Happy New Year to all our readers – we hope you had a restorative break and are back at your desks (or kitchen tables) refreshed.
This week’s edition catches up on the last few weeks of 2021 – what got snuck through while everyone was demobilising – as well as picking up some themes for the year ahead; in particular the cost of living and the price of public transport, both financial and political.
With elections looming our People News section tells of selections and deselections while we also ask whether 2022 might be the year we learn what ‘levelling up’ really means…
As always, our New Year’s resolution is to inform and entertain you each Wednesday with our briefing and commentary; it’s nice to be back at it.
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GRINDING TO A HALT?
As the holidays approached, Covid cases soared and ‘Plan B’ kicked in, key sectors for London entered a rough patch – and the New Year has brought them little relief. Public transport certainly got coal in its Christmas stocking this year, with TfL seeing yet another dip in passenger numbers; rolling strike action also affecting Tube services; unions threatening to continue strikes over Night Tube rotas all the way until June; and of course, the Department for Transport offering TfL no more than a short-term extension of its current emergency funding package, to 2 February, amid continuing negotiations over a fuller funding settlement. As per the headlines, this will do little more than keep services running and the Mayor has accused the Government of ‘still refusing to properly fund’ TfL, though Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has in turn accused the Mayor of taking a cynical and disingenuous approach in sharing his proposals. Industry bodies including London First and the Railway Industry Association (RIA) have meanwhile continued to urge both sides to agree a more sustainable, long-term funding settlement as soon as possible – not simply for the benefit of London, but also national recovery.
Along with TfL, London’s wider visitor economy has also struggled. While high street footfall during key ‘high season’ days like Christmas Eve and Boxing Day was up from last year, it remained well below 2019 figures and lagged behind other regions – with hospitality and aviation reporting similarly grim stats. In more positive news for "the nation's high street", Oxford Street was "the busiest shopping street in Europe" last year, in terms of average footfall. Multiple visitor attractions including the Natural History Museum were meanwhile forced to close due to the number of staff falling sick and self-isolating. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced £1bn in grants (spread across the UK) to support businesses most impacted by Omicron, the Prime Minister has promised ‘actions to mitigate workforce disruption’, and Minister for London Paul Scully has urged all and sundry to be ‘positive about everything that London has to offer’. For their part, the Mayor and London businesses alike have warned that the country’s single biggest regional economy will need more than goodwill and piecemeal handouts if it is to bounce back as quickly as hoped.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
London’s regional and local authorities are also feeling the pinch, as they prepare their budgets for 2022/23. A degree of certainty has been provided by the provisional local government finance settlement for the year. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove says that this represents ‘an additional £3.5bn’ corresponding to an increase of ‘over 4% in real terms’ compared to last year. However London Councils (which estimates London boroughs will receive around £240m of the uplift) and the national Local Government Association were both largely unimpressed. They point out that realising this increase actually hinges on raising their Council Tax rates – and even then, the additional revenue will not fully offset growing demand for their public services, reduced income from business rates and other fees, not to mention inflationary pressures. These challenges are also starkly outlined in the Mayor’s draft budget for the Greater London Authority (GLA) Group, which as proposed will effectively fall to £19.1bn from £19.6bn (see table on p9 of the consultation document), even though it foresees a hike in the Mayor’s portion of council tax. Ultimately, increasing council taxes and other fees will only add to the disproportionately high cost of living in the capital, which, as per recent polling by Ipsos MORI for London Councils, is now the top issue of concern for Londoners.
GLA HOUSING LATEST
Sadiq Khan has touted evidence of a ‘council housing renaissance’, pointing out that 4,689 new council homes were started in London in the 2020-21 financial year, ‘thanks to the Mayor’s Building Council Homes for Londoners programme’. He compares that to 774 starts in the final year of his predecessor’s term, asserting that ‘London has not seen municipal homebuilding on this scale for more than 40 years.’ All of which is indeed very positive, as is data collected by EG Radius on the pipeline of new housing proposed by London boroughs, which indicates that they submitted plans for 9,383 homes in 2021, up from 7,670 in 2020, if somewhat below the 11,043 homes proposed in 2019.
Separately, following a consultation last year, the GLA has adopted a new expanded list of key workers in its Housing Policy Practice Note ‘Allocating intermediate homes to London’s key workers’ – a long list of occupations in sectors from education, to ‘food and necessary goods’ that corresponds, in London, to almost 30% of working people. However, the Mayor himself admits that City Hall ‘does not have a direct role in allocating intermediate homes in London’ and clarifies that the new list will be used to ‘encourage’ local authorities and housing providers to build the new London-wide list into their allocation policies for intermediate housing.’ (e.g. shared ownership and London Living Rent).
Meanwhile – and looking ahead – we are eagerly awaiting the outcome of an independent review, commissioned by the Mayor and led by Lord Kerslake, into ‘how the GLA Group could further improve and streamline housing delivery.’ In response to a question by Conservative AM Tony Devenish in mid-December, the Mayor said initial findings from the review would be provided to City Hall ‘before the end of this year’ and Khan himself ‘committed to publishing the Kerslake Review in early 2022, alongside [his] full response’. The review is, critically, expected to inform the Mayor’s plans for a GLA-owned development arm.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Members of the North London Waste Authority’s board have voted to approve Acciona as the main contractor for the £1.2bn redevelopment of the Edmonton incinerator. The scheme secured planning permission in 2017 and preparatory construction works are already underway.
- While we’re in Edmonton, Enfield council has approved LCA client Crosstree Real Estate Partners’ plans for more than 1,400 homes at Edmonton Green, as part of a wider town centre regeneration scheme that also incorporates a new market hall, shops, leisure facilities, community spaces and new green public spaces.
- Tower Hamlet’s planning committee refused Alliance Property Asia’s plans to build a £450m, 280,000 sq ft office-led scheme within Whitechapel’s conservation zone, due to environmental and heritage concerns, against officers’ recommendation.
- Sellar has secured planning consent for the redevelopment of Grand Union House in Camden – an extensive refurbishment and redevelopment of the six-storey building to provide 70,000 sq ft of workspace.
- Kingston councillors have approved a hybrid application for the first phase of redevelopment of the Cambridge Road Estate, by a partnership between the council itself and Countryside Properties. It includes detailed permission for 452 homes and various amenities, commercial space and similar, plus outline permission for 1,718 additional homes and 1,000 square metres of flexible retail/commercial floorspace.
- Central Group and Signa, the new owners of Selfridges, have revealed plans for the redevelopment of the iconic department store on Oxford Street – aside from revamping the store and its food hall, the scheme includes plans for a new luxury hotel and serviced apartments.
- Residents' ballots late in the year approved demolition and redevelopment plans for two housing estates . People living in the Carpenters Estate in Stratford have voted in favour of plans by Populo Living (Newham Council’s housing arm), while residents of Enfield’s Joyce Avenue and Snells Park estates have also voted in support of plans by the council.
- Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander has resigned, citing personal reasons. She has been succeeded by former London Labour MEP Seb Dance – though she will stay on as member of the TfL Board and continue to chair TfL’s Elizabeth Line Committee until the central section of the line opens sometime this year.
- Another former Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, has been selected as Labour’s Mayoral candidate for Croydon for the May 2022 election. Shawcross is no stranger to the borough, and was leader there from 1997 to 2000. The Conservative opposition selected their Council Group Leader, Cllr Jason Perry, as their candidate back in October.
- In other selections news, the Camden New Journal has the lowdown on a ‘tactical move’ by the head of the Tory opposition Oliver Cooper, who is apparently running in Belsize instead of his current Hampstead Town seat. The newspaper has also covered the continuing ‘exodus’ of sitting Labour councillors and allegations of ‘deselections’ from the ruling party’s group.
- City of London member for Aldgate and Deputy Chair of City Bridge Trust Dhruv Patel OBE has stepped down from his Corporation roles to ‘prioritise other pastures’.
- In Barking & Dagenham, equalities champion – and the first woman of Caribbean origin to hold the post of mayor in the borough – Cllr Sanchia Alasia is stepping down from the council ‘with immediate effect’ after taking a role as acting director of equality, diversity and inclusion at London South Bank University.
- The Bexley Conservatives’ Cllr Adam Wildman has left his party’s council group to sit as an Independent after it emerged that he was present at the now-infamous December 2020 Christmas party held by the campaign of former Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey. He now sits as an Independent. OnLondon has the latest.
- Mark Worthington has been reappointed as the independent HS2 Construction Commissioner for a further three years.
- The Arch Company has appointed Craig McWilliam as its new Chief Executive and John Robson as its new Asset Management director, effective this week.
- Lord Richard Rogers, the architect behind the Millennium Dome and other major projects in London and further afield has sadly passed away, at the age of 88.
- A kaleidoscopic array of Londoners were awarded in the Queen’s New Years’ Honours – the Romford Recorder has published a list of leading Londoners included in the roll, the Ham & High has honed in on the Camdenites, while Inside Housing has the lowdown on housing sector figures honoured this year. Most notably, Trevor Phillips, who made his name as a leading London broadcaster in the 1980s and 1990s, has been knighted.
Sadiq Khan is not the only politician with renaissance on the mind, as Michael Gove is reportedly seeking inspiration from 15th century Italy to deliver the elusive levelling-up agenda. History buffs may be impressed, but in the here and now, we remain in the dark on the substance of the Government’s keystone policy agenda, no less than two years after it was elected. It’s no wonder then, that the latest polling on the matter by YouGov has found widespread confusion about what levelling up actually means: a quarter of Britons polled have never heard of it, half have heard the term ‘but either have no idea what it means or are not completely sure’ and only a quarter ‘say they know exactly what levelling up means’. More’s the pity, then, that the publication of the long-promised and repeatedly-delayed Levelling Up White Paper is now reportedly ‘more likely to be published later this month’, as Government departments are tied up with fighting Omicron and wrangling over funding. As underlined by public policy experts from Centre for London’s Nick Bowes to the Institute for Government’s Gemma Tetlow, local government in particular will need guidance, tools, and resources to start implementing the levelling up agenda before the next general election in 2024 – oh and time, which is fast running out.
This white paper is not the only major item seemingly stuck in Gove’s outbox as we enter 2022: a rental reform white paper and the nebulous Planning Bill are also still in-the-works, expected sometime this year, while the Building Safety Bill is still inching its way through Parliament – and there's more, to be covered in future editions.
The above is not to say that nothing is being done at 2 Marsham Street – the HQ of Gove’s department. Far from it. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has released its responses to key consultations (here and here) relating to the Future Homes Standard and Future Buildings Standard, which pave the way for changes to building regulations. These will require that a range of residential and other buildings be designed to reduce overheating, improve ventilation, and have a lower carbon footprint than currently required. DLUHC has also announced changes to planning rules, which mean that hospitality businesses will no longer need planning permission to put up marquees, while councils will similarly no longer need planning permission to hold an outdoor market. These changes were first introduced last year as a temporary measure and are now being made permanent following a public consultation. Separately, it is worth noting that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has launched a consultation on proposals for changes to building regulations, that would ensure ‘next generation’ gigabit broadband is installed in new homes ‘as standard practice’.
Another area where the Government is moving with greater alacrity is enforcement. Following action by the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) several major developers of leasehold homes have agreed to amend practices deemed “unfair” by regulators – Taylor Wimpey being the latest to agree that its current and future leaseholders will no longer be subjected to ground rents that double every 10 years, among other commitments (NB. as stated by the CMA itself, it should not be assumed that Taylor Wimpey’s practices breached the law per se). And back to Gove, the Housing Secretary has signalled that Rydon Homes – sister company to a contractor involved in the installation of dangerous cladding on Grenfell Tower – has been banned from the Help to Buy scheme following ‘concerns over unacceptable business practices in their company group’ which have emerged at the Grenfell Inquiry.
Sadly, last week saw the number of teenage homicides in London during 2021 rise to 30. It’s a horrific tally, whatever the number, but made all the worse by being the highest annual figure in 18 years, according to analysis by the BBC. In his response, the Mayor explained that ‘since before the pandemic, the level of knife crime and youth violence in London has been decreasing meaning fewer violent attacks, fewer victims in hospital and fewer young offenders’ but that, ‘sadly, due to the increasing ferocity of the attacks, this hasn’t yet translated to fewer teenage homicides.’ The Met Police’s crime statistics dashboard shows how difficult it is to discern clear patterns in the trajectory of crime figures and offers no insight on the causes. This is where the Mayor’s latest activity appears to be focused; City Hall, the Met and three boroughs are developing a new scheme for tackling drug-related crime among young people. The Telegraph has branded it as ‘effectively decriminalising use of cannabis’, saying also that it is Khan ‘on a collision course with the Government and Labour leadership’, but City Hall has since clarified that this is a limited pilot scheme, which aims to ‘provide young people with support and education, rather than simply putting them through the criminal justice system.’
SELLING INTO 2022
In December, our team was busy flying the corporate flag for our many wonderful clients. So much so, that senior executives representing LCA clients made up no less than half of the people featured in Building’s lookahead to 2022, highlighting the industry’s hopes and fears for the year ahead. If that’s not a good start to the year, we don’t know what is. In other media news, Dezeen is the latest publication to feature Claywood, a new home in Hampshire for a wheelchair user and her family designed by LCA client Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt. The project was also featured in The Times and Grand Designs magazine and won House of the Year at the British Homes Awards.
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