So summer is finally here, both technically (it being June) and visually (that yellow thing – it’s the sun).
Some (very lucky) fans are at Lord’s today for the start of the England v New Zealand test match. The Euros are coming soon too. And London is starting to feel just a bit more normal. Meanwhile we all wait to know if 21 June is “freedom day” (a term we really dislike).
But… as you start to get out and about in London, ponder the following. First, TfL continues to operate on very restrictive funding, with the real possibility of industrial disputes looming. Second, the Deputy Mayor for Policing doesn’t think we will get many more coppers on the beat. Third, with the eviction ban now ended, there’s real concern we will see more people made homeless. And on top of all that the hospitality industry is short of thousands of staff – just when we really need them!
STICKING PLASTER STRETCH?
On Tuesday morning, it was announced that the Government and Transport for London (TfL) had agreed another funding deal… only lasting until 11 December 2021 – just over six months away. As expected, the £1bn deal comes with multiple conditions attached, including the requirement that TfL find yet more savings and new revenue sources, prepare a medium-term capital investment programme and carry out a review, with Government, of demand on London’s transport system. Another requirement, and one that is likely to be particularly controversial, is that the Mayor and the Department for Transport (DfT) work together on ‘implementing higher levels of automatic train operation’. The details of the full agreement, which can be found here, were published alongside a letter from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to the Mayor, in which he says that TfL’s Financial Sustainability Plan, submitted to the Government in January 2021, ‘fails to set a path to financial sustainability’ and that it is ‘too early’ for Government to make ‘long-term capital funding commitments’, amongst a number of other points. In his own statement, the Mayor says that he and TfL had ‘successfully managed to see off the worst of the conditions the Government wanted to impose on London’, including ‘huge’ cuts to services and reiterated that, while he will continue to work with Government on funding for TfL, there ‘are very few options’. On the introduction of driverless trains, as expected, Sadiq says that he will ‘object’ to these plans.
Prior to this, TfL announced measures to prioritise pedestrians on London’s streets and a three-year extension of Santander’s sponsorship of the cycle hire scheme. Finally, at last week’s Mayor’s Question Time session - the first of his second term - the Mayor said that he would be ‘pleasantly surprised’ if Crossrail were to open in December of this year, stating that the first half of 2022 is more ‘realistic’.
CAP ON COPPERS?
Tackling crime figured prominently as a campaign issue in the Mayoral election – and continues to make headlines. Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Sophie Linden certainly made a splash last week, when she admitted during her (re)confirmation hearing before the London Assembly that increasing the Met’s officer numbers further seems unlikely. She explained that while the Mayor has supported Commissioner Cressida Dick’s call for London to receive 6,000 of the 20,000 additional officers promised to forces nationally by the Government in late 2019, slightly less than 3,000 have been secured for the capital and more are unlikely. The good news is that, according to MOPAC’s own data on police officers, the number was 32,392 as of April this year. While that is somewhat lower than the 32,812 recorded in July 2020, since April 2020 the figure has remained above the 32,000 mark. That is higher than any point since May 2013 (when the data provided by MOPAC began). According to a relevant Briefing Paper recently produced by the House of Commons Library, it is also appears to be higher than it has been for most of the period since 2003 (see Appendix 1, p. 27). But even the GLA Conservatives think London needs more officers – and a spike in violent crime over the Bank Holiday weekend does suggest that more bobbies may indeed be needed on the beat.
AGMs: THE FINAL ACT
London boroughs’ Annual General Meeting season can offer some great theatre – though with 32 boroughs in all, it can sometimes be more of a Shakespeare Reading Marathon. But AGM season has now blessedly come to an end, with the last handful taking place over the past few days. As trailed in our last edition, Haringey’s councillors have now confirmed Cllr Peray Ahmet as their new Leader – and this evening, an Extraordinary meeting of Lambeth’s Full Council is also expected to confirm Cllr Claire Holland as that borough’s new Leader. Wandsworth’s AGM meanwhile heralded a ‘mini-reshuffle’ of its Cabinet, with two new members and several incumbents shifted to different portfolios – though the regeneration and planning briefs remain in the hands of the Leader Cllr Ravi Govindia and Cllr John Locker respectively. The latest AGMs elsewhere have been less eventful overall. Newham’s produced no changes to its cabinet, though Cllr Daniel Blaney was replaced by Cllr Rachel Tripp as the new Chair of the Strategic Development Committee. Kensington & Chelsea saw only tweaks to some cabinet portfolios and minor changes to its planning committee. And Lewisham saw one cabinet member change, with Cllr Kim Powell succeeding former Cllr Joe Dromey as member for culture, jobs and skills (job share).
- Katherine Kerswell is set to be appointed as Chief Executive of Croydon Council (having already been appointed to the post in an interim capacity).
- Bill LoSasso has been announced as the first CEO of the Crystal Palace Park Trust.
- A by-election is set to take place in Islington on 1 July following the resignation of former Leader Richard Watts, who has joined the Mayor of London’s team as Deputy Chief of Staff.
- And a reminder that Nick Bowes started as the new CEO of Centre for London yesterday.
Last week the Mayor of London opened the London Blossom Garden at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a ‘lasting living memorial’ for the more than 19,000 Londoners who have died from COVID-19. Arranged by the GLA, the National Trust and Bloomberg, the garden is home to 33 trees - one for each London borough and the City. The garden also serves to pay tribute to London’s key workers for their efforts throughout the pandemic and the opening ceremony was attended by key workers from the NHS and TfL. The London Blossom Garden is the first in a series of blossom plantings planned by the National Trust across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Mayor has also announced a new bereavement support programme for Londoners - the Recovery Bereavement Programme, which starts with Thrive LDN’s public awareness campaign called ‘In loving memory of Londoners lost’.
FIRST HOMES FIRST?
The Government has finally released the full details of one of their key policies for bolstering home ownership. First hinted at in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the First Homes policy gradually took shape through Ministerial statements and consultation over the course of 2020. Only last week, the Government published its detailed guidance on the policy and its implementation. So what are First Homes? In brief, they are homes for ‘discounted market sale’ priced at least 30% lower than local market values (capped at £250,000, or £420,000 in London, for their first sale), that can be sold only to first-time buyers within a certain income bracket. There are a host of other significant details in the fine print, but if we were to pick one to add here, it is arguably that ‘First Homes are the government’s preferred discounted market tenure and should account for at least 25% of all affordable housing units delivered by developers through planning obligations’. As highlighted by experts at Lichfields, this requirement creates all sorts of complications for planners and builders alike – though as per Town Legal’s Simon Ricketts, it will take quite some time to trickle down into Local Plans and the planning obligations of schemes on the ground.
A separate development in national planning which caught our eye was the Government’s announcement of a digital planning trial, involving 10 Councils nationally (two, Hounslow and RBKC, in London). While funded by a somewhat paltry-sounding £1.1m grant across all ten councils, this ‘pathfinder’ programme will rather usefully test digital approaches to increasing community involvement and speeding up the planning process – one of the few areas of the Planning for the Future White Paper that was greeted with almost universal approval. The Government had launched its call for expressions of interest by councils only in March and the process has evidently progressed fairly rapidly since then. The trial will see participating councils ‘test how existing local plans translate into the new system’ envisioned by the White Paper – including ‘moving away from long text documents to an interactive map’ and getting to grips with the nuts-and-bolts of new ‘data standards’.
EVICTION BAN EVICTED
The Government’s ban on evictions, introduced in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, came to an end on 31 May. The measure had been extended several times throughout the pandemic, but has now been lifted, leading several charities and think tanks to warn that thousands of households – particularly in London – may be faced with eviction notices and possibly made homeless in the coming weeks. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that 400,000 private renters could face eviction, while research carried out by Shelter has found that nearly two million renters are worried that they will be asked to leave their home at short notice. Shelter is calling on the Government to introduce emergency financial aid for people who are evicted, while also urging the Government to ‘address the structural failings of the private rental system’ through the Renters’ Reform Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech last month. In the capital, London Councils has warned of a ‘summer of soaring homelessness’, due to a combination of high unemployment levels, the lifting of the eviction ban and ‘uncertainty’ about funding for homelessness services. This is something we at LCA will keep an eye on as the summer continues.
ALL PARKS, NO RUN?
London’s jungle of governance and advisory bodies has a new, um… let’s call it a green shoot! Responding to the recommendations of the Mayoral Green Spaces Commission set up in 2019, City Hall has now officially launched a ‘Centre for Excellence for London’s green spaces’. Run by Parks for London and working closely with the Mayor, London Councils and other partners across sectors, the organisation will work to champion green spaces’ many benefits and help ‘secure investment’, as well as set up a new Greenspace Skills programme. Separately, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden have sought to burnish their green and healthy living credentials by writing to councils on behalf of Parkrun, urging them to allow the 5k runs to resume – while the founder of Parkrun has reportedly accused London boroughs of ‘blocking its return’. While the run does have Government permission to resume, evidently many councils and other organisations running parks are concerned about crowding and social distancing at the popular events. Although it all sounds rather fraught, one does wonder whether the Government should focus on providing clearer guidance for local authorities rather than rushing to jump on the bandwagon of yet another popular ‘cause’?
EVENTS, EVENTS, EVENTS
Aside from all sorts of sports, the summer brings with it a gradual return to – wait for it – in-person events. We are elated to see major industry, cultural and community fixtures starting to make a comeback in London, even if some events remain part-online, or have been deferred to later in the year. This month though, we will certainly be enjoying the return of the annual London Festival of Architecture, whose programme does include dozens of physical events. And while Pride in London’s parade has been postponed to 11 September, June is still Pride month and there are multiple other events and marches happening across London for the next few weeks. Then there’s Fashion Week between 12 and 14 June. It’s almost too much really.
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