MUCH ADO ABOUT HOUSING
As LCA’s team gears up for MIPIM, where we will be supporting Pipers on the London Stand as well as chairing a range of events, we take a look at the Government’s proposed revisions for the NPPF six years on from its publication and what it means for the capital.
This week’s issue also covers Sadiq Khan call for greater transparency on foreign ownership of UK properties, another iteration of the draft Transport Strategy and the launch of the Crossrail 2 project's Independent Affordability Review. Meanwhile, we also recount how Sadiq’s predecessor Boris Johnson fared against the London Assembly on his handling of the Garden Bridge.
And in our Local Elections 2018 section, we delve into Lord Ashcroft’s report on what Londoners really think of the Tories and take a look at the independents, local groups and new parties standing on 3 May.
Aside from all this talk about housing needs and delivery, the fact that just under a week of snow and unusually cold weather left parts of London with no water for days and caused significant damage to high streets should give us pause. The capital sorely needs new homes, but provisions must also be made to maintain and upgrade its ageing infrastructure.
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TORIES TALK TOUGH ON HOUSING (AGAIN)
The PM had something other than Brexit to talk about earlier this week with the government’s proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), its first update since being published in 2012. Headline proposals include the government taking over housing delivery where local authorities consistently miss their targets, more transparency in the local plan-making process, and an expectation that developers must provide 10% of homes to be available for affordable home ownership. Whilst any steps to try and increase housing numbers must be seen as good news, a number of commentators have expressed scepticism. These include Labour’s spokesperson for housing on the London Assembly Tom Copley, who noted that nothing in May’s speech was particularly ‘substantial’ whilst others have suggested that the government’s plans are not bold enough. Indeed, many proposals were trailed in last year’s Housing white paper, last September’s Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation, as well as those announced in the Autumn Budget 2017. Moreover, while Housing Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested the NPPF will deliver a ‘simpler, more robust planning system’, it alone will not remedy the underlying structural issues London uniquely faces, especially around land prices and development viability. Sir Steve Bullock, London Councils’ executive member for housing, has also noted boroughs’ limited planning powers, which allow them to grant permissions but not to ‘compel developers to build’.
The next major housing policy milestones for councils and housing developers in London are the outcome of the Letwin review into landbanking, the interim report of which is due by 13 March, and the outcome of MHCLG’s new consultation on developer contributions, which closes on 10 May 2018. Meanwhile, the new draft London Plan – its public consultation closed last Friday – is heading towards the next crucial phase of Examination in Public this Autumn. It is hoped that this mass of reforms and policy proposals will provide clarity for London boroughs, which are being called upon to deliver a step-change in housing delivery.
DRAFT TRANSPORT STRATEGY
The Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS), setting out Transport for London’s (TfL) priorities up until 2041, has taken a couple of steps further towards its final form, with the most recent draft published last Thursday and scrutinised by the London Assembly Transport Committee the same day. The updated strategy includes several amendments to the proposed ‘West London Orbital’ line connecting Hendon via Old Oak and Hounslow via Cricklewood, and the Sutton Tram extension linking it to Wimbledon South. According to City Hall’s press release, the strategy has also fleshed out commitments to prioritise bus services in outer London, improve freight in the capital and take advantage of technological innovations. Most significantly however, and in an apparent nod to TfL’s current financial predicament, the press release underlines that City Hall must work ‘with Government, local boroughs and developers across London to secure revenue to deliver vital transport infrastructure.’ Though this isn’t revelatory in itself, it is a reminder of how contingent some of the strategy’s proposals are on an uplift in funding. There is no doubt that TfL’s funding streams will be discussed at length during tomorrow’s London Assembly plenary, when Mayor Sadiq Khan and Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross will be questioned on the MTS in further detail.
FOREIGN OWNERS’ REGISTER
Sadiq has said plans for a new public register of overseas companies that own UK property must be speeded up, after the Government recently said that the register won’t be available until early 2021. The Mayor contends that such a register would help prevent offences including tax evasion, theft and terrorist activities. While it does not mention homes, this announcement is the latest in a series of such initiatives by Sadiq, who hopes to see the London housing market rebalanced in favour of local residents. In February he announced that private developers and housing associations were accepting his invitations to join a voluntary scheme for offering Londoners and UK-based buyers ‘first dibs’ on new, ‘lower-cost’ homes. And last September he called on the Government to allow boroughs in the capital to increase the empty homes Council Tax levy for high-value properties after ‘research by City Hall into foreign ownership of property in London’, which showed ‘greater numbers of empty homes in prime and expensive locations in London.’
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson heeded a legally binding summons to appear before the London Assembly’s Oversight Committee last Thursday to answer questions on his handling of the ill-fated Garden Bridge project, which was initiated during his Mayoralty. Boris bullishly argued that the project 'would have been a great thing for London.’ and asserted that his successor Sadiq actually supported the project during the early part of his own tenure – which, the record shows, Sadiq did, before deciding to disown it. The Foreign Secretary further refused to accept that he or any member of the GLA and TfL teams acted wrongfully, but admitted that there 'were bits and pieces that were rough around the edges in the way that it was done.' Indeed, Boris was hard-pressed to offer an explanation for a Mayoral Decision issued late in his last term, which appears to have loosened the conditions attached to £7m of public funding for the project. Boris has committed to giving a full explanation in a written submission to the Committee. For his part, Sadiq was on air with LBC’s James O’Brien earlier that day, unsurprisingly taking the opportunity to weigh in on Boris’ interrogation. Sadiq distanced himself from the project, saying that he began asking questions about it 'from the day [he] became Mayor' and lamenting the fact that his ‘attention seeker’ predecessor appears to have ‘got away with it’
CROSSRAIL 2 BACK ON TRACK?
The Transport Secretary has announced that Mike Gerrard is to lead the Independent Affordability Review for Crossrail 2, commissioned jointly by the Department for Transport (DfT) and TfL. Gerrard has previously served as Chair of the Heathrow Airport Expansion’s Programme Co-ordination Board, as a Panel Member of the Hansford Review of Rail Infrastructure Delivery and as the Managing Director of Thames Tideway Tunnel. According to the DfT, the review is 'expected to conclude in summer 2018', though a subsequent announcement by Crossrail 2 itself clarifies that an ‘interim report’ will be delivered this summer ‘outlining options as to how the project could be made more affordable,’ while a final report will be submitted ‘at a later date.’ It is therefore unclear whether the review’s launch will actually serve to accelerate the project.
Ian Thomas has been recommended for the post of Lewisham Council’s new chief executive. He will be succeeding Barry Quirk, who as of last summer leads the executive team at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. Thomas is currently strategic director for children and young people at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and previously held similar positions at the Derbyshire and Trafford local authorities. The recommendation will go to Full Council on 14 March 2018.
BRIDGING THE GAP
For the first time, the Mayor of London has published a comprehensive audit tracking the pay gap affecting Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees for all organisations in the Greater London Authority (GLA) family, based on average earnings. Findings showed a pay gap between White and BAME employees of 16.7% in the Metropolitan Police and greater gaps at both the London Legacy, and Old Oak and Park Royal development corporations (30% and 37.5% respectively). Deputy Mayor for Social Integration Matthew Ryder QC has promised to ‘take a fair and structured approach that focuses on ensuring real change.’ According to the GLA, the gaps can be explained by an under-representation of BAME employees in senior roles. Last year, the Mayor published a gender pay audit across the GLA family, which also highlighted disparities across its workforce.
LONDON TORY MPs FACING CHALLENGE
New analysis by think tank Global Future predicts that leading Conservative London MPs are ‘set to lose their seats’ at the next General Election. It singles out Tory heavyweights (all current or former Cabinet members) such as Boris Johnson, MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip and Foreign Secretary; Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford & Woodford Green: Justine Greening, MP for Putney; and Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, as being among those vulnerable to an electoral upset. The research suggests that the electorate is increasingly voting ‘on the basis of their values’ rather than just their economic circumstances or party loyalties, thus destabilising seats generally considered ‘safe’ for the Tories. It further argues that the population of London is becoming ever more ‘open’ (i.e. internationalist in outlook and positive about multiculturalism, diversity, immigration) and perceives the Conservatives as remaining – to their electoral detriment – wedded to a dwindling pool of predominantly older ‘closed voters’.
LORD ASHCROFT'S POLL
Lord Ashcroft - former Conservative party peer, Deputy Chairman, Treasurer and donor - has this week published his latest report, entitled 'Capital Punishment? The Conservative Party and the 2018 London elections', which broadly concludes that 'the backdrop to the London elections is not propitious for the Conservatives'. It draws on a survey of 3,059 Londoners and 16 focus groups. Lord Ashcroft’s report explores 'how London voters see things, both locally and nationally' but not voting intention in the strictest sense. It did, however, find that among London voters as a whole, 42% believe Labour is 'good at running local councils' (and 30% 'bad'), compared to 29% 'good' (and 40% 'bad') for the Conservatives. Additionally, 60% of respondents disapproved of the Conservative government’s policy. Sadiq’s performance was rated highest (with a mean score of 53/100), above that of Labour and Conservative parties locally (47 and 37 respectively) and both party leaders (with Corbyn at 47 and May at 35). Regarding the most important issues for respondents when deciding how to vote - they were asked to tick four - the top five were local health services (33%) housing in the area (30%), crime in the area (29%), Britain leaving the EU (25%), and local Council Tax (23%). Interestingly, the poll found that 50% of respondents had 'not heard of Momentum' (of the 50% who had heard of it, 30% thought it is 'more a force for good' and 55% 'more a source for ill').
EU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME
Mayor Khan has underlined the fact London is very much ‘open’ following a recent announcement that he will invest £90,000 into an online EU citizens’ portal, which will assist European residents in accessing information they need to stay in the UK after Brexit. Even a quick internet search reveals that Conservative-led Richmond, Westminster and Wandsworth councils have also set up advice schemes for EU residents. With increasingly vulnerable majorities to protect, local Tory branches and their elected representatives appear to be scrambling to appeal to European and pro-Remain voters. While this may indicate a level of anxiety across these boroughs – and it is clear that Labour is also on a European charm offensive also - it remains to be seen whether London’s European voting bloc will ultimately be roused into action on election. And whether, as the Mayor hopes, it will use its vote to ‘send the Tory Government a message’. With more than 1.1 million EU citizens estimated to be living in the capital, their vote could indeed prove crucial.
While the major parties are broadly expected to dominate London’s councils after the May election, the potential power of independent candidates and new parties cannot be ignored – at least in certain boroughs and wards. This is exemplified by Havering, which currently has 23 independent councillors aligned in three separate groups, and Tower Hamlets, which has 18 independents, who sit in two groups (though two councillors remain non-aligned). These two independent groups in Tower Hamlets have been recognised by the Electoral Commission in time for 3 May. ‘Aspire’ and the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets (PATH) – the latter was recognised only last week – are both fielding Mayoral candidates who have previously served as Deputy Mayors under former Mayor Lutfur Rahman. Aspire is putting forward Councillor Ohid Ahmed, while PATH will be represented by Councillor Rabina Khan. Rahman himself is banned from standing for office until 2020, following his conviction for electoral fraud, but he has endorsed Ahmad’s candidacy. Meanwhile, all the way across the city in Wandsworth, Independent Councillor James Cousins, who quit the Conservatives in 2015, has announced that he has joined Renew, which was founded last year as a centrist and anti-Brexit party with national ambitions. Cousins will be standing for election under their banner this May. Meanwhile, Kensington & Chelsea’s new party Advance, whose launch made headlines back in November, is also gearing up for the election, launching a new crowdfunding campaign and vigorously promoting its '20+' candidates on social media and the doorstep.
Last Thursday LCA’s Robert Gordon Clark chaired 'The Code for Growth', the investment conference for the London Borough of Sutton. Despite the dreadful weather the hardy audience heard from Professor Paul Workman, CEO of the Institute of Cancer Research, the exciting news that the construction of the first phase of the London Cancer Hub will begin later in March with a target date of April 2020 to open. More widely, the council reported that the Local Plan for Sutton is now adopted, after a thorough consultation, the extension of the Tram is firmly in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, whilst benefiting from a 84% support rate locally, and the council has exciting plans to rejuvenate the town centre. Anyone who could not attend the conference but is interested in knowing more about the development and investment opportunities, do contact Amanda Cherrington on firstname.lastname@example.org
LCA AT MIPIM
This year’s LCA team at MIPIM in Cannes (13 to 16 March) consists of Robert Gordon Clark, Executive Chairman; Jonny Popper, Managing Director; Jane Groom, Board Director; Anna Mitra, Director; and Lorena Burciu, Account Manager. We will once again be working for Pipers, handling the media on the London Stand, as well as representing a large number of clients. We are also chairing a range of events on the London Stand, covering development at Old Oak Common, the London Borough of Hounslow, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Royal Docks & Newham, and – in association with HKR Architects - Old Kent Road. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to arrange a meet up at MIPIM and we look forward to seeing many of LDN’s readers there!
TIPI TEAMS UP WITH SAMSUNG
Quintain and Samsung Electronics this week with the help of LCA, announced a multimillion pound deal to provide the most innovative digital appliances in the market to over 3,000 Tipi rental apartments at Wembley Park. This marks Samsung’s first global hardware subscription deal within the build to rent market. As part of the rollout, Samsung will be installing their appliances not only in the apartments but also in the shared social spaces, which are a core part of Tipi’s all-inclusive lifestyle offering.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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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