“For the first time since 2004, I wasn’t at City Hall for the results of the GLA elections. It was a strange feeling to be listening to BBC Radio London and the excellent Susana Mendonca, with regular insightful comments from someone called Tony Travers, as the clock ticked slowly and inexorably to 23:00 on Saturday night when we finally had confirmed what we knew already. I had a good excuse, mind. It was my birthday and much as I love being in amongst it, and was delighted to be invited, I spent the day with family (although I did speak to Tony about ten times as we tracked the results).
Whilst our LDN report on Monday (which I hope you enjoyed) implied there was little to surprise us all electorally, the last few days have been very different.
First there was not one, not two, but three Labour leadership changes in London – all on Monday. All for different reasons, but still an extraordinary course of events as Ealing, Haringey and Lambeth all see change at the top.
Then we had what I can only call the strangest Queen’s Speech in memory. Strange because of the social distancing, but stranger still because of the emphasis placed on so many minor issues, whilst the massive elephant in the room, social care, was again not dealt with. I tend to agree with many political commentators that this points to an early general election – once the Fixed Term Parliament Act is abolished. May 2023?
Then we had Sadiq Khan’s raft of announcements. No major surprise here really, with internal promotions of three women to key advisory posts and all the Deputy Mayors re-appointed. The most interesting news was Richard Watts, former leader of Islington Council, coming in as Deputy Chief of Staff. His brief? We will find out.
And back to the strange. Yes, the never-ending soul searching within the Labour party. It was genuinely strange to hear from Peter Mandelson and Diane Abbott again. Many had hoped that Starmer will have corralled all wings of the party behind a common cause. Clearly not – yet?”
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
LONDON LEADERSHIP LIMBO
At City Hall, newly re-elected Mayor Sadiq Khan has rapidly made some changes to his team of advisors, though his lineup of Deputy Mayors remains in place. Following the departure of advisors Paddy Hennessy (Communications), Leah Kreitzman (External & International Relations), Jack Stenner (Political & Public Affairs) and Nick Bowes (Policy), the Mayor announced that former leader of Islington Council Richard Watts will be joining his team as Deputy Chief of Staff, Felicity Appleby will be Director for Operations Political & Public Affairs, Ali Picton will be Director for Operations and Sarah Brown his Director for Communications. There have been no changes to London’s Deputy Mayors or the Mayor’s Special Appointments, meaning that familiar faces such as Jules Pipe (Planning, Regeneration & Skills), Tom Copley (Housing & Residential Development) and Heidi Alexander (Transport) are sure to feature in this bulletin in the coming months.
But the election does seem to have triggered a cascade of changes to the leadership of no less than three Labour-held boroughs. First, Leader of Lambeth Council Jack Hopkins announced that he would be standing down this summer after just two years at the helm. The reasons are not clear but he did face (and survive) a challenge to his leadership in March. No replacement has been confirmed. In Haringey, the Labour Group’s AGM saw the leadership of Cllr Joseph Ejiofor successfully challenged by Cllr Peray Ahmet (a former Cabinet member who was sacked by Ejiofor on New Year’s Eve in 2018). Cllr Ahmet is expected to take on the leadership of the borough at the Council AGM on 27 May. And in Ealing, Cllr Peter Mason mounted a successful challenge against long-standing leader Cllr Julian Bell. Bell survived a vote of no confidence in September last year over the handling of the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Mason is set to become leader of the Council at the AGM next week. With the challenges against both Bell and Ejiofor succeeding by a very narrow margin, some fence-mending will clearly be in order in both boroughs.
OTHER POST-ELECTION NEWS
As the dust settles following the excitement of ‘Super Thursday’, more information is emerging about the election’s process and result. One slightly depressing headline is that this year’s Mayoral election saw a ‘record number’ of spoilt ballots – 114,000 first preference votes (or 5%) of the total, to be precise. While the sheer number of candidates may have been one part of the problem, it does seem awfully like the majority of spoilt ballots was caused by genuine confusion among the electorate about how to navigate the first and second preference system. We’ve meanwhile seen some very interesting emerging investigations into the results from a local angle, such as Lewis Baston’s dive into borough by-election results. We covered the headline results in a special edition on Monday and are also on a mission to produce more detailed analysis of the London vote, so watch this space for more!
LET'S DEFINITELY DO LONDON
But, Mayoral appointments and ballots aside, we are also closely watching Sadiq Khan’s first steps following his re-election. It is encouraging that both the Mayor’s acceptance speech over the weekend and his address at an unusual – but so very London – signing-in ceremony at Shakespeare’s Globe emphasised ‘building bridges.’ He certainly seems to have been rip roaring and ready to go with Let’s Do London, a new domestic tourism campaign. Considering the damage suffered by Central London’s hospitality and entertainment ecosystem and Khan’s manifesto promise to focus on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’, it’s a fitting start. The campaign already offers plenty of information to prospective punters, and got a nice media reception and enthusiastic support from key business associations. With the Prime Minister confirming yesterday that reopening plans are on-track, the stars seem to be aligning with the campaign’s advertising splash and packed programme of events. And while – as ever – haters gonna hate, we rather like David Hockney’s new art installations for the London Underground (as pictured below). Even Manchester’s freshly re-elected and perennially London-sceptic Mayor Andy Burnham is coming to London this summer, with a new column for the Evening Standard!
BUILDING SAFETY LATEST
Yet another major fire broke out last week, at a high-rise block of flats at New Providence Wharf in Tower Hamlets. Reports confirmed that the building in question was still partly clad with ACM cladding, with remediation scheduled to start on 10 May. Residents said that safety measures in place, including fire alarms, did not work when the fire broke out and spread to three floors, and that many were only made aware of the fire in their building via social media and messages from neighbours. Though there were thankfully no fatalities, 40 people needed medical treatment. While the majority of residents were able to return to their homes, some were temporarily rehoused at a hotel. The fire prompted others affected by the ‘cladding scandal’ to stage a protest in Isle of Dogs, calling on the Government to protect leaseholders from incurring the cost of remediation. Meanwhile, the Grenfell Inquiry continues and has heard in recent days that, due to budget concerns, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) refused to make the fire safety repairs to buildings in the borough as recommended by the London Fire Brigade. The Government has also indicated that it may take down Grenfell Tower ‘to maintain safety’ – offering assurances that the ‘views of the community’ will be taken into account and that it will be at least a year before any such action is taken.
- Jerome Frost has been appointed Chair of Arup’s UK, Middle East, India, and Africa (UKIMEA) region.
- Shevaun Haviland has been appointed as Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce.
- We were very sad to hear of the passing of architect Art Gensler, founder of the global practice Gensler, and of former head of the London Film Commission (now Film London) Sue Hayes.
The Government has rapidly shifted gears following the election, going from campaigning mode back to ‘running things’ in what seems like the blink of an eye. But of course, yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was long in-the-works, which makes it’s rather woolly contents a bit underwhelming. It’s certainly rich in ambition, with the relevant Background Briefing Notes listing more than 30 legislative Bills that the Government says it is keen to bring forward during this session. 10 Downing Street has sought to focus attention on plans to ‘beat’ the pandemic and ‘build back better.’ But it is widespread concerns about the impact of proposed Bills on policing, immigration and electoral reform – including provisions that would require voters to present IDs at polling stations and implement first past the post for all elections – which have arguably dominated the headlines. The Opposition has meanwhile highlighted the glaring absence of a long-overdue plan for reforming social care from the Speech. But back to our usual haunts, we noted the Speech’s references to bringing forward a Planning Bill, but are not alone in being dismayed at how ‘light on detail’ it was as to its contents and timescales. We detect a similar frustration in others’ reactions, including the British Property Federation’s (BPF), which diplomatically ‘looks forward’ to hearing more details. Meanwhile, organisations including London Councils, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have reiterated concerns that the proposed Planning Bill’s very assumptions about what needs fixing are fundamentally flawed.
LABOUR TROUBLES (AGAIN)
The election results had only just started to trickle in on Friday when Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer said he takes ‘full responsibility for the results.’ The very next day he reportedly ‘sacked’ Deputy Leader Angela Rayner from her positions as Party Chair and National Party Coordinator, timing just perfectly to overshadow one of the very few good news stories for the party – Sadiq’s re-election. But on Saturday, following outrage from all wings of the party, senior Labour figures rushed to backtrack, explaining that she was actually being offered a ‘significant promotion.’ Then on Tuesday came news of a wider reshuffle on Labour’s front bench, with Rayner promoted to Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Anneliese Dodds presumably also promoted from Shadow Chancellor to Party Chair and other key members of Starmer’s top parliamentary team shifted around like so many chairs on that proverbially sinking ship. It’s fair to say that, the election result itself aside, all this makes for very poor ‘optics’ as the Party heads towards another key by-election in Batley and Spen later this year and more local elections (including London’s borough elections) in a year’s time. This isn’t just bad for Labour’s electoral prospects: an effective Opposition is key to the functioning of any democracy.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
Being in the grip of election fever, we’ve barely had time to cover planning for you recently. But here are three developments that have caught our eye.
- Hillingdon Council is reported to be seeking a judicial review of the Mayor of London’s decision to grant permission for Inland Homes’ scheme on the former Master Brewer site. The Council refused it in March 2020, but the Mayor then called it in and gave it the green light. The Council maintains that the scale of the development is inappropriate and that proper consideration has not been given to air quality.
- Tower Hamlets’ Planning Committee has deferred its decision on a new development at Old Truman Brewery in Spitalfields. There are concerns that the proposals by The Old Truman Brewery Limited for office, retail and commercial space, would drive out the small businesses currently located on the site, while local residents are concerned about the impact on their daylight. Over 7,000 objections to the scheme have been received by the Council.
- Developer Greenland is selling its Ram Quarter development in Wandsworth. The first phase, including over 300 flats, a microbrewery and heritage centre, has already been delivered, with permission granted for a further 375 homes in phases two and three.
REIMAGINING THE VILLAGE
With the impact of the pandemic leading to a 126% increase in people considering properties in village locations, a new report by our client Broadway Malyan seeks to address the environmental, economic and social issues facing rural communities in the UK. ’Reimagined Village’ highlights the urgent need for a rethink amongst planners, developers and local authorities to stop villages becoming unsustainable, dormitory settlements. The document outlines seven key elements vital to the successful development of the ‘village of the future’ as an effective antidote to the housing crisis and the creation of environmentally, socially, economically and culturally sustainable places. Following a pro-active stakeholder engagement programme and series of focus groups, LCA secured an exclusive with The Times and Sunday Times to introduce the report and thinking to the world and is currently following up with UK and global media. Find out more and join the conversation here.
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