This time next week we will have heard the Chancellor’s Budget statement and we will of course provide some early headlines in this very spot.
Reports that the stamp duty holiday may be extended, as well as the furlough scheme, remain unconfirmed. But what is clear, is that the vaccination programme is moving ahead swiftly. Together with the road to recovery outlined by the Prime Minister on Monday, all of the above provides some cause for mild optimism in the lead-up to Budget Day.
Next week also sees the long-awaited adoption of the London Plan, delayed a year by drawn-out disagreements between the Mayor and central government. Certainty has always been something developers seek from planning authorities, even if they don’t agree with all the policies!
Sadiq Khan is also set to launch his electoral campaign next week, so we can expect to see him and his opponents ramp up their efforts - and start to unveil more of their manifesto policies for the 6 May election.
Meanwhile, this week MHCLG has announced a move to Wolverhampton, coincidentally and usefully located in the patch of one Andy Street, a Conservative combined authority Mayor who is standing for re-election this year.
And on the subject of London versus, well, the rest, we have played another round of our favourite counting game – count the number of references to London in an important government document. Our tally from the latest National Infrastructure Commission annual report is a bit grim and yes, we all now can agree that Crossrail 2 is in the longest grass imaginable.
ROAD(S) TO RECOVERY
With infection rates falling and pressure to loosen restrictions rising, the Prime Minister has this week laid out the Government’s ‘roadmap’ out of Lockdown 3. The detailed document sets out a cautious and gradual reopening plan, contingent on meeting a series of periodic ‘tests.’ In the interim, next week’s Budget statement on 3 March is all-important to keeping many businesses, workers and self-employed people afloat until such point as restrictions are lifted in full – a point strongly emphasised by the Mayor in his response. Indeed, ‘targeted’ support for the industries most affected by the lockdown – including retail, entertainment and hospitality – features heavily in a separate ‘roadmap’ (word of the month clearly) agreed by the Mayor and his London Covid Business Forum last week. While that plan does not appear to have been released in full yet, it does seem to be backed by a modest, but nevertheless helpful £5m boost in the final draft of the GLA Budget, which is expected to be passed later this week following a second vote of the London Assembly. Separately, it has also been confirmed that the new London Plan will be formally adopted on 2 March, providing a much-needed dose of certainty to developers and planning authorities across the capital – and a solid basis for them to ‘play their part’ in recovery.
All the above aside, the big question – and indeed, one of the Government’s own ‘tests’ – remains how fast COVID-19 vaccines can be administered to the population. London continues, unfortunately, to lag behind the rest of the country, but we’re getting there! The Mayor and our very own Managing Director Jonny Popper received their first jabs – being fellow-asthmatics – only last week.
Of course, everyone knows that plans rarely pan out as expected. So what do we know about how the next few months and years will play out? Enter GLA Economics’ snappily titled ‘Macroeconomic scenarios for London's economy post COVID-19.’ While its authors are keen to stress that this is not a forecast in the strictest sense, the report provides a set of ‘high level macro economic scenarios’ for the short term (end 2022) and medium term (to 2030). Parts of the report are encouraging, for example its suggestion that even under a ‘gradual return to economic growth scenario’, London’s economic output should reach pre-crisis levels in the second quarter of 2022. Yet, other parts of the study make for grim reading. For example, the gradual recovery scenario sees pre-crisis employment levels being regained only by 2024. For an equally grim, if informative snapshot of the pandemic’s impact on Londoners, see the latest edition of the London Intelligence (and read on for more research from Centre for London). Looking ahead, the mother of all surveys is less than a month away, with Census 2021 set to take place on 21 March. The Census will inform future Government policy and funding decisions – something the Mayor and Chair of London Councils are evidently very conscious of – but the results will take some 18 months to be assessed.
LEVELLING DOWN LATEST?
Our reading of the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC’s) Annual Monitoring Report suggests that even politically impartial Government agencies’ work is tacitly side-lining London. We compared mentions of London and key London infrastructure in the 2020 and 2021 reports and here is what we found: Substantive mentions of the word ‘London’ are down from 40 to 6. The 2020 report contained 35 mentions of Crossrail 2, six of Crossrail 1 / the Elizabeth Line, five of Transport for London and four of the Underground. The tally of all these terms combined in the 2021 report: zero. See Rowan Moore’s recent piece on how ‘London’s bridges are falling down’ for just one example of why this matters. But there are some glimmers of hope for London in other recent news from Government. The Museum of the Home, the Bevis Marks Synagogue Heritage Foundation, The Light Cinemas group and the Archlight Cinema represent the capital in a list of 34 arts, culture, heritage and entertainment organisations to have benefitted from the latest £18m allocation of Culture Recovery Fund grants. And we hope that projects in London will be able to benefit from Homes England’s ‘updated’ strategic partnership model and a separate, £250m Housing Accelerator Fund for SME builders, launched in collaboration with United Trust Bank.
The City of London Corporation has made a series of announcements around its ‘commitment to embedding culture at the centre of the Square Mile’s post-Covid recovery’. The Barbican Centre is set for an overhaul with the City simultaneously announcing a ‘major renewal’. Details of what this might entail are scarce, other than a phased approach is envisaged, with the 40-year old complex ‘reimagined and upgraded’ to improve sustainability, facilities for all users and expanding the digital offer. A selection process to find a ‘world-class architect-led team’ will be launched later this year so more news of that when it happens. The cultural package also includes renewal of funding for the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) – which has been resident at the Barbican since 1982 when the centre opened – and a further two year financial commitment to Culture Mile. Perhaps unsurprisingly, plans for a new Centre for Music on the site currently occupied by the Museum of London have been halted. The £288m scheme was to have provided a new world class concert hall for the LSO, but ‘given the current unprecedented circumstances’ this ambition will no longer be progressed.
- Labour Leader of Islington Council Cllr Richard Watts announced that he will step down as leader in May. He will stay on as a councillor until the local elections in May 2022.
- Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead) and Paul Holmes (Conservative, Eastleigh) have been discharged from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. Florence Eshalomi (Labour, Vauxhall) and Andrew Lewer (Conservative, Northampton South) have been added to the Committee.
- Battersea Power Station has made several appointments to its Estate Management team, including David Collins as Head of Retail and Commercial Services and Nadeem Ghous Chaudary as Residential Property Manager.
2021 LONDON ELECTIONS LATEST
It’s been a relatively quiet week on the election front – though as we approach the two-months-to-go mark, we can hope for a slew of policy announcements in the coming weeks. For now:
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed that a ‘second headquarters’ of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will be set up in Wolverhampton. Setting aside the linguistic gymnastics required to accept that an organisation can have a second HQ, the move has been described by the Government as a ‘key milestone’ for its ‘levelling up agenda’. 500 MHCLG roles will be ‘based across the West Midlands’ by 2025, with more roles to be located in the region by 2030 – and it is promised that MHCLG’s new home will be graced by ‘regular ministerial presence’. The news has been welcomed by local politicians including MP for Wolverhampton South West Stuart Anderson (Conservative), leader of Wolverhampton City Council Cllr Ian Brookfield (Labour) and especially by regional Mayor Andy Street (Conservative) who is standing for re-election on 6 May and only won in 2017 by a whisker – and who claims the credit for having ‘convinced’ the Minister to ‘make the move.’ Details about the exact location of the offices are to be confirmed later this year.
HOUSING RESEARCH LATEST
- Centre for London has this week published a report into housing for older Londoners, highlighting that London is providing less than half of the specialist homes needed for older people and making a series of recommendations to increase provision.
- A report published by The Archbishops of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community has called on the Government to create a 20-year, cross-party strategy to deliver new affordable homes as well as improve the quality of existing stock.
- Separately, ahead of the Budget set for 3 March, a number of organisations have issued a joint statement calling on the Chancellor to provide more support for renters, with at least half a million estimated to be in arrears as a result of the pandemic.
UBER THE MOON
While industrial action has been less of an issue for Londoners at large over the last year, it is still very much a feature of the wider transport sector. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are ‘workers’ rather than ‘self-employed’, entitling them to rights such as minimum wage and holiday pay. The case was first brought by 35 Uber drivers in 2016 and following this ruling, an employment tribunal will determine how much compensation they are entitled to from Uber, which could see thousands of drivers also make claims. It is so far unclear what the exact implications of the ruling will be for the firm and its customers, though it is also expected to have significant ramifications for the wider gig economy upon which London has become increasingly dependent over the past few years. Meanwhile, over 2,000 London bus drivers employed by RATP are set to strike this week, causing ‘serious disruption’ to bus travel. Members of Unite, the drivers’ union, are striking over pay and conditions, saying that some drivers are facing a pay cut of £2,500 per year.
WHIPPS CROSS CONSULTATION LAUNCH
Last week LCA helped support Barts Health NHS Trust to launch a planning consultation which presents the latest designs to transform the Whipps Cross Hospital site. The plans will create a new, state-of-the-art hospital, surrounded by new green spaces, improving access to the site and re-establishing its connection to the forest. The new hospital at Whipps Cross will provide the same core services as today, including A&E and maternity, and will offer improved modern facilities in better surroundings, for the whole community. This development also provides the opportunity to transform the wider Whipps Cross site with better transport links, green and public spaces, new homes and community facilities. LCA has drafted and designed all the consultation materials and is now helping to ensure as many people as possible have their say. For more information have a look at the consultation website.
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