7 July is always a date that brings back very disturbing images and many sad memories.
16 years ago today, the day after London was selected as the host city for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, our capital suffered a day of terror with four coordinated suicide bombings. 52 people died, from 18 different nationalities and over 700 were injured. Our thoughts are with the many people deeply affected by this atrocity.
On a brighter note, today is also the 16th birthday of New London Architecture – yes, they were due to launch on 7 July 2005. 16 years later, NLA is now in its new wonderful temporary home at the Coal Drops at King’s Cross. Early indications are that the public have loved viewing the famous Central London model and enjoying the opening exhibitions. Do visit if you can!
Meanwhile, the capital prepares for re-opening in all its complexity and the push and pull of our current planning system continues to keep us on our toes, even as we wait with bated breath to hear what the system of the future might look like.
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Confirmation that 19 July will see most coronavirus restrictions evaporate has been greeted with relief – but also a good deal of confusion. A letter organised by London First and signed by more than 50 business leaders has asked the Prime Minister to confirm that working from home will ‘no longer [be] the default’ and the Government has duly confirmed that is indeed the case. Even the ever-cautious Mayor of London has said he is ‘confident’ that allowing 60,000 fans into Wembley stadium for the final rounds of the 2020 Euros will be safe (so much so that he’s launched a “golden ticket” lottery scheme linked to the vaccination drive). But Sadiq Khan has also joined the Mayor of Greater Manchester, trade unions, the British Medical Association and many others in calling for some measures, especially the requirement to wear masks on public transport and in other crowded public spaces, to be retained. Major business associations are also clamouring for more clarity on how the reopening will work in practice – see for example carefully-worded responses by CBI, London First, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), New West End Company, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and British Retail Consortium (BRC) and UK Hospitality. The media is already reporting often significantly divergent approaches to the reopening from different businesses and sectors.
RENDER UNTO CAESAR…
Speaking of mixed messages, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has triumphantly highlighted figures showing 50,000 new home completions in England during the last quarter, ‘the highest number in over 20 years’, with starts also fairly high at 46,000. The announcement additionally notes that ‘the figures also show an increase in housebuilding starts in London with 14,530 in the year to March 2021, an increase of 18% compared to the previous 12 months.’ All of which is, of course, terrific news, though the Ministry seems to credit ‘the housing and construction industry’s resilience’ and ‘measures the government has taken’ for this boon – which may feel bittersweet to resource-strapped local planning authorities and the Mayor’s planning and housing teams, who seemingly merit no mention at all.
- Jonathan Bartley, the Green Party’s longest serving leader, has announced he will step down from the role at the end of July, though it appears he will stay on as a Councillor in Lambeth. Current co-leader (also Camden Councillor and London Assembly Member) Sian Berry will continue as acting leader while a leadership election takes place.
- Mark Carroll, currently Executive Director for Place And Public Health at Essex County Council, is set to be appointed Hackney Council’s new Chief Executive (subject to the Full Council’s approval and starting ‘later this year’). He replaces Tim Shields who stepped down earlier this year.
- Labour’s Mick Gilgunn has been elected in a by-election for Islington Council’s Tollington ward, taking the seat vacated by former Islington Council Leader Richard Watts after he took up the post of Sadiq Khan’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
- The Conservatives’ Peter Fallart has won the Bush Hill Park by-election in Enfield, holding the seat for the Tories after the departure of independent councillor and former Conservative, William Coleshill.
- The Camden New Journal has hired two new reporters, Constance Kampfner and Isabelle Stanley.
TO REGULATE, OR TO DEREGULATE?
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has made two major policy announcements, which are interesting to consider in tandem. On the one hand, he indulged in a bit of red tape-cutting, by confirming that local authorities will face a ‘higher threshold’ for the use of Article 4 directions, a policy tool used to suspend permitted development rights (PDR) that enable the rapid conversion of commercial property into housing. The changes, to be enshrined in a revision of the National Planning Policy Framework ‘later this year,’ will thus limit local planning authorities’ ability to fend off the use of PDR in their patch. Even a quick glance at maps of areas where Article 4 directions currently apply – say in Hackney, or Westminster – explains why the Local Government Association is unhappy with this. On the other hand, Jenrick readily rolled out fresh regulation in heralding the publication of the new Building Safety Bill. Aside from long-trailed measures like a new Building Safety Regulator and new requirements for developers of tall buildings, the Bill will also afford homeowners 15 years (up from six at present) in which they can take legal action against developers for substandard construction work. While this makes for a great headline, leaseholders’ campaigners have warned that a bigger window in which wronged households can sue developers is not quite the same as the Government actually helping them cover the often exorbitant maintenance and remediation bills they face.
"TBC" BILL LATEST
Meanwhile, it would appear that another critical new piece of regulation overseen by the Communities Secretary is, still, some ways off. Jenrick has reportedly confirmed that the long-awaited government response to its planning white paper consultation will not emerge until the Autumn, having been promised in the Spring – suggesting also that the Planning Bill would be published ‘as soon as we can thereafter’. These comments were in response to questions following his speech at the Local Government’s Association’s annual conference – where he was noticeable more complimentary of local authorities and less so of developers compared to his abovementioned press release on housing delivery. His speech did not tell us much more than what we already knew about will be in the Planning Bill, whenever that may appear, though he did seem to imply that the promised new levy replacing Section 106 agreements will be “locally set” and also said (perhaps significantly) that he does not see a need to “rip up” the planning system – he only wants to “improve it”. Meanwhile, yet another Parliamentary debate ‘on the future of the planning system and the upcoming Planning Bill’ has been scheduled, this time for 15 July. The debate comes as critics of the Bill, including the Labour Party, conservation groups, and Tory backbenchers are clearly squaring up for yet more fisticuffs over its still-unclear contents.
PIPE AND COPLEY GRILLED
We watched last week’s London Assembly Plenary session on housing and planning closely, searching for clues on the Mayor’s next steps in these areas. Both Deputy Mayor for housing Tom Copley and Deputy Mayor for planning Jules Pipe asserted that Khan’s second term will be focused on delivery – primarily implementing policies and projects launched over the last five years, plus a few new pledges from the 2021 manifesto. Copley emphasised City Hall’s focus on ensuring that the current and new Affordable Homes Programme(s) hit their targets – namely a total of 79,000 starts across a number of affordable tenures over the next five years. Copley also referred to an upcoming ‘review’ of how the GLA group currently contribute to housing delivery, partly with a view to informing Khan’s still-nebulous plans for a ‘City Hall developer’. All of which paints a picture of a Mayor still eager to intervene in the housebuilding game, whether through enforcing policies on developer contributions, or as a direct contributor to supply. AMs also endorsed several motions during the session, notably including one calling on the Mayor to delay the public hearing on Reselton Properties’ called-in plans for the former Stag House Brewery site (currently scheduled for 27 July).
LONDON PROPERTY MARKETS LATEST
We don’t often regale our readers with the interminable ups and downs of London’s property market, but there’s a lot to highlight this week. The residential market has been on the up in the quarter to June, and while Halifax estimates price growth in London continues to be slightly slower than elsewhere in England, Knight Frank notes ‘a record number of sales and lettings’ last month (partly spurred by the stamp duty holiday and pent-up demand). However, it’s the rental market that really seems to be getting investors excited – witness department store chain John Lewis’ big splash on plans to build 10,000 homes for rent (7,000 of which it plans to build on land it already owns). If you think John Lewis’ decision sounds like a bad omen for commercial property, others would disagree; notwithstanding the challenges faced by many retail landlords, recent estimates by JLL and CBRE point to healthy interest by investors in the office sector. Indeed, even London’s battered retail stock remains a hot commodity in its own right – you may have noticed the high drama over the sale of the Morrisons supermarket chain (and its extensive holdings, many in London), which earlier this week saw them accept a bid by US private equity group Fortress Investment Group, at the pretty price of £6.3bn, though reports suggest the bidding war may not yet be over. Of course, rising property prices are both a blessing and a curse for London – a welcome sign of economic growth, but also an unwelcome burden for many low- and middle-income Londoners.
London Councils, the umbrella body which represents the capital’s local authorities, seems to be working overtime on linking up different sectors in the service of the capital’s recovery.
- It has launched a ‘blueprint for how boroughs will work with the business community to boost recovery’, developed alongside business groups including London First, the LCCI and FSB.
- It has also launched the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, alongside Core Cities and Connected Places Catapult.
- And it has supported London First, AECOM, and Grant Thornton UK LLP in publishing a report, Housing Partnerships, Delivering the homes that London needs, examining the use of joint ventures in the delivery of housing in London.
AWARDS WEEK FOR LONDON?
- Camden Council’s Agar Grove scheme has won best large project at the UK Passivhaus Awards 2021. The redevelopment of the Agar Grove Estate will see the current homes demolished and over 500 new homes delivered on the site.
- The City of London Corporation has announced that ‘The London Stones’ by architecture and design studio Unknown Work is the winner of the design competition for the City’s police boxes.
- Looking ahead, the Pineapple Awards are set to take place from 12 to 16 July, as part of the Festival of Place.
- London Sport and the City Corporation have meanwhile opened nominations for this year’s London Sport Awards, set to take place in December. The capital’s businesses can be nominated for their role in supporting community sport.
We are thrilled to share the news that last week (30 June) Camden Council made a resolution to grant planning permission for a new world-leading integrated eye care, research and education centre, in the heart of the Knowledge Quarter. We have been supporting Oriel, a joint initiative between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (Moorfields), UCL Institute of Ophthalmology (IoO) and Moorfields Eye Charity, for the last year, helping them to carry out a robust planning consultation through the pandemic and lockdown with online public webinars, newsletters and a film, sharing information about the vision and the building’s innovative design. It is great to be part of such an important project for London and the UK, and for them to pass this significant milestone. The building has been designed by lead architect, Penoyre & Prasad, with AECOM providing expertise on engineering and sustainability, and White Artkitekter on interiors and landscaping.
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