It is four years since that terrible day, when the blaze at Grenfell Tower cast a dark shadow across the capital and, with the unspeakable human cost, prompted long overdue discussions about building safety, housing and inequality.
Many of the survivors are still waiting for justice four years after they lost everything. Meanwhile, many thousands of leaseholders are still stuck with flats within unsafely clad buildings (and in many cases, forced to pick up the tab for making them safe). We have more on this sad anniversary below.
There’s also the latest on the City of London Corporation’s reform efforts, planning decisions across London, City Hall politics and reaction to the draft Planning Bill.
And while the four week delay to a full re-opening hurts, there is a lot to be excited about. Quite a few worthy Londoners will be pleased to be included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, while London’s culture and sport sectors are making the most of the summer, come what may!
Oh, and in case you missed it, the winner of the inaugural 2021 Davidson Prize has been revealed: the HomeForest team’s vision for the home in the wake of the pandemic. For more details, visit the competition’s website.
Monday marked four years since the Grenfell Tower fire. London landmarks were lit in green and due to current restrictions, small community events were held in commemoration. Campaign groups and survivors used the anniversary to highlight the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are still living in buildings wrapped in dangerous cladding, as evidenced by the recent fire at New Providence Wharf in Tower Hamlets. However, the Government’s latest figures show that progress is being made and 92% of all high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings, 98% of social sector buildings and 88% of private sector buildings having either started or completed cladding remediation. Leaseholders across the country are still, however, facing eye-wateringly high bills to pay for remediation works that the Government’s Building Safety Fund does not cover. Inside Housing has published a report on the Government’s performance against promises made.
CITY PANELS PONDERED
The City of London Corporation is working up plans that could significantly change the way it considers planning applications. The plans emanate from the Lord Lisvane’s Review of its governance, published last Autumn and his suggestion that the Planning & Transportation Committee sets up smaller Sub Committees, or panels, to vote on major applications (rather than its current practice of all 35 members voting). However, the City Corporation’s draft proposals appear to have snagged at last week’s session of the Planning & Transportation Committee itself. While its Members approved the principle of panels deciding on applications, they disagreed with the panels being split by geography and deciding on applications on a ‘mirror’ basis - wherein a panel of Members drawn from the northern wards would vote on applications in the south and so on. The Committee has instead expressed a preference for an alternative ‘rota’ system, whose details remain TBC.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Enfield councillors have approved the borough’s new draft Local Plan to be released for a 12-week consultation starting this month. It includes controversial proposals to build 6,000 homes on Green Belt land.
- At last week’s meeting of the Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee councillors decided to defer a planning application which would see 2,000 new homes delivered on the Isle of Dogs. Councillors have asked for further information on a number of issues and a site visit.
- Greenwich Council has approved plans for 40 new zero-carbon council homes in Eltham, part of the local authority’s ‘Greenwich Builds’ programme.
- Newham Council has agreed to allocate £6m to the next stage of the regeneration of housing estates in Canning Town.
- The Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami group (MTE) have accused Barnet Council of discrimination due to the way the borough has handled their application to change the use class of a building to a ‘place of worship’. An existing planning permission already states that the building can be used as a church and the group’s lawyers are arguing that a group of a different faith would not have been treated in the same way.
Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick is once again in the spotlight following the publication of the report of an independent panel investigating the 1987 unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan. The report highlights the force’s apparent lack of cooperation and calls out Dick individually (she was assistant commissioner at the time of a previous inquiry in 2013). The Home Secretary and the Mayor have both expressed their confidence in the Commissioner, Sadiq asserting though that he will 'hold the Met to account in ensuring corruption has no place in London’s police service.'
- Peter Denton has been announced as the new Chief Executive of Homes England. He joins from Hyde Group and replaces Acting Chief Executive Gordon More.
- Ed Williams has stepped down as Executive Director of the Assembly Secretariat (the London Assembly’s top civil servant), a role he has held since 2017. He has been succeeded by Joanna Davidson CBE on an interim basis, with the GLA on the lookout for a full-time replacement.
- The Twentieth Century Society has elected Catherine Slessor MBE, as its new president.
- By-elections in Waltham Forest’s Grove Green and Lea Bridge wards saw Labour comfortably hold both seats.
- A by-election in Camden’s Fortune Green ward has been set for 22 July. This follows the resignation of long-serving Lib Dem councillor Flick Rea earlier this month.
- Rob Beiley, partner at Trowers & Hamlins, has been appointed as chair of the British Property Federation’s (BPF) new Affordable Housing Committee.
- Osama Bhutta has been appointed as Shelter’s new Director of Campaigns, Policy and Communications.
- Tower Hamlets councillor for Weavers Ward John Pierce has sadly died at the age of 40.
- There is much speculation about the position of Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, following the publication of the report of an independent panel investigating the unsolved murder of Daniel Morgan – though for the moment, she enjoys the full confidence of both Home Office and City Hall.
A SUMMER OF CULTURE
Despite the delay to the full reopening, London’s cultural and artistic offering remains strong this summer. The Trafalgar Theatre will reopen after a large-scale renovation, the National Theatre is set to support more work from outside London and Andrew-Lloyd Webber is reportedly in talks with Government about using his new production of Cinderella as one in a series of test events for the full reopening of theatres. In the art world, the new-look Serpentine Pavilion is now open until October and looking slightly further ahead, from September, the Southbank Centre will be hosting an exhibition displaying artwork that was put together by people during the pandemic, while the Courtauld Gallery will reopen after its refurbishment in November. We covered sport in more detail last week, but there’s a mixed bag of further news on this front: while it has been confirmed that the Wimbledon finals on 10 and 11 July will be played in front of full capacity crowds, Parkrun events have been further postponed following the delay to reopening and are not expected to resume until 24 July.
WHITHER PLANNING REFORM?
The Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published its report on the future of the planning system in England. The report is the culmination of the Committee’s inquiry into the Government’s proposed planning reforms, first outlined in last year’s Planning for the Future White Paper. There is nothing more on the details and timings of the Government’s forthcoming Planning Bill, but the report does effectively summarise many of the apparent problems and inconsistencies in the Government’s still half-formed proposals. The cross-party committee makes a series of recommendations, including that the Bill’s authors should ‘reconsider’ plans to introduce a zonal system which would see land designated for growth, renewal or protection. MPs have also recommended that the proposed 30-month deadline for local authorities to put together a Local Plan should be scrapped and have said that members of the public should remain able to comment on planning applications. In response to the report, CPRE said that it agrees with its conclusions and called the Government’s plans ‘reckless’. The Local Government Association also welcomed the report, saying that a ‘local, democratically-led planning system remains critical’. The Committee has said that it will ‘continue to examine future proposals for reforming the planning system’ and ‘undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Planning Bill’.
LONDON ASSEMBLY LATEST
It’s probably fair to say that the Assembly has more bark than bite, but my has it been barking of late. Now very much dominated by ‘opposition’ members - Labour holds only 11 of 25 seats and chairs precisely zero committees – the Assembly has been generating headlines, most of which can only be eliciting frowns in the Mayor’s office. Local news outlets have publicised a ‘leaked email’ which they say has revealed that the London Assembly Labour group had previously ‘blocked questions’ from its own members about the controversial Silvertown Tunnel, on the grounds that they could be ‘deeply embarrassing’ to the Mayor in the lead-up to the election. Meanwhile, the Assembly’s Conservative group has continued its crusade to convince the Mayor that City Hall needs to set targets for family-sized affordable homes. The GLA Conservatives have arguably made a bigger splash by highlighting figures suggesting that the budget for the Mayor’s press office has increased from £732,537 in 2015/16 to £1,097,285 in 2020/21 – and AMs again grilled the Mayor’s team on his budget only yesterday. The former Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey AM, who has been re-elected to the Assembly and now chairs its Police & Crime Committee, has meanwhile told the Standard that he may well seek to run again in 2024.
GB News, billed as the biggest TV news channel to launch in the UK since Sky was established 30 years ago, made its debut this weekend. As of Sunday it is broadcast on several paid and free to view television platforms, as well as online and via an app. Veteran editor and broadcaster Andrew Neil – of Spectator, BBC and Sunday Times fame – is the channel’s public face, heading up a relatively diverse line-up of presenters. GB News has an explicitly anti-’woke’ agenda and is on a mission to cover views and news reflecting all of the UK and ‘not just the nation’s metropolitan centres’ (while based in, erm, Paddington). The channel’s launch received mixed reviews, eliciting sneers from left-leaning commentators, wider ridicule for its production quality and technical difficulties, and even calls for an advertising boycott, which have already led to cider brand Kopparberg saying they will stop any of their ads from appearing on the news channel “pending a review of its content”. But others have underlined that it’s still early days for the channel. After all, its first few programmes attracted more viewers than either Sky or BBC News and the new venture is backed by a hefty £60m start-up fund. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether GB News can survive in a crowded field - only a few weeks ago, rival plans for a new TV channel by media giant News UK were ‘scaled back.’
As is our tradition, we’ve scoured the Queen’s Birthday Honours’ list for prominent Londoners, political leaders and representatives of the sectors we are most active in. We noticed that Meg Hillier, the long-standing MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch and formidable Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has been awarded a much-deserved Damehood for political and parliamentary service. We were also pleased to see that our friend Peter Murray, a co-founder of New London Architecture and the London Festival of Architecture, was awarded an OBE for ‘services to leadership in the arts, architecture, city planning, design, publication and charity’ – he is one among several prominent figures in the wider field of architecture and the built environment to receive an award. We were also pleased to see two London councillors – Camden’s Jonathan Simpson and Brent’s Eleanor Southwood – receive MBEs for services to charity and local government. At least one senior London borough officer also received an award, with Southwark’s Strategic Director of Finance and Governance Duncan Whitfield receiving an OBE for services to local government. Our congratulations!
LCA STEPS INTO SUMMER
We are delighted to be working closely with Rachel Bell, Director at LCA client Stride Treglown and National Chair of Women in Property, to promote a virtual charity step challenge, launching on Monday. Over the course of two weeks, participating teams will ‘Walk the Med’ (a grand total of 21,787,808 steps or 9000+ miles) all the while raising money for Women’s Aid and Girls Out Loud. Meanwhile, our very own Women in Property member Account Director Francesca Sidoli will be leading a LCA team to step count glory – we’re expecting photo updates! Make sure to follow the #StepIntoSummer challenge on social media at @WiPUK.
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