"Writing this from home, on a grey and gloomy day, having been up since 5am because the kids don’t understand that the clocks have changed, I’d rather not dwell on the transport rows over tubes and airports, or the political rows over planning reform and I certainly haven’t the head for funding rows over the future of beleaguered local authorities.
So instead I’ll draw your attention to some examples of people working nicely together. Like Sadiq and Andy Burnham, who have collaborated to deliver a slight but targeted attack on the Government’s handling of the pandemic in the Guardian. It is strangely rare to find City leaders on the same page (literally and figuratively)!
And then there’s the absolute glut of creative and edifying work coming out of organisations across the public and private sector for Black History Month. There’s so much to learn and so much to change but across the capital, teams of people are making that happen.
Finally, we have a duo who need no encouragement to put their heads together. Our own Chairman Robert Gordon Clark and Professor Tony Travers (the leading expert on everything London) have teamed up to MC a quiz for the London Conference – details below. The Conference itself of course being yet another prime example of great minds coming together for the good of the city – hooray, I feel better already!"
Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
FOOTFALL IN FREEFALL
On Friday, the Mayor painted a dire picture of the pandemic’s impact on Central London’s hospitality, culture, retail and leisure industries. Citing research by GLA Economics, he said that spending in the Central Activities Zone (CAZ) by tourists will be £10.9bn less than it would have otherwise been in 2020 (while spending by commuters will be down by £1.9bn). The accuracy of these estimates is heavily caveated by GLA Economics itself, but even give or take a billion or two, they represent a staggering blow to London’s commercial and cultural heart. They also help frame the importance of other recent developments. On Thursday, the Chancellor expanded the scope and scale of support for businesses – a move tentatively welcomed by the Mayor and London Councils, as well as business associations like London First and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Separately, London arts and cultural organisations, including Shakespeare’s Globe and Sadler’s Wells, were awarded a 30% share of a first £75m tranche of funding from the £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund. Yet, all and sundry continue to call for more financial support and policy changes such as an end to the 10pm curfew on food and beverage service.
The grim reality for businesses and workers ‘on the ground’ is arguably most palpable in Westminster, which is entirely located within the CAZ and of course is the seat of national Government. Over the past week, the area has seen yet more protests, including a “HospoDemo” by hospitality staff attended by celebrity chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and yet another march against lockdown measures in general. The New West End Company has for several months campaigned on a series of measures to support the area’s recovery, highlighting its disproportionate dependence on tourists from the rest of the UK and abroad. It’s not just Government and the Mayor feeling the heat; Westminster City Council was last week reportedly forced to scrap plans for a hospitality charge for licenses to trade outdoors and is now facing a vociferous campaign against proposed changes to how street performers are regulated.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
With combative negotiations between London’s authorities and the Government on TfL’s next bailout programme ongoing, London’s Conservative MPs have now joined the fray. The city's Tory MPs are reportedly putting pressure on the Government to rule out the expansion of the congestion charge zone, which was attached as a condition of a further funding deal for TfL. The deal is not yet agreed but the MPs have held meetings with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps during which one MP was reported to have said that there would be ‘blood on the walls’ if the condition is imposed. The MPs also object to the proposals to remove free travel for under 18s and over 60s.
Separately, London’s airports continue to struggle. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suggested Heathrow’s shareholders must themselves fill the pandemic’s additional cost and revenue shortfalls, or risk nationalisation, after the airport proposed airline and passenger charges should be increased (though the CAA later played down its comments). Heathrow has meanwhile reported £1.5bn of losses for the year to date and has been overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as Europe’s busiest airport. Elsewhere, Gatwick Airport’s chief executive has revealed that approximately 40% of its employees will have lost their jobs by the end of October – though in better news for the airport, Wizz Air has said that it will focus its UK expansion at Gatwick.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Queensgate Investments and Rockwell’s 30-storey Kensington Forum hotel scheme has been approved by Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills Jules Pipe for a second time. Construction News traces the project’s contentious planning history.
- Looking ahead, British Land’s 22-storey, mixed-use 5 Kingdom Street scheme will be considered by City Hall at a public hearing tomorrow.
- Wandsworth Council’s planning committee has approved the plans for Alton Estate’s regeneration, three months after development partner Redrow withdrew from the scheme. It will now be referred to the Mayor.
- John Lewis Partnership has secured Westminster City Council’s permission to convert up to 45% of its flagship Oxford Street store to office space – an interesting move that may lead to more such applications in the West End.
- The co-chairs of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation and the scheme’s architect have defended plans for a proposed memorial and learning centre next to Parliament before the Planning Inspectorate’s ongoing public inquiry, which is due to conclude in mid-November.
DIRECTLY-ELECTED MAYORALTIES LATEST
Newham Councillors have approved plans to hold a referendum on the borough’s governance system on 6 May 2021, to coincide with the London Mayoral and Assembly Elections. They have agreed that the alternatives to be put before residents are the current directly-elected Mayor model and a ‘Committee model’ (currently used by only a handful of other boroughs, such as Sutton, Richmond and Barnet). Delivering this referendum in time for its result to apply to the next local elections in May 2022 – as part of a wider review of local democracy and civic participation – is one of Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s manifesto pledges. However, the Council is still grappling with the promoters of a petition demanding that voters are offered a choice between the current system and the more commonly-used Leader and Cabinet model (more on this from OnLondon and the Newham Recorder). Separately, campaigns in favour of switching from a Leader and Cabinet model to a directly elected Mayor are underway in Croydon and Hammersmith & Fulham, while a new petition in Tower Hamlets is calling to scrap that borough’s directly elected Mayoralty.
- Peter Freeman, co-founder of Argent, has been confirmed as the new Chair of Homes England.
- Cllr Tom Drummond has been elected the new Leader of the Sutton Council’s Conservative opposition group, after Cllr Tim Crowley said that he was standing down.
- And after 30 years the founders of Dixon Jones, an architectural practice that has really left a mark on London, have announced that the company is being wound up.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE
Last week, the Chancellor confirmed rumours that the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will cover only one year, rather than three. London Councils has called the announcement ‘hugely disappointing,’ though it was more welcoming of the Chancellor’s next announcement, which promised expanded support for businesses affected by Tier 2 restrictions. The Communities Secretary subsequently released the allocation of an additional £1bn emergency funding boost for councils across England. On the bright side for London, it has received a larger slice of the pie than it did previously, at about 24% of the total, according to our calculation, up from 16%-17% in the first three tranches. However, the £218m figure only amounts to about one-fifth of the £1bn funding shortfall the boroughs are still currently expecting for this year. Furthermore, that £1bn gap looks set to widen: London Councils has highlighted a ‘219% increase in demand for welfare services run by the boroughs between March and June 2020 alone, when compared to the same period in 2019’. Separately, independent think tank Centre for Cities has estimated that if London goes into Tier 3 restrictions and its leaders were to make similar funding requests as Manchester did, the capital’s authorities and businesses would need more than £400m a month.
While on the subject of council finances, Croydon Council's external auditor Grant Thornton has issued a 'Report in the Public Interest' which lays bare the reasons behind the council's financial struggles. For another perspective on this issue - published before Grant Thornton's report - see an article by Dave Hill from earlier this month.
PLANNING REFORM LATEST
The consultation on the Government’s Planning for the Future White Paper closes at 11:45pm tomorrow. Yet, even after three months of discussion and Government officials appearing on countless webinars to explain what the Paper foresees for the system, the most common reaction seems to be one of confusion. See for example the City of London Corporation’s draft submission to the consultation, considered by its Planning & Transportation Committee yesterday (the officers’ report is here and the draft submission itself here): the response ‘supports in principle’ the need to review the planning system, but bluntly states that ‘a number of [the White Paper’s] proposals appear as headlines, with little supporting information or detail,’ without which ‘it is difficult to provide positive comments on a number of aspects of the proposed planning reform.’ Separately, even ‘true-blue’ Hillingdon Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Transportation Cllr Keith Burrows had choice words for the proposals (with the borough’s full submission also pulling no punches). In fact, as recently explained by the Financial Times and Inside Housing, Conservative MPs and councillors are more likely than anyone to balk at many of the reforms proposed by the Government.
Police investigating the Grenfell Tower fire have made their first arrest. Though details remain unclear, it has been reported that a 38 year old man has been arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice. The ongoing inquiry into the fire has meanwhile heard that the project manager of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment for Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) disposed of documents relating to the refurbishment when she left the organisation in May 2018 – almost a year after the fire took place and despite being aware that a police investigation and public inquiry into the fire was ongoing. These revelations came to light after a former KCTMO colleague submitted his notes and diaries to the inquiry last week. The Grenfell United group has called the news ‘devastating’ and the Met Police has now said that they will ‘assess whether a criminal offence may have been committed’ if evidence has been ‘disposed of or withheld from the criminal investigation’.
LONDON POLLING LATEST
Mayoral voting intention polling carried out by Redfield and Wilton between 15 and 17 October has the current Mayor Sadiq Khan well in the lead with 50% of the vote (+2 since their September poll), Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey with 28% (n/c), new Lib Dem candidate Luisa Porritt with 10% (-1) and the Green’s Sian Berry also on 10% (+1). Those polled were also asked what they think of Khan’s performance as Mayor, with 42% saying that they approve and 28% saying that they disapprove. His net +14% approval rating is 4 points lower than it was in September but is still a quite positive rating after over four years in charge and despite the Government’s attempts to discredit him, especially on the management of TfL’s finances. The poll also contains a treasure trove of responses to other questions, relating to everything from Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer’s approval ratings to the role and responsibilities of London’s Mayoralty. Separately, the firm has also carried out polling with Londoners about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Government, which depressingly suggests broad pessimism about the coming months, as well as significant levels of distrust in Government’s performance to date.
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED (CONT'D)
- NHS London has created an interactive map of the city to tell the stories of inspiring black Londoners, all nominated by NHS staff for their important contribution to their NHS Trust, local area or wider society.
- For more stories of barrier-breaking black Londoners, you can read about Sislin Fay Allen, London (and Britain's) first black policewoman, Annie Brewster, one of Britain's first black nurses, and Barbara Blake Hannah, the first black reporter on British TV.
- The City of London Corporation’s efforts to come to grips with its past are beginning to bear fruit, with recent examples including publishing a research paper entitled 'Black and Asian Women in the City of London 1600-1860' commissioned by its Tackling Racism Taskforce and highlighting relevant research by the London Metropolitan Archives.
- Meanwhile, the connections of many buildings, monuments and institutions within the Square Mile to the slave trade continue to generate debate and change – with the owners of the Plantation Place office building recently deciding to rename it 30 Fenchurch Street.
- Contemporary black Jewish speakers from around the world will feature in North London community centre JW3’s ‘My Black Mitzvah Party’ part-virtual event on Thursday.
- Finally – and sadly – official stop and search statistics covering the 2019/20 period in England and Wales indicate that ‘black people were 8.9 times more likely to be stopped than white people’ and that ‘for all BAME people that figure was 4.1 times higher than for white people.’
Next week, Centre for London will be holding its four-day annual London Conference, starting Tuesday with a keynote speech from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. The online event will cover a wide range of issues from transport and sustainability, to culture and how we celebrate our city’s past. It will hear from a real Who’s Who of prominent Londoners, as well as great minds from further afield. Just about a quarter of the LCA team is planning to attend and we are especially pleased to report that our Chairman Robert Gordon Clark is teaming up with LSE’s Professor Tony Travers to MC a quiz night on all things London, at 7pm on Wednesday evening. You can see the Conference’s full programme here and if you haven’t already, register to attend here.
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