Apologies in advance for a slightly longer LDN than usual. But it’s been one of those weeks where stories come from all angles – politics, planning, tax, public funding and more.
Since the publication of the Local Government Finance Settlement last week, all eyes have turned to how London's public bodies are funded. Money, or the lack of it, available to GLA functional agencies Transport for London (TfL) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and local councils’ revenue streams more generally has been generating much publicity. The Mayor of London is evidently painfully aware of this and his press machine has rattled off no less than eight press releases since Monday alone. These seek to simultaneously convince Londoners that Sadiq is dutifully spending more on the things that matter, while underlining that the government is depriving him of the funds he needs… to spend on the things that matter.
Meanwhile, recent polling suggests that while Labour retains its lead in winning Londoners’ hearts and minds, the party itself is increasingly divided in several parts of the capital – as indicated by ongoing developments in Haringey, Newham and now, Waltham Forest. With local elections fast approaching, it remains to be seen how voters will perceive and act upon this internal strife.
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TFL: SITES FOR SORE EYES?
Sadiq has used Transport for London (TfL) land to demonstrate best practise on guidance around public land set out in his draft London Plan. TfL is now bringing forward 10 of its small sites for development after the Mayor's instruction, with the land made more accessible to London’s small and medium-sized builders. An initial 10 plots will deliver 111 new homes, of which 68% will be affordable. Yet the news has been overshadowed by more troubling reports for City Hall, on an expected £968m operational deficit TfL faces next financial year – up £183m from last year. TfL’s budget faces challenges including the tapered removal of the subsidy it receives from the Department for Transport (DfT), the Mayor’s decision to freeze TfL fares until at least 2020, as well as by a drop in passenger numbers. However, TfL is pinning hopes on Crossrail helping return it to an operating surplus by 2021 and aspires to raise £850m over the next five years through property development. City Hall’s focus on small TfL sites this week is a positive step towards unlocking land for much-needed housing development – but if the Mayor expects to tackle TfL’s sizeable budget gap, he may need to accelerate the development of larger, more profitable sites.
NEW POLICING IN THE CAPITAL
Following a lengthy consultation process by the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) and extensive piloting, Sadiq is moving forward with plans to reorganise the Metropolitan Police Service. The proposals will merge a 32-borough system into 12 larger Basic Command Units – one merging four current boroughs, six merging three, and five merging two. Two ‘pathfinder’ projects commenced in January 2017 – merging Camden and Islington in one area and Barking and Dagenham and Redbridge and Havering in the other – to assess if policing could still meet the needs of residents across the redefined units. The next boroughs to merge will be in the West (Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow) and the South West (Kingston, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth). While the Metropolitan Police and indeed the Mayor have spoken of the benefits the borough mergers will provide around investigation work and safeguarding, Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey has previously confirmed to the GLA’s Police & Crime Committee that it would have been unable to run a 32-borough model with 30,000 police officers. The Mayor is required to achieve a further £325m of savings by 2021/22 and while Sadiq argues that the new scheme will ensure Londoners’ safety, he has also criticised the government over cuts to funding. Indeed, in a recent opinion piece, he argues that ‘the Tory approach to policing is not working and is making people less safe’ and that the upcoming local elections are ‘a referendum on Tory police cuts.’
The saga of Sir Robin Wales and Newham Labour’s candidate selection for the 2018 Mayoral poll on 3 May is drawing closer to a conclusion. The final trigger ballot meetings were held this weekend, and on Monday morning the London Labour Party confirmed via Twitter that local branches and affiliates had voted to proceed with an open selection process. The battle lines are being drawn with Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz already announcing her intention to stand and other potential candidates also considering a bid. For his part, Sir Robin is not expected to give up his post without a fight after 23 years in charge. Online voting opens for local members on 1 March and will conclude on 16 March, with the result expected to be confirmed the day after.
PRAVDAS, PROPAGANDA AND PICKLES
The local newspaper industry has raised fears that a return to the ‘Town Hall Pravda’, free taxpayer-funded newspapers issued by local authorities, may be on the cards after ministers failed to take action against two London Councils who defied legal publication requirements. Former Conservative Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has long claimed the rise of such publications led to a decline in the independent print press by offering ‘cut price news’ and competing for advertising revenue. He also said that many were ‘straying into propaganda.’ In an attempt to combat this he introduced the ‘Publicity Code’ (2011) which limits the publishing of council publications to four editions per year. However, Waltham Forest and Hackney Councils have continued to defy these limits and, despite warnings from minsters in November last year, have not faced legal action. This has prompted the News Media Association (NMA) to write to current Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to demand a full response and express their wider fears that ‘Town Hall Pravdas’ might come back in a big way. It comes at an interesting time with many – including the Guardian’s late editor Peter Preston – arguing in the wake of the Grenfell fire that a well-functioning local press is crucial to holding councils accountable.
MAYOR POCKETS 100% AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Following GLA referral, the Mayor has secured 100% affordable housing on a 153-home development in Croydon, up 27% from plans originally submitted to Croydon Council This follows developer Pocket Living agreeing in principle to make the remaining homes available for shared ownership on top of the current affordable housing provision at a discounted market rate. The 21-storey building will be constructed ‘off-site’ and is the second recently approved building in Croydon to be constructed in this manner, with the world’s tallest off-site project under construction only four minutes walk away. Any development above 150 homes is subject to referral to City Hall.
The Conservatives have leapt ahead of Labour in the latest YouGov national voting intention poll. Held on 5-6 February among 2,000 respondents nationally, the survey saw the Conservatives receive 43% (up from 42% in the previous poll on 28-29 January) against Labour’s 39% (down from 42%). The Liberal Democrats have also moved to 8% (from 6%). But YouGov’s breakdown of the full results indicates that Labour is still ahead among Londoners, although this has fallen to 42% (it was 59% in January) compared with 36% (from 31%) for the Conservatives, and 9% (from 7%) for the Liberal Democrats. It is also notable that voting intention for UKIP and the Greens in London has jumped up from 2% to 4% and from 1% to 7% respectively. Looking ahead, we are eagerly awaiting the next tranche of Polling London results by Queen Mary University’s Mile End Institute.
A long-awaited judicial review ruling has rejected the case brought against the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) by local campaigners. However, the project’s chances of success still appear slim. Aside from the fact that the campaigners intend to appeal the decision, the Council has confirmed in relevant statements, as well as a motion subsequently voted through at an extraordinary council session, that a final decision will be left to the administration which will take over after the 3 May local election. That new administration is widely expected to be led by a Labour group heavily influenced by Momentum, which has dominated local candidate selection processes and continues to work its way into local and national party mechanisms. Most recently, the chair of the Stroud Green ward branch in Haringey resigned from his post, citing a ‘poisonous atmosphere.’ Meanwhile, Momentum has reportedly dropped Ann Black from its slate of National Executive Committee (NEC) candidates for the upcoming committee elections this Summer – a move commentators attribute to her vote in favour of barring the party’s newest members from participating in its 2016 leadership election. While long identified with the broader left wing of Labour, it would appear that Black does not quite fit the Momentum mould.
MCDONNELL SOUNDS OFF
In a development with eerie similarities to the chain of events which have led to Haringey Labour’s current predicament, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell seems to have suggested that Waltham Forest Council should reconsider plans to redevelop Walthamstow Town Square. While attending a Waltham Forest Trades Council meeting last Thursday, the Hayes and Harlington MP was reportedly pressed by local campaigners opposed to developer Capital & Regional’s plans. McDonnell has been cited by the local press as reiterating the party’s support for increasing engagement and ‘democratic decision-making’ where major developments are concerned, including offering ballots to estate tenants affected by regeneration projects. He went on to state that ‘if you cannot convince people, think again whether this is the appropriate scheme’. Waltham Council Leader Councillor Clare Coghill responded by telling the Evening Standard that McDonnell should focus on winning marginal Conservative seats in places such as Wandsworth, rather than ‘querying’ the Labour council’s work.
GRENFELL NOT FORGOTTEN
The Grenfell Tower tragedy continues to influence politics, policy and society in the capital. Underlining the complex and sizeable challenge of dealing with its aftermath, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Chief Executive Barry Quirk suggested in a recent interview with the Evening Standard that it was unrealistic for the Government to promise new homes for survivors within three weeks. For his part, the Mayor of London has announced that he intends to upgrade the roles of Fiona Twycross AM, Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (to London’s first Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience), and of the London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton (to the first… London Fire Commissioner). The LFEPA is to be abolished and its functions handed to the London Fire Commissioner, a new functional body of the Greater London Authority. This is the result of new legislation, which comes into effect on 1 April, bringing responsibility for executive oversight of the London Fire Brigade into City Hall. It remains unclear to what extent these new roles and institutions will substantively improve the capital’s capacity for tackling emergencies, though they are expected to henceforth be subject to increased scrutiny by the London Assembly.
EVERY POUND COUNTS
The Local Government Information Unit’s (LGiU) State of Local Government Finance Survey 2018 has found that 95% of 113 English councils surveyed were planning to raise council tax for the next financial year, with a further 76% saying they would raise council tax by 2% or more. Although only nine London council representatives responded to the survey, the capital’s own financial concerns are well documented. In a pre-budget submission, London Councils estimated that London boroughs face a total funding shortfall of at least £1.5bn per annum by 2020. And, while it is entirely possible that fewer London boroughs will be raising council tax for the next financial year – possibly with a view to wooing the electorate in May – the GLA is raising its precept by the maximum of 5.1% (any more would trigger a referendum). It is also interesting to see that Westminster City Council, which takes pride in its low tax rates, has launched a scheme wherein expensive Band H property owners are asked to make voluntary donations on top of their council tax. Whatever the merits of this particular initiative, it is clear that councils are desperate to avoid raising Council Tax where possible, especially just before elections, and we may well see more such innovative approaches to income generation in the months and years ahead.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY PIPERS
On 8 February we celebrated with Pipers their ’40 years of innovation’ party at a packed Guildhall to mark the Ruby anniversary since Barry McKeogh first took over the Pipers Model Making business, originally based in Kingston. Since then Pipers has grown into a family of independent businesses that all share the common purpose of shaping better cities. The group now employs 100 people and includes the ever-popular New London Architecture (NLA) and annual London Festival of Architecture. LCA is proud to have worked with Pipers for almost 20 years, growing the success of the London Stand at MIPIM and launching and building the London Real Estate Forum into the pre-eminent London property event.
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