Following a refreshing summer break, the LDN team is back on the job and ready for the autumn’s usual hustle.
Looking ahead, we’re eagerly awaiting Party Conference season, a possible Cabinet reshuffle, a brace of key net zero policies’ publication in the leadup to November’s COP26 conference, a Planning Bill sometime in the same period, not to mention some kind of financial statement by Treasury this autumn (perhaps a full Budget, perhaps not). Meanwhile, London’s political machinery is beginning to gear up for May 2022’s borough elections, preceded of course by the City of London Corporation’s elections in March, Croydon’s governance referendum in October and a scattering of by-elections.
Politics aside, we’re looking forward to the return of many an annual fixture in our key sectors, in London and further afield, including MIPIM and LREF later this month, Centre for London’s London Conference in November and the Totally Thames 2021 festival, which is already underway! We’re also working on an event or two of our own – more on which anon.
But today’s edition, our first since 11 August, is more about the past few weeks. It seems the city has – if you can believe it – just carried on without us! We cover the latest movements from City Hall, a host of planning and development stories, a shock by-election result in Tower Hamlets, a laundry list of people news, the state of London’s commercial property market, the path to net zero, public transport, industrial action and a big win at planning committee for our clients Urbanest.
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CITY (HALL) IN THE SUMMER
While City Hall’s press office dialled down the frequency of its announcements over the course of August, the Mayor’s comms machine has not been idling. For starters, Sadiq Khan has been banging the drum for the Let’s Do London domestic tourism campaign, to help lure Brits back into the city – with the campaign’s most recent initiatives including free film screenings in Trafalgar Square. The Mayor himself has been out and about and was spied at East London’s All Points East festival over the weekend, though he’s taken aim at a major arms fair, telling its organisers they’re not welcome in London. He’s also been doing a bit of diplomacy beyond the M25, having visited Bristol to share the limelight with fellow Labour Mayor Marvin Rees. And in response to the Afghan crisis, the Mayor has also offered moral and subsequently more substantial support to the wider national effort to accommodate refugees escaping Taliban rule. He was notably less supportive on the subject of the latest Extinction Rebellion protests. As cited in the press, the Mayor ‘share[s] the passion’ of activists, but doesn’t appreciate the disruption their actions have brought, which aside from having the ‘potential to divert police resources at a vital time’, could also ‘hamper our city’s green recovery and, ultimately, risk turning public opinion against a vitally important campaign’ (read on for more on the protests).
AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAMME LATEST
Closer to LDN’s usual territory, the Mayor only yesterday welcomed an agreement with the Government on the specifics of London’s initial allocation from the national Affordable Homes Programme – coinciding with a relevant announcement from Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. We’d covered earlier stages of the process in previous editions of LDN (see here and here), explaining how the new Mayoral Affordable Housing Programme for 2021-2026 is smaller in total cash terms than the current one (£4bn against £4.8bn), with which it will overlap until 2023. It will also deliver fewer homes overall – possibly as few as a third of the total, though with a significantly larger proportion of social homes and more stringent design and quality standards, all of which do, to be fair, require a higher subsidy. In any event, this latest announcement specifically relates to the allocation of the lion’s share of this £4bn funding pot to housing associations and boroughs across London – £3.46bn to be precise, with a target of helping them start 29,456 new affordable homes (of which 16,739 social homes) by 2026.
LONDON ESTATE BALLOTS LATEST
Several residents’ ballots on estate regeneration plans – another key aspect of the Mayor’s approach to delivering new social housing – have also been in the news of late. Two more ballots have resulted in positive votes for regeneration plans entailing the demolition of existing homes, on Riverside’s Calverley Close estate in Bromley and One Housing’s Tiller Road site in Tower Hamlets. By our count, at least 20 such ballots have now been held as a prerequisite for Mayoral funding, under rules introduced in July 2018, all of which (bar one) have, to date, resulted in a positive vote. Other ballots are in the works across London, including one for Haringey’s Love Lane estate, which began on 13 August and concludes next Monday. However, at least one planned ballot has been abandoned over the summer. In a letter to residents, Brent Council Leader Cllr Muhammed Butt has said that they will no longer be asked to vote on the future of St Raphael's Estate, as existing regeneration plans have been deemed ‘unaffordable’ – and that only an ‘infill plan’ can go ahead, meaning no homes will be demolished.
LONDON vs PDR
Meanwhile, London’s boroughs are lining up to oppose the latest incarnation of Permitted Development Rights (PDR). We covered the wider context of this emerging trend – and a few early cases – in our 4 August edition, but a more recent Property Week investigation has now confirmed that more than half of London’s local planning authorities have either introduced, or have declared an intention to introduce, an ‘Article 4 direction’ that would restrict commercial-to-residential conversions under these new PDR. These authorities, which include boroughs of all political stripes and in both Inner and Outer London, are: Brent, Camden, Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hounslow, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Merton, Redbridge, Richmond, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Westminster, plus the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) and the City of London Corporation. Islington Council specifically has gone a step further, launching a legal challenge against the new PDR in the High Court. While the Government continues to believe that PDR are a valuable means of quickly converting underused commercial space into much-needed housing, local planning authorities tend to be of the view that their use erodes equally-needed employment space and does not necessarily produce good quality and affordable housing.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
The usual August lull means fewer planning decisions to report, but there’s still much to cover!
- The Government has called-in Transport for London and Barratt’s plans for 454 homes next to Wembley Station in Brent. The proposals, which include 40% affordable housing, were approved by the Council in November 2020 and given the green light by the GLA in December. The first public hearing is scheduled for September.
- An inspector appointed by the Government has found Lambeth Council’s Local Plan to be broadly ‘sound’, saying that it ‘exceeds’ the London Plan’s target for the annual delivery of homes in the borough – foreseeing approximately 1,400 new homes per year over the next ten years, against the new London Plan’s target of 1,350 per year.
- Southwark, one of 14 councils selected to take part in a six-month pilot scheme to test the government's new National Model Design Code, has revealed details of its design code, which will cover the Hatcham and Ilderton Roads area near the Old Kent Road.
- London Councils, the London Housing Directors Group and the G15 group of housing associations have published research showing that the capital needs 90,000 to 100,000 new homes to be delivered annually to ‘meet demand and improve affordability’. The London Plan’s identified capacity for housing delivery is 52,000 new homes per year.
- In Lewisham, the Grove Park Neighbourhood Plan has been approved after the referendum took place on 26 August.
- Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have shown that seven out of ten of the English councils with the lowest planning application approval rates are London boroughs. Barking and Dagenham (58%), Hillingdon (64%) and Redbridge (65%) are those with the lowest approval rates. The average approval rate in England in 202/21 was 88% and 79% in London.
- On a similar note, Estates Gazette has reported that Westminster City Council is the slowest of all inner London councils at handling planning applications, with only 75% of applications considered within 13 weeks, compared to 91% for the capital’s other local authorities (though the borough's performance is still within the thresholds set by the ministry).
LONDON MPs vs DEVELOPMENT
We’ve noticed an uptick in the number of London MPs getting involved in local built environment issues over the summer. Was it recess, giving them more time to spend on constituency issues? Or maybe it’s part of the May 2022 local election campaign’s opening salvos? Who knows? To cite three examples, from August alone:
- In Haringey, Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West (Labour) spoke out against the redevelopment of a carwash for its lack of affordable housing. It is unclear how she expected the scheme – which entails only six flats and four houses – to deliver on-site affordable housing.
- Ilford South MP Sam Tarry (Labour) has followed in the footsteps of Conservative and Green Party London Assembly Members to formally urge Sadiq Khan to block the redevelopment of the Goodmayes Tesco in Redbridge, despite the (Labour) borough’s planning committee approving the scheme in May.
- But in contrast to the above, Romford MP Andrew Rosindell (Conservative) has come out in support of Havering Council’s ’12 Estates’ regeneration plans. ‘Not every planned development is perfect’, he says, admitting that ‘some are denser than what I’d want’ and that others ‘fall short in providing important outdoor space.’ But, he warns, ‘if we don’t get these homes built, then City Hall will decide where our new homes go’. Perish the thought.
THE RETURN OF RAHMAN?
On 12 August, a by-election to fill a vacant seat in Tower Hamlets' Weavers ward produced a shock result for the borough’s Labour leadership. The seat, previously held by Labour, was won by Kabir Ahmed of Aspire, a party set up by associates of former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman. Kabir joins Shadwell ward’s Harun Miah as the party’s second elected councillor and his win will certainly be a boost for Rahman, who is widely expected to attempt a comeback at the May 2022 elections. Rahman was removed from office in 2015 and banned from standing in an election until 2021, after being found guilty of electoral fraud. The by-election result has clearly caused worries in the Labour camp and it is probably fair to say that it is not entirely unconnected to a subsequent announcement by current Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs, heralding a Cabinet reshuffle (including the appointment of Cllr Asma Islam as Cabinet Member for Planning and Environment) and a review of its Liveable Streets programme. Elements of the latter appear to have been very unpopular in Weavers ward and the decision to review these controversial road closures has been explicitly linked to the by-election’s result in a statement posted on Twitter by Lutfur Rahman and in reporting by The Telegraph – though as election analyst Lewis Baston explains, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The Telegraph has separately reported that the Electoral Commission prevented Constitution and Devolution Minister Chloe Smith from observing the polling station for the by-election due to her ‘political affiliation’.
- British Land has announced a number of changes to its senior team. David Lockyer has been appointed Head of Campuses and David Walker has become the group’s COO. Meanwhile, Emma Cariaga has become Head of Residential but will continue her role as Joint Head of Canada Water.
- Cllr Grace Williams, currently Cabinet Member in charge of children and families, will be formally confirmed as the Leader of Waltham Forest Council on 2 September. She succeeds Cllr Clare Coghill who has led the Council since 2017.
- The Crown Estate has hired Simon Harding-Roots as the Managing Director for its London portfolio, valued at around £2bn. He joins from the Grosvenor Group where he directed strategy and led the group’s major projects.
- Debbie Whitfield will be stepping down from her role as Managing Director of New London Architecture after 17 years to pursue new opportunities.
- Laura Osborne has been promoted to Corporate Affairs Director at London First. She succeeds Muniya Barua who has been promoted to Director of Strategy and Policy.
- Building and civil engineering company Sir Robert McAlpine has named Alison Cox as its new Managing Director for London. Her predecessor Paul Heather, who was also a member of McAlpine’s executive leadership team, has departed the business.
- Dido Harding is set to step down as Head of NHS Improvement, a role she has been in since 2017.
- NHS Property Services has announced the hiring the four new non-executive directors. Nick Moberly and Adrian Belton join after holding roles in the executive teams at NHS Trusts. Caroline Wehrle joins from Diageo where she was Global Head of Risk and Compliance. Mark Lomas, who will be taking on the role of non-executive Director of People, Culture and Diversity and Inclusion, joins from the HS2 project.
- Wandsworth Labour Councillor Hannah Stanislaus has resigned from the party, claiming they have been ‘bullied by colleagues locally’. They will continue in their role as councillor as an independent.
- Sharon Graham has won the race to become Unite’s new General Secretary. Her victory comes as a surprise after her predecessor Len McCluskey publicly declared his support for Steve Turner.
- Colm Lacey has announced he is stepping down as Chief Executive of Brick by Brick, Croydon Council’s housebuilding company.
LONDON BOUNCING BACK?
Property prices rise and fall like a particularly fickle tide, but we’re starting to see more substantial signs that the London property market is indeed ‘bouncing back’. Notwithstanding continuing soul-searching over the future of the office and ambivalent market trends, the FT has reported that the shares of London’s largest listed commercial developers ‘have risen between 15 and 30% in the past six months and are approaching pre-pandemic levels’. Equally importantly, major market players in the capital are not just crossing their fingers for a return to business-as-usual. Canary Wharf Group has unveiled plans to enter the Build to Rent game with schemes at Wood Wharf, while British Land is investing in a ‘logistics hub for online retailers’ beneath Finsbury Square. Even hard-hit brick-and-mortar retailers are starting to see a bit of an improvement in their fortunes, with major landlord Shaftesbury and the New West End Company upbeat in their expectations for recovery. London – and the UK as a whole – is not out of the woods quite yet, but the hustle is on and no city hustles quite like London.
TURNING UP THE HEAT
Following the publication of the IPCC’s climate change report earlier this month and as we approach November’s COP26 conference, politicians are under increasing pressure to take meaningful action. In relevant news from London:
- Over the past week, Extinction Rebellion’s latest round of protests in Central London has made headlines – with rebels targeting the City, as well as blocking thoroughfares at Covent Garden, Oxford Circus, and London Bridge. As of yesterday, more than 360 activists had been arrested, but the protests are set to continue.
- City Hall and TfL have meanwhile been working to prepare Londoners for the next expansion of the ULEZ through publication of more evidence of air pollution's harms and a media push warning motorists that the charging zone will expand to the North and South Circular roads on 25 October.
- For some, the Mayor isn’t doing enough: Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, Zack Polanski AM (Green) has demanded that the Mayor lay out his plans for COP26. Separately, campaigners have again piled on to criticise Sadiq Khan’s support for the Silvertown Tunnel, arguing that it is inconsistent with his own air quality policies.
- Others yet argue that the Mayor’s push to reduce emissions is hurting ordinary Londoners. The GLA Conservatives and certain newspapers continue to argue that the expansion of the ULEZ, hiking of the congestion charge and a potential ‘boundary charge’ are nothing less than a ‘war on motorists’ and a tax on people commuting into London. It should be noted that the GMB union has also raised some concerns.
- Sadiq himself has also come under fire for driving 4.5 miles in a convoy of three cars to, apparently, walk his dog. The Mail on Sunday and other newspapers screamed ‘hypocrisy’ – noting only at the very end of outrage-filled reports a response by a Mayoral spokesperson, reminding readers that the Mayor sadly requires ‘round-the-clock’ police protection.
- As for what’s happening in London’s Town Halls, local leaders have continued to call for more clarity and resources from central Government. Lichfields’ latest update on London’s progress in achieving its Net Zero Targets meanwhile includes a handy map showing which boroughs have announced a climate emergency and the date by which they have pledged (if at all) to reach net zero.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- Whitechapel Elizabeth line station has been transferred to Transport for London, the seventh station to be transferred. Canary Wharf station is set to be transferred to TfL later this year.
- TfL’s rental e-scooter trial has expanded to include the City of Westminster.
- TfL figures have shown that the number of passengers on the Tube has been exceeding 50% of ‘normal’ levels on weekdays for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Ealing Council has said that it will remove almost all of its Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) after a public consultation found that residents overwhelmingly opposed them.
- TfL is also set to review its temporary Streetspace measures to decide which will be made permanent and which will be removed.
- Reports have suggested that the Government is set to curtail the Eastern leg of HS2 due to the increasing costs of the project.
- While Gatwick Airport is reported to be in talks with lenders after making a loss of £204m in the first half of 2021, it has more recently been reported that the airport is eager to revive its plans for a second runway. British Airways is meanwhile in talks with the airport about starting a new short-haul unit at Gatwick.
STRIKE ON, STRIKE OFF
The recently-concluded Unite leadership elections and upcoming RMT elections appear to have coincided with an increased appetite for industrial action in London.
LEVELLING UP CHALLENGE(S)
Regular LDN readers will be well aware of our reservations about the Government’s Levelling Up agenda – and recent developments suggest those concerns are not unjustified. The Good Law Project has been granted a two-day hearing by the High Court, to make the case for a Judicial Review of the way in which the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund has been allocated. The organisation argues that funding has been unlawfully directed towards Conservative constituencies in a show of ‘naked pork barrel politics’. Meanwhile, a study by the Salvation Army has found that 45 deprived communities, predominantly in England’s coastal and rural areas, have been denied access to funding. And separately, analysis by Centre for Cities has found that closing the north-south divide will require an investment roughly equivalent to what was spent on the reunification Germany. The think tank has described the Government’s various Levelling Up schemes as a ‘drop in the ocean’. Whichever way you look at it, the Government faces an uphill battle in fulfilling its promises.
URBANEST GET GO-AHEAD
Last month, LCA’s long-standing client Urbanest – one of London’s leading student accommodation developers and operators – secured a unanimous resolution to grant planning consent for a new student campus at 2 Trafalgar Way, on the edge of Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets. The proposals, which have now been referred to the Mayor, aim to transform a long-vacant site into an exciting new campus, providing 1,672 new purpose-built student beds, as well as 80 residential apartments for visiting lecturers and teaching staff. Consisting of three towers of 28, 36 and 46 storeys, the project is aiming to secure Passivhaus certification which, once achieved, will make it the largest such development in Europe – a remarkable project which we are very pleased to have supported through consultation and planning.
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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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