A 'NEW NORMAL' SEPTEMBER?
Things are starting to settle back into a vaguely familiar September routine for LCA.
The kids are back in school, we’ve begun to trickle back into the office, planning committees are starting up again after the usual August lull, and the political calendar is gradually looking a bit more recognisable – with Parliament and the London Assembly back from recess, several major Bills and policies expected any day now and now a Budget confirmed for late October.
And as noted in our last edition, the events circuit is coming back to life. This week, we’re pleased to highlight – for the politicos among our readers – London Councils’ upcoming ‘London And The ‘Levelling Up’ Agenda’ event at the Labour Conference Fringe in Brighton (27 September), and the London Research and Policy Partnership’s two Levelling up and London roundtable events (17 September and 8 October). For those more interested in physical activity and sport in the capital, we’d recommend London Sport’s ‘Active London’ Conference (21-22 September).
But back to the week, we’ve got a rich mix of news from Central London’s business districts, as well as on planning and development more generally, public transport, building safety, heritage, people news and more.
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BACK TO THE OFFICE (SORT OF)
For many of our readers this is ‘back to the office’ week and August’s retail footfall figures certainly show signs of improvement, as do passenger figures for Monday’s rush hour. The reality is, of course, slightly more complicated. Footfall and public transport usage both remain well below pre-pandemic levels and major Central London employers (including the Bank of England and other public agencies) remain reluctant to mandate a return to the office for their staff. Some newspapers have rushed to brand the City a ‘ghost town’, but more nuanced pieces in The Sunday Times (which also quotes our Chairman Robert Gordon Clark), the Financial Times and elsewhere, explain that the picture varies across sectors, employers and parts of London. From our perspective, things do at least seem to be looking up. Our own team are increasingly filing back into our office in Covent Garden and many companies are even starting to offer incentives to lure employees back in. Looking to the longer term, major developers like our clients at King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership are putting a lot of thought into making new offices ever more functional and attractive as workplaces - more on this in Our Week, below. The office may still be a bit quiet, but it ain’t dead yet.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Last night, Westminster’s Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee refused Berkeley Homes’ plans for the redevelopment of the former Paddington Green Police Station, reportedly on the grounds of height. The plans included 556 homes (38% affordable), 10,000 sq ft of commercial floorspace, 40,000 sq ft of office space, as well as public realm improvements and other public amenities.
- Also in Westminster, two local referenda have approved new Neighbourhood Plans for Soho and for Fitzrovia West. All that remains now is for the Council to formally adopt them, after which they will be used alongside the Council’s own planning documents when determining applications in their area.
- Greenwich Council has narrowly approved an outline application by U+I and joint venture partners Morden College for their 19-acre, £770m Morden Wharf scheme on the Thames riverside. The plans are for four towers between 21 and 36 storeys, up to 1,500 homes (31% affordable), 200,000 sq ft of warehousing, 50,000 sq ft of shops, a brewery and more than six acres of public realm, as well as other amenities.
- The public inquiry on Transport for London (TfL) and Barratt London’s called-in Wembley Park Tube Station Scheme, which includes 454 homes (40% affordable) in five towers of up to 21 storeys will take place from 28 September. The proposals were greenlit by Brent Council last November.
The long-awaited Northern Line Extension to Battersea will open on 20 September, though TfL’s future funding remains uncertain. According to TfL, the extension, which will see a new branch connect Kennington to the new Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms stations, will support 25,000 new jobs and over 20,000 homes. There are, however, still concerns about the future of TfL more generally, with the latest funding agreement with Government set to end in December 2021 and a longer-term settlement still very much in the air. Indeed, Transport Commissioner Andy Byford and Mayor Sadiq Khan’s appearance before the London Assembly last week to discuss London transport produced as many questions as it did answers, though they made clear that an increase in fares is not yet a ‘done deal’. Similarly, Byford offered assurances that TfL would not be ‘steamrollered’ into making service cuts, with a ‘review’ of service levels also taking place. London TravelWatch and London First have meanwhile implored Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to include a ‘fair funding deal’ for TfL in the Comprehensive Spending Review, now set to take place on 27 October. They are not the only ones urging the Government to back London - in an interview with The Sunday Times, British Land’s Roger Madelin also expressed his concern that No 10 might be 'overlooking the capital in its race to level up'.
GRENFELL TO FALL?
The Sunday Times has reported that the Government is set to announce the demolition of Grenfell Tower later this month. According to the newspaper, structural engineering experts have advised Government that the building should be taken down due to safety concerns. Many survivors of the fire and the families of those who died have said that they are ‘disgusted and disappointed’ that they were not consulted on the plans. Some would like to see the tower remain as a memorial to the victims of the 2017 fire – while others suggest that it should not be demolished until all investigations into the fire’s causes have been completed. Meanwhile, the cladding crisis rumbles on, with reports still emerging of affected leaseholders’ plight in London and further afield. Indeed, this is not an issue which only affects London or the UK, as demonstrated by a recent fire at a high-rise residential block in Milan, which thankfully did not result in any fatalities or severe injuries, though 20 residents were treated for smoke inhalation. The local Mayor and fire brigade have both suggested that the building’s cladding is to blame for the rapid spread of the fire.
Cllr Grace Williams has been formally elected as Leader of Waltham Forest Council, replacing Cllr Clare Coghill who declared her intention to step down in June. Cllr Alistair Strathern has taken over Williams’ portfolio for children, young people and families.
Eleanor Kelly will be retiring from her role as Chief Executive of Southwark Council next year, after a decade in the post.
Rob Asbury has left his role as a retail and leisure partner at Montagu Evans to pursue a degree in Zoology at the University of Roehampton.
The Metropolitan Police Service has appointed Poli Stuart-Lacey, currently Director of Communications at HM Revenue & Customs, as its new Director of Media and Communications.
Native Land has appointed Jay Squier, its Director of commercial and mixed-use development, to its board.
The former head of communications and public affairs at Chelsea FC and former sports editor at the Evening Standard Simon Greenberg has sadly passed away.
PLANNING BILL APPROACHING?
For many weeks now, we’ve been expecting the Government’s Planning Bill to be released ‘in the autumn’ and it’s getting to that time of year… Many of the reforms hinted at in the Planning for the Future White Paper make for bitter medicine, particularly to Tory MPs and councils in the wider South East. With that in mind, it is hard to see recent activities by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and his team as anything other than an exercise in dispensing the proverbial spoonful of sugar. We reported last week on the allocation of affordable housing construction grants, but it is worth adding here that Jenrick has been keen to highlight how these funds will support affordable homes for ownership. Then came a series of site visits, including to Epsom, Kensington & Chelsea, Barnet, and various locations in Kent and East Sussex, where Jenrick toured town centres and regeneration sites with fellow-Tory local MPs and councillors. Separately, Jenrick’s deputy Christopher Pincher, the Minister for Housing, has announced that the dreaded Housing Delivery Test applied to local authorities’ performance during 2020/21 will take into account the pandemic’s impact by knocking off four months from their requirement. Jenrick is, meanwhile, the keynote speaker at Property Week’s Resi Convention and will share ‘his vision for the evolution of housing strategy in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit Britain’ in a Keynote Address tomorrow morning. Might that include any further details about the Planning Bill? We certainly hope so.
CLEARING THE AIR
The Conservatives’ environmental credentials have been questioned by two newspapers. A Guardian investigation looked at Facebook advertising and found 50 adverts criticising plans for Clean Air Zones (CAZ) taken out by 17 Conservative MPs, candidates or local associations across a number of locations, including London. While the article does not clarify the period these were published or their reach it does note that the Tories’ opposition often centred – not entirely unreasonably – on how CAZ plans will impact residents dependent on cars. It also mentions that Conservatives have been very supportive of CAZ plans in many areas and that Labour councillors have opposed them in some. The Independent has separately reported that while the Government directed 61 councils across England to implement clean air plans in 2017, only four (London, Birmingham, Bath & North East Somerset and from this winter Portsmouth) have done so to date. It adds that ministers have also approved delays to CAZs ‘in a number of areas’ during the pandemic. While both newspapers’ reports are noticeably vague on some of the detail, headlines such as these will undoubtedly raise questions about the Government’s commitments in the leadup to COP26, especially as transport decarbonisation is one of its ‘priority action areas’.
Meanwhile, London’s Mayor has published new research from Imperial College London, which has found that past exposure to air pollution leads to more severe cases of Covid-19 – alongside further evidence of the central London ULEZ’s positive environmental effects.
CULTURE WARS LATEST
London institutions continue to struggle with the fraught ‘culture war’ over how British history is memorialised by the built environment. Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation is the latest landowner to have decided to move a statue - in this case one that depicts the hospital’s founder, Thomas Guy - away from the main courtyard of the hospital following criticism of his ties to the slave trade. This is despite the fact that feedback from a public consultation suggested that the majority of people consulted (75%) thought that the statue should remain where it is. The decision has been questioned by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (which runs the hospital on the site) and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who has accused the Foundation of ‘pandering to wokery’ and called for the statue to be left where it is. Goldsmiths University has separately launched a consultation on whether four statues on the front of Deptford Town Hall should be ‘retained, removed or explained’ following objections from students, who argue that the figures represented – Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson in particular – have ties to the slave trade. The survey has been sent to almost 9,000 households in the area and any changes to the Grade-II listed Town Hall will need to be approved by both Lewisham Council and Historic England.
LCA MEDIA WINS
This week we secured an exclusive in the Financial Times for our client, King’s Cross, on their partnership with premium flexible workspace provider The Office Group (TOG). We also helped achieve coverage for the announcement in titles including The Evening Standard, Property Week and EGI. The agreement will see Kings Cross and TOG partnering to create the largest and first purpose-built, design-led, flexible workspace in King’s Cross. It will offer 170,000 sq ft of space, designed by architecture studio Piercy&Company, specifically to meet the needs of small businesses. The new building will be located between Handyside Street and York Way and is one of the final commercial buildings of scale to be delivered at King’s Cross. It is currently under construction and set to complete in 2024.
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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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