As we close the door firmly on January 2021, it does seem that the new month brings with it a greater sense of progress and momentum. We have a Plan at least, a London Plan that is, as well as falling Covid-19 case numbers and an fast-increasing proportion of vaccinated people.
Meanwhile, as various organisations mull the state of London's economy and the prospects for recovery – a smattering of reports linked to below – LCA is very pleased to be playing its part. We have always insisted on paying a fair and living wage to all our employees and contracted staff and now it is official. As a growing business we value our talented staff and want each and every one to be able to enjoy a full life in London.
"The news that Paul Martin, joint CEO of both Wandsworth and Richmond councils, is stepping down this March, completes a list of four London borough CEOs announcing their departures in recent weeks – the others being Tim Shields (Hackney), Andy Donald (Redbridge) and Ged Curran (Merton). In addition, as reported last week Eleanor Kelly, CEO at Southwark is off to a national role for the time being. On top of all this John O’Brien, the experienced CEO at London Councils, is also stepping down at the end of April.
The combined brain drain is many decades of senior experience running London’s local government. There’s no single reason for these announcements, and with 33 boroughs it's not surprising that at any one time a few may be leaving. But right now, with the pandemic still running, with budgets even tighter given austerity’s never-ending impact, the loss of so many experienced senior civil servants only makes the challenge of running our capital that much harder. That said, it will be fascinating to see some new faces at the helm of these boroughs. We wish all those stepping down the very best, thank them for all their work over many years and look forward to reporting on the new CEOs."
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
ALL HAIL THE NEW LONDON PLAN
It’s only taken five or so years, multiple drafts, a public consultation, formal Examination in Public and much wrangling between City Hall and the Government. But in the event, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has finally signalled that he has ‘no further matters to raise’ in response to the last, Publication draft of the London Plan, sent to him by the Mayor in December. Meaning that, as per City Hall’s website, the new London Plan can be formally adopted within ‘a few weeks.’ But is the battle over Greater London’s Spatial Development Strategy really over? Jenrick’s letter and Sadiq Khan’s relevant press release both suggest that this is less a peace treaty and more a temporary truce. Khan sniped at the Government for delaying the Plan’s approval and for forcing through changes he disagrees with, while Jenrick snapped that Khan has ‘a very long way to go to meet London’s full housing need, something [his] plan clearly and starkly fails to achieve.’ Ominously, Jenrick also said that he ‘fully expect[s]’ Khan to not only ‘start working to dramatically increase the capital’s housing delivery’ but also to ‘start considering how your next London Plan can bridge the significant gap between the housing it seeks to deliver and the actual acute housing need London faces’ (which incidentally signals an implicit assumption by the Tory politician that Khan will win re-election in May). Neither of the two addressed the roller-skating, tutu-wearing, cymbal-bashing elephant in the room: will the Government’s planning reforms, as and when revealed in full, render the London Plan obsolete within barely a year of its adoption?
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
There’s an awful lot of planning news we could be covering this week, but here are three big-ticket items.
- The City of London Corporation has granted planning permission for Tenacity Group’s plans for a new 30-storey office scheme in the Square Mile. The development will include 365,000 sq ft of office space, some retail space and a garden terrace open to the public.
- Wandsworth Council is set to proceed with the latest phase of its plans for the regeneration of the Winstanley and York Road Estate in Battersea. The joint venture with Taylor Wimpey will see the delivery of 2,550 homes, 35% of which will be affordable.
- The Earl's Court Partnership Ltd (ECP) has unveiled modest plans for the first phase of the redevelopment of Earl’s Court. This would see 51 flats, 23 of which will be affordable, delivered in a new nine-storey block. It will be interesting to see whether the new plans will help kickstart development on the site, whose regeneration had been stymied by almost a decade of conflict between its previous owners and the local council.
LONDON HIGH STREET BLUES...
It’s news to nobody that the capital’s high streets and town centres are under pressure. But the fightback has begun! Recent weeks have seen London’s government and business associations publish reams of evidence detailing how the delicate ‘ecosystem’ of London’s commercial districts is under threat. On Monday, the Mayor publicised the interim findings of a research project examining, in great detail, the challenges posed to London’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ) by Covid-19, Brexit and other factors. Separately, it has been revealed that at least one-fifth of Oxford Street’s shops alone are at risk of permanent closure. Meanwhile, London Councils and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry have published ‘London 1000’ report, offering a valuable sounding of the challenges faced by businesses across the city. A separate poll by London First and JLL also points to a ‘profound shift in future working habits’ that could influence London way beyond lockdown. London’s political and business leaders seem united in arguing that, for the capital to play its part in national recovery, its businesses will, unsurprisingly, need more Government support to weather the storm. But they aren’t just going around asking for handouts! The above reports also reinforce London’s underlying strengths, its remarkable resilience and the emergence of innovative approaches to tackling recovery.
...BUT HIGH TIMES FOR WAREHOUSES?
Even as much of London’s retail space lies fallow, the humble warehouse is enjoying a bit of a boom. The steady growth of online shopping’s market share, the imperative to reduce the environmental impact of deliveries and of course the effects of lockdown have led to a scramble for storage and other logistics space in and around the capital. There are increasing reports of normally low-profile logistics schemes cropping up in the press. Up in North London, Segro has just secured planning permission from Haringey Council to build a 190,000 sq ft ‘net zero logistics and industrial scheme.’ Meanwhile out West, a joint venture between Oxenwood Real Estate and AIMCo, have snapped up a site in Acton, Ealing, with the aim of redeveloping it for a new 100,000 sq ft logistics facility - while Canadian outfit Oxford Properties has made its first direct logistics investment in Europe alongside Logistics Capital Partners with a site next door to Heathrow (which LCA is pleased to be acting on). Valor Real Estate Partners have also recently completed no less than five logistics site acquisitions totalling almost 200,000 sq ft across London. It’s not just sites in Outer London: Segro is also reportedly ‘on the hunt’ for a site in the Square Mile, for a ‘subterranean logistics hub.’ Casting our eye slightly further back, several London projects also featured prominently in The Sunday Times’ 17 January edition, which ran an extensive piece on ‘the rise of the shed masters.’
(SOME) GOOD NUMBERS, FOR A CHANGE!
Official statistical releases tend to be the bearer of bad news these days, but we’ve recently noticed some figures that – while not overwhelmingly good – do give us hope for London. For example, while the city continues to lag behind other regions in rolling out vaccinations, we were encouraged to read that more than 950,000 doses of the jab have been administered in London to date, roughly corresponding to about a tenth of the capital’s population. We are also hopeful that these numbers will be boosted by the launch of a major cross-party push by politicians including the Conservative Vaccine Deployment Minister and Labour Mayor of London, specifically to encourage uptake of the vaccine by people from ethnic minority backgrounds – who account for more than 40% of London’s population and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Another figure we found encouraging is the 1,713 new police officers the Metropolitan Police has succeeded in recruiting since last April, as part of a nationwide effort to bolster security services whittled down by years of austerity. It is, nevertheless, disappointing that – as highlighted by the Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate’s campaign – only about 10% of these recruits appear to be from BAME backgrounds.
- It has been confirmed that Paul Martin, Chief Executive of Richmond and Wandsworth councils under their shared staffing arrangement, will be stepping down in March, a year after he delayed his departure. Mark Maidment, currently Deputy Chief Exec and Director of Resources, will be proposed as Interim CEO while recruitment is ongoing.
- Former Chancellor George Osborne is stepping down as editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard to take on a role at investment bank Robey Warshaw.
- Chairman of HS2 Allan Cook is set to step down in July, six months before his three-year term was due to end.
- Greenwich Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources Cllr Chris Kirby has announced that he is leaving the role and stepping down as a councillor.
- MHCLG has announced that Tony McArdle will be leading the Improvement and Assurance Panel set up to ‘support and challenge Croydon’s
improvement progress’ after the local authority issued a S114 notice last year.
- Public Practice co-founder Finn Williams is to step down in order to take up the role of City Architect for Malmö, Sweden. His successor will be announced in the coming months.
PLANNING FOR PRETTY?
At the weekend, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a series of proposals aimed at ensuring that new developments are ‘beautiful and well-designed.’ The announcement more specifically forms part of the Government’s response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendations. Even more specifically, the Government has launched consultations on proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and on a National Model Design Code. While Planning Resource has a handy roundup of all the proposed changes to the NPPF, the overarching takeaway is that the Government remains set on promoting an agenda according to which ‘development that is not well designed should be refused’. The draft National Design Code now out for consultation is intended precisely as the basis upon which local authorities should decide what constitutes ‘well designed’ in their area, which is to say draw up their own local design codes. The Government also unveiled plans to create a new Office for Place to help councils and communities implement these ambitions locally.
FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
With just over three months to go, the rumour mill is currently churning out signs that the 6 May elections will be going ahead, but who knows? Some commentators have particularly highlighted a letter by Conservative Party Chairman Amanda Milling to party officers and councillors this week, suggesting that the elections will go ahead as planned (as well as clarifying the rules around campaigning). But with the Government still keeping the date of the elections ‘under review,’ LDN readers are advised to prepare for every eventuality (cue the Institute for Government’s handy explainer of what a further delay to the elections might mean in practice). While the continued lockdown means campaigning for the London Mayoral election remains semi-frozen, Green candidate Sian Berry has warmed things up a bit with some new policy pledges, notably a plan to ‘deprioritise’ the policing of cannabis, which she argues would permit the police to focus on more serious crimes. Meanwhile, an icy wind seems to have swept through the Conservative camp. As reported by City A.M. and other media, CCHQ has allegedly redirected funding away from Shaun Bailey’s campaign, in an effort to focus available resources on campaigns more likely to be successful. With Bailey ‘levelled down’ by his own party, it’s no surprise that the incumbent Mayor and Labour candidate seems quite chuffed about his chances in his latest interview with the Evening Standard.
Local and regional elections come and go, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the devolution process is in need of a jumpstart. While, as confirmed last year, the Government’s promised white paper on devolution has been delayed, it’s encouraging to see at least some movement on this front, from the bottom up and the other way 'round. On the one hand, we were pleased to see the Mayor of London joining mayors of other cities (of all parties), businesses and campaigners, to co-sign a letter calling on the Prime Minister to impose stricter air pollution targets. The letter’s backers are calling on the Government to enshrine World Health Organisation (WHO) emissions reduction targets in law – and it’s great to see local government leaders banding together to make their voice heard on the national and international stage. It’s also a positive sign that the Government has pushed forward with the creation of a new Mayoral Combined Authority for West Yorkshire. The election for a new Mayor of West Yorkshire will (or should) also take place on 6 May 2021.
LCA ACCREDITED AS LLW EMPLOYER
LCA is incredibly proud this week to become an accredited Living Wage Employer. As an organisation that has always insisted on paying London Living Wage to all our staff and third party contracted staff this is something we have been working on for some time and are now pleased that we can officially display the Living Wage employer mark. The real Living Wage is higher than the government’s minimum, or National Living Wage, and is an independently calculated hourly rate of pay that is based on the actual cost of living. It is calculated each year and is announced by the Living Wage Foundation as part of Living Wage Week. It is currently £10.85 in London (£9.50 in the rest of the UK) and this week we join nearly 7,000 organisations across the UK, who voluntarily choose to pay the real Living Wage because we believe that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. You can find other organisations who pay the Living Wage here and find out more about the Living Wage by visiting www.livingwage.org.uk.
Even if we must work within the four walls of our homes, the LCA team insists on getting ‘out and about.’ This week, we have been (virtually) attending LREF’s Investment Summit. The first session on Monday saw guests discuss the state of the market, with the Mayor delivering the keynote speech on Tuesday. LREF’s sessions, including discussions on London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and the West Midlands, are all being recorded and can be watched on the LREF website. The Summit ends tomorrow with sessions on Scotland’s Green Future and driving London’s growth. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to seeing the results of a new design competition for reimagining the City’s Digital Service Points, launched by New London Architecture, the City of London Corporation, and the City of London Police and Bloomberg Associates – with the shortlisted candidates to be announced in March.
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.
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