"Today, a few months into LCA’s 23rd year of business, we have made some important announcements about our future. As part of a managed transition, our Founder and regular LDN contributing editor Robert Gordon Clark has stepped down both as Chairman of LCA and from the Board to take up a senior advisory role working part-time for the company. He will still, I’m sure, be providing his take on London issues in this esteemed publication and you can read more about this transition, and Robert’s reflections on the last two and a bit decades here.
We are also pleased to say that Alastair Gornall has become the new non-executive Chair of LCA. Alastair will bring his vast experience in the media and PR sector to help us thrive and grow from here. He was previously founder of Scope Communications and Consolidated Communications Group (PRWeek’s Agency of The Year 2001); a former CEO of Reed Exhibitions Ltd (the owner of MIPIM); and previously Chairman of Blue Rubicon (Teneo) and Hanover International Communications, amongst others.
Regular readers know that at LDN Towers (really LCA HQ on High Holborn) we embrace change – it’s part of the thrill and privilege of living and working in a dynamic and evolving city and the same can be said of being part of a dynamic and evolving agency. And so we say thank you to Robert for getting us here, welcome to Alastair and we can’t wait to see what’s next for all of us, our clients, friends, associates and those we have not yet met.
Separately, our correspondent is fresh off the train from Brighton, bringing us a whiff of the seaside and the down-low from Labour’s Conference – see the Our Week section at the end of the newsletter."
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor, Jenna Goldberg
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GREEN (BELT) SADIQ
Last Thursday saw the Mayor conspicuously burnishing his green credentials with care. See City Hall’s relevant press release, which outlined how he was in a single day (a) delivering a ‘keynote speech’ at the Barbican Centre to warn Londoners that ‘we are at a crossroads for tackling the climate emergency’ (b) launching a campaign ‘to inspire all Londoners – individuals, businesses and communities - to take action’ (c) unveiling a an art installation supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and (d) launching a new Climate Vulnerability Map compiled with the help of Bloomberg Associates. If you’re wondering why all the fuss on this particular Thursday, the same press release quite candidly points to key upcoming milestones including ‘COP 26, the expansion of the world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone, a new Environment Bill and new targets set by the World Health Organization for toxic air’. Khan’s big green day out certainly generated quite a bit of media buzz and was covered by regional media, from BBC London to the Evening Standard, Time Out and the East London Advertiser, but also by national and international-reach outlets.
Perhaps just as significantly – if less conspicuously – our Labour Mayor has directly opposed plans by a Labour-run London borough to release 186 hectares of Green Belt land, to make way for 6,430 homes. It is not the first time that Sadiq Khan has taken issue with Enfield’s draft Local Plan, but his formal submission to the borough’s consultation, issued on his behalf by GLA Assistant Director of Planning Lucinda Turner states in no uncertain terms that ‘it is the mayor’s opinion the exceptional circumstances required [for the release of Green Belt land] have not been established’. While the Mayor cannot veto the adoption of the Local Plan, his statement will carry considerable weight when it comes before a planning inspector. It should be noted that the council itself is not exactly keen to build on the Green Belt and is well aware of how controversial the plans are – arguing they are necessitated by the need to balance housing targets against the limited availability of brownfield land and restrictions on the redevelopment of industrial land, among other factors.
IT'LL ALL BE OVER BY CHRISTMAS...
Plans to move City Hall from its current location by London Bridge to the Royal Docks have reportedly been delayed – though the Mayor’s office begs to differ. Last year, as part of a Covid-induced cost-saving drive, the Mayor decided to take advantage of a break clause in the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) lease. Its new home will be The Crystal, a conference centre in the Royal Docks owned by the GLA. The plans have from the get-go been heavily criticised by the London Assembly on multiple grounds and have also proved controversial with many GLA staff. Over the course of this year there have been reports of increasing costs and ‘unexpected snags’ that could delay plans. Now, as reported in the Evening Standard and elsewhere, the move date has been ‘moved to the end of 2021’ – whereas ‘the original plan was for staff to move to The Crystal next month [in October] - and have everything up and running for the GLA Christmas party in December’. Staff will still have to vacate their current offices as originally planned, potentially rendering them ‘homeless’ for a few weeks, though the Assembly will be able to continue using its chamber for public meetings into December. The Mayor’s office is adamant that nothing is amiss, with a spokesperson saying they are ‘on track to move to The Crystal building in the Royal Docks by Christmas, saving taxpayers £61m over five years’ – and to be fair, a delay of a few months is not all that unusual for a project of this scale.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Tower Hamlets Council has granted planning permission for almost 2,000 homes on the site of an Asda supermarket. Crossharbour District Centre will also include a new supermarket, community space and public realm as well as further retail space. Councillors deferred their decision on the scheme in June, and since then the developers, Ashbourne Beech and Asda, have increased the proportion of affordable housing in the plans from 25% to 27%. Local residents objected to the proposals over concerns about the height of the proposed buildings and the loss of the Asda petrol station.
- Tower Hamlets councillors have also granted outline permission for a mixed-use development in Canary Wharf. The proposals by Canary Wharf Group include the delivery of seven high-rise buildings (between six and 65 storeys in height), providing homes (30% affordable by habitable room), office space, retail space and student accommodation.
- Way out West, Queens Park Rangers Football Club (QPR) has been granted permission for the redevelopment of its training ground by Hounslow Council. Work will begin before the end of the year.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
Reports this week have shown that the Government’s interference in TfL matters is not limited to its finances. Correspondence between the Prime Minister’s transport adviser Andrew Gilligan and Sadiq Khan’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Will Norman, obtained by The Telegraph through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, show that Gilligan urged Norman to ensure that London boroughs that had removed cycle lanes were not granted further funding for ‘active travel’ schemes. Meanwhile, the Government has also been pushing ahead with its plan to introduce driverless trains on the Underground, something long resisted by the Mayor. Trade unions have responded to the reports by threatening to strike, while the Mayor has said that the news is ‘disappointing’. Producing business cases for driverless trains on the Piccadilly and Waterloo and City lines was a condition of the Government’s latest funding deal with TfL, agreed in June.
Meanwhile Jacobs, in its capacity as DfT-appointed watchdog, has found that the central section of the Elizabeth Line will now not open until May 2022. The project had originally been set to open in December 2018, but a series of delays had led TfL to move the opening date to a ‘window’ of time within the first six months of 2022. Jacobs has now concluded that there will not be sufficient time for the project to move to the trial operations stage of testing in November as planned, which will have a knock-on effect on the final opening date. It has also been reported that TfL is in the process of reviewing the revenue it expects to raise from the Elizabeth Line, to take into account the impact of COVID-19 on work and travel patterns.
INVEST(ING) IN LONDON
If all that transport talk has gotten you down, here’s some good news. Resonance Consultancy have ranked London first for ‘relative quality of place, reputation and competitive identity’ among the world's 100 top-performing cities in their annual World's Best Cities Report. Meanwhile, Knight Frank’s latest annual Active Capital Report predicts a ‘resurgence of interest in the office sector’ in 2022. And if that doesn’t impress you, just follow the money: a joint venture between Hong Kong-based CC Land and Chinese developer R&F have committed no less than £3bn to a project in Nine Elms. Their One Thames City scheme comprises plans for 12 buildings of up to 53 storeys, 1,400 homes, shops, restaurants and 120,000 sq ft of office space. A number of smaller acquisitions and financing deals have also been announced over the past few days, involving office, logistics and mixed use sites across London. But London’s edge is made of more than bricks and mortar – which is why we were excited to hear that Barking & Dagenham, Brent, Croydon, Enfield and Newham are among 54 ‘priority places’ where Arts Council England plans to ‘increase both staff resources and financial investment over the next three years’. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London as a Global City, has meanwhile launched a call for evidence as part of an inquiry into ‘fostering London’s Global City status’.
- Crossrail 2 managing director Michèle Dix has announced that she will soon be retiring after a 21 year career with TfL.
- Pat Billingham has been appointed as the new Chair of the Board of Swan Housing Association.
- Labour held the Wormholt and White City ward in Hammersmith & Fulham at a by-election last week. Frances Umeh won the seat with a majority of 1,031.
GOVE ON THE MOVE?
A couple of weeks on from the reshuffle, more has emerged about what to expect from Michael Gove’s new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. With planning reforms on ice, Gove is reportedly talking to those backbench Conservative MPs who so adamantly oppose the changes. Latest reports say that the reforms may be altered to make those areas designated for ‘growth’ under the proposed zoning system smaller, while it has also been reported that local authorities may be encouraged to earmark areas of land as ‘nature recovery zones’ in an attempt to increase rewilding and biodiversity. Planning reform is of course not the only item in Gove’s in-tray. The British Property Federation (BPF) has written to the Secretary of State urging him to exempt build-to-rent from an upcoming new tax on developers, designed to raise funds for the remediation of dangerous cladding on buildings. Meanwhile the Labour Party has announced a range of measures that it would implement to tackle the housing crisis, including giving first time buyers priority on new homes. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves has also said that a Labour Government would review the current taxation system and scrap the existing business rates model.
The property game can be a tough one, as the collapse of one high-profile developer has reminded us. Specialist ‘co-living’ developer and operator The Collective, founded in 2010 by Reza Merchant, has fallen into administration and is reportedly ‘in line to be broken up by its lenders’ – though a press release from its administrators confirms that its assets outside the UK “are held in separate entities, remain under the control of their directors” and “do not form part of the administrations.” The company made a splash over the years, acquiring a sizeable portfolio of projects in the UK and the US and positioning itself as the poster child for an innovative tenure of housing – mostly small rental apartments with shared amenities and communal areas such as kitchens, lounges and co-working spaces, primarily targeted at young professionals. Well into this past spring, the company was touting investments in new projects in Wandsworth and Westminster. By May it had announced a reshuffle of its top team, over the summer it was reported to be considering putting itself up for sale and by mid-September, it was ‘teetering on the edge of administration’. It is believed that its current predicament is directly linked to COVID-19 – as reported by The Times, ‘demand for rooms at its properties fell during the pandemic as people left city centres and prioritised larger private living areas as they spent more time at home.’ Unsurprisingly, The Collective’s collapse has triggered a wave of soul-searching in the co-living and wider build to rent sectors.
With conference season upon us, sitting as we currently do between Labour and Tory turns at LREF 2021, there has been a veritable deluge of research reports put out recently. Probably also something to do with the upcoming Spending Review too. Here are a few that caught our eye:
Sadiq Khan spent a longer time than usual at the Labour conference in Brighton, doing a number of events and basking in congratulations for his re-election in May. He was in chipper mood when LDN caught up with him for a chat in Pizza Express in the Lanes. A current major theme for Sadiq is ‘building bridges’ – which is mainly about being less combative with ministers and working with the government to try to get the best deal for London. But it could apply to relations between the Mayor’s office and ‘LOTO’ (Office of the Leader Of The Opposition) too – which unsurprisingly are far better under Keir Starmer than they were when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Could this be one reason why the London mayor got a platform speech in Brighton, while Labour’s other metro mayors, including Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Dan Jarvis, missed out? During his many media appearances this week, Sadiq was asked if he had ambitions to return to parliament: he stuck fast to the line that he wanted to remain mayor for as long as Londoners wanted him.
NOT PETERING OUT
LDN was pleased to see Lord (Peter) Mandelson in Brighton, chatting to journalists in the bars and hotels, and revelling once again in his status as an unofficial adviser to a Labour leader. He was overheard taunting Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, to the effect that ‘we’re back in control’, according to Kevin Maguire in the New Statesman. But Mandelson, once dubbed the ‘Prince of Darkness’ and whose very existence is anathema to the Labour left, was also reluctant to abandon ancient ‘TB-GB’ battles between supporters of Tony Blair (like him) and Gordon Brown. ‘You were never happy with the size of our majorities,’ the peer observed to an old acquaintance whom he (mistakenly) took to be a political soulmate of the former Chancellor. The lines from Keir Starmer’s speech in which he reeled off New Labour’s achievements from its years in power will have been music to Lord M’s ears.
Has the message that Labour has put the days of the Corbynistas behind it been lost on some Brighton hoteliers? These were the only three newspaper titles available at one seafront establishment.
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