There’s a lot to be excited about this week, not least because we can all enjoy the company of friends and family (in small, socially-distanced groups and all outdoors of course).
There are also plenty of signs of the still-tumultuous times too, from councils being pushed into resuming in-person public meetings, to the uncertainty facing the office and retail sectors (though we like the positive spin the cultural sector has put on a summer without foreign tourists), and council tax rising nearly everywhere.
But there is still success to be celebrated. In Our Week, we cover the impressive result of a residents’ ballot we managed on the Barnsbury Estate in Islington, for Newlon and Mount Anvil. We were also pleased to see a lovely personal piece by our Director Sam Emery, about our work for Tonic Housing, published by the On London website and are also excited to see the organisers of ‘The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters (1940-1947)’ launching a kickstarter campaign to fund a book memorializing the exhibition that we proudly supported last summer.
Perhaps most of all though, we are relieved, given the delay of a year, to have reached a major milestone in advance of the election for Mayor of London on 6 May – on which point, a few words from our Chairman:
“Yesterday was the closing date for nominations to stand for Mayor of London on 6 May and the final list of candidates was published today. To get through, a candidate needed to have just 66 supporters signed up, two from each London borough, and be prepared to risk £10,000 (which they get back if they poll more than 5% of the vote).
In previous elections the bar was somewhat higher (e.g. requiring 330 signatures rather than 66), but the pandemic has led to a reduction in the requirements. Yet, for a global city of such stature as London, I would argue that this is now too low a bar. I am sure some will say that this encourages democracy and plurality and they may be right. But it is no great surprise that the ballot paper is the longest one in history with no less than 20 names on it. Yet we all know it includes some candidates who, as Professor Tony Travers astutely observes, may have decided that the ‘boredom of lockdown can be replaced by the relative excitement of standing for Mayor’.
Now, I have long commented on the need for serious independent candidates to provide some real grit to the election for this great job, a role I campaigned to create in the 1990s. But this isn’t the way to do it, surely? For anyone who wants to get a closer feel for the point I am trying to make, click here for a quite extraordinary eight minutes of film from someone actually hoping to control London’s transport, policing and planning powers…”
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
And one more thing: you will not receive an LDN issue next week, but do not fear! We’re just taking a much-needed Easter Break and will return on Wednesday 14 April. Until then, enjoy the sunshine (or snow, as the case may be) and stay safe!
- It has now been confirmed by London Elects that 20 candidates will be on the ballot for the position of Mayor of London on 6 May. We noticed that a few aspiring candidates who had thrown their hat in the ring previously, from Charlie Mullins (of Pimlico Plumbers fame) to Polish Pride’s Prince John Zylinski, are not listed. Assembly candidates had not been announced as of writing.
- Over the weekend, incumbent Mayor and Labour candidate Sadiq Khan pledged to install 4G internet coverage throughout the Underground if re-elected in May and subsequently announced his plans for a ‘Good Work Fund’ which would establish four new skills academies in the capital.
- In the Conservative camp, Shaun Bailey’s campaign has suffered further blows, with The Times reporting that Tory MPs have been directed to lend their support to Mayoral campaigns elsewhere, such as Andy Street in the West Midlands, rather than Bailey’s, which was described by ‘insiders’ cited by the same newspaper as ‘rudderless and misguided’.
- All is not lost for Bailey’s campaign, however, having recently attracted some support from The Spectator, The Telegraph and even the Prime Minister himself, who has been credited by as the driving force behind a recent increase in Conservative Party membership, which has now reportedly reached 200,000 nationally.
- Green candidate Sian Berry has formally launched her campaign, pledging to fight the corner of London renters (of which there are 2.4m, according to City Hall figures), including lobbying the Government for the power to introduce rent controls.
- Yesterday, we attended AgeUK’s Mayoral Hustings and were disappointed to find that while Berry and Lib Dem Louisa Porritt were present, Khan and Bailey chose not to show up – although they were represented by MPs Karen Buck and Nickie Aiken respectively. The event coincided with the publication of AgeUK’s brief manifesto for the next Mayor.
- In the race for the London Assembly, it has been confirmed that Preston Tabois, a Haringey councillor who was suspended by the Labour Party following allegations of antisemitism, has had the Party’s endorsement for his candidacy removed.
AWFULLY SORRY, BUT...
Most of LDN’s readers will continue to have the option of working from home for many months – and understandably so. But it seems many of our colleagues in local government will not. As per a letter from Local Government Minister Luke Hall to England’s council leaders late last week, emergency regulations allowing local government committee meetings to take place remotely will be allowed to expire on 7 May. Extending these ‘would require primary legislation’ and the Government ‘has concluded that it is not possible to bring forward emergency legislation on this issue at this time.’ The Local Government Association has called the decision ‘extremely disappointing,’ especially considering MPs will retain the right to participate remotely in Parliamentary proceedings ‘until at least 21 June.’ The Chair of London Councils Cllr Georgia Gould (Lab) is also not convinced as to ‘why should community, staff and councillors be forced to put themselves at risk?’ The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO), Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and Hertfordshire County Council had meanwhile begun lobbying the Government on this issue weeks ago and are now taking legal action. Ending remote meetings so soon is not only questionable from a public health perspective – it’s also bad for business. Planning lawyers, from Simon Ricketts to Zack Simons, are warning that a premature return to in-person committee meetings poses real risks to the development pipeline.
COUNCIL TAX TALLIED
All of London’s 33 local authorities have now confirmed their council tax rates for 2021/22. According to our tally, 26 are increasing total council tax bills (including core council tax and adult social care precept rises) by the full 4.99% allowed before triggering a local referendum. All 33 are increasing the adult social care precept component of council tax bills by the maximum 3%. However, some have opted not to increase their core council tax component by the full 1.99% allowed - namely the City of London Corporation and Wandsworth (both of which have frozen it) as well as Havering (1.5%), Hillingdon (1.8%), Richmond (0.6%), Sutton (1.5%), and Westminster (0.5%). For comparison, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) estimates that when taking into account the 9.5% increase in the Mayor’s precept also, inner London boroughs will see the highest increases of any region at about 5.5% and certainly higher than the England-wide average of 4.3%. Some will argue that this is the ‘choice’ of London’s Labour Mayor and of the city’s mostly Labour boroughs. Others will say this is yet another symptom of a decade of austerity and the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, forcing London’s boroughs to increase council tax by a greater proportion than other regions. But surely, the biggest culprit must be the pandemic, which has forced already stretched boroughs to stretch themselves even thinner to support the most vulnerable in their communities, while income – from parking tickets, leisure services, business rates, council tax and more – has taken a major hit.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- On the policy front, Westminster City Council's draft City Plan 2019-2040 has been found sound by its examiner (details here). The council should now formally adopt the Plan at its next Full Council meeting, which is currently scheduled for 21 April.
- In relation to major planning decisions, London & Regional has secured outline planning permission from Newham Council for its £300m Albert Island scheme in the Royal Docks; the plans entail storage and warehousing facilities, an ‘engineering education hub,’ as well as a boatyard and pier.
- U+I and Really Local Group have meanwhile secured planning permission from Hillingdon Council, for the redevelopment of The Old Vinyl Factory into a new mixed-use ‘cultural and entertainment hub’ called The Gramophone.
- Harrow Council has approved one 149-home scheme by Pocket Living, but rejected plans by Dandi Living for a 129-room hotel.
- Galliard is reportedly ‘working up plans for a fresh attempt’ at the Chiswick Curve site, after its appeal against the Secretary of State’s refusal of previous plans were rejected. The firm is now hoping that cutting the highest building from 32 to 24 storeys – among other changes – will do the trick.
- Dame Alison Nimmo and Jeffrey Dodds have been appointed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Communities (MHCLG) Departmental Board.
- Pooja Agrawal has been announced as the new Chief Executive of Public Practice.
- Sir Antonio Pappano has been announced as the next chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from September 2024, succeeding Sir Simon Rattle.
- Cllr Daniel Francis has announced that he is to step down as leader of the Labour opposition group on Bexley Council.
NATIONAL PLANNING LATEST
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has today announced new measures to ‘revitalise England’s cherished high streets and town centres’. From August, new permitted development rights (PDR) will enable the conversion of shops, restaurants and offices into homes without a full planning application. The proposals, first unveiled in December last year, have been met with concern not only from Jenrick’s political opponents, but from property and business groups, who worry that extending PDR as proposed could erode town centres and the availability of commercial space more generally. Other measures included in the package announced this week are a new ‘fast track’ for extensions to existing public buildings such as schools and hospitals, as well as changes to PDR for ports. The Sunday Times has meanwhile reported comments by Jenrick, in which he suggested that homes may need to be built on greenfield and Green Belt land if the Government is to meet its housing targets. While Jenrick insisted that brownfield sites must still be prioritised, and offered assurances that wherever green spaces are used for housing they must also ‘enhanc[e] the natural environment with biodiversity net gain,’ the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and others have (naturally) cried foul. Amidst what feel like rather fragmentary efforts to deregulate planning, the sector still awaits news on the Government’s intentions with regards to wider reforms to the planning system.
FLIGHT FROM THE CENTRE?
The past week has seen yet more scare stories of flight from London office and retail centres, but it’s not all that bad. Yes, major organisations’ from BT and Santander to publisher Reach and housing association L&Q are scaling back their office footprint in London and other cities. But we are certainly not witnessing the ‘death of the office’. For example in Westminster, British American Tobacco’s former offices at 7 Millbank are set to be refurbished for use by, reportedly, 1,500 civil servants working for parliament and MI5. Further afield in Kingston, there are plans for Unilever’s new HQ, which have been recommended for approval by the borough’s planners (and go to committee this evening). And do not underestimate office developers’ adaptability, as shown by Canary Wharf Group’s plans to pivot their consented 1 Park Place office project in the Royal Docks to a 700-home Build to Rent scheme.
Meanwhile, weak commercial returns for offices and still-shuttered ‘non-essential’ retail are naturally causing jitters, as is the fact that major London shopping destinations, from Westfield London to the West End, have tumbled down Retail Week’s ranking of ‘retail’s most vibrant shopping locations.’ But the latter also showed that smaller high streets (from Wimbledon Village to Muswell Hill) are making a comeback. Additionally, retail footfall is already beginning to rise in advance of shops reopening on 12 April, with Government hoping that relaxed rules for opening hours, al fresco dining, and (as above) planning, will help resuscitate high streets.
WAR OF THE LTNs LATEST
The war over London’s Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) continues. In a bid to encourage walking and cycling during the pandemic, the Government had incentivised the rapid rollout of LTNs across England using what – in some cases at least – amounted to a “deploy first, consult later” approach. This produced approximately 100 in London by the end of 2020 and many more in other cities including Manchester and Birmingham. As reported in The Telegraph, Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has this week pledged to scrap those LTNs that have been ‘imposed’ on communities, promising to ensure that consultations are held on the installation of any others. Bailey has suggested, like many other opponents of LTNs, that they lead to problems with congestion, have an adverse effect on air quality and impede access for the emergency services, even though recent data has shown that London Fire Brigade response times have not been impacted. We’ve also seen evidence of continued strife over such schemes locally, such as in Chiswick over concerns about the impact of Cycleway 9 on local elderly and disabled residents and in nearby Ealing, where LTNs have become a truly divisive issue, with local Labour MPs Rupa Huq and Virendra Sharma both wading into the debate.
- A report by London First and PwC calls for a new, three-step approach to boosting the Mayor’s Land Fund, to help secure additional investment and accelerate housing development in the capital.
- The Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual UK Housing Review 2021 has found that the supply of social rented homes has fallen by almost 210,000 in England between 2012 and 2020.
- Think-tank IPPR has launched a new briefing which explores ways in which mayors can promote social integration at the city region level (the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has meanwhile released its own report, which has gone down rather poorly with some campaigning groups).
- The National Residential Landlords Association have published a briefing on the rental market one year since the start of the pandemic, estimating that 840,000 private tenants have built up rent arrears since lockdown measures began and that 60% of landlords have lost rental income as a result of the pandemic.
- The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee have meanwhile published a report assessing the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s actions to support the homeless and those at risk of homelessness – particularly private rented sector tenants.
- The Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) has launched ‘That Word Art! Putting Art Back into Planning’, a guide for local authorities ‘setting out how reuniting art and planning can help to deliver a more inclusive and stimulating post-pandemic future’.
BARNSBURY BALLOT SUCCESS
LCA client Newlon Housing Trust has successfully completed a residents’ ballot on its proposals to transform the Barnsbury Estate in Islington. The ballot saw a turnout of 79.2% and of those who voted, 72.9% voted in favour. One of the biggest and most complicated estate renewal projects in the capital to be put to a vote by residents so far, the yes vote will now mean that proposals for the refurbishment of some blocks and the demolition and redevelopment of others – including replacement homes for current residents and between 450 to 600 new homes – can progress through planning. Newlon has entered into a 50:50 joint venture partnership with developer Mount Anvil to carry out the project, which will also see two new public parks, communal courtyard gardens and walking routes created. The ballot is the culmination of a comprehensive consultation programme with residents, managed by LCA, which started in October 2019 and included a series of resident workshops and the production of a 32-page ‘Offer Document’ sent to every household. We also campaigned throughout the ballot period to encourage as many residents as possible to vote and highlight the benefits that the transformation would bring. We were delighted to see such as positive result, despite the lockdown's restrictions.
If you would like to have a chat about our experience managing communications for an estate renewal residents’ ballot, then please contact Ed Williams, Director, on 07970 754 941 or email email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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