LEVELLING UP, LEVELLING DOWN
"As party conference draws to a close for another year, Black History Month begins.
On Monday, an LCA gang embarked on a truly edifying walk around Soho and Bloomsbury, hearing names and learning about world-changing events that were never so much a whisper in all our combined years of education. What’s the link, you ask? The link is the inherent danger in talking only to yourself. In fact, the evening that we walked Facebook and WhatsApp went down, it felt like a very quiet night – perhaps why I was more thoughtful than usual.
Not that thoughtful though, as just yesterday I was at an event that asked attendees questions about London’s recovery and what the capital needs to succeed. It was a superb discussion about housing and planning and transport and jobs and skills and we got 90 minutes in before it was bravely pointed out that no one had yet said equality or diversity.
So a bit of humbling week for your editor who will be making more of an effort from now on to switch off the cacophony of voices, digital or otherwise and instead walk, look, listen and learn. It is clear from pretty much every story below – including our coverage of conference – that we need to leverage all the available talent we can to bring London through recovery into something better."
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor, Jenna Goldberg
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TfL’s submission to the Spending Review, published ahead of today’s meeting of its Finance Committee, makes for grim reading. TfL says it will need £500m of funding for the rest of this year, £1.2bn in 2022/23 and £1-1.5bn per year for investment in the long run. The papers also note that the Crossrail 2, Bakerloo Line Extension and Sutton Tramlink projects are ‘no longer the immediate priority’ and that TfL’s capital programme is now squarely focused on significant but comparatively smaller-scale projects, such as transitioning their bus fleet to net zero, signalling upgrades on the Piccadilly Line, procuring new trains for the Bakerloo and Central lines, increasing accessibility and introducing new active travel schemes. Separately, a GLA-commissioned report has shown that 95% of heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches in London now meet the strict Low Emission Zone standards introduced by the Mayor – encouraging findings, considering the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) kicks in on 25 October.
TRANSPORT TROUBLES (CONT'D)
Back to the question of funding, recent developments do not bode well for the Government’s intentions to support new infrastructure serving the capital and linking it to the regions. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested in an interview that the eastern leg of HS2 – extending the line to Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds – may be scrapped, with priority reportedly “given instead to an east-west rail scheme between Leeds and Manchester called Northern Powerhouse Rail and nicknamed HS3.” Separately, Shapps’ department has confirmed that it will no longer support the delivery of a new train station for the 3,000-home Beam Park development in Barking and Dagenham, which would have allowed residents access to the existing London, Tilbury and Southend rail line. Confusingly, the station is actually being funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA), Countryside and L&Q. A DfT spokesperson has been cited as stating that the Department had not therefore withdrawn any funding for the station, but that it is refusing to approve the plans "to ensure taxpayers are appropriately protected from the financial and operational risk[s]” of the project, suggesting also that the scheme does not offer “appropriate value for money for taxpayers” and does not “balance the needs of all passengers on the route." For a little more context, read on to our Conference Catch Up stories below.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- Meanwhile, proposals by TfL and Catalyst Homes for 277 affordable homes on the car park of Stanmore Tube Station have been called-in by the Mayor. The plans were rejected by Labour run Harrow Council in July 2021 due to concerns about the height and scale of the development. A date for the public hearing has not yet been set.
- Westminster City Council has granted planning permission for the redevelopment of The Ritz hotel. The plans include the addition of 12 new storeys, including a five-storey basement, which will add 53 new rooms to the hotel, as well as leisure facilities, car parking and a courtyard.
- Greenwich Council has given the go-ahead for plans by Lovell for 766 new homes in Woolwich across two developments on the former Morris Walk North and South estates. The two schemes will deliver 253 affordable homes (about 33%).
- The GLA has given the go ahead for the delivery of 67 new homes and a new Families and Homes Hub in Waltham Forest. 32 of the homes will be affordable and the Hub will be the HQ for the Council’s social care and housing teams.
- Allotment holders in Hounslow are being ordered by the landowner, the Duke of Northumberland, to leave the site. The Duke and residents have long clashed over his plans for 80 homes on the site in Isleworth, which has been used as allotments since the First World War and over 1,000 letters against the proposals have been submitted to the Council.
- A decision on the proposed Tulip tower in the City has been delayed once again. The Planning Inspectorate has now said that a decision will be made ‘on or before 11 November 2021’.
Central London’s high streets have yet to regain their pre-pandemic buzz, but the trajectory of key indicators does seem positive. It’s not just London: a coalition of UK hospitality and tourism businesses has called for a permanent reduction of the VAT rate for their sectors and separately, Conservative MPs in “Red Wall” seats are urging a cut to business rates. It’s clear that cashflow remains an issue for retailers and their landlords alike, with data from Re-Leased suggesting that only 11% of rent due from shops nationally (10% in London) was paid by last Wednesday’s quarterly rent day – compared to 13% last September and about 30% in pre-pandemic times. And yes, London’s recovery is still lagging behind other cities’, as Centre for Cities excellent tracker confirms, but footfall in the City and Central London is steadily on the rise, as are Tube and bus journeys across the city. Investors are certainly confident in the prospects of shopping districts old and new and The New West End Company estimates that just 22 projects already in the pipeline will bring the West End more than £5bn in capital investment over the next five years. Meanwhile, Battersea Power Station has announced six more retail brands set to open their doors in the iconic building, meaning that 82% of its commercial space is now let.
AMBULANCE HUBS SCRAPPED?
The London Ambulance Service (LAS) has “shelved” controversial plans for the closure of dozens of ambulance stations. An NHS Trust in its own right, but one that uniquely operates across the entirety of London, the LAS faces funding constraints and growing demand that have forced it – much like other “blue light” services – to try to consolidate its ageing and costly estate. As part of its Estates Vision (approved in 2019), the LAS had planned to close up to 68 stations and replace them with 12 more modern hubs. Implementation was well underway and it had reportedly shut “more than half” of its stations by the start of the pandemic, but over the course of 2020-21, the plans faced mounting resistance first at the local level and eventually from several MPs, trade unions and patients’ groups. Critics’ main concern is that closing stations will affect response times – something that the LAS has argued will not be the case. But on Monday last week, the Evening Standard reported that “the original vision … is unlikely to proceed without major amendments” and by Friday, the LAS had confirmed that it “will not sell any of the ambulance stations that we own … until we have an agreed estates plan” and until “the public and other partners get a chance to have a say as we develop our plans.”
- Housing associations Peabody and Catalyst have confirmed that they will merge in April 2022, with the new organisation to retain the Peabody Group brand. Chief Executive of Catalyst Ian McDermott is taking on the role of interim Chief Executive at Peabody.
- The national Green Party has elected two new co-leaders: Bristol Councillor Carla Denyer and former deputy leader Adrian Ramsay have been elected to replace Lambeth Councillor Jonathan Bartley and Camden Councillor (also London Assembly Member) Sian Berry.
- Enfield Councillor Anne Brown has now joined the Green Party – though she will continue to sit with the opposition Community First group, to which she had initially defected from the ruling Labour party in March.
- Public realm and urban design practice Publica have appointed Dr Ellie Cosgrave as Director of their research team and of their Community Interest Company, which provides a "not-for-profit space for a range of applied urban research, community-led projects, creative co-production of alternative approaches, education, apprenticeships and placements."
CONFERENCE CATCH UP
Tory Party Conference has offered little more than speculation on what to expect from the Government’s planning reforms – and “levelling up” still seems something of an enigma. Indeed, Michael Gove, recently appointed to lead the souped-up and rebranded Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, barely made any reference to planning in his “keynote” Conference speech , focusing instead on better defining ‘levelling up’. Here too, he was all about objectives – four of them to be precise: strengthening local leadership, raising living standards, improving public services and giving people the resources they need to ‘enhance the pride they feel in the place they live’ (all very motherhood and apple pie). Again, there was little by way of detail on how these ambitions will be realised and even less on what this all means for London. Yet, London leaders spoken to by LCA in at Conference (more on our mission to Manchester below) were largely happy that Gove had been chosen for his new role, while warning that the capital should not be left out of the levelling up agenda. They will no doubt be anxiously awaiting a relevant White Paper - including definitions of the metrics for the levelling up agenda's success – which will be published “around the time of the spending review” to be unveiled by Rishi Sunak on 27 October, according to the FT.
LEVELLING UP... ELSEWHERE
A day later, Boris Johnson’s keynote conference speech featured 18 mentions of ‘level’ or ‘levelling’ up (according to LDN’s maths) – alongside trademark alliterative flourishes, classical allusions, cruel barbs aimed at his opponents, and even an oblique reference to his own efforts in boosting Britain’s birth-rate. This was yet another speech thin on policy, with the one hard pledge for a "levelling-up premium" for teachers in "the places that need them most" sounding suspiciously similar to one announced in 2019. With all the above in mind, who can blame OnLondon for drawing up a dedicated ‘Levelling Down Monitor’? ‘Tracking government policies and priorities that discriminate against and exclude London and Londoners’ may sound like a rather morbid hobby, but the levelling up agenda does seem to be offering an awful lot of material. Still doubtful? Take a look at a recent press release from the Department for Transport, on the launch of a competition to find the first HQ of Great British Railways: it explicitly states, no less than three times, that it will be 'outside London'.
Ever more local authorities are opting to tackle the housing crisis head-on – but it’s a steep learning curve. The Bartlett School of Planning recently published the third in a series of reports on local authority direct provision of housing, finding that 80% of England’s councils are "directly engaged in the provision of housing” either in-house or through wholly-owned housing companies, up from 69% in 2019 and 65% in 2017. It further confirms that “all London Boroughs are now delivering”. The report speaks positively of the Mayor’s role in enabling their efforts, using his devolved powers as a strategic funder and planner for the region. It also notes the sheer variety of approaches (and varying levels of success) of different boroughs. Indeed, looking to other recent developments, it is worth noting Redbridge Council’s decision to pursue its housebuilding plans “in house”, having found that rising costs made doing so via its wholly-owned company Redbridge Living Ltd unviable. The Architects’ Journal has meanwhile published an in-depth investigation into the virtual collapse of Croydon’s Brick By Brick company, delving into “what went wrong”.
Beyond the boroughs, we are still keenly awaiting news from the GLA on its own plans for a development vehicle – though an update included in the TfL’s Finance Committee papers mentioned in our leader story do mark progress in its plans for Transport Trading Limited Properties (TTLP) and reveal an agreement with Government on an outline plan to deliver 20,000 homes over the next 10 years. Remarkably, the plans not only foresee TTLP delivering 50% of these in affordable tenures, but also 90% through Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), while also supporting Custom and Self-build (CSB) housebuilding – all on the basis of commercial lending and no Government grant funding. Sounds… rather ambitious.
New “2020-based Population Projection Results” produced by the GLA’s City Intelligence Unit suggest that the city’s population will continue to grow – from slightly above 9m today, to between 10.3 and 10.7m in 2050. Meanwhile, the latest edition of GLA Economics’ London’s Economy Today bulletin suggests that economic recovery will continue, but at a slowing and uneven rate. It underlines that factors such as the end of the furlough scheme and rising prices will disproportionately affect some demographics, sub-regions and sectors.
LCA @ LREF
The last week has been an intensive re-introduction to in-person events with two days at the Barbican for London Real Estate Forum a particular highlight. LDN editor Jenna Goldberg chaired a session on Canada Water and a roundtable that brought the boroughs and private sector together to talk about how we get the right people into the right jobs with the right skills to fuel recovery. And a highlight of LREF for our ex Chairman and now Senior Advisor, Robert Gordon Clark, was listening to Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe make it abundantly clear that the London Plan’s core assumptions and strategies remain the same, despite the impact of COVID. In fact he stressed that many of the strategies respond very directly to the changing nature of the way we have lived and worked since March 2020. He was immediately followed by Darren Rodwell, Leader of Barking & Dagenham, whose speech certainly got tongues wagging as to whether it was the start of a campaign for the Labour nomination for London Mayor for 2024.
FROM OUR MAN IN MANCHESTER
Sadiq Khan has yet to formally declare whether he would stand for a third term, but the London Tories whom LCA met at Conference were all speculating about who might fly the blue banner in 2024. James Cleverly MP, the former Assembly Member who is now a Minister of State in the FCDO, was one name doing the rounds, while we also heard the intriguing suggestion that the Conservatives could – eventually – officially endorse Rory Stewart, who quit the party in 2020 to run for mayor as an independent, only to abandon his bid during the pandemic.
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