"Along with the dramatisation of the Government’s handling of the pandemic (is anyone really keen to relive this just yet?!), you could get quite the melodrama out of the row over street space. Two of our finest thesps could play a taxi driver (Ray Winstone?) and a cyclist (Bill Nighy?) in the battle of their lives over two feet of tarmac. Throw in some activist lawyers (Keeley Hawes, Idris Elba?) fighting for the future of the planet and it’s got primetime hit written all over it.
They could make it at the new film and TV studio in Enfield, using additional talent from Newham – see two good news stories below.
Meanwhile, as today is Holocaust Memorial Day it feels appropriate that we have an item about how we perceive and commemorate our own history. The Government seems to have a plan to preserve our monuments in legislative amber and in doing so start/drag out some sort of phoney culture war.
We might all be best to remember a particular German word when we encounter this straw man of a debate – Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung means ‘working off the past’ or the never-ending process of understanding and coming to terms with a difficult history – particularly important in a city that moves as fast as this one (well, under normal circumstances at least).
So, here’s to learning, evolving and doing better."
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
The Government’s position remains that all elections postponed due to the pandemic over the course of 2020 are to be held alongside polls already scheduled for 6 May. But the very officials tasked with holding these elections seem markedly sceptical about doing so. Or at least that is the headline message conveyed by a recent survey of 374 senior councillors and officials, corresponding to about three quarters of England’s local authorities, carried out by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU). 66% of respondents said they were ‘very concerned’ about holding elections in May – for multiple reasons, ranging from logistics to safety – and 68% favoured postponing them to the Autumn. Meanwhile, confusion reigns over electoral campaigns and specifically over do’s and don’ts during the lockdown. Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith weighed in on Friday, promising more guidance ‘in due course’ while asserting that the ‘Government’s view’ is that the current lockdown restrictions ‘do not support door-to-door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists.’ The Liberal Democrats have meanwhile come under fire for their inveterate leafletting in Warrington, while independent candidate for Mayor Brian Rose has been fined by the City of London Police after he was caught out and about ‘filming promotional material for his campaign.’
Speaking of allegedly questionable campaign practices, the Labour Party has now escalated complaints about Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s tactics to the Crown Prosecution Service and the British Polling Council. Bailey is seemingly unfazed.
LTNs ON THE BACK FOOT?
It’s not been plain sailing for Sadiq Khan either, with his flagship walking and cycling programme sent back to the drawing board by the courts. Following months of conflict over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and other such interventions operated in many parts of capital, TfL’s Streetspace programme – which has been strongly promoted by the Mayor – has suffered a major blow. The High Court has ruled (more details and analysis here) in favour of legal challenges against the programme by taxi drivers’ unions, finding that the programme unreasonably restricted the access of taxis to key areas, adversely impacting elderly and disabled taxi-users. That said, the programme will remain in force pending an appeal. Following this defeat for the Londonwide Streetspace scheme, news has also emerged of multiple other low traffic schemes, run by local councils, facing legal challenges in the days ahead. While the Mayor’s political opponents have rushed to leverage the High Court ruling for political gain, this should be a wakeup call for all levels of government – and all parties. Indeed, as pointed out in an editorial by The Telegraph, welcoming the High Court’s decision, the Government itself has supported these schemes. Ultimately, the big losers here are taxpayers and the wider sustainable travel agenda – after all, recent studies have shown that clean air policies can materially improve children’s life expectancy.
IN OTHER NEWS FROM TFL
Even beyond the Streetscape programme, it’s been an important week for TfL. Following the publication of TfL’s Financial Sustainability Plan and in the leadup to next week’s Board meeting (whose papers were published only today), Transport Commissioner Andy Byford appeared on BBC Politics London this past Sunday. Byford made the case for a new financial model to safeguard the organisation’s key services and support new infrastructure, in turn ensuring that it can continue to contribute to the national economy. Meanwhile, TfL’s housing development programme last week saw one reversal, but also a very big win. Harrow’s Planning Committee refused permission for TfL and Catalyst’s plans to redevelop Canons Park Station’s car park for 118 homes – all at affordable tenures. Objectors, and members of the Planning Committee, had concerns about the height of the proposed buildings. Ealing Council however granted permission for a larger, 852-home, 50% affordable TfL scheme, comprising nine blocks of between eight and 25 storeys. The homes are to be delivered in nine buildings on a site near Bollo Lane in Acton, alongside over 2,300 square metres of commercial space, improvements to local pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, as well as gardens and play spaces on the site.
HOUSING DELIVERY TEST: HOW DID LONDON DO?
Since the publication of the 2020 Housing Delivery test’s results, we’ve been considering what it means for London’s local 33 authorities. For the 16 that have met or exceeded 95% of their delivery needs – as assessed by the Government – over the three-year (2017/18 to 2019/20) period, it remains business-as-usual. But then there are 17, listed below, that are facing one of three sets of penalties. Seven councils scoring 85%-95% must now put together an Action Plan showing what went wrong and how they do better. Two scoring 75%-85% must identify a ‘buffer’ of 20% more land for residential development in their area (normally, councils need to identify a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, plus a buffer of 5%). And the eight that delivered less than 75% of their target are now subject to the dreaded ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, meaning that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) outweighs their local policies for applications on any sites not included in an up-to-date Local Plan.
Trade press titles like Inside Housing and Planning Resource and experts at Savills and Bidwells provide useful analyses of what the above means in more detail and the ‘big picture’ for England as a whole. But from London’s perspective, our key takeaway is that the boroughs face a very tough time in the years ahead. Almost half of their number, including many pro-development boroughs that enjoy significant investment interest, have not hit their current targets. How on earth does the Government expect them to meet targets that are up to 35% higher, likely with less funding and in the face of an increasingly volatile market? Indeed, over the past few weeks we’ve seen reports that the average price of a London home broke the £500,000 barrier for the first time last November, even as ‘prime London’ prices and rent levels seem to be in decline.
- The founding (and now outgoing) Director of Centre for London, Ben Rogers, has announced that he will be joining the University of London and LSE Cities from February 2021.
- Nick Walkey is set to step down as Chief Executive of Homes England in February.
- Derwent London has appointed – subject to shareholder agreement – Mark Bruer as its new Non-Executive Chairman to succeed the company’s retiring founder, John Burns.
- The MJ has reported that Barking & Dagenham CEO Chris Naylor’s secondment to Birmingham City Council is expected to conclude in March.
- Cllr Joe Dromey, Lewisham’s joint Cabinet Member for Culture, Jobs and Skills has announced that he is stepping down from the Cabinet and as a councillor in May as he is taking on the CEO role at Central London Forward.
- The Design Museum has appointed architect Asif Khan as the deputy chair of its board of trustees.
- The Church of England has appointed Bishop of Loughborough Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani as its first Lead Bishop for Housing.
- Sir Keith Bright, London Transport chairman when the King’s Cross fire broke out, has passed away.
LEVELLING UP, YOU SAY?
We’ve picked up a series of opinion pieces and reports in recent weeks that provide some excellent food for thought on the future of London generally – and more specifically in the context of the ongoing pandemic, the end of the Brexit transition period and the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Centre for London’s Ben Rogers has published a piece in response to a recent report by think tank Onward, in which he suggests that the devolution of taxes to cities, regions and counties is key to addressing regional inequalities.
- Also from the Centre for London, Richard Brown and Mark Kleinmann recently published a blog arguing that, despite recent reports about London’s future population trends, plans should be made to prepare for growth.
- The Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolf has warned that the ‘levelling up’ agenda should not take place at the expense of London, as ‘the country will need all its growth engines in the years ahead.’
- Centre for Cities’ latest Cities Outlook 2021, has found that while the COVID-19 pandemic ‘has made the task of levelling up at least four times harder’, many places in England’s wealthier regions, including London, may be at risk of ‘levelling down’ as their local industries have been particularly badly hit by COVID.
BUILDING(S) FOR CULTURE
At a time when the cultural industries continue to suffer enormously, it is encouraging to see London’s boroughs investing in their future. Enfield Council and Troubadour Theatres have agreed a deal for a new film and television studio complex, to be delivered at Meridian Water. The development, set to open by as early as spring 2021, will be called Troubadour Meridian Water Studios and will include three purpose built sound stages and a skills academy. It is expected to create hundreds of new jobs in the borough as part of the major Meridian Water regeneration scheme. In Newham, councillors have approved the use of £700,000 of S106 money from a 1,200-home scheme at Sugar House Island for The Talent House for Urban Culture. The centre will include studios, rehearsal space and offices, providing a home for East London Dance and charity Urban Development.
'CULTURE WARS' CONT'D?
Whereas new facilities for the ‘production’ of culture tend to be welcomed by all and sundry, the debate over monuments and other time-worn repositories of cultural ‘identity’ rages on. It was only last week that the Communities and Culture Secretaries announced ‘new laws to protect England’s cultural and historic heritage’ on the basis that ‘we cannot – and should not – now try to edit or censor our past.’ Only a few days later, the City of London Corporation approved the removal and relocation of statues depicting two figures with links to the Transatlantic slave trade, as recommended by its Tackling Racism Taskforce. Media reports suggest that ministers are mulling whether to mount a challenge. Commentators and Labour politicians have meanwhile warned the Government against fuelling a divisive ‘culture war’ over monuments.
Speaking of wars, one can’t help but notice that some of London’s more prominent anti-development campaigns in London have taken to some pretty imaginative tactics lately. See for example the Cressingham Gardens estate, where Lambeth Council has for years struggled to promote its regeneration plans against strong opposition from campaigners. While the 1970s low-rise estate may not exactly jump to mind as an exceptional example of architectural heritage, local campaigners have now joined forces with SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the Twentieth Century Society to propose the estate’s inclusion in the Brockwell Park Conservation Area. And only today anti-HS2 campaigners have captured the media’s attention with the revelation that they have secretly dug a “100ft tunnel” under Euston Square Gardens. At time of writing, an operation by bailiffs and police was underway to clear the protest camp (treehouses, tents, tunnels and all).
PLANNING AND HOUSING POLICY HIGHLIGHTS
- At the end of last week, the Mayor announced plans to include the ‘expectation’ that all new shared ownership homes funded by the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) are sold with a 999-year lease, to ensure that owners ‘feel secure in their home for as long as they live there’.
- Lewisham Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, Cllr Paul Bell, has called on residents to attended consultation events for the Catford Town Centre Framework under which the Council aims to deliver thousands of new homes in the next 10 to 15 years.
- Hackney Council has set out a new 20-year vision for the borough’s parks and green spaces, using complementary strategies in planning, design and management. Proposals include the ‘greening’ of areas such as Shoreditch and Dalston, as well as the creation of new small parks and ‘strategic planting’ to help with air quality and noise pollution.
ON THE E-EVENT CIRCUIT
This year’s crop of January events is not quite what it used to be. But the lack of mini-croissants aside, we’ve attended some really great webinars! Several members of the LCA team have been attending the ongoing London First Building London Summit, which as ever features a Who’s Who of prominent politicians and sector players. If we’ve picked up an emerging theme of the event so far – you should still have time to register for tomorrow morning’s session – it’s ‘uncertainty.’ But we’ve also picked up an undercurrent of bullish confidence in London’s strengths and ability to ‘bounce back.’ With an eye to improving our own organisation’s inclusivity, we also attended the latest webinar of Real Estate Women's Anti-Racism series earlier today, on the impact of language and stereotyping. We heard emotional and powerful personal accounts from people who have dealt with racism in the workplace, within and beyond the build environment - underlining the importance of creating an honest and open environment where people feel safe and have the confidence to speak out.
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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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