The latest poll suggests that incumbent Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan retains a substantial lead over Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey. No huge surprise there, but an interesting question is begged. What sort of campaign would we be getting, almost three months out from the Mayoral election, if this race was close?
A hotly contested Mayoral election might include some outlandish ideas for generating income for City Hall and some blue sky thinking to reinvigorate a post-Covid, post-Brexit London. Maybe that is still to come…
Perhaps more importantly, a Tory candidate that felt like a real contender would give the Government a reason to attend to the capital. Reports today suggest we lag behind on vaccinations because London’s particular needs were not apparent when the doses were dished out. Is this what the other city regions have felt like all along?!
Meanwhile, the stories in LDN today, mostly focused around the financial situation facing local authorities, City Hall and Whitehall, as well as some intriguing planning decisions and other announcements from the Communities Secretary, provide a lot of potential political fodder.
All of which, in a parallel universe, could make for a lively and even constructive run in to polling day. If we don’t get that in real life, we’ll try to provide a taste of it here at least.
TFL FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY PLAN
Transport for London’s Financial Sustainability Plan was submitted to the Department for Transport last week. A requirement of the second TfL bailout agreement between the Government and TfL in October 2020, it sets out how TfL can achieve financial sustainability by 2023/24. This includes suggested cost-cutting measures, as well as proposals for generating income. However, the Plan also contends that Government support will be needed in 2022/23 and ‘potentially beyond’, to the tune of £3.1bn for 2021/22 alone and an average of £1.3bn per year from 2023/24 to 2029/30, ‘for new capital investment’. With the Mayor having already confirmed that fares would increase by 2.6% from 1 March, much of the media attention has focused on the plan’s suggestions to boost revenue, including a possible introduction of a Greater London Boundary Charge for vehicles entering London. The London Conservatives and some newspapers have reacted by focusing on this proposed charge as an act of ‘highway robbery’ by the Mayor. On the other end of the spectrum, the RMT trade union has called the plan as a whole ‘a massive missed opportunity and a capitulation to Tory austerity.’ We were particularly interested to see the plan setting out a compelling case for the establishment of a ring-fenced property entity to take on the development of TfL’s estate, with its own governance arrangements and business plan.
Separately, there are growing concerns that Eurostar could soon 'collapse.' Business leaders and MPs are calling on the Chancellor to bail out the service, which has seen a 95% reduction in passengers due to Covid restrictions.
OF BUDGETS AND TAXES
If you’re wondering why everyone is so obsessed with public finance these days, it’s because national, regional and local authorities are all simultaneously bashing out budgets for 2021/22. After almost a year of throwing money at Covid-19 (and losing revenues to the same), it’s no surprise that tax hikes are the talk of the town in advance of the Chancellor’s Budget statement on 3 March. From our perspective, Ministers floating two possible new levies on developers to help pay for cladding remediation is particularly significant. We’ve also noticed, with interest, campaigns by the Fairer Share charity, the Labour Party and backbench Tory MPs, variously urging the Chancellor to either scrap, drastically reform or freeze Stamp Duty and Council Tax. The CBI is also banging the drum for a long-overdue rehaul of the Business Rates system. A Business Rates relief extension meanwhile features prominently in Sadiq Khan’s Budget wish-list, published not long after he accused the Government of ‘sidelining’ financial services in the Brexit negotiations ‘in order to further promote an anti-London agenda.’
Beyond Whitehall, the Greater London Authority and London’s boroughs are working to finalise their budgets before April. The Mayor has already announced he will be raising his portion of Council Tax by 9.5%, something he is touting as a success, on account of being ‘less than half’ of the 21% increase his ‘opponents predicted and expected.’ The London Assembly’s Budget & Performance Committee has meanwhile published critical responses to the draft 2021/22 consultation budgets for the GLA Group, the LLDC, the OPDC, the LFB and MOPAC. As for London’s Town Halls, according our latest count, about a third have so far indicated their intentions for changes to Council Tax rates, all suggesting they will be raising them by the full 4.99% (or thereabouts) allowed by December’s provisional local government finance settlement. More on this in the weeks ahead.
Recently-published research seems to suggest that the capital is… leaking people. Is it really? First came a spate of articles citing PwC’s latest UK Economic Outlook, which predicted that ‘London’s population is expected to decline for the first time in the 21st century.’ PwC mainly attributes this to early signs that fewer Brits want to live in the capital (and fewer Europeans want to live in Britain). However, as highlighted by OnLondon, this prediction seems to rest on rather thin evidence. But then came analysis by the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), suggesting that in the year up to the third quarter of 2020, up to 1.3m people born abroad left the UK. Of these, they said, 700,000 may have left London alone, making for a staggering 8% drop in the capital’s population. But as per the Financial Times, these estimates are actually based on an analysis of flaws in official labour and migration statistics. As we said in our 9 December edition, it is perfectly conceivable that the early 2020’s could see London’s population growth stall or even go negative. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the most authoritative measure of London’s population is the Census, of which we get but one every decade. Thankfully, England and Wales' next nationwide headcount is due to take place this March.
JENRICK BACKS DOWN?
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has made two key decisions in relation to major schemes in London. First, he has confirmed that he will not call in Avanton’s planning application for 453 homes in Richmond. The Council had refused the application in 2019, but it was then called-in by the Mayor who granted permission for it in October 2020. The application was then referred to Jenrick, who has now said that it will not be called in. The scheme will see the demolition of existing buildings on the site and the construction of four buildings, the highest 11 storeys, which will provide 173 affordable homes, as well as retail, commercial and office space. Construction should start this summer. Separately, Jenrick has responded to an extraordinary letter from CEO of developer Inland Homes Stephen Wicks, covered in last week’s edition of LDN, by confirming that their scheme at the Master Brewer site in Hillingdon will not be called in after all. Jenrick had issued a holding order on the application after it was approved by the Mayor, following the local Council’s refusal in 2019. Wicks responded to the news by calling for developers to ‘fight the insane bureaucracy that is the UK planning system’.
MAY ELECTIONS LATEST
For the moment, the local and regional elections scheduled for 6 May are still on. So what’s the latest? The Telegraph reported only today that “Boris Johnson has resolved that English town hall elections scheduled for 6 May should go ahead as planned.” There has also been a new poll from Redfield and Wilton Strategies (RWS) on the London Mayoral elections, showing Sadiq Khan steadily ahead with 49% of first preference votes (-1 from their last poll in October), with the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey at 28% (n/c), followed by the Lib Dems’ Luisa Porritt at 10% (n/c), the Greens’ Sian Berry at 9% (-1) and UKIP’s new candidate Peter Gammons at 2%. But as per the detailed results of the poll, there are still a lot of ‘undecideds’ (a full 20%) and less than 50% of respondents say they are certain to vote. In any event, Shaun Bailey’s gaffes seem to be outweighing his spirited attempts to discredit Sadiq Khan’s administration. Indeed, some commentators are now arguing that Bailey may turn out to be ‘the greatest gift Khan could ever wish for.’ Meanwhile, an intervention by Local Government Minister Luke Hall means that Croydon may have to again change its plans for a governance referendum for residents to decide whether they wish to shift to a directly elected Mayor system. This was first set for May, then changed to October and now looks likely to be held on 6 May.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, remember to register to vote. You can also apply for a postal vote.
- Kelly Tolhurst MP has resigned as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rough Sleeping & Housing. Eddie Hughes MP has been announced as her replacement.
- CEO of Southwark Council Eleanor Kelly is to be seconded to NHS England to support the national vaccine rollout programme “as the local authority chief executive officer adviser.”
- CEO of Merton Council Ged Curran is set to step down this year after 17 years in the role. His replacement will be confirmed in May.
- British Land has announced the appointment of Bhavesh Mistry as Chief Financial Officer. He is set to join no later than 1 August.
- CEO of U+I Matthew Weiner has announced that he is stepping down with immediate effect. He will be replaced by Richard Upton. U+I’s Chief Financial Officer Marcus Shepherd is also stepping down, though his replacement has not yet been announced. This news was announced along with the group’s interim results, reflecting a challenging period for the developer.
- Meanwhile, we were also sad to hear that long time King’s Cross and canals campaigner, Del Brenner passed away recently.
Robert Jenrick and his team have not just been busy with planning decisions of late. Since our last edition, we have seen their Ministry churn out a stream of announcements, some meatier than others:
- A press release heralding the latest housing supply statistics as a sign that the housebuilding sector is ‘bouncing back.’ However, it looks very much like the putative ‘bounce’ in starts and completions in the July to September 2020 quarter compared to the previous is largely linked to that period’s softening of social distancing restrictions.
- The launch of a consultation on a proposed ‘Right to Regenerate’ making it easier for local communities to seek control over the development of underused, publicly-owned land. As per the small print of the announcement and the consultation papers, this seems to be a matter of expanding an existing – but woefully underused – Community Right to Contest.
- The announcement of ‘new legal protection for England’s heritage’ making it more difficult for statues, plaques and other monuments to be removed. Both the relevant press release and Written Ministerial Statement frame the rules as responding to recent months’ alleged efforts to ‘censor’ Britain’s past.
- The results of the 2020 Housing Delivery Test, which indicate that 55 of 300 or so English councils covered by the exercise failed to deliver at least 75% of the number of homes the government estimates that their area needed over the past three years. Those councils, many in London, are now facing varying degrees of new measures forcing them to boost delivery rates.
- The above was followed by a Planning Update from the Housing Minister, urging all English councils to press on with any pending efforts to adopt or update their Local Plans – and warning them against waiting for the Planning White Paper’s proposals to be fleshed out before proceeding.
- Then came publication of the Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard consultation of 2019, the launch of a second relevant consultation and more on this front – summarised in Robert Jenrick’s relevant Building Regulations Update. As per the trade press coverage and comments from the sector, this is a big step forward.
- Finally, the big ticket item that seems to have made the biggest splash in the media is the announcement of a new regulator to better enforce standards for the safety of building materials. But the new body is actually an existing regulator, with a widened purview and a bit of extra cash (and it remains unclear when it will be in action). Perhaps more importantly, the Minister has committed to finally introducing the Building Safety Bill in the Spring.
Though we are all suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the events calendar is looking a bit thinner than usual this time of year, we are pleased to see several major annual fixtures flying the flag, despite everything:
- The Building London Summit is still scheduled to take place next week, from 26 to 28 January, with virtual events on planning for the future, housing market recovery and the ‘new normal’ in commercial real estate.
- LREF’s Investment Summit, set to take place virtually, from 1 to 4 February, will include daily live webinars on issues such as COVID, Brexit and climate change. There are still plans for LREF to go ahead at the Barbican Centre, on 29 and 30 September, subject to Government guidelines.
- The London Festival of Architecture, which will take place in June, has announced that its theme for 2021 will be ‘care’. Organisers are planning for a combination of ‘COVID-secure events’ and digital events.
It’s also worth noting that the NLA continues to host a range of interesting events. The next, on 28 January, is a webinar on ‘Evolving Retail Environments’.
We’ve picked up a number of ‘must-read’ research reports and publications worth bringing to your attention:
This week we are celebrating our company values, which are ever more important as we remain physically distant from each other and yet continue to work closely together for our clients. We are very proud of our five values – 1) Always got each other’s backs; 2) Ambitious for ourselves and our clients; 3) Cool heads and curious minds; 4) Not afraid to say it how it is; and 5) Passion and personality which sets us apart - and we hope they come across loud and clear when you work with us.
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 email@example.com.
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