Joining the dots on the stories in today’s edition, it is clear that complex eco-system of organisations that ‘run’ London – you might have seen our mind-boggling graphic on this – is under immense pressure.
The bodies in charge of London's major regional transport links are swimming against strong tides, but holding on. Our local authorities, themselves paddling hard to stay afloat, are finding new ways to buoy our beleaguered high streets - and the spotlight this week is on Westminster’s latest proposals for Oxford Street. There’s a complicated history here, one that doesn’t speak particularly well for said eco-system’s ability to collaborate for the greater good of the city, so let’s hope that the element of urgency provided by the pandemic has a silver-lining.
Meanwhile, our higher education institutes – the bit of the eco-system that helps provide the capital its highly skilled workforce – took a scarring blow from the Education Secretary, apparently as part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
A stable eco-system requires ‘dynamic equilibrium’ – a nice way to think about a living, thriving city – but something feels off at the moment. Let’s hope some balance is restored on budget day (3 March) and in the gradual unlocking that is looking, blessedly, more likely as winter turns to spring.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- The Government has reiterated its support for a third runway at Heathrow Airport after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick signed off the London Plan, which references the Mayor’s ‘strong objection’ to the expansion. The Plan, which is set to be formally adopted in the coming weeks, instead supports expansions at London’s other airports. The Mayor, environmental groups and London boroughs successfully appealed against the Government’s decision to grant permission for the runway in February 2020, though the decision was overturned in December, giving the project a new lease of life.
- Transport for London (TfL) has submitted its appeal against the High Court’s ruling that the Streetspace scheme is unlawful. The scheme, designed to encourage walking and cycling and reduce traffic, was challenged by groups representing the capital’s taxi drivers. The Court found that it had been ‘ill-considered’ and ‘beyond what was reasonably required to meet the temporary challenges created by the pandemic’. Many boroughs are still pressing ahead with their own local cycling, walking and low-traffic schemes, including a number of School Streets projects in advance of next month’s planned re-opening.
- TfL is meanwhile preparing a ‘PR blitz’ to encourage passengers to return to public transport once lockdown has been lifted, as part of a wider ‘recovery plan’.
- Following a significant period of uncertainty, Phase 2a of HS2, connecting the West Midlands to Crewe, has been given Royal Assent. Meanwhile, at the London terminal of the new railway, some protesters opposed to the project remain holed up in a network of makeshift tunnels more than 20 days after the stunt was revealed.
As we get deeper into local government budget season, more news is emerging of difficulties faced by councils in London and elsewhere. At Labour-led Croydon, media reports suggest that an independent investigation by the Local Government Association into the management of the council’s finances (commissioned in November) has delivered its report (not available to the public) and that this has apparently triggered the suspension of four senior officers from the council. Separately, other sources report that the Labour Party has ‘suspended, pending an investigation’ the beleaguered council’s former Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance (both of whom are sitting Councillors). Looking ahead, Croydon’s Cabinet is due to discuss several sensitive items tomorrow, including updates to its ‘Improvement Plan’ and ‘the future’ of Brick by Brick, its housebuilding company. The council is still waiting to hear from the Government on its application for a capitalisation direction – a bailout of sorts, though with ‘strings attached’. Meanwhile, Conservative-led Bexley was among four English councils (the others being Eastbourne, Luton and Peterborough) to strike capitalisation direction deals with the Government last week. The five councils mentioned here are not alone – as reported recently by the Financial Times, ‘at least 12 English councils’ are in rescue talks with the government.
LEVELLING DOWN LONDON'S EDUCATION?
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of ‘levelling down’ London after the emergence of plans to scrap the capital’s weighting for Higher Education Teaching Grant funding in 2021/22. The so-called ‘T-Grant’ is a crucial source of grant funding which supplements tuition fees (universities’ main source of income) and is particularly critical to London, where the cost of living – and therefore universities’ payrolls and maintenance costs – are higher. According to London Higher, an umbrella body which represents over 40 universities and higher education colleges in the capital, this could result in the equivalent of a £64m cut to the teaching grant allocated to the city, corresponding to a potential loss of approximately 1,000 academics and cuts to student support services. In a letter to Williamson, the Mayor called the move an ‘attack’ and expressed his concern that this may set a precedent for changes to ‘other London weightings’. This is a concern shared by many, with even The Daily Telegraph having this week published an article calling on the Government to ensure that any efforts to ‘level up’ elsewhere in England is not at the expense of London, highlighting that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the capital’s jobs and economy.
'A NEW LEVY AND TAX'
As the Grenfell Inquiry takes evidence this week from the manufacturers of the tower’s cladding, last week’s Government announcement of an additional £3.5bn of funding for the remediation of dangerous cladding on residential buildings continues to make waves. Many have lined up to express their disappointment with the content of the announcement. The Mayor of London is among those underlining that those living in blocks lower than 18m will still be liable for the cost of any repairs, while London Councils has said that the funding simply ‘isn’t enough to bring the cladding crisis to an end’. Also included in the announcement was an intriguing reference to a new ‘levy’ and a separate ‘tax’ to help fund the repairs. Few clues have been provided as to what these will consist of and when they will come into force. The Communities Secretary has only said it will be a ‘Gateway 2 developer levy’ that will ‘apply when developers seek permission to develop certain high-rise buildings in England.’ Separately, the announcement references an additional ‘new tax’ that ‘will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector.’ While stating with confidence that this new tax will be introduced in 2022 and raise ‘at least £2bn over a decade,’ its details are to be unveiled only ‘in due course.’ These promised new taxes have received mixed but overall cool reactions from the housebuilding sector, with many listed developers reportedly seeing their share value dip immediately following the announcement. Some, including the Chair of developer Southern Grove, have openly argued that these taxes are fundamentally unfair and will prove counterproductive.
- Cllr Leo Pollak has resigned as Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Housing after it emerged that he had failed to declare that he managed a Twitter account ‘which commented on housing-related issues’. His replacement has not yet been announced, though leader of the Council Cllr Kieron Williams will take over in the interim.
- Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville has announced several changes to his Cabinet, following the departure of Cllr Jon Burke and with current Deputy Mayor Cllr Rebecca Rennison set to go on maternity leave.
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced Peter Baker as Chief Inspector of Buildings. He will lead the new Building Safety Regulator.
- MP for Tottenham David Lammy has been appointed as a Big Issue Ambassador.
CENTRAL LONDON FIGHTBACK
London’s boroughs are working hard to revive and future-proof their town centres. The big-ticket news on this front is Westminster City Council’s new plan for Oxford Street. The new Oxford Street District (OSD) framework has been designed to boost post-pandemic recovery but also responds to ‘massive changes to shopping habits and working patterns’. Perhaps the most striking part of the plan is the creation of a new ‘Marble Arch Hill’, a temporary 25m mound which will provide tourists with views of the local area. The framework also includes measures for improving air quality, ‘reusing and reimagining existing buildings’ and creating ‘world-class public realm’. Details can be found on the OSD’s dedicated website. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Camden, the Camden High Street Regeneration Project has caught the attention of the Council and developers. The initiative urges the borough’s landlords to allow businesses to temporarily move into their vacant units rent free, in an attempt to revive the high street and provide a leg-up to new businesses.
FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
With just 78 days to go until the 6 May London Mayoral and Assembly elections – and despite continuing restrictions on canvassing – things are definitely getting interesting:
The Guardian has made a big play of Lord Ashcroft providing ‘40%’ of the money donated to Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign – in a report which cited a rather selective analysis of Electoral Commission data, covering the period from January 2020 to the present. Bailey has been the Tories’ candidate since September 2018 and at least one other donor (a Mr John A S Nash) has given his campaign the same amount of cash in that period.
- The Guardian’s article contained no mention of Bailey’s main opponent, so – our curiosity piqued – we carried out an identical search on the Electoral Commission website for donations to Sadiq Khan’s campaign, in the period January 2020 to the present. This produced a figure of £0.00, which by The Guardian’s logic should lead us to the conclusion that the Labour candidate’s campaign must be run on a 100% cash-free basis (whereas in fact, declared donations to Electoral Commission only tell a part of the full story of how any given campaign is funded).
- Sadiq Khan has, separately, published a summary of his tax returns since 2016, when he took office, and is challenging his opponents to do the same. The summary indicates his only earnings have been from his salary as Mayor, which will amount to more than £700,000 (before tax) by the end of his extended five-year term.
- Meanwhile, as covered by the Evening Standard, the Mayor’s latest pledge and Shaun Bailey’s umpteenth (we have genuinely lost count) campaign (re)launch both focus primarily on crime and policing – their announcements follow the sad news of a series of violent incidents in the capital over recent weeks.
- Separately, a ‘source close to the Mayor’ has told City A.M. that while his rent control policy ‘will not be the centrepiece of his election offering this year … it would still feature prominently in [his] manifesto.’
- Also on the policy front, we were interested to see the Co-Operative Party (a prominent Labour Party affiliate) launch its ‘manifesto’ for the London Assembly and Mayoral elections, which includes a proposal for enhanced public participation – through ‘workshops and public meetings’ – in the development of the London Plan.
- Green Party Candidate Sian Berry has also dropped a number of policy pledges at a London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) online roundtable, including a new road charging system - and separately, a series of proposals to make London ‘the most trans inclusive city in the world’ as well as designs for the ‘best bus stops in the world’.
- Lib Dem candidate Luisa Porritt has this week appeared at an LCCA roundtable of her own, making the case for her ‘homes in the heart of the city plan’ and insisting that the election is not a ‘two-horse race’.
- As for the other candidates, Metro has listed all 18 people who have declared, to date, they intend to run for Mayor at the next election. Of course, it remains to be seen how many of these will submit their official nomination papers before the deadline of 4pm on Tuesday 30 March – which also assumes they can meet criteria including a £10,000 deposit and the signatures of at least 330 registered electors (with a minimum of 10 from each borough and the City of London)…
CULTURE WARS LATEST
Recent moves by the Communities Secretary and Mayor alike appear to have only fanned the flames of a raging argument that should be a nuanced discussion. In his latest broadside on this issue, Robert Jenrick has written to the City of London Corporation to discourage it from relocating statues of historic figures with links to the slave trade. While carefully worded and noncommittal, there is something ever-so-slightly menacing about his missive. It does not, however, appear to have intimidated the City’s grandees, who seem set on implementing the recommendations of their Tackling Racism Taskforce. The next steps towards removing the statues are to be discussed at a session of the City’s Policy & Resources committee tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Mayor has now announced the members of his own Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. There was nothing the Mayor could have done to avoid knee-jerk calls of humbug by those who feel this and similar initiatives are nothing more than the work of ‘woke’ luminaries bent on ‘erasing’ Britain’s history. But considering this issue is a divisive one to begin with, one does wonder whether City Hall could have vetted the Commission’s panellists a little bit more carefully? Considering there are valid arguments on all sides of this complex and important debate, it is sad to see it degenerate into a toxic ‘culture war’ that benefits no-one.
LONDON'S LGBTQ+ HISTORY MONTH
Lockdown might be keeping us all in, but LGBTQ+ History Month is well and truly out, with the theme of ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’. First launched as an initiative by the Schools Out charity in February 2003, it marks the abolition of Section 28, a clause of the Local Government Act 1988 that restricted local authorities and schools’ ability to offer LGBTQ+ people support and counselling. Fast-forward to 2021 and the capital’s boroughs, schools and libraries are holding events to educate Londoners young and old about the history of gay rights and the issues still faced by the LGBTQ+ community today - and we've seen great examples of these in Lambeth and Wandsworth, among other councils. We’ve also seen some great initiatives and events relevant to our city and the wider built environment sector by the Museum of London, Historic England and the Bartlett School of Architecture. We are particularly proud to see our clients Tonic Housing sharing their experience and expertise in creating vibrant and inclusive LGBTQ+ affirmative retirement communities at several events this month. For even more events and materials relating to LGBTQ+ History Month, visit https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/.
NATIONAL GALLERY BICENTENARY
The National Gallery this week launched its search for a multi-disciplinary design team to work with it on a suite of capital projects to mark its Bicentenary in 2024. The LCA team has been working with the team at the Gallery in the lead up to this week’s announcement, supporting on early stakeholder engagement work as well as media relations. Pieces were successfully secured in the Financial Times and Architects Journal amongst others. More information and the brief for the selection process can be found on Malcom Reading Consultants’ website.
NORTH ISLAND GO
This week LCA client Argent Related reached a momentous milestone, as construction started on the fourth residential building of its Tottenham Hale regeneration scheme. The North Island building will deliver 136 new homes, with flexible use for a café, restaurants and shops. The construction of the building is part of a wider scheme, which will create a fully-integrated new neighbourhood including over 1,000 new homes, 15 retail spaces, co-working and office space, a new health centre serving 30,000 local people, and three new public squares, all minutes from Tottenham Hale station. LCA is delighted to be part of this exciting project, and to have led on the announcement, securing coverage in a number of titles, including Evening Standard.
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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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