“The cats are away today and LCA’s Research Rats have come out to play. Our Chairman and Editor are both occupied elsewhere, so opening this edition falls to yours truly. Though we’ve been left with strict instructions to avoid referring to [REDACTED], not to reveal [REDACTED], and to not, under any circumstances whatsoever, mention the [REDACTED].
But, the “official” news agenda offers more than enough scandal, skulduggery and impending doom to keep even the most morbidly-minded of mice mightily entertained. Starting of course with the IPCC’s latest report, which underlined that the climate emergency is real, promising more floods and heatwaves for London (the UN said so, not us). It also serves as an uncomfortable, but unavoidable, reminder that turning the good ship London towards a cleaner and greener future will take lots – and we mean lots – of money, ingenuity and elbow-grease.
But if you’re all net zeroed-out, we’ve got news on two high-profile town centre schemes’ demise, political manoeuvrings in Tower Hamlets, a Pride Parade twice cancelled and the Government’s planning reform charm offensive for you below – and more. But oh, the stories we could also tell if only we had the time (and licence) to regale you with the latest on [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]…
Alas, we do not and in fact LDN is about to take a break for the next couple of weeks – as even the most resilient of rodents require a bit of respite. We’ll be scuttling back into your inboxes come 1 September. Assuming, of course, we haven’t been [REDACTED].”
Research Manager, Stefanos Koryzis
Research Executive, Emily Clinton
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A LOT OF (NET) ZEROS
The latest report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes for grim reading all ‘round, but what does it mean for London? You’ll have seen the headlines already: further confirmation that human activity is changing the climate for the worse and yet another warning that unless we clean up our collective acts, we will not achieve a target (agreed back in 2015) of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. All in all, grim reading for delegates packing their bags for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, less than three months away. Fellow London-watchers have begun to unpick what the report tells us about the city’s future, with most highlighting expectations of more frequent extreme weather events, particularly flooding and heatwaves. As pointed out by think tank Centre for London, we face the dual challenge of not only having to figure out ways to reduce emissions and limit global warming, but also of improving the urban landscape’s resilience to the already-apparent consequences of that warming. The Mayor and London Councils have said that they are ready and willing to play their part but, of course, it’s complicated.
That complexity is made apparent by the comparatively muted response from London’s businesses – and the built environment sector in particular. Let’s face it, the IPCC report raises a multitude of awkward questions for planners, architects, developers and landlords alike. As ever, the crux of the issue is money. Crudely put, getting to net zero will take a lot of zeros. A recent estimate by Colliers found that 10% of London’s office stock would fall foul of new regulations coming into force in 2023 due to low energy efficiency ratings and as per the Financial Times’ coverage, the retrofitting bill faced by two major London office landlords alone stands at a cumulative £500m. This isn’t just the private sector worrying about profit margins; the Government itself is reportedly wrought with uncertainty about how its Net Zero ambitions will be funded and is now rumoured to be watering down plans to phase out gas boilers for fear of a backlash by taxpayers. And speaking of taxpayers, the abortive Green Homes Grant scheme and outdated tax incentives mean it remains difficult for even the greenest-minded households to do their bit.
Grainger PLC has pulled out of long-standing plans to redevelop the Seven Sisters Indoor Market – known locally as the Latin Village – in Haringey. The company, which had been leading on the project as the Council’s development partner, has cited “the drawn-out nature of implementing the scheme owing to numerous legal challenges from a small but vocal minority, [as well as] the complexity of the site and the changing economic environment”. The proposals for a mixed-use scheme, which were initially designed in 2008 and approved in 2012, would have seen the Wards Corner site redeveloped into 190 build-to-rent flats, as well as new retail space (including a new market hall for Seven Sisters Market), and public realm improvements. The plans have ultimately floundered following a high-profile, 15-year campaign by critics arguing that the development would lead to the displacement of a hub for the wider Latin American community – with their concerns even attracting the attention of United Nations officials at one stage, though as pointed out by at least one seasoned London-watcher, this is a complicated case. Going forward, Haringey Council has said it will explore working alongside the community and TfL, who own the land, to deliver an alternative ‘community plan’ drawn up by market tenants, residents and businesses.
Separately, another – even bigger – town centre scheme all the way across London has met a significant stumbling block. The planning permission secured by the Croydon Partnership to develop a new Westfield shopping centre in the place of the existing Whitgift Centre has expired. According to council papers cited by the local press, Partnership backers Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and Hammerson are now working on alternative plans that look likely to entail a series of smaller interventions. In this case, it appears that viability concerns, exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact, have brought ambitious plans for a major town centre transformation to an impasse.
BIGGS, BEGUM AND A BY-ELECTION
Tower Hamlets politics are an endless source of intrigue and excitement for London politics geeks. The big news this week is that incumbent directly-elected Mayor John Biggs has been reselected as Labour’s candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets in advance of the May 2022 local elections. Having been on the losing side of a referendum, held in parallel with the GLA elections on 6 May, to scrap the borough’s directly-elected Mayoralty, Biggs’ reselection had been considered by some to be uncertain – though it should be said that not many politicians have campaigned to scrap their own role! In the event, after a flurry of votes across several East London Labour party branches, Biggs is back in the driving seat and rumour has it he may find himself running against his predecessor, the controversial Lutfur Rahman. Speaking of controversy, local Labour MP (Poplar and Limehouse) Apsana Begum has been cleared of allegations that she had made fraudulent housing claims. Separately, the council by-election for Weavers ward, triggered by the untimely passing of Labour’s John Pearce, will take place tomorrow.
The Mayor of London has appointed two new members to the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation’s (OPDC) Planning Committee, the government’s former Chief Planner Steve Quartermain CBE and former Head of Development Management at Southwark Council Gary Rice.
Tom Harris has been appointed as a Non-Executive Director to the High Speed 2 (HS2) Limited Board.
Former Leader of Harrow Council and councillor for Pinner South ward Chris Mote has sadly died after a short illness.
Dido Harding is set to stand down as Chair of NHS Improvement.
2011 RIOTS LEGACY
Our last edition’s foreword highlighted the tenth anniversary of the 2011 London riots, but it looks like we weren’t alone in pondering its implications. The Labour Party has since published a report arguing that the risk of unrest is ‘higher than ever’ as social and economic conditions are ‘worse’ now than they were a decade ago. In his statement on the anniversary of the riots, the Labour Mayor of London has also agreed that some of the conditions that led to the riots remain. Labour points to chronic under-investment in young people and separate analysis published by Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry indicates that funding for youth services in London has been cut in half and 110 youth centres have closed in the last 10 years. These findings appear to be corroborated by research from YMCA England & Wales which indicates that some of the areas most affected by the riots, including Haringey, have seen funding for their youth services cut even more than the national average. There are strong links between the above discourse and concerns about funding for grassroots sport – a crucial means of creating positive opportunities for young people. In light of Team GB’s stellar performance at the Tokyo Olympics and with the ten year anniversary of London 2012 only a year away, the Labour Party and separately the cross-party Local Government Association have both called on central Government to reverse years of cuts to local sport and leisure services.
LONDON'S DENTED PRIDE?
For the second year in a row, London’s Pride events have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organisers, Pride in London, have said that the event – previously scheduled for the weekend of 11 September – ‘could not provide the level of mitigation expected from the local public health team and the government’ in line with COVID guidelines and would have led to the cancellation of the parade and the holding of just ‘two or three’ events. Pride in London have said that they are already beginning to prepare events for next year’s event which will mark 50 years since the first pride march in the UK. London is not the only city that has been affected, with Manchester also cancelling its Pride and Brighton Pride also scaled down. Another major cultural event, the Notting Hill Carnival, has also been cancelled for another year and the organisers have in the meantime launched the Carnival Trust Fund to support 2022’s extravaganza. Funds will be raised through the sale of a book on the history of the carnival, as well as from ticket sales for the Carnival Culture in the Park events, which are set to take place throughout August. With all these deferrals, 2022 is going to jam-packed with fun all across the capital - Lewisham’s ‘Borough of Culture’ status has also been pushed a year and their programme will now happen in 2022.
"SELLING IN" THE PLANNING BILL
The Housing Secretary’s approach to promoting the Planning for the Future agenda seems to have lost its earlier bullishness. Persistent rumours of disgruntled backbenchers threatening to rebel over the upcoming Planning Bill have now been followed by reports of a “charm offensive” by Jenrick, who is apparently holding “weekly Zoom chats” with MPs in an attempt to win them over. The Government is also reportedly “considering dropping mandatory housebuilding targets” as part of its efforts to mollify mutinous Tory MPs and councils. Separately, the Government also appears to be regretting some changes to the Local Plan-making system, already enshrined in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In a letter to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, Jenrick acknowledges local government concerns that requiring them to provide evidence substantiating a “30-year vision” for key development areas have potentially raised the bar too high. Promising new guidance that will help local authorities implement the rules, Jenrick’s letter ends by asking Inspectors to, in the meantime, “reflect this new policy in a pragmatic and proportionate way”. But then it’s not all winning hearts and minds; The Times reports that the government is considering a ‘sunset clause’ for planning permissions, to incentivise build-out and discourage alleged ‘land-banking’.
While LDN tends to focus on local party affairs in London, we can’t help but note the strong currents sweeping through Labour nationally. Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer has decided to make a stand this week – and he even dropped the B-bomb. In an interview with the Financial Times (not The Guardian, nor The Mirror and certainly not Owen Jones’ podcast), he boldly stated that the party must embrace Tony Blair’s legacy, a move clearly intended to enrage the pro-Corbyn left of his party. The interview follows extensive signs of a concerted effort to shake up the party’s machinery and pool of candidates – including plans to cull mostly London-based party staff, a scheme aimed at bringing in parliamentary candidates “from outside normal party circles”, the “proscription” of four leftist pressure groups from the party, and the reshuffling of the Leader’s staff. Clearly this is more than just a rebrand, though opinions are naturally split on whether Starmer’s moves are equate to reform or a purge. The May 2022 local elections in London and elsewhere will be the first big electoral test for Labour’s not-so-new look.
VU.CITY WINS GOLD
LCA client VU.CITY has been crowned the no.1 proptech company in Business Cloud’s #proptech50 innovation ranking, which celebrates the top UK firms blazing a trail in real estate, construction and the built environment. VU.CITY is a fully interactive 3D digital twin smart city platform – find out more here. With sweeping planning reform on the horizon, LCA is working with key media to ensure VU.CITY is consistently at the forefront of the debate. Congratulations to the VU.CITY team!
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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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