If there’s a theme in this edition, it’s that sometimes it can be really, really hard to effect change.
The sheer power of political inertia is borne out by our stories on TfL funding, planning decisions (read: refusals) and planning reform (or lack thereof).
Of course, sometimes the going is slow because plans go awry. Only today, City Hall has put a positive spin on an announcement to the effect that its move to The Crystal in the Royal Docks will officially take place on 22 January. As certain astute London-watchers have noted, the original plan was to be ready ‘before Christmas’.
But things do invariably change, whether because even politicians must at some point move with the times (see Building For Net Zero), because one season follows another (see our festive round up below! ) or because things beyond our control just… happen.
On that sombre note, we were incredible saddened to hear of the passing of Barry McKeogh, a truly outstanding Londoner.
"It is not often that we lead LDN with news of someone’s death, but this week it is only right and proper that we report with great sadness the passing of our dear friend Barry McKeogh. As some readers may have been aware, Barry had been in hospital for a few weeks suffering from a severe lung infection. Despite excellent care and support at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, he succumbed to this and died on Sunday 21 November.
Many of our readers will know Barry as the founder of Pipers, the model maker. I recall with great fondness the super party in 2018 at the Guildhall to mark the company’s 40th anniversary. Back in the early 1990s it was his idea to create the first City of London model, showing how the square mile was changing, and this was the fore runner to the London model which has become such a focus of discussion and activity at the NLA.
I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Barry for over 25 years, initially through setting up the inward investment agency London First Centre, then working closely with him and his sons Nick and Patrick on many MIPIMs and more recently with them and the wider team at the NLA. This involved regular trips to Cannes, many a late night drink and many a laugh.
A lot more will be said and written about Barry in the days and weeks ahead. Today we simply want to remember him for all he did for London and the property industry and to say that our thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with the McKeogh family."
LCA Founder and Senior Advisor Robert Gordon Clark
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LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
Transport for London and the Mayor have issued stark warnings about TfL’s finances, as the expiration date on the current funding agreement (11 Dec) looms. TfL Finance Committee papers show that TfL is preparing for a ‘Managed Decline’ scenario if it does not secure the funding needed from Government. This would mean reducing service levels and only continuing capital projects which are either already underway or needed to ensure compliance with safety regulations. The Mayor and Commissioner have been making this clear via the press, with Sadiq Khan warning that a failure to properly fund TfL will put the UK’s recovery at risk, and Andy Byford separately warning that London’s transport is facing a ‘sustained bleak future’. In slightly better news, trial operations - the final stage before opening - have started on the central section of Crossrail, though the official launch date remains a rather wide ‘window’ of sometime between February to June 2022. More immediately, Londoners will be concerned to hear of planned strikes on the Tube, set to start this Friday. Members of the RMT Union are striking on the Northern, Victoria, Central, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines over the staff rotas proposed for the reopening of the Night Tube (which is scheduled for 27 November).
Outside London, the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) by the Government last week has been badly received by local leaders and MPs representing the North and the Midlands – from across parties. The Plan confirmed that the Government has scrapped HS2’s eastern leg, which would have connected Birmingham and Leeds, while it has also scaled back the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail project.
LABOUR FAULTLINES LATEST
While Labour is finally making some hay in the national polls out of the IRP (presumably along with other, Peppa Pig-related incidents), it's also indulging in some internal strife. HuffPost has picked up mounting dissatisfaction among London Labour politicians who are apparently miffed at some of their northern comrades’ uncomradely behaviour. Bermondsey & Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle, Merton & Wandsworth AM Leonie Cooper and others have taken umbrage at comments from Greater Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham, which they perceive as London-bashing. A quick skim of Burnham’s Twitter feed will uncover many a post complaining that London is being favoured over other regions by Government, even as London’s own local government and public services are struggling to secure the funds they believe they need to support their most vulnerable residents and spark recovery. As cited by HuffPost, London Labour politicians and activists seem to feel that Burnham is ‘pitting regions against each other’, making ‘cheap digs’ at London, ‘glossing over’ the capital's problems and just being all-round ‘disappointing’ by making their jobs harder. As for Burnham himself, he doesn’t seem to feel he’s said anything wrong at all.
A TALE OF TWO PLANNING REFUSALS
There are several planning decisions we could talk about this week – but there are two we simply have to. Firstly, the Government has refused plans for the controversial Westferry Printworks development in Tower Hamlets. Last year, the application was recovered by the Government following its non-determination by the local authority, with former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick initially approving the proposals for 1,500 homes. He then admitted that ‘apparent bias’ in his decision (he had discussed the application with the developer, Richard Desmond, at a dinner) meant it needed to be quashed and reconsidered. A new public inquiry for the application was held earlier this year. Writing on behalf of the Secretary of State Michael Gove, Housing Minister Eddie Hughes has now said that he agreed with the Planning Inspector’s latest recommendation to dismiss the appeal, with the main concerns about the scheme being its scale, height and massing, as well as its impact on strategic views and listed buildings.
Secondly, the latest chapter in the long-running planning saga that is the redevelopment of South Kensington tube station has seemingly come to an end. Kensington & Chelsea Council’s planning committee has unanimously refused plans by TfL and Native Land, despite them being recommended for approval by officers. The proposals for 50 new homes (17 affordable), new commercial and retail space as well as step-free access at the station were rejected due to concerns about the proposed development’s height, massing and design, the level of affordable housing and heritage issues. And yet, this saga is likely to continue.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has appointed Sarah Allan as its new Head of Architecture.
Dolphin Living’s Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation has appointed Andrew Giblin as chair of its board.
- Developer Avanton has announced several changes to its Development Team.
- Civil engineer John Bartlett, best known for his work on the Channel Tunnel, has sadly died. He was also President of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1982 to 1983.
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
The latest news on the national planning reform drive is that there is no news. Following September’s Cabinet reshuffle, incoming Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove put the Government’s proposed reforms on ice, with it being reported that he had ordered a ‘complete rethink’ of the changes, following a vocal backlash from many Conservative MPs. While it has still not been confirmed how the suggested reforms will be changed, it has now emerged that the long-awaited Government’s response to the Planning For The Future white paper and the Planning Bill will come forward in the ‘earlier part’ of 2022. Speaking at the Planning for Housing conference last week, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher said that the Government is aiming to ensure that any changes to the planning system align with the ‘core mission to level up the country’ . Separately, at around the same time veteran property journo Peter Bill cryptically tweeted that a ‘political source’ told him legislation would be coming forward only in May (presumably after the local elections). More immediately, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill – another major piece of legislation, intended to reduce ground rents on new residential long leases to zero – is set to have its second reading on 29 November.
BUILDING FOR NET ZERO
There is a least more movement on the hugely important issue of sustainability. The Environment Act – which enshrines in law a new requirement for development to produce ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’ – has been formally adopted and this in turn has enabled the formal, legal formation of the new Office for Environmental Protection, which will gain its full range of powers to monitor and hold to account public bodies on the application of environmental laws and targets early next year. More recently, the PM’s now-infamous ‘Peppa Pig’ speech to the CBI’s annual conference did contain one notable policy commitment, to requiring that new residential and commercial developments (as well as ‘major renovation’ projects) include electric vehicle charging points from next year. The commitment follows the conclusion of a relevant consultation by the Department for Transport. Of course, as welcome the growing tangle of new environmental standards may be, it is a lot to navigate for landlords and developers. Public sector property teams will therefore be relieved to receive more guidance on how to hit challenging new targets, in the shape of a new Net Zero Estate Playbook published (details here) by the Cabinet Office.
As is always the case, our lovely city has a huge selection of cultural events coming up over the next few months:
To replace the usual New Year’s Eve fireworks which have been cancelled for the second year in a row, the Mayor has announced that Trafalgar Square will host a ticketed event including live music and food stalls on the night itself.
The Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish News have unveiled plans to transform the London Eye into a Menorah to celebrate Chanukah – tying into the wider Winter Lights Festival coordinated by City Hall.
- As usual, Christmas at Kew is also taking place until 9 January, while Lightopia is coming to Crystal Palace.
- The Courtauld Gallery has now reopened following its refurbishment and redesign by Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann.
- The London Transport Museum has been allocated £450,000 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund which will support its post-COVID recovery and a new exhibition on London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce.
VU.CITY TAKES GOLD
We were pleased to see our client VU.CITY – a leading digital planning platform - win the joint Digital Transformation Award at the UK PropTech awards last week. VU.CITY's work with Hounslow Council and Urban Intelligence showcased the team’s excellent collaborative skills and success in digitising business processes. This news comes at a particularly exciting time for VU.CITY, as we help promote its full rebrand to key industry audiences and publicise exciting new functionalities, such as the presenter tool, which enable users to make better and faster planning decisions.
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