Two major projects to make London a more pedestrian and cycling-friendly place seem to be making a comeback this week.
But before we delve into the latest on these, plus London planning, transport, people moves, and politics (oh and a brief visit to Manchester), a few words from our Chairman:
"The decision by Cllr Clare Coghill, the much-respected leader of Waltham Forest Council, to step down at next year’s local elections, came as quite a shock to many London political observers. Although having only been Leader of the Council for four years, she has made quite an impact both in her borough and across the capital.
Her decision continues a significant and rapid change at the top of London’s 33 local authorities. In fact she had already become the 11th most experienced after the departures of long standing leaders such as Peter John (Southwark), Stephen Alambritis (Merton), Julian Bell (Ealing) and Ray Puddifoot (Hillingdon). Expect a more detailed blog from Tony Travers and me in the days ahead about the changes across our capital since the last local elections in 2018 and what this might mean for next May. But for now, we send Clare our best wishes.
Meanwhile if you’re out and about in London over the next few weeks, our partners at New London Architecture will be popping up at Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross from 1 July, with an expanded New London Model and two exhibitions: Don’t Move, Improve! and The London Story.
And if you’ve got the sustainability bug, we’d highly recommend signing up to Centre for London Countdown to Net Zero London conference on 29 June, which coincides with London Climate Action Week".
Robert Gordon Clark, LCA Executive Chairman
The Court of Appeal has overturned a High Court decision which had ruled Transport for London’s (TfL) Streetspace scheme in Bishopsgate was illegal. The scheme had been challenged by groups representing black cab drivers, who objected to the banning of taxis from several streets in the area on weekdays, arguing that it discriminated against those unable to walk significant distances or cycle, by hindering their access to a taxi. While the cabbies are likely to be very unhappy with this latest decision (and may yet attempt a Supreme Court challenge), it will be welcomed by cyclists and the Mayor, who has hailed it as vindication of one of his flagship policies. Recent data from TfL has shown that over the past year there has indeed been an increase in cycling at the weekends (less so during the week, presumably as Londoners stayed at home as per Government advice). There are, however, concerns that more Londoners are relying on their cars rather than returning to public transport or opting to walk or cycle – and in some parts of London air pollution levels have already returned to pre-pandemic levels. Separate research has also shown that a quarter of school children in the UK as a whole are attending schools where air pollution is over the World Health Organisation’s limits.
There is certainly a push to make London a walking and cycling friendly city and Westminster City Council has proudly launched plans for the transformation of Oxford Circus. The plans are centred on ‘two pedestrian-only piazzas’ and the closure of a section of Oxford Street between Great Portland Street and John Princes Street to vehicles (north-south traffic on Regent’s Street will continue). This project, developed in collaboration with The Crown Estate and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), forms part of the Council’s wider plan for the West End, outlined in the Oxford Street District Framework, alongside schemes like the Marble Arch Mound and a programme of events. The road closures should be in place from July and the ‘piazzas’ built by the end of the year. A six-month Experimental Traffic Order – a policy tool that has proved controversial elsewhere in London – is central to the road closure plans and a consultation on these is only mentioned in passing. LDN readers may recall that previous efforts to (partly or wholly) pedestrianise Oxford Street have repeatedly stalled – most recently in the aftermath of the 2018 local elections, when the Council pulled out of a joint scheme with the Mayor and TfL. Westminster has reportedly insisted its latest plans are not a U-turn and for his part, the Mayor is widely cited as commenting that the Council’s plans ‘are hugely welcome’.
- Havering Council has approved plans for the development of the Waterloo and Queen Street Estate, which will see 290 homes demolished and up to 1,380 homes delivered on the site, 40% of which will be affordable. The Council’s development partner Wates Regeneration will also deliver flexible commercial workspace and community floorspace on the estate.
- Stamford Hounslow (a joint venture between Galliard Homes and Princeton Investment) has been granted planning permission on appeal for a 15-storey, 248-home co-living development. The developer had appealed against Hounslow Council’s non-determination of the scheme and according to the planning inspector’s decision letter, the Council said that it would have refused to grant planning permission due to a number of issues, including concerns about the development’s height and scale.
- Barnet Council’s draft local plan, which will cover the period 2021 to 2036, has been approved by councillors and will now go out for consultation.
- The leader of Waltham Forest Council, Clare Coghill, has announced that she will not be seeking re-election next year.
- Dick Sorabji, Deputy Chief Executive at London Councils and current Acting Chief Executive, has announced that he will be leaving the organisation in September.
- The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Planning and Built Environment has re-elected Rupa Huq MP (Lab) as is Chair for 2021/22, at the head of an all-new set of fellow-officers. Former AM Gareth Bacon MP (Con) joins as her Co-Chair, Virenda Sharma MP (Lab) and Sir Bob Neill (Con) as Vice Chairs, Baron Young of Norwood Green (Lab) as Vice Chair and Lords Liaison, while Baroness Barker (Lib Dem) was elected Treasurer.
- Alexander Jan, former chief economist at Arup, has been appointed as London Property Alliance's chief economic adviser (a part time role).
- Savills’ head of London residential development Dominic Grace has announced that he will be leaving at the end of June, after 37 years, to set up his own consultancy.
On 17 June, the Lib Dems pulled off a surprise by-election victory as they took the Buckinghamshire seat of Chesham and Amersham from the Conservatives. Newly-elected MP Sarah Green secured over 50% of the vote and a decent majority of over 8,000 – on a swing of 25% - thanks in large part to her personal, not party opposition to HS2, widely believed to be one of the key issues for voters in this constituency. Green’s win has also been attributed to the Conservatives being perceived as taking voters in the South for granted as they focus on cracking and then holding ‘Red Wall’ constituencies, as well as the unpopularity of the Government’s proposed planning reforms. In relation to the latter, high profile figures including former Conservative Party leader William Hague, as well as Conservative London MPs Theresa Villiers, Bob Blackman and Bob Neill, have redoubled their criticism of the proposed planning reforms, while a group of up to 100 Conservative MPs disgruntled by the proposals has reportedly been formed. An Opposition Day debate on “Local Involvement in Planning Decisions” only this Monday saw MPs from all parties pile on the criticism, while Ministers in attendance revealed little about the details of the forthcoming Planning Bill.
Though London’s cycling and walking infrastructure is enjoying a bit of a boom, one has to wonder about the future of other major projects. Crossrail is now busily ‘trial running’ trains and its leadership insists that its central section should be ready to open in the first half of 2022. However, a recent ‘independent assessment of project issues’ by Jacobs has fostered fears of further delays. Then there’s the latest news from HS2, which according to the Financial Times ‘has suffered cost rises of around £1.7bn just in the past year, a further increase on the project’s estimated £106bn budget.’ Oh and about Heathrow… Sir Howard Davies, who oversaw a key Airports Commission report that recommended pressing ahead with the expansion six years ago, has told LBC radio that the pandemic and the new landscape it has wrought mean that there simply isn’t sufficient demand for a third runway. All of which raises doubts about how other major London projects – think Crossrail 2 and the proposed Bakerloo Line extension, both of which remain ‘on ice’ – can secure financing. TfL is certainly feeling the squeeze, with Credit agency Moody’s recently downgrading is long-term senior unsecured debt from A3 from A1, also ascribing it a ‘negative’ outlook.
It could well be that the above is all just a result of the pandemic and unprecedented conditions that will soon blow over. Indeed, it’s possible that that the UK Infrastructure Bank (which has now officially opened for business) will come to the rescue. Or maybe Britons will return to air and rail travel with renewed gusto, and spending power, in the coming months – and perhaps Londoners will be enticed back onto the tube by the Mayor’s renewed commitment to give them full mobile coverage across the network by 2024. On which note, the Government has heralded the launch of new national flexible rail tickets, ‘matching modern working habits and saving passengers hundreds of pounds,’ (the savings bit has been questioned), while TfL has cancelled plans to make the London Underground cash-free (though this does not, apparently, apply to the bus network).
SADIQ'S 'PAY RISE'
There’s been a lot of media coverage of the Mayor giving himself a raise – but is there all that much to the story? The Evening Standard led the charge, with prominent references to the Mayor ‘award[ing] himself virtual pay rise after taking 10% cut’ while the Daily Mail similarly ran with ‘Sadiq Khan puts his own salary back up to £152,734 a year’. Never knowingly out-outraged, The Daily Express went with ‘“Slap in the face!” Sadiq Khan gives himself 10 percent pay rise to rake in £152K’. However, all of these articles do go on to clarify that the Mayor was actually restoring his salary to its normal level – after he himself had chosen to temporarily take a 10% pay cut in the last few months of his previous tenure, when City Hall struggled to draft a budget under hugely difficult circumstances. Khan does, however, make more than other regional Mayors in England - Greater Manchester’s makes £110,000, West Yorkshire’s just above £100,000 and both the West Midlands’ and Liverpool City Region’s make under six figures (though each Mayor has a rather different set of powers and responsibilities). Looking to his peers leading other national capitals and global cities, New York City’s makes $258,541 (about £185,527), though Anne Hidalgo in Paris makes €104,000 (roughly £88,778).
MANCHESTER'S HIGH LINE
In our latest expedition outside London, the LCA media team has been promoting client Twelve Architects’ pilot scheme for the redevelopment of Castlefield Viaduct in Manchester on behalf of the National Trust. Built in 1892 by Heenan and Froude, the engineers who worked on Blackpool Tower, the 330m long viaduct has been unused since 1969. Now, the National Trust is set to launch a consultation on the structure’s future, and Twelve Architects has worked with the Trust’s landscape team to propose three zones using half of the viaduct. After arriving in the ‘welcome zone’ visitors will be taken through the history of the viaduct in an area with minimal architectural or landscape intervention, inviting people to focus on the structure and use their imagination. The final zone will showcase a potential vision of the future, a lush garden with an events space and a large window with a view down the remainder of the untouched viaduct. You can read more about the scheme in the AJ. Formal consultation about the viaduct’s future is being launched next week.
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