CARS, CALL-INS AND CLADDING
"As our dear city faces a state of emergency, the usual January horizon-scanning takes on a somewhat more desperate tone, with every prediction accompanied by a monumental shrug of the shoulders. Who knows what this year will hold? No seriously, who knows? Can they get in touch?
Taking just the stories in this edition of LDN, I feel informed enough to make the following predictions for 2021:
1) There might be an election in May or it could be in the summer, or possibly next year.
2) The CEO of Inland Homes will not be the last developer to lose it over the vagaries of our multi-layered planning system.
3) Cars versus everything else will be an ongoing theme. You want new homes, give us your parking spaces. You want room to walk at a safe, social distance, give us some tarmac. You want nice, clean air to breathe… etc. etc.
4) Every local authority in the capital will be planting their magic money tree now but unless they are given some enchanted housing seeds too they are unlikely to meet new government targets.
If you prefer a more earnest and informed take on the year ahead, we’ve included some links below and, if indeed there is an election in May, we will ratchet up our coverage of the candidates and campaigns in the coming weeks too.
In the meantime, enjoy this edition of LDN and let us know your own predictions for 2021 – they will probably be a lot better than mine."
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
A STATE OF EMERGENCY?
Last Friday, the Mayor declared a ‘major incident’ in response to evidence that the rapid spread of the virus has ‘left the NHS at risk of being overwhelmed.’ It is clear that, as per Sadiq Khan’s press release (and the discussion at yesterday’s Extraordinary London Assembly Plenary session), health and other frontline services in London are facing pressures just as bad and on many metrics worse than those seen during the peak of the pandemic’s ‘first wave.’ Fundamentally, declaring a ‘major incident’ is a cry for help by local or regional authorities hard-pressed to tackle a crisis, due to a shortage of resources or expertise. It was previously invoked by City Hall in 2011 following widespread riots, in 2016 after the Croydon tram crash, and in 2017 following the Grenfell Tower fire as well as the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge terror attacks. The Mayor and London’s boroughs have accordingly written to the Prime Minister with a list of ‘asks’, for more money, better information-sharing and stricter social distancing measures.
The declaration succeeded in gaining traction in the media and in eliciting a chorus of agreement from public agencies in London. However, it remains unclear whether it has produced any additional support for the capital in the days since, particularly as authorities up and down the country face similar challenges and several neighbouring areas have also declared ‘major incidents,’ most recently including Buckinghamshire, Sussex and Surrey. The Government is meanwhile focused on getting its monumental, nation-wide vaccination drive off the ground – on which note, we are especially pleased hear that two of our clients, namely ExCel London and Harlequins FC, are contributing facilities for use as vaccination centres.
MAYORAL CALL-INS LATEST
Following reports in the press in September, GLA documents have now confirmed that the Mayor did call-in a major Southwark scheme in August last year. The proposed development, by CIT Group, was rejected by councillors in June over concerns about its ‘excessive height, scale and massing’. The application, for the delivery of a new 20-storey building, with office, retail and medical floorspace as well as a café and community space, has been amended since it was first called in. The amended version includes new healthcare floorspace ‘to accommodate the specific requirements of the future healthcare occupier’, more affordable workspace and the retention of a non-designated heritage asset which had previously been earmarked for demolition. The height has not been changed. A date for the public hearing has not yet been set. Separately, the CEO of developer Inland Homes has written an open letter to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick demanding that he provide a timetable for making a decision on the proposed Master Brewer development in Hillingdon. The 500-home scheme was rejected by the Council in 2019 and then called-in by the Mayor and approved. However, Jenrick has issued a holding direction on the planning application. In his strongly-worded letter, Stephen Wicks called the lack of timetable ‘wholly unacceptable’ and said that the delay is ‘seriously endangering’ the project.
BOROUGH PLANNING LATEST
Meanwhile, in the boroughs:
Enfield’s Planning Committee has rejected plans by Transport for London and Grainger for the delivery of homes on the car park at Arnos Grove Underground Station. The proposals would have seen 162 build-to-rent flats delivered on the site, 40% of which would have been affordable. Despite being recommended for approval by planning officers, councillors rejected the scheme following objections highlighting the loss of parking spaces, the genuine affordability of the homes and the impact on the Grade II* listed station. The application will now go to the Mayor.
- Developer Regal has pledged to fund a pop-up LGBT+ venue during the demolition and redevelopment of The Joiners Arms in Tower Hamlets. The scheme, which is set to go to committee on 14 January, will also include a hotel, office space and nine homes. It is understood that City Hall was involved in discussions that shaped plans for the temporary venue, which is believed to be a ‘first of its kind’ planning contribution.
- The Court of Appeal has ruled that permission for the development of a new mosque in Brent should not have been granted, as there was a ‘fundamental defect’ in the Planning Inspector’s decision.
Looking ahead, we’re expecting significant movements on the planning policy front in central London. On 14 January, the City’s Court of Common Council is set to consider changes to the City Plan 2036, while Camden Council’s meeting scheduled for 18 January will see councillors debate the future of the borough’s high streets and the creation of a 15-minute city.
CAPITAL OF HOUSEBUILDING?
In mid-December, the Government executed a u-turn on its ‘mutant algorithm’ for the allocation of local housing targets. But what does that mean for London? The Government’s response to the relevant consultation indicated that England’s largest urban areas, including the capital’s boroughs, will be shouldering the weight of additional housing supply needed for the Government to meet its 300,000-new-homes-a-year target. Planning experts have since then been poring over the numbers and the results are now in. A recent Planning Resource piece offers a handy summary of analyses by DLP, Lichfields and others. In brief, London as a whole will be expected to deliver nearly a third of the nation-wide target, or 93,579 new homes annually. For comparison, the current London Plan identified a minimum target of 42,389 new homes a year, while the latest Publication draft of the draft new London Plan identifies a ten-year target that produces an average of 52,287 annually. The gap is large and stark. As for individual boroughs? Some fare worse than others. To cite one example, DLP estimates that Enfield’s new requirement, according to the new standard method, is 4,397 new homes annually, which compared to 798 in its adopted Local Plan makes for a jaw-dropping difference of 451% - while its ten-annual target in the new draft London Plan averages out to 1,246 annually.
One wonders how national, regional and local authorities will even begin to align and implement these targets in the context of limited land supply, a rather wobbly market and a planning reform drive with no clear end in sight – and especially as most homes are not even built by the public sector anyway, meaning that delivery is not actually in councils’ direct control in most cases.
- Kwasi Kwarteng, the Conservative MP for Spelthorne, has been appointed Business Secretary after Alok Sharma was made the full-time head of COP26.
- Chief Executive of Hackney Council Tim Shields is set to retire at the end of May.
- Jamie Kerr, founder of the Regeneration Consultancy and former managing director of London and Continental Railways Property, has been appointed to the Board of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).
- JLL has appointed Stephanie Hyde as its new UK Chief Executive.
- Following David Montague’s decision in autumn 2020 to step down after 33 years with L&Q, they have announced that Fiona Fletcher-Smith, their current Group Director of Development and Sales, will replace him as CEO with immediate effect.
- Former Divisional Chairman for Berkeley Group Angus Mitchie has been recruited by Midlands developer SevenCapital as its new Managing Director.
- Nick Harris has been announced as Highways England’s new Acting Chief Executive.
CLADDING CRISIS CONTINUED
Reactions to the ‘cladding crisis’ rumble on, with campaigners, the media and local authorities clamouring for action. We reported as much last week, so what’s new? Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported on research suggesting that tall buildings aside, hundreds more mid-rise housing blocks, hospitals and schools across England – many built since the Grenfell Fire – are equipped with potentially dangerous cladding. The report also mentioned emerging evidence that the terms of the Government’s Building Safety Fund include conditions banning beneficiaries from speaking to the media ‘without the prior written approval’ of officials, even if ‘disclosure is in the overwhelming public interest.’ Meanwhile, the London Assembly’s Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee has published a new report entitled Cladding Crisis and its impact on Londoners, which details the heart-breaking predicament of Londoners affected by this issue – and particularly leaseholders. The Building Safety Bill continues to inch its way through the legislative process, though MPs are signing proposed amendments intended to protect leaseholders from paying for the costs of cladding remediation.
LONDON PROPERTY PROSPECTS
The new year has brought its usual flurry of editorials, blogs and features about the year past and ‘what to expect’ in 2021. Being dyed in the wool London-watchers, we’ve particularly enjoyed Dave Hill’s reading of the tea leaves on the capital’s role in post-Brexit and after-the-pandemic Britain. With our planning hats on, we thought Ashurst’s ‘top ten predictions on what lies ahead this year’ made for an especially good read. And from a wider property development perspective, Property Week has collected a dizzying array forecasts for 2021 from dozens of senior professionals – including several LCA clients and associates. We’ve also recently read interesting assessments of the particular challenges facing commercial landlords and developers in the City and Canary Wharf, from The Guardian and the Financial Times. In some ways, the challenge is simply one of stamina. In a week when two of London’s biggest retail landlords reported collecting less than half of their tenants’ quarterly rent, one has to ask: who has the pockets deep enough to weather the storm?
LEASEHOLD REFORM (SORT OF)
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick issued a surprise announcement on leasehold reform last Thursday, heralding ‘the first part of seminal two-part reforming legislation in this Parliament.’ This first instalment focuses on the issue of ground rents. Jenrick has committed to tabling legislation ‘in the upcoming session of Parliament,’ to set future ground rents to zero and related measures, with other long-mooted reforms to the wider leasehold system to be put forward ‘in due course.’ While the media has focused on his ground rent pledges, the small print of Jenrick’s announcement also includes references to other related issues, including a commitment to ‘abolishing’ marriage value and other ‘prohibitive costs’ that form part of the calculation of the cost for leaseholders when they buy their freehold. The implications of this are far too complicated to analyse in full here. However, freeholders large and small will no doubt be carefully considering what impact removing marriage value from the enfranchisement process, even if it survives a likely challenge under the Human Rights Act, will have on the value of their properties.
ABOUT THAT CYCLE LANE...
Cycling infrastructure and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods continue to make headlines in London:
Kensington and Chelsea Council has said that it will ‘revisit’ its decision to remove the Kensington High Street cycle lane. The lane was removed in October, just two months after its installation, as a result of reported complaints from motorists, though the removal was opposed by cyclists and campaigners. Officers are set to prepare a report for the Council to consider at a meeting in March.
- The Telegraph has reported that Croydon Council may implement automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) into the controversial Crystal Palace and South Norwood Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN), allowing the cash-strapped borough to gather ‘income derived from penalty charge notices’. Local residents have started an Open Our Roads campaign calling for the removal of the measures, while local MP Steve Reed has also called on the Council to listen to residents.
- In Hackney, LTN champion and Cabinet Member for Energy, Sustainability, Transport and Public Realm Cllr Jon Burke has announced his resignation from the Council. He has said that he will be leaving London for family reasons, though he has also said that he may put himself forward as a candidate for Mayor of Liverpool.
A BRIEF NOTE ON ELECTIONS
Rumours continue to swirl around the question of whether local, regional and devolved administrations’ elections scheduled for this May will be held. We also covered this issue in our last edition, but it has since emerged that the Cabinet Office is now working on potential plans to hold the votes at a later date, with scenarios for holding them in June, July or September. Indeed, many politicians, across party lines, seem to believe a delay is inevitable. While that does not definitively mean that the elections will be postponed, it is now starting to look like a very real possibility. Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith addressed questions about the election in Parliament only today, asserting that while the Government is still working to the assumption that they will be held in May, they are “keeping this position under review.” There is, however, one election that is now almost certain to be deferred: while the leadership of Croydon Council had promised to hold a referendum on its governance system in May, it now appears to have backtracked, proposing to hold it in October. Council leader Hamida Ali has been cited as justifying the delay by arguing that ‘holding the referendum in October means there will be plenty of time for local people to consider the issues involved and weigh up the merits of the different options.’ Councillors are expected to vote on whether to delay the referendum on 25 January.
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