questions from Conservative Assembly Member Shaun Bailey relating to the Mayor’s knife crime policy also led to some very testy language and playground behaviour on both sides. Whatever – or whoever – is to blame, Evening Standard City Hall correspondent Pippa Crerar (soon joining the Guardian) was certainly not impressed and neither was the BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Nick Beale.
H&F GETS TOUGH ON CAPCO
The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (LBHF) has publicly stated that Capco’s revised proposals for the Earls Court redevelopment are ‘undeliverable’ and has called on the developer to return the West Kensington and Gibbs Green council estates to the borough as being the ‘only viable way forward.’ While LBHF’s latest intervention cites concerns raised by the neighbouring Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, as well as the Greater London Authority’s regeneration policy, its Labour administration has long sought to renegotiate key components of Capco’s plans. Indeed, Hammersmith & Fulham Labour had committed to giving council housing residents ‘ownership of the land their homes are on’ in its 2014 Local Election Manifesto. It is therefore unsurprising that with the next local elections coming up in less than four months and the project’s valuation sliding significantly over the past few years, the Council’s Labour leadership has thrown down the gauntlet.
BATTERSEA POWER STATION SALE
Across the river, Battersea Power Station is set to be sold for a reported £1.6bn, in what is being called one of Britain’s largest evert property deals. Malaysian fund Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) and the Employees Provident Fund of Malaysia (EPF) have announced their intention to purchase the Grade II listed building and it is thought the transaction will release cash for the developers and ease financial pressures on the scheme. EPF is already a direct investor in the project and both PNB and EPF are indirect investors. The sale would eclipse the £1.28bn sale of the 'Walkie Talkie' skyscraper in the City last year, which was acquired by a Hong Kong firm. Discussions are said to be ongoing with an announcement expected in due course.
Commercial property agency GVA, which has worked on prominent London development projects, has announced its separation from parent company Apleona. According to the company’s press release, the separation will allow both businesses to ‘focus on their respective core markets’. GVA will remain under the ownership of Swedish private equity group EQT, which purchased the agency in September 2016.
TREASURY COMMITTEE WEIGHS IN ON HRA
In its report on the Autumn Budget 2017, the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee has said that the government ‘should remove’ the borrowing cap on local authority housing revenue accounts (HRA), to enable meeting its ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes a year. The Committee argued that ‘raising the cap would have no material impact on the national debt, but could result in a substantial increase in the supply of housing’. MPs further suggested that while the Treasury’s decision to raise the HRA borrowing cap by £1 billion is a ‘positive step,’ the bidding process proposed by the department to allocate the additional funds ‘may not direct resources to areas of greatest housing need.’ It is notable that the Committee, which is led by Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, has explicitly cited the recommendations to this effect of Local Government Association (LGA), as expressed by Nick Forbes, LGA Senior Vice Chair and Labour Leader of Newcastle City Council.
The past week saw several key appointments in London across both the public and private sectors. Haringey Council has appointed Councillor Peter Mitchell as its new Cabinet Member for the Environment and Helen Fisher as its Interim Strategic Director for Regeneration, Planning & Development. Meanwhile, as noted above, Evening Standard City Hall Editor Pippa Crerar has revealed she will soon be writing under the Guardian’s banner as a Deputy Political Editor, while David Cameron’s former chief speech writer Julian Glover will start work at the Standard as Associate Editor next Monday. South of the Thames, Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly will be leaving to lead the Women of the World (WOW) festival she founded in 2010 and National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) Interim Chair Sir John Armitt - previously Deputy Chair, during Lord Adonis’ tenure - has been appointed the Commission’s Chair on a permanent basis. In Richmond-upon-Thames, Liberal Democrat Councillor Stephen Knight (also a former London Assembly Member) has decided not to run for re-election after 20 years’ service and has now joined the Labour Party, following his partner’s decision to do the same two years ago. Finally, it is notable that earlier this month, Tom Whiting was appointed as the interim chief executive of Harrow Council (until a full-time appointee is selected, after the 3 May 2018 council elections).
NEW HOUSING RESEARCH
A fresh tranche of research from London First estimates a 46% ‘attrition rate’ – the percentage of new homes not started within three years of being permitted – for 2017 in London, up from 33% in 2016. The report also illustrates the gulf in housebuilding output between inner and outer London, finding that last year just 28% of new homes were built in TfL zones 4-6. Meanwhile, research by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that over the past two years, one in 10 new homes in England and Wales was converted from an office but included no affordable housing or supporting investment in infrastructure. The LGA has used these findings to argue that permitted development rights which allow developers to bypass normal planning rules have led to the potential loss of affordable homes and threaten the availability of vital office space. Elsewhere, a report released today by Centre for London and the Southern Policy Centre on collaborative working across the London boundary, recommends that the draft London Plan should be used as a conduit for London and its neighbouring partners to develop a vision for accommodating growth.
We are pleased to see London strongly represented in the Local Government Chronicle’s annual ‘LGC100’ list, which ‘identifies the most influential people whose work will shape local government in 2018’. Barry Quirk, the experienced local government civil servant recently appointed the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s Chief Executive following 23 years in the same role at Lewisham, figures prominently at second place. The list’s ‘Top 20’ also notably includes Claire Kober, the Labour Leader of Haringey Council and chair of London Councils, as well as Sadiq. Further down the list, we also spied Eleanor Kelly, the Chief Executive of Southwark Council; Professor Tony Travers of LSE London; Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer of Greater London Authority; Lesley Seary, Chief Executive of Islington Council; and Peter John, the Labour Leader of Southwark Council.
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