It may not feel like it for those of us (still) working from home, but it is a New Year – and with it come new challenges and opportunities.
But before we dive into the detail with our first edition of LDN for 2021, a few words from our editor:
“Here at LCA Towers, our editorial policy is not to tell you things you already know. So, no need to deliver the news that we are in Lockdown 3.0 or that now have a trade deal with the EU. No need to highlight the various statements in response to those events from London’s politicians and representative groups. You could write them yourselves, a line or two to express melancholic acceptance, a note of passive aggressive political point-scoring and a final flourish of fatalistic doom.
Oh sorry, wait, Happy New Year everyone!
The good news, if we squint really hard, is that most people seem to have had a restful Christmas break, forced into a few weeks of quiet reflection by the circumstances. Some of you may have enjoyed the ‘surprise’ fireworks and light show planned by the Mayor that included a tribute to the NHS, Captain Sir Tom Moore, Black Lives Matter and er, the mute button. Others may have enjoyed the more right-leaning media’s derision of the same spectacle. Expect more of same as we head towards the postponed Mayoral elections in May (or not…).
Either way, a break is always a good thing as it’s clear from today’s line up of stories that the wheel continues to turn and as ever the capital faces challenges – notably the funding crisis faced by its local authorities and the impact of the cladding scandal – and change.
To Londoners of a certain age, the sale of a corner of Oxford Circus by the beleaguered Arcadia Group is truly seismic. The gargantuan Topshop, which has swallowed days of every teenage and twentysomething girl’s life since 1994, was a symbol not just of central London’s dominance but also of the country’s global standing both culturally and commercially. It rose (or rather descended, into a windowless, endless basement where time and money lost all meaning) with Girl Power and Britpop. It’s hard not to read its fall as a sign of the times too.
Of course, change isn’t necessarily bad. Who knows what promising enterprise will move in on Sir Philip Green’s vacated premises. Meanwhile, do read to the end for a final note of positivity, new hires at LCA and (surely?!) the promise of a better future!”
Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
A TAXING NEW YEAR?
A third lockdown means ever-more demands on the capital’s cash-strapped local authorities and recent developments suggest that Londoners will be picking up much of the tab. The provisional finance settlement for local government in England, covering the 2021 to 2022 period, was published only in mid-December. London Councils has called the settlement ‘disappointing,’ arguing that it leaves the capital’s boroughs with a £600m shortfall. Furthermore – and as also underlined by the BBC and the LGC – the vast majority of any additional spending is contingent on local authorities themselves increasing their Council Tax rates by up to 5% from 1 April this year. Meanwhile, when the Mayor of London released his latest draft Budget proposals for consultation in December, he asserted that the Government is also expecting him to raise his share of Council Tax to help pay for the rising costs of London-wide policing and public transport. London’s leaders are not alone in smelling a fish: the Financial Times has branded the settlement ‘austerity by stealth’ while Cllr James Jamieson, the Conservative Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council and Chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) has called raising council tax ‘a sticking plaster and not a long-term solution.’ Details of any Council Tax hikes – local and London-wide – and more clues as the future of Business Rates are expected to emerge over the next few weeks.
Speaking of taxes, over the holidays the Mayor issued proposals for an all-new levy on developers. To help fund much-delayed replacement of dangerous cladding on many buildings, he has suggested a ‘one-off levy’ on the profits generated by ‘major developers’ over the last decade. The Mayor asserts that it could raise up to £3bn without disincentivising investment in new homes and without burdening SME builders and non-profit Housing Associations. While a retroactive ‘windfall tax’ of this kind would be extraordinary, we do live in extraordinary times – and the Government is under increasing pressure to finally address the ‘cladding scandal’ (more below).
BUILDING SAFETY LATEST
Over three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, the Government’s building safety drive has made some progress – but clearly, not nearly enough. According to the latest available Government statistics, as of last November there were still 193 high-rise buildings in England which still have ACM cladding in place. According to our reading of the detailed figures, 126 of those were in London. The Daily Mail has now joined the fray, launching a high-profile campaign calling for cladding remediation to be accelerated, affected leaseholders to be offered more support and for any companies responsible for safety issues to be ‘made to pay their fair share’. It would be unfair to say that the Government has been entirely inactive on this front, having – among other things – launched a £1bn Building Safety Fund earlier last year and most recently announced a £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund to help leaseholders. But the landmark Building Safety Bill is still ‘in the making’ and the Government will not be drawn on exactly when it will be brought before Parliament. Back in London, the Grenfell Inquiry has recently been stymied by key witnesses claiming a 1968 French statute as a barrier to them giving evidence. In any event, the Inquiry today announced it would be ‘temporarily suspended’ due to the new lockdown – though it hopes to resume hearings remotely in February.
It’s an exciting – if perhaps frustrating – time for planning and development in London, with many a key policy up in the air. The Mayor issued his Publication London Plan on 21 December, which, he says, ‘addresses all matters’ raised by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Planning Resource has a handy write-up of the latest changes. Jenrick now has until 1 February to approve the final draft Plan (unless of course he gives himself another extension). The London Plan saga is playing out even as the sector keenly awaits more from the Government on national planning reform. The Chief Planner said in her latest newsletter that ‘the government will publish a response [to the planning white paper] in the Spring setting out its decisions on the proposed way forward, including to prepare for legislation, should the government so decide, in the Autumn.’ But local planning authorities in London are not just waiting on City Hall and Whitehall in their efforts to ‘plan for the future.’ Indicatively, the City of London Corporation has just adopted what it believes are ‘first of their kind globally’ Thermal Comfort Guidelines, which are intended to better understand and address the impact of tall buildings and other major developments on the environment.
COUNTDOWN TO MAY
With polling day now just four months away and a fresh lockdown just announced, a question mark hangs over regional and local elections set for 6 May. These include polls for Scotland and Wales’ devolved parliaments, the delayed London Mayor and Assembly, several other metro and city mayors, and almost 150 English councils outside the capital. Many of these were due to take place in May 2020, but were postponed on 13 March last year, just before we went into the first full lockdown. BBC Radio Manchester reported only yesterday that the elections ‘are likely to be postponed again’ but OnLondon has today cited a Cabinet Office spokesperson as saying that they will go ahead in May as planned. With a third lockdown now in place, many are asking whether the elections will have to depend on postal voting. Peter Stanyon, Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, has argued that all-postal voting in May would be ‘logistically impossible’, though Queen Mary University’s Professor Phil Cowley has made the case for all-postal voting ‘for some, if not all’ of the elections, assuming preparations are made as soon as possible.
MAYORAL CAMPAIGNS LATEST
Back in London, the new year has brought gifts for the anoraks watching the Mayoral election most closely. First off, we have a couple of (possible) new Mayoral candidates. Piers Corbyn, who was recently arrested at an anti-lockdown protest, has thrown his hat into the ring, while there is speculation that the Chairman of the Brexit Party Richard Tice may also put himself forward. Independent Mayoral candidate and current London Assembly Member David Kurten, formerly of UKIP, has raised eyebrows by making the case against the wearing of face coverings on the basis that ‘lions don’t wear masks.’ The Labour Party has in the meantime called for an investigation into Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign tactics, after he sent voters flyers that looked misleadingly like official correspondence from City Hall. As for the odds of the candidates as they enter the last stretch of the race: in its first edition of 2021, The Economist cites the odds offered by several ‘prediction market’ platforms to venture a guess that there is an 85% chance of Sadiq being re-elected as Mayor. Then again, as highlighted by the Daily Express with its usual… touch of hyperbole, a recent survey by Deltapoll suggests Khan’s handling of the pandemic has not impressed everyone.
- Jasmine Whitbread, the Chief Executive of London First, is to leave the business association at the end of March to start a new position as Chair of Travis Perkins.
- Natalie Forrest, previously Chief Executive of Chase Farm Hospital, has been appointed to lead the government's plans to build 40 new hospitals by 2030.
- Ed Watson, formerly of both Camden and Westminster Councils as well as Arup, is taking up the role of interim CEO of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP.
RETURN OF THE PRINTWORKS
As we enter the New Year, we’ve been taking stock of major London development schemes still languishing in the in-trays of the Communities Secretary and the Mayor. It would appear that the controversial Westferry Printworks scheme in Tower Hamlets is set to be subject to a ‘fresh inquiry’ by the Planning Inspectorate. According to a report by Inside Housing shortly before Christmas, the inquiry is likely to last ‘a number of months.’ Separately, while Planning Inspectors heard arguments by the backers and opponents of the proposed ‘Tulip’ skyscraper in the City and a new Holocaust Memorial in Westminster late last year, it remains unclear when the final word will be given on these schemes by Robert Jenrick and Christopher Pincher respectively. Separately, the date for the Mayoral public hearing on the redevelopment of the Former Stag Brewery in Richmond remains TBC, more than a month after Sadiq Khan was originally meant to consider the called-in scheme. Richmond Council and local campaigners had reportedly succeeded in convincing the Mayor that the latest plans ‘did not fully account’ for the indefinite closure of the nearby Hammersmith Bridge.
TfL and Gatwick Airport have started the year with slightly less depressing news than we are used to of late.
- Over the Christmas period, TfL carried out tests of passenger trains along the new Northern Line Extension from Kennington to Battersea, a major milestone for the project. With the Extension is scheduled to be completed in the Autumn, work on the line’s signalling and the fit-out of the two new stations at Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station is ongoing.
- In other transport news, it has been reported that plans to turn Gatwick’s emergency runway into a second permanent runway at the airport have been given a boost with investors committing to funding the next stage of the scheme, which will include the development of a planning application.
NEW YEAR HONOURS
The New Year Honours 2021 lists have been released and as ever, the LDN team has trawled through them for prominent Londoners and notable names from the wider built environment sector. Here are a few highlights:
- Starchitect Sir David Chipperfield CBE has been made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, for services to Architecture
- Jo da Silva, Director at Arup Group, has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for services to Engineering and International, Sustainable Development
- Caroline Mason CBE, the Chief Executive of the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the Charity Sector, particularly during the Covid-19 response
- Alwen Williams CBE, the Chief Executive of Barts Health NHS Trust, has been made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to Leadership in the NHS
- Christopher Le Brun, until recently President of the Royal Academy, has received a Knighthood for services to the Arts
- Marcus Agius, until recently Chairman of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (and a former Group Chairman of Barclays Bank) has received an CBE for services to Botany and to Conservation
- Christopher Grigg, until recently the Chief Executive Officer of British Land, has received a CBE For services to Business, particularly during the Covid-19 response
- Paul Hackett, the Chief Executive of housing association Optivo, has received a CBE for services to Social Housing
- Russell Shaw, the Founder of Tech London Advocates, has received a CBE for services to Technology and to Business in London
- The co-founders of 6a Architects, Stephanie Macdonald and Tom Emerson, have both received OBEs for services to architecture (and in the case of Emerson specifically, also services to education)
- Helen Whitehouse, Deputy Director for Museums and Cultural Property, at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has received an OBE for services to Museums and to Heritage
Of course these are but a small sample of the more than 1,200 people in this year’s list – and we congratulate them all!
The past few weeks have thrown up news of interest from several housing development companies owned by London boroughs.
Populo Living, Newham’s wholly owned housing company, has received Cabinet approval to proceed with an ‘in-house modular construction programme’ whose first phase aims to deliver more than 200 London Affordable Rent Homes.
- Meanwhile, Merton Council’s Merantum Development venture has proven a dead end, with councillors approving plans to wind up the company on the advice of the company’s board, which has concluded its ‘business case is no longer viable.’
- Just before Christmas, Barking & Dagenham Council’s BeFirst received the borough’s approval for plans to build a 156-home affordable rent housing scheme in Barking.
- Most recently, embattled Croydon Council’s development arm Brick by Brick has secured £29m from the sale of up to 85 shared ownership homes to Residential Secure Income (ReSI), a real estate investment trust (REIT).
STARTING 2021 WITH A BANG
LCA has started 2021 as we mean to go on, by investing in our already hugely talented team with no less than four new recruits starting this January. This week we were joined by Lauren Hughes as our first ever dedicated Social & Digital Account Director. Having worked previously at Facebook, Lauren brings with her a wealth of experience to add to our expanding Digital offer. Sophie Edwards and George Naylor have joined as Account Executives to support our growing architectural portfolio and planning projects respectively. Finally, next week Aroa Maquedano Pulido will join our flourishing LCA Creative team as a Middleweight Designer creating materials across print and digital. Our new recruits, as well as the rest of the LCA team, look forward to meeting many of you over the course of the year, possibly at some point even in person!
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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