“As election fever dies down, borough AGMs take centre stage and with one year now to go before the local elections in the capital, we move into a nervous period for many.
Take a borough like Ealing, with 57 Labour councillors out of 69 in total. A comfortable majority, wouldn’t you think? But with a new Leader just elected, through a vote of no confidence in his predecessor carried by just one vote, Cllr Peter Mason has an “interesting” year ahead. Does he cancel controversial LTNs like neighbouring Harrow did? Does he announce a tall building review to try to pacify the “Red Block Rebels”? Does he worry at the fact that Shaun Bailey won more of the popular vote for Mayor of London in the Ealing & Hillingdon super-constituency than Sadiq Khan – potentially suggesting a resurgence of Tory support in a borough that was controlled by the Conservatives as recently as 2010?
Meanwhile, the Mayor of London has headed to Yorkshire today to demonstrate how money spent on London’s infrastructure directly benefits those areas the government says need “levelling up”. We distinctly remember reporting on his predecessor brandishing a (Derbyshire-made) brick at Tory party conference in 2014 to make the same point. Are you listening Mr Johnson? And if so, let’s hope the TfL settlement, now delayed to 28 May, is fair for London.
And on the subject of levelling up, Cornwall has an income per head less than 75% of the EU average, but is often ignored in the “red wall” debate. And although we are London Communications Agency we do, quite often, work further afield. So we have been delighted to promote Twelve Architects and their fantastic Bodmin Jail Hotel. Yes, in Bodmin Cornwall and yes, an ex-jail. I may well book in this summer, especially if I can’t go abroad.”
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
LONDON IS OPEN
City Hall and its partners have kept up the momentum on the re-opening of London. On Monday, the Mayor launched London Eats, a specific strand of the wider Let’s Do London campaign dedicated to promoting ‘the most exciting food experiences central London has to offer.’ The hard-hit hospitality industry sure could use the help; with footfall evaporating during successive lockdowns, it is estimated that almost one in ten of Britain’s restaurants collapsed over the year to April 2021. Museums and other visitor attractions have also had a tough time but now most are, more or less, back in business – meaning there really is lots to be excited about. Time Out can finally give us more of its famous top five things to do this weekend, involving real people in actual places – and it’s finally curtains up for the West End and theatres across London. We’re especially delighted to be supporting the organisations now working to bring some of London’s most-loved places back to life, like Kings Cross and Wembley Park, the National Gallery and Camden Markets and we look forward to catching up with many of you over the summer too!
Four London boroughs have held their Annual General Meetings since our last edition, with Ealing providing some real fireworks and Harrow a bit of fizz-bang too. Following a successful challenge against incumbent Julian Bell at the local Labour Group’s annual meeting last week, Peter Mason was formally installed at yesterday’s Full Council AGM as Ealing’s new Leader. He heads a larger (from eight to 10 members) and very new-look Cabinet (eight members are new) with a revamped set of portfolios. Notably, the briefs for Planning, Major Projects, Council Property, Regeneration Strategy, and the Private Rental Sector have now been consolidated under a new portfolio of Cabinet Member for Good Growth, awarded to Cllr Shital Manro (who has been replaced as Chair of the Planning Committee by Cllr Ray Wall). However, specific responsibility for Estate Renewal and other key aspects of housing policy sit with Cllr Lauren Hall, as Cabinet Member for ‘Genuinely Affordable Homes’ (sic). And as we went to print last week, Labour-led Harrow also held its AGM, which heralded several interesting changes, including a slightly bigger (by one) lineup, a new Deputy Leader with Cllr Natasha Proctor taking over from Cllr Keith Ferry (Ferry’s role having already been partly amended back in December), and the Leader Cllr Graham Henson additionally taking on the portfolio for Regeneration (and as it appears, planning more generally). Meanwhile, Lib Dem-held Kingston and Richmond Councils also held their AGMs yesterday, though neither saw any major changes of personnel in top positions.
JENRICK STRIKES AGAIN?
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has been the talk of the town this week. He granted approval for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry plans, having called-in the planning application in January 2020, after Tower Hamlets approved them in November 2019. The Council had received 780 objections to the scheme and faced strenuous opposition from a local campaign group. The proposals include the delivery of a new 100-room hotel on the site with the foundry itself to become home to new workshops and a café. It seems Jenrick had a touch of ‘Secretary’s Remorse’ as following the decision he tweeted that ‘another Minister at MHCLG approved the application’. Worth noting that the decision letter specifies explicitly that the ‘decision was made by the Secretary of State and signed on his behalf’… Jenrick also said that he was ‘saddened’ by the closure of the foundry in 2017 and as a result has ‘commissioned a review of how the Planning Inspectorate and planning policy considers and defends heritage’. Meanwhile, in South London, he has also allowed an appeal for a special needs school and playing fields in Sutton by Kier, which had asked for a reassessment of the Council’s failure to make a decision on the application.
The busy Secretary also found time to pen a piece for The Telegraph this week, in which he outlined some of the Government’s plans to boost home ownership, including changes to the planning system as set out in the Planning for the Future white paper. Jenrick refers to taking ‘power’ away from ‘big developers’ and giving it back to communities instead, while he also states that the Government may introduce ‘levies on land with planning permission that has not been built out’.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The GLA has granted approval for the next stage of Redrow’s Colindale Gardens scheme to deliver 1,200 new homes. A total of 4,000 homes should be delivered on the site once all phases are built out, 35% of which will be affordable, as well as a new school, health centre and retail space.
- Barking and Dagenham Council has granted permission for the delivery of 229 homes as part of the Barking Riverside scheme. Over 10,000 homes are planned for the site (50% of which will be affordable), as well as a new Overground station and new leisure, retail and healthcare facilities.
- A school in Lewisham may be ‘significantly demolished’ and rebuilt after an inquiry found that contractors did not comply with the planning permission granted in 2016 by the Council. Once constructed, the school was found to have ‘varied significantly’ from the original plans, mainly in terms of its design.
- On 6 May, some residents of Tower Hamlets had the opportunity to vote on the long-awaited Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Plan. 86% of the votes were in favour of the Plan, which will now be adopted.
- The City of London Corporation has opted out of new Permitted Development Rights (PDR) which allow the conversion of commercial premises into homes under a new Article 4 Direction over concerns about the loss of office space and the creation of ‘a poor residential environment’ (more on PDR in Caught Our Eye, below)
- Harrow Council has approved the introduction of new rules in the borough’s conservation areas meaning that any changes to gates, walls or fences will have to be approved by the Council.
- Newham Council has launched a new housing strategy, including a ‘£96m three-year council homes maintenance programme’ as well as measures to tackle homelessness and ‘create a safer and more secure’ private rented sector in the borough.
- The Chair of Barnet’s planning committee Cllr Shimon Ryde has stepped down from the Conservative Group and is now sitting as an Independent, though he has indicated he will still vote with the Tory Group.
Enfield Cllr Charith Gunawardena has defected from Labour to join the Greens – though he will reportedly sit alongside other defectors forming the Community First council group, which now has six members. Meanwhile, a motion of no-confidence in the current Enfield administration has been table by the opposition Tory Group and is headed for a vote at an extraordinary council meeting tomorrow (which follows the council’s AGM this evening).
The London Assembly met on 14 May for its Annual General Meeting, the first meeting of the members elected on 6 May. Veteran AM Andrew Boff (Conservative) was elected Chair of the Assembly unopposed, but the allocation of other key roles was less straightforward. It emerged at the meeting that while the Conservative, Lib Dem and Green groups were prepared to agree on the allocation of Committee Chairs, the Labour Group was not – refusing to take on any of the roles that had been offered to them. This means that no Labour AMs will serve as chair or deputy chair of the Assembly or of any of the Assembly’s committees this year. There are, of course, at least two sides to every story. The Tory, Lib Dem and Green groups assert that Labour refused to accept an offer that was proportionate and fair (more from Green AM Caroline Russell here). For its part, the Labour group is adamant that they were excluded from negotiations, accusing the other groups of forming a ‘coalition’ and the Greens and Lib Dems in particular of ‘betraying their progressive values’ and being ‘in bed with the Tories.’ However, considering Oxford County Council and Sheffield City Council’s respective Labour groups did manage to prevent their fellow ‘progressives’ from being seduced by the Tories following the May election… one wonders whether their colleagues on the Assembly might have missed a trick.
WAITING FOR THE BUS
It was confirmed yesterday that the Government had agreed to further extend Transport for London’s funding deal… for 10 whole days, until 28 May. The current agreement, which was settled in October 2020, was first set to expire at the end of March but was extended until 18 May, to account for the pre-election period. In a written ministerial statement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had said that negotiations on a new funding deal would resume after the Mayoral election on 6 May. This further extension has all the hallmarks of a sticking plaster, though Shapps has said that this extension 'will allow for a longer-term offer to be made to move TfL onto a more financially sustainable footing’.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of strikes brewing across the TfL network, just as Londoners start to return to public transport. 4,000 Metroline bus drivers, members of Unite, are set to strike for 48 hours next week over plans to introduce ‘remote sign on’, under which drivers may start and finish their shifts at different locations along their route and would only be paid when they are signed into their bus. The strike is set to affect over 100 bus routes. Woolwich Ferry workers, also members of Unite, are also set to strike in May and June over the alleged ‘victimisation’ of a union representative, in addition to several other issues relating to pay, health and safety and the use of agency staff.
In happier news, TfL is pressing forwards with efforts aimed at ‘greening’ London’s transport. TfL and London Councils have (finally) launched their e-scooter trial, which means Londoners will finally be able to ride e-scooters, erm, legally (technically all those e-scooter riders that have been buzzing around on public roads and pavements for years now have been – and are still – breaking the law). Meanwhile, the Mayor is visiting Switch Mobility’s electric bus factory in Yorkshire today, in a show of commitment to ‘building bridges’ between London and other regions’. The company has provided 67 of TfL’s electric buses and should be delivering another 30. The Mayor is ‘visiting to see the benefits [TfL’s] partnership with Switch Mobility has had on both regions.’
A BRAVE NEW LEASEHOLD?
The Government is beginning to deliver on pledges to reform the leasehold system. The latest drive to reforming England’s complex and deep-rooted system of land ownership is a long and tortuous affair, and there have been two major developments on this front. First, the Government has published the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill. This is the first of (at least) two legislative Bills to be brought forward in order to deliver on (at least some) of the Law Commission’s reform proposals. This first Bill, now making its way through the Lords, specifically seeks to crack down on the abuse of ground rents. Second, Robert Jenrick has announced the launch of the Commonhold Council, an advisory panel chaired by Building Safety Minister Lord Greenhalgh and consisting of 11 members representing leasehold groups and industry experts, which will consider and advise the Government on ‘the practical steps to implement a reinvigorated commonhold system’ as an alternative to leasehold. For the real property law anoraks among our readers, the Government has also published a report on leasehold and freehold charges by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning.
Another key area of planning reform – and a particularly controversial one at that – is the extension of Permitted Development Rights (PDR). The Government has just this week launched a consultation on ‘consequential changes’ to PDR, following the establishment of new use classes last year. Its push to expand the scope of PDR is facing close scrutiny – and strong headwinds. Ahead of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee holding an oral evidence session on PDR earlier this week, the Local Government Association (LGA) expressed its concern that the shift to working from home may lead to a greater use of PDR to convert vacant office buildings into ‘substandard’ homes. The LGA argued that over 16,000 affordable homes could have been ‘lost’ over the past five years due to such conversions, which do not require any affordable housing contributions.
HAYES DAVIDSON 5K
There’s just four days to go until this year’s third annual HD5k charity run in support of the Alan Davidson Foundation and LCA is rip roaring and ready to go. At least nine runners from our team are signed up as of writing. Well, eight runners, plus our Managing Director Jonny Popper, who will be participating at something more like a vigorous walking pace. As he said, ‘it’s better than nothing.’ Meanwhile our founder Robert Gordon Clark, who was a Non-Executive Director of Hayes Davidson for many years, will be rowing. We’re hoping to get more of our friends and clients involved in the charity run, whose proceeds will support the good work of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association. The late Alan Davidson was a talented architect, artist, technologist and innovator, as well as being one of LCA’s first Non-Executive Directors, a good friend and tireless champion of our founding team and an all ‘round lovely guy. We miss him terribly but are glad we can at least commemorate his remarkable life and help people with MND through participating in this run and supporting his foundation. We hope you will too.
JAILHOUSE ROCKS (AGAIN)
A derelict 18th century prison that once housed hundreds of criminals has been restored and reinvented as a luxury boutique hotel in Cornwall, England by our client Twelve Architects. The Bodmin Jail Hotel, which opened on Monday, is the second phase of a £50m masterplan project following investment by Mallino Development Group. The first phase saw the modernising and reopening of the adjacent Bodmin Jail attraction in October 2020. Set over four storeys, with 70 boutique rooms, each with their own story to tell, The Bodmin Jail Hotel is a new full sensory accommodation experience that intertwines the imposing original architecture of the three-hundred-year-old jail with creative, contemporary design. LCA has secured coverage across media around this remarkable architectural transformation. Media trips have been confirmed for Forbes, Sleeper magazine, Hemispheres, Travel And Leisure, Financial Times and The Sun. We also have coverage lined up across a number of UK nationals, architectural trades and international media including Robb Report USA, as the world starts to emerge from lockdown. You can read more about the project in this article by e-architect here.
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.
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