A SOBERING CHANGE OF TONE
It’s been a week of big announcements, but, alas, none provide much clarity about a very uncertain Autumn and Winter ahead.
Meanwhile, London’s local and regional government chug on as best they can, and you can almost feel the collective effort to keep (at least some) plates spinning across transport, planning, culture and must else besides. As always though, with change comes opportunity and we’ve noticed a fair few people moves over the last few weeks – more below, but first, a few words from our Chairman:
"A regular reader of LDN recently commented to me that he sometimes finds our coverage a tad too optimistic. Well, this week’s foreword seeks to get the balance right, but it’s not easy.
The Chancellor’s statement last week signalled a profound change in both tone and direction and suggests a growing recognition that we are seeing a radical change in the UK’s economy – a change that the Treasury cannot halt by simply throwing money at it.
And for London, and central London in particular, that change is seriously sobering. We are back to ‘work from home if you can’ and the implications as we drag ourselves towards Christmas are clear to see.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor has cancelled the Budget and any sense of a Comprehensive Spending Review, replacing both with another one year emergency funding package for 2020/21. Gone is medium term budgeting, at least for now.
But when will we see this funding package? Local authorities, reeling from 10 years of austerity and six months of dramatic change and frontline crisis support for society’s most vulnerable are already planning their budgets for 1 April 2021 – as they have to – but for now they are working blind.
So where’s the optimism? Well let’s hope that the government might quit their posturing over TfL and agree a fair and sensible funding package. At least that will ensure that the transport oil, which maintains London’s engine, keeps flowing. And let’s hope London avoids a partial or even worse a total lock down this autumn."
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
WINTER IS COMING
Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economic Plan has been all over the news and we are likely to be hearing more of the detail over the coming weeks. The package of measures, centred on a new Jobs Support Scheme, is as important for London as it is for any other part of the country. London Councils, business association London First and think tank Centre for London all welcomed news of the new employment lifeline launched to replace the Furlough Scheme. However, they also called for more action, on a much wider front. Indeed, while it was announced earlier in the week that this November’s Budget has been cancelled, the Chancellor did not mention when it will ultimately be delivered. He also did not mention when the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will be published, nor what period it will cover, amidst reports that it may set UK Government departments’ budgets for just a year, rather than the “normal” three. The publication of many organisations’ submissions to the CSR’s consultation (which incidentally closed on 24 September) underline its huge impact on everything from sustaining local government to supporting new infrastructure in the capital. The Winter Economic Plan had nothing to say on these fronts.
A TIGHTER LOCKDOWN?
Of course, the other big question these days is whether London lies on the cusp of a second lockdown, after evidence of a sustained rise in Covid-19 cases capital meant it was added to the government's Covid-19 ‘watch-list’. While tentatively supportive of additional measures announced by the Government last week, the Mayor has called for the list of restrictions to be extended. Expressing fears that existing testing data only partly documents a worrying increase in cases, hospitalisations and deaths, he has specifically argued in favour of ‘stopping [the] social mixing of households,’ as is already the case in the North East. Other measures are also reportedly being mooted, up to and including an ‘emergency two week lockdown’. In any event, at a press conference today, still ongoing as of writing, the Prime Minister defended last week’s new measures but stopped short of announcing any new restrictions (without ruling them out). Meanwhile, central London saw a second weekend of demonstrations by anti-lockdown protesters, which were broken up by the Met police.
"Week after week, LDN has explored the widening rift between Whitehall and City Hall. It is clear that the pandemic, as well as the postponed but still-looming London Mayoral and Assembly elections, have not helped. We have and will continue to argue that the capital should not be treated as the sacrificial lamb for the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. But as recently illustrated by both friends and foes of the Mayor in the press, City Hall also needs to think carefully about its own approach to working with the Government. There is, undoubtedly, much to disagree about. But our capital of 9,000,000 souls, 700 villages and 33 local authorities has only one Mayor and one Prime Minister. If the city is going to survive and thrive, the two of them must work together for both the country's and Londoners' sake: after all, love it or loathe it, the capital remains the UK's foremost economic engine, as well as being home to huge inequalities. Our next story, on the Transport for London's (TfL) continuing financial woes , offers a prime example of how the perpetual punch-up between regional and national authorities offers bruises all-round, but no prize.’"
LCA Research Manager Stefanos Koryzis
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
The Mayor has published a press release arguing that if the Government fails to provide further funding for Transport for London, the city’s public transport network will stagnate, become less safe and ultimately less able to support economic recovery. Khan cited estimates according to which TfL will need at least £2bn from the Government for the second half of 2020/21 alone and a further £2.9bn for 2021/22 just ‘to stabilise the network’s financial position’ – and more to support Crossrail and other projects. The current emergency agreement is set to expire on 17 October and the Mayor has previously said that a new agreement for further funding needs to be met on 30 September. While Khan continues to blame the collapse of passenger revenues (in turn triggered by the pandemic) for TfL’s current financial state, his Conservative opponent for the Mayoralty still blames… Khan.
Separately, Uber has finally – following appeals to the courts – been granted permission to continue to operate in London. Last year, TfL rejected Uber’s application for a new licence over safety concerns, but the company has continued to operate pending a decision on its appeal. The Mayor has said that TfL ‘will continue to closely monitor Uber’. In other news the Port of London Authority (PLA) and DHL have announced the launch of a delivery service using on a combination of river boats on the Thames and bicycles for ‘last mile’ delivery, which aims to serve consumers while reducing both road congestion and air pollution.
The public hearing for Avanton’s called-in Homebase Manor Road scheme in Richmond is set to take place tomorrow. The proposals were called in by the Mayor in July 2019, having been rejected by Richmond’s Planning Committee. Since being called in, the proposals have been revised and the scheme will now deliver 453 homes (40% affordable), up from 385 (35% affordable).
- The Mayor has written to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick, calling for ‘urgent action’ to aid those affected by the cladding crisis. Aside from more funding for cladding removal works, he called for a rehaul of the External Wall System (EWS) system for assessing fire safety.
- The Mayor and Bryden Wood have meanwhile released a new version of the PRiSM app which is intended to facilitate the initial assessment of development sites’ suitability for manufactured homes.
- Rob Heasman has been appointed as Chief Executive of the Earls Court Development Company.
- Landsec’s CFO Martin Greenslade has announced his intention to step down from the role in 2021. He will continue as CFO until a successor is appointed.
- Hammerson has appointed Rita-Rose Gagné as Chief Executive.
- As part of the Government’s proposed reforms of the planning system, Nicholas Boys-Smith has been appointed to establish a new design body, while Charles O’Brien has been appointed as the Government’s Listing Heritage Adviser.
- Cllr Peter Mason has stepped down from his role as Ealing Council's Cabinet Member for Housing. A replacement will be announced shortly.
- Lucy Owen, formerly of the GLA and the Heathrow Strategic Planning Group, has recently become the Chief of Staff for the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal.
PLANNING REFORM LATEST
One major chapter of the Government’s planning reform drive concludes this week, but there’s far more to be done. A consultation on the ‘standard method for assessing local housing need,’ the First Homes policy and temporary flexibilities for both SME builders and major developers closies tomorrow - but the consultation on the flagship Planning for the Future White Paper is still ongoing and runs until the end of October. Much remains unclear about the White Paper’s proposals, almost two months after they were unveiled, though (as mentioned above in People Moves) last week Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick did unveil the Government’s new design and heritage champions, along with some details about their terms of reference. Many LDN readers will be aware that a core premise of the White Paper’s proposals is that the planning system is ‘broken’ and does not deliver enough homes. However, the latest planning applications data from the Office of National Statistics suggests that between April and June this year, England’s local authorities approved 87% of applications (down only 1% from the same period last year), and decided 89% of major applications ‘within 13 weeks or the agreed time’ (up 1%). On the other hand, home building statistics indicate that construction starts for the quarter are down 52% and completions are down 62%.
NO DEAL FOR LONDON?
Jenrick’s Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has meanwhile announced the allocation of £80m to support a variety of regeneration projects in 101 towns. This is a first instalment from a £3.6bn Towns Fund announced last year, to ‘level up towns across England.’ Except London, that is, as none of the 101 locations are in the capital. Many Londoners, where an estimated 48% of residents rent their homes (27% on the open market, with the remainder in social housing), will also be disappointed to hear that Housing Minister Christopher Pincher admitted a ban on Section 21 (so-called 'no-fault’) evictions has been postponed until ‘the appropriate time when there is a sensible and stable economic and social terrain on which to do it.’ Scrapping Section 21 was a Conservative 2019 General Election manifesto pledge. Londoners should however be able to tap into the new Green Homes Grant scheme, launched today, under which homeowners and landlords can get up to £5,000 to pay part of the cost of energy saving measures (with low income households eligible for 100% of the costs of work, up to £10,000).
UPPER STREET DRAMA
Islington Council’s Labour Group won all but one seat at the 2018 local election and has been relatively cohesive under Cllr Richard Watts’ leadership, with the few changes to his Cabinet announced well ahead of this year’s AGM. However, the session turned out to be rather more dramatic than expected. As reported in the Islington Tribune, outgoing Mayor Councillor Rakhia Ismail gave ‘an emotional speech’, asserting that she has felt as though her ‘values have not been respected by the leadership establishment and members.’ Ismail subsequently said she is resigning from the Labour Party altogether and has taken aim at the Mayor of London for failing to reach out to the family and community of a teenager that was stabbed to death in Holloway. Separately, Labour MP for Leicester East Claudia Webb – who remains an Islington Councillor – has been suspended from the party after being charged with harassment.
Elsewhere, AGMs are due to take place in Tower Hamlets this evening, and in Haringey tomorrow. Documents published (see p9) by Tower Hamlets suggest that all current Cabinet Members will be keeping their seats and portfolios. Haringey has also published (see p13) its new Cabinet line-up in advance of tomorrow’s meeting and here too, all current Cabinet members look set to remain in place. However, some Haringey Cabinet members’ portfolios have been shifted around. Notably, Cllr Kaushika Amin will be succeeding Cllr Seema Chandwani as Deputy leader (both keeping their other portfolios).
EALING BROADWAY BUSTUP
Meanwhile, an Ealing Labour Group meeting on Monday evening saw Council Leader Julian Bell narrowly survive a vote of no confidence (the vote was reportedly 28 to 27, with one abstention). We understand the challenge was prompted in part by conflicts surrounding the implementation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (covered in previous editions of LDN) and in part by the postponement of this year's AGM. Following Cllr Peter John relinquishing the helm at Southwark and the announcement that Cllr Stephen Alambritis is also stepping down at Merton this November, Cllr Bell will soon become the longest serving Labour borough leader in London. OnLondon has the lowdown.
NEWHAM MAYORALTY LATEST
We reported last week that a campaign in Newham was poised to submit a petition with more than 11,000 signatures, demanding a referendum on scrapping the borough’s directly-elected Mayoralty. Since then, incumbent Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has reiterated that she is in support of holding a referendum on Newham’s system of governance and confirmed she is happy for it go ahead next May – alongside the London Mayoral and Assembly elections and in line with a manifesto pledge she made in 2018. But Fiaz simultaneously revealed that the campaigners’ petition has been rejected, on the basis of its date of submission. If you’re wondering how the one squares with the other, the answer lies in the specifics of the alternatives that participants in a governance referendum will be voting on: campaigners were demanding that residents be offered a choice between the current directly-elected Mayor model, or the Leader and Cabinet model used by most London Boroughs. But Fiaz and the Newham Council Labour Group have not yet decided what the alternative option will be. As for when that decision is due: a ‘working party’ of councillors will be presenting proposals to the Labour group on 14 October, with the winning formula formally approved at the (100% Labour) full council meeting on 23 October.
LONDON BOROUGH PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Southwark Council has reportedly asked law firm Dentons to investigate the Planning Committee session at which the redevelopment of Dulwich F.C. Champion Hill ground was granted approval. This follows ‘up to half a dozen’ complaints about the conduct of the meeting, which saw ‘tense exchanges’ between the Committee Chair and then-leader of the Council Peter John.
- Tower Hamlets has granted approval for the development of 550 homes (35%) affordable and commercial space at the former Marian Place gas storage site in Bethnal Green, despite opposition from heritage campaigners. The scheme is promoted by St William, a joint venture between Berkeley Homes and National Grid.
- Camden’s historic London Irish Centre has been granted approval for redevelopment plans, which include partial demolition of the existing building to deliver new community space, a rooftop terrace and residential accommodation.
- Centre for London has released the first report of its important London Futures review. ‘London at a crossroads’ takes stock of where the capital currently stands, amidst various uncertainties.
- Centre for Cities’ new report, ‘Re-writing the Green Book for levelling up’, suggests that the Government’s approach to ‘levelling up’ needs to be reconsidered. OnLondon has more.
CULTURE INTERRUPTED (BUT UNBOWED)
Today, pantomime dames marched on Westminster to highlight the impact of the pandemic on this most British of performance traditions. Other creatives also took part in the ‘Panto Parade’ from the Southbank to Parliament Square. Meanwhile, London will be among many cities across the world taking part in an extension of this summer’s #WeMakeEvents campaign, when cultural landmarks were illuminated in red, to highlight the plight of the live events industry. Tonight, buildings in London will again turn crimson, white lights will be beamed into the sky to signify job losses and images of what would have been taking place inside will be projected on to the outside of empty venues.
THE STARS ARE (STILL) BRIGHT
In happier news, you can still visit The Stars are Bright, an exhibition of works by some of Zimbabwe’s leading modern artists presented by one of LCA’s charitable clients. The free exhibition, in Shoreditch, has been extended for one month until 30 October 2020, giving more people a chance to see the striking works before they return home to Zimbabwe for the first time since the 1940s. Failing that, you might just catch them broadcast on a leading arts channel before the end of the year…
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