BUDGETS, BALLOTS AND BICYCLES
Sometimes it is good to focus on smaller stories and this week some thoughts on LTNs and BIDs (if initial reaction is WTF, then those are Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and Business Improvement Districts respectively).
On the former, the government has announced more money for more of them – £20m extra for London LTNs and similar interventions to encourage walking and cycling. At the same time they have said that councils need to consult more. Well, that’s fine if the government allows enough time for councils to do this before drawing down the funding to implement them. This was, after all part of the problem with the first round of funding – it was all very rushed. It would be great to see a council apply for the funding for an LTN with the backing of its local residents and businesses already secured (perhaps even a ballot?) so that when it is implemented, it goes smoothly.
And on the subject of ballots, it is good to see two Camden BIDs get their mandates renewed. At a time when all businesses are looking at their costs, one could imagine some BIDs struggling to get businesses to vote to pay more tax even if it all is hypothecated to that area. But right now BIDs have such a vital role to play in leading the recovery of our high streets and town centres so it is good to see them continuing.
CITY HALL BUDGET
The Mayor has published details of the City Hall’s draft budget for 2021/22, underlining that it will have to do more with less next year – £38m less, to be exact, from £640m to £602m. As per the Mayor’s press release (more details here), this relates to the the ‘core’ Greater London Authority (GLA) budget specifically. The GLA Group overall, which also comprises the London Assembly, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police Service, the London Fire Brigade and two Mayoral Development Corporations, will – as first revealed in June – collectively need to achieve more than ten times that amount in savings, about £493m, over the current and next financial years. A total proposed GLA Group budget figure for next year is not yet available, but for context, the current 2020-21 Budget foresaw – when approved in March this year – a total gross revenue and capital expenditure of more than £18.5bn. While City Hall’s £38m share of these savings may appear small, the Evening Standard and OnLondon explain how these are likely to lead to job losses, as well as cuts to (still mostly unspecified) ‘GLA schemes and funding programmes.’ The Mayor blames a decade of Government-mandated austerity and the devastating impact of the pandemic on City Hall's revenues, while his critics blame Khan’s alleged profligacy. Others have recently questioned whether specific cost-cutting measures, such as moving City Hall to Newham, will actually have the desired effect.
In any event, the Mayor has promised to ‘focus’ the GLA’s available funding on London’s recovery and specifically on delivering the nine missions agreed by the cross-agency London Recovery Board. The Mayor’s ‘Green New Deal’ features prominently among those missions and it remains to be seen whether the Prime Minister’s new ‘Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ – announced only today – will serve to give in a much-needed financial boost.
Meanwhile, the fallout from Croydon Council issuing a Section 114 notice last week – formally admitting that it will not be able to balance its budget this year – continues. Conservative opposition councillors, MPs and Assembly Members point to choices made by the borough’s Labour leadership as the cause of Croydon’s predicament. The party’s London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has even sought to link Sadiq Khan to the debacle. Whatever the merits of these assertions, there is also a case to be made that this is, in many ways, bigger than Croydon. Speaking to BBC’s Politics London programme on Sunday, the Chair of London Councils (and Labour Leader of Camden Council) Georgia Gould warned that if the Government does not step up its support to local authorities, Croydon ‘will not be the last borough’ to find itself in this position. Separately, other local government sector representatives recently warned MPs that councils across England are facing financial difficulties. Looking ahead, as per an update by Croydon Council Leader Hamida Ali, councillors will meet to vote on an emergency action plan tomorrow, even as they await the Government’s formal response to Croydon’s request for financial support.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Yesterday, and 17 years after the original masterplan was approved, the Greenwich Council Planning Board approved Knight Dragon’s revised Greenwich Peninsula masterplan, which includes 1,700 more homes (for a total of 5,813, of which 41% affordable) among other changes, detailed in the meeting’s papers.
- Tower Hamlets’ Planning Committee voted to support ‘in principle’ the latest version of Hammerson and Ballymore’s plans for Bishopsgate Goodsyard, as well as object to elements of the scheme’s design. The application will be considered by the Mayor at a public hearing on 3 December.
- About an hour before we went to print, Richmond Council announced that the Mayor's public hearing on Reselton Properties’ called-in plans for the redevelopment of the Former Stag Brewery, initially scheduled for next week, is to be delayed (the new date is TBC).
COUNCIL BUILDING LATEST
Despite financial difficulties, London’s councils continue to push forward with ambitious housing development plans. The Greenwich Planning Board session mentioned above also approved council-and GLA-backed plans for 117 new council homes (all social rent), a nursery, new park and play space in Kidbrooke, as part of the wider Greenwich Builds scheme. But the biggest news of the week is arguably Ealing Council’s approval of a 50-year, £390m business plan (supported by £99m secured from the GLA in 2018) for its housing development company Broadway Living. Ealing hopes the plans will deliver at least 1,300 affordable homes over the next six years alone – and the business plan outlines how schemes will pay for themselves over the course of the next 50 years, to avoid putting any ‘pressure on the council’s day-to-day budget’.
- Brendan Sarsfield, the CEO of major London-based housing association Peabody, is to step down from his role in the summer of 2021.
- Rebecca Worthington is stepping down as Non-Executive Director at British Land and Chief Financial Officer at iQ Student Accommodation, to become Canary Wharf Group’s Chief Financial Officer in May 2021.
- Jane Custance, formerly Waltham Forest’s Director of Planning & Development, has now begun her new role as Director of Planning and Development at Newham Council.
- Jo Bourke has been promoted and is now the Evening Standard’s Deputy Business Editor.
- Prudence Ivey has also recently been promoted to editor of Homes and Property, the Standard’s weekly property supplement.
It’s been another busy seven days for Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and his Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
- The Sunday Telegraph has reported that a sustained backlash from Conservative MPs (notably including London Tory MPs) has triggered a ‘U-turn’ on the Ministry’s proposed ‘algorithm’ for producing local housebuilding targets.
- The same report also suggested that plans are afoot to set up a ‘branch’ of MHCLG in West Midlands, most likely in Wolverhampton, as part of commitments to delivering the Government’s planned ‘levelling up’ agenda.
- MHCLG has meanwhile published a much-anticipated Social Housing White Paper. Responding to tenants’ concerns and the traumatic experience of events such as the Grenfell Fire, the proposals mainly focus on improving the ability of tenants to hold their landlords to account. The response from the wider sector has been broadly positive.
Despite widely-reported instances of local opposition to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week announced a further £175m of funding for walking and cycling schemes in England. The funds can be used to deliver ‘School Streets’, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, cycle lanes and improvements for pedestrians. The Department for Transport’s press release directly addresses the controversy generated by some schemes in a two-pronged approach: on the one hand, it pointedly specifies that this new funding comes with the requirement that local authorities ‘ensure schemes are properly consulted on.’* And on the other, it refers to polling carried out by Kantar Media and Redfield & Wilton, which indicates a high level of public support for such schemes, both in England and in London specifically. Separately, a study carried out by Westminster University’s Active Travel Academy suggests that such schemes do not disproportionately benefit better-off households (an argument often employed by LTN critics). Meanwhile, The Times has highlighted DVLA figures showing that ‘more that 2.3m people live in areas with no more than one car for every five adults aged 18 and over, up from 1.1m at the start of the decade.’ According to those same figures, the biggest falls in car use are in – you guessed it – London.
*The Transport Secretary’s emphasis on this point may be somewhat misplaced: as explained by the BBC’s Transport Correspondent Tom Edwards, the ‘urgency’ of the first round of LTN schemes ‘came straight from deadlines imposed by central government.’
It’s been one step forward, two steps back for Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey this week. In a boost for his campaign, it has been widely reported that he received a donation of £50,000 from Ric Lewis, the CEO of Tristan Capital Partners and ‘Britain’s most influential black man’ according to the 2019 Powerlist. However, Telegraph columnist Juliet Samuel has said Bailey is ‘struggling,’ identifying ‘his main problem’ as being that ‘no one knows who he is’ [NB: that is despite the newspaper’s spirited efforts to boost his profile and promote his agenda]. Meanwhile, as reported by OnLondon, Boris Johnson’s former Deputy Mayor Roger Evans has said that Bailey ‘needs more of a vision for the city’. Separately, Lib Dem candidate Luisa Porritt continues on a mission to boost her own profile. In her latest interview with London’s local media, she is keen to argue that she is ready to ‘shake things up.’ We also now officially have another party-backed candidate in the race; Dr Peter Gammons has been confirmed as UKIP’s Mayoral candidate.
BALLOTING LONDON BUSINESS
The City of London Corporation is perhaps unique in giving businesses within the Square Mile the right to vote in council elections. It is now reportedly considering making that right an obligation. The City’s elections for representatives to the Court of Alderman and Court of Common Council are due in March 2022 (having been postponed from 2021). It has now emerged (see more details here) that less than half of eligible businesses are taking advantage of their right to participate. The Corporation is therefore reportedly considering a number of proposals to address this, including ‘making it a condition of Corporation leases for employer tenants.’ Separately, businesses elsewhere in London have fully taken advantage of their rights to re-approve two Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). The Euston Town and Camden Town Unlimited BIDs both secured the support of more than 90% of businesses participating in ballots for their renewal, giving them a mandate to continue for a further five-year period, from 2021 to 2026. Councillor Danny Beales, Camden’s Cabinet Member for Investing in Communities, Culture and an Inclusive Economy, has welcomed the ballots’ results, underlining the importance of BIDs to marshalling local businesses’ recovery efforts.
NLA WHITE PAPER DISCUSSION
Last Friday, our Managing Director Jonny Popper spoke at a New London Architecture (NLA) event about the Planning White Paper alongside Joanna Averley, MHCLG’s Chief Planner, in his role as Chair of the NLA’s Expert Panel on Planning. Joanna confirmed that the Ministry had received in excess of 10,000 responses to the White Paper consultation and that it would take at least two years to implement resulting changes, given that primary legislation would be required. It was heartening to also hear Joanna recognise that London is different, a subject on which the White Paper was largely silent. Given that scale of response, it will take some months before we see the next layer of detail emerge.
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