LOCKED DOWN, BAILED OUT, MOVING EAST
"Last week my fellow Board Director, Jenna Goldberg, clearly tempted fate in her LDN foreword by suggesting brighter days might be ahead and noting all the cultural activity that London still had to offer. So, personally, I blame her for this second lockdown. That said, she could point out the fact that Oxford Street’s Christmas lights have been switched on, so brighter nights are certainly ahead, despite most of the shops closing until 2 December (at the earliest). I am sure the irony is not lost on anyone.
Meanwhile, the lights at City Hall will soon be switched off permanently as the Mayor of London has confirmed that they will move to the Crystal at the Royal Docks despite many objections, including from his fellow Labour London Assembly Members. And whilst that resolves one issue in the medium term, the TfL settlement announced this weekend by the government only guarantees the organisation’s financial stability in the very short term - until March 2021… two months before the delayed GLA elections. Deliberate? Probably. Will it make a difference to the result? Unlikely.
All that and more besides is covered below and rest assured, lockdown or not, LDN will continue to come out to brighten every Wednesday to Christmas."
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
HERE WE GO AGAIN
It is fair to say that the announcement of the new nationwide lockdown was greeted with mixed feelings, especially in the capital. The Mayor, London Councils and most major business associations have endorsed the measures as necessary from a public health standpoint. However, Sadiq Khan has argued that a short circuit breaker implemented weeks ago would have averted the need for this month-long shutdown and has additionally called – as have London First and the LCCI – for the Government to offer employers more support in the form of grants, loans and tax rebates. Some sectors are, of course, more sensitive than others. Many retailers, pub operators and travel companies have seen their stocks ‘plunge’; data compiled for the Evening Standard suggest that in London, 75,599 ‘non-essential retail shops’ and 1,555 ‘personal care facilities’ such as hair salons and tattoo parlours will have to close, while 3,640 pubs, 238 wine bars and 7,556 restaurants will not be allowed to serve food and drink on premises. Separately and despite a last-minute shopping spree between the announcement of new measures and their start date tomorrow, the New West End Company estimates that the West End alone is set to ‘lose up to £2bn in sales across the eight-week period up to Christmas.’
The restrictions, formally approved by MPs today, are set to last until 2 December, though they may be extended.
While somewhat overshadowed by the lockdown announcement, it was confirmed on 1 November that the Government and Transport for London (TfL) had reached a further funding agreement (reportedly only minutes before a midnight deadline). TfL is set to receive £1.8bn for the next six months. In what the Mayor will consider to be a win (though he will have been helped by vocal opposition from London’s Conservative MPs), the conditions linked to this new funding package deal do not include an extension of the congestion charge zone or the scrapping of free travel for under-18s and over-60s. However, as the full agreement sets out, there are other strings attached, including an increase in fares and the requirement that TfL find £160m of cost savings over six months, while an increase in the council tax precept to fund TfL is also being considered. Also included is ‘an orderly end to consultancy work’ on Crossrail 2 and the requirement that TfL ‘works with a government led expert review on the possible implementation of driverless trains’. The timescales associated with this new agreement are particularly interesting: the new funding period ends on 31 March 2021, meaning that another financial agreement will have to be negotiated just over a month before the postponed Mayoral and London Assembly election is set to take place.
CITY HALL MOVES EAST
The Mayor confirmed yesterday that City Hall will be moved to the GLA-owned Crystal in the Royal Docks, at the end of 2021. The Greater London Authority (GLA) estimates that moving out of its currently ‘rented’ accommodation will save £61m over five years. In his press release, the Mayor accused the Government of ‘not adequately funding local and regional government in London’ and said that the savings made will be used to ‘protect front-line public services’. The leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly Susan Hall AM called the plans ‘flawed’ and ‘based on dodgy numbers’, while the leader of the Assembly’s Labour group AM Len Duvall said that while the group’s ‘preference was to see the heart of London government remain in the heart of London’, they accept that the move needs to be made due to ‘budgetary pressures’.
Last Thursday, the Mayor approved British Land's 5 Kingdom Street plans at a virtual public hearing. The commercial-led, mixed-use scheme features a ground plus 19-storey building within the Paddington Opportunity Area and will provide office, retail and affordable workspace, plus a number of local amenities and transport improvements. It had been opposed by Westminster Council, mainly on grounds of height and design, before being called in by City Hall. The scheme's final iteration includes a beefed-up package of benefits for the local community, including 42,000 sq ft of affordable workspace, a £14.3m contribution to Westminster’s affordable housing fund, and a commitment to make the building net zero carbon in construction and operation. The next two public hearings on called-in schemes are those for Reselton Properties' Former Stag Brewery in Mortlake, Richmond on 26 November, followed by Hammerson and Ballymore's Bishopsgate Goodsyard on the Hackney/Tower Hamlets borders on 3 December. Meanwhile, the planning inquiry on plans (supported by the Mayor) for a new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Westminster is due to end next Friday, while a separate planning inquiry on plans (opposed by the Mayor) for the 'Tulip' in the City started yesterday.
- Baerbel Schuett has been appointed Director of Development at Wates Residential.
- Matt Collyer, formerly a lead architect at EPR, is now Design and Planning Project Specialist at the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
- Chris Wood has been appointed to lead the non-statutory review into Croydon Council’s finances (more on this below).
PLANNING REFORM LATEST
Ahead of the Planning for the Future White Paper consultation closing on 29 October, several key stakeholders have published their responses. The Mayor of London released his, in which he called the Government’s proposals ‘ill-conceived, rushed and damaging’. Meanwhile, 14 of London’s local authorities (all Labour-held) have co-signed a letter to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick calling the plans ‘unworkable’ and a ‘threat to local democracy’. The British Property Federation (BPF) has also submitted an extensive response in which it says that the White Paper is missing the terms ‘commercial property’ and ‘placemaking’. Meanwhile, despite the White Paper’s explicit assertion that the planning system is holding up housebuilding, it has been reported in recent days that two senior Cabinet ministers have opposed developments in their constituencies. Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove spoke against a proposed 44-home, 40% affordable, development in his Surrey Heath constituency at a Government planning inquiry, while Home Secretary Priti Patel is reported to have lobbied her colleague Robert Jenrick to oppose two developments in her constituency of Witham.
LONDON BOROUGH FINANCES
- Umbrella body London Councils issued a press release this week requesting a £115m funding boost from Government to help unlock 375 ‘shovel-ready’ retrofitting projects.
- Croydon’s struggles continue, with the Communities Secretary announcing (more details here) a ‘rapid non-statutory review’ into the borough’s finances. New borough Leader Cllr Hamida Ali has spoken to OnLondon about the need for the council to change.
- The Times has reported that the Local Authorities’ Mutual Investment Trust, a body which invests on behalf of councils, is taking the Caffè Nero chain to court over £135,389 in unpaid rent on a single site in London.
- One piece of positive news is that, despite a recent tit-for-tat between Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce members and the revelation that the ailing bridge could take six years to reopen, the TfL bailout will contain funds specifically earmarked for a ferry as a temporary replacement crossing.
TOWER HAMLETS LATEST
The local press has reported that John Biggs, the directly elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has ‘surrendered many of his executive powers.’ Indeed, at the last Cabinet meeting held on 28 October (see 0:10:40 to about 0:12:15hrs of the recording) Biggs briefly mentioned that following a change to the Council’s order of delegation, decisions will henceforth be made ‘collectively’ by Cabinet, rather than by Biggs following advice from the Cabinet. Biggs suggested that this shift ‘won’t make a lot of difference to the conduct of business,’ but also did not offer an explanation for why the change was necessary. A relevant article by the East London Advertiser suggests there is a link between the decision and two recent developments, namely, a pair of petitions to hold a referendum on Tower Hamlets’ directly-elected Mayoralty and separately, a decision by neighbouring Newham Council’s to actually hold a referendum on its own Mayoralty in May 2021. As of writing, the petitions had cumulatively attracted only slightly more than 400 signatures (see details here and here). In other news from Tower Hamlets, Labour MP for Poplar & Limehouse Apsana Begum has been charged with housing fraud.
FROM THE 2021 CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The Mayor opened the Centre for London’s London Conference on Monday (more below) with a keynote speech in which he called for further devolution to London and the ‘weakening of the stranglehold of Whitehall’. A ‘non-partisan’ #KhanMustGo campaign with suspiciously polished messaging and graphics has been launched on Twitter, accusing the Mayor of ‘mismanaging’ London and ‘bleeding it dry’. Meanwhile, tflbailoutfacts.com website has been set up by Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign, accusing the Mayor of the financial ‘mismanagement’ of TfL. Separately, it has been reported that UKIP’s Mayoral candidate will be a Dr Peter Gammons.
EPSOM AND ST HELIER HOSPITAL GO
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has given his approval for investing £500m in a new Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Sutton as well as refurbishing buildings at other hospital sites run by the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. The Secretary of State's decision follows a public consultation in the Spring, a decision by local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in July, and the approval of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel last month. The plans were jointly drawn up by the local NHS Trust in collaboration with the NHS Surrey Heartlands CCG and South West London CCG – and form part of the government’s national health infrastructure plan (which promises to invest £3.7bn in building 40 hospitals by 2030). The Health Secretary’s announcement states that the new hospital will be located in Sutton, with the local NHS Trust’s Chief Executive expressing his hope that there will be ‘builders on site’ in Spring 2022 allowing the new hospital to open ‘in 2025’. Of course this is all pending planning and various other hurdles and in the meantime, changes to the provision and location of health services is always a sensitive topic for local communities...
PEARS MAUDSLEY CENTRE GO
LCA were in attendance at Southwark Planning Committee last night with our client South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, where a unanimous approval was achieved on the proposals for the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People’s Mental Health. The unique £65m mental health facility represents one of the most significant current investments in mental health care in the UK with millions of pounds of funding already secured. The centre will provide better care facilities and bring together clinicians from the Trust and researchers - from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience - under one roof with the aim of turning research into prevention, early intervention and treatments more quickly. LCA have been delighted to support the Trust and its partners throughout the launch of the proposals and during the consultation period, resulting in the positive result last night. For more information about the plans for this world leading centre visit www.kingsmaudsleychildren.org.uk.
ALAN DAVIDSON PRIZE LAUNCHES
A major new architectural ideas prize in memory of Alan Davidson launches today. The Davidson Prize will promote transformative architecture of the home and the best use of communication, visualisation and technology, with the inaugural theme focussing on how homes of the future can accommodate the new demand to work from home post-Covid 19. Judges include Alison Brooks and Thomas Heatherwick, with three finalists receiving £5,000 each to develop their ideas and £10,000 for the winner. For those that don’t know, Alan was a Non-Executive Director of LCA from when the company was first established in 1999 for 16 years and our first offices were rented from Alan, next door to Hayes Davidson. A huge friend and supporter of LCA, he tragically passed away from Motor Neurone Disease in 2018.
OUR WEEK IN CONFERENCE(S)
It’s been a busy week of conference-going (or perhaps better, tuning in) for the LCA team. First off, Festival of Place, which LCA are Communications Partners for, got off to a cracking start for their two week online conference. But don’t worry, if you haven’t logged in yet, there’s still time to catch our Managing Director Jonny Popper and Board Director Jenna Goldberg chair sessions on the future of workspace and highstreets. Check out the Festival’s full programme here. We’ve also been attending sessions of the Centre for London’s annual London Conference, which kicked off on Monday with a combative keynote speech by the Mayor of London and a wide-ranging presentation on the state-of-London by the think tank’s Director Ben Rogers (you can watch a recording of the opening session here). Tonight LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark will be co-hosting a pub quiz with Tony Travers and Denean Rowe to liven up the event this evening, from 7-8pm, while the Conference ends tomorrow.
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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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