“Imagine you are stuck in a lift, you’re not too many floors up so not too worried about an imminent plummet but you are mildly inconvenienced because, say, you have a live media appearance to get to. Imagine then that the doors open, hooray, you’re free and ready to spin, you stride across the newsroom floor…but then it seems the producer has gone home and the microphones don’t work.
That might be how it feels when the working from home guidance is lifted – hopefully in the next few weeks as the threat of Omicron abates – and Londoners, rushing from their homes in search of culture and camaraderie are met with station closures and train delays.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, do read on to find out about how Michael Gove found himself trapped in a lift this Monday (kudos to the comms advisor who fed him the ‘you’ve levelled me up line’) and about just how bad things are for London’s transport authority.
You’ll also be pleased to know that LCA is, as always, doing our bit for culture, camaraderie and progress – this week we helped announce the shortlist for forthcoming major revamp of the Barbican Centre.”
LDN Editor and LCA Board Director Jenna Goldberg
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Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove played big on the cladding crisis this week – but questions have been raised about how strong his hand really is. In a now-familiar pattern for this Government, the announcement began with an avalanche of media reports over the weekend, followed on Monday morning by not one but two press releases, plus an open ‘letter to the residential property developer industry’ and an eventful set of media appearances. The Secretary of State only then made his way to Commons to make a statement and field questions from MPs – eliciting a stern rebuke from the Speaker of the Commons, who requested an inquiry into how the announcement was ‘leaked’ to the press before MPs had a chance to hear from the Government on its plans.
So what was all the fuss about? Gove announced a new package of measures, centred on ensuring that no leaseholders in buildings of between 11 and 18 metres have to pay for £4bn-worth of remediation works - in the process, scrapping his predecessor’s plan for supporting leaseholders through loans. The package actually involves several measures, but Gove himself has focused on a commitment to ‘make industry pay’, mostly by means of… threats. Specifically, Gove is giving industry a ‘deadline of early March’ for a ‘fully funded plan of action’ – and will convene a meeting with ‘20 of the largest housebuilders and developer trade bodies’ to get the ball rolling. He ominously ‘warns he will take all steps necessary to make this happen,’ but only vaguely alludes to ‘restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers and the pursuit of companies through the courts [and] if necessary impos[ing] a solution in law.’
The announcement did trigger a drop in listed housebuilders’ share prices and at least one company (Vistry) has subsequently pledged to ‘work with’ the Government. But as per a variety of reactions – from Redrow and the House Builders’ Federation, RIBA, commentators in the press, specialist trade journals, Labour and others – Gove’s big play seems to be a bit of a gamble, especially in the absence of substantive legislative and tax measures.
STRIKES AND WORKS LATEST
Working from home guidance and other restrictions may well be lifted before the end of the month – the review is set for 26 January – but actually getting to work (and other destinations) may prove tricky. On Monday, members of the RMT union overwhelmingly voted in favour of holding strikes in opposition to proposed job cuts and changes to pensions, which are being considered as a cost-saving measure as TfL continues to battle its pandemic-induced financial troubles. These strikes are separate to those currently being held by RMT members over changes to the rotas for the Night Tube, which partially reopened in December. The union has confirmed that drivers will continue to strike on the Central and Victoria lines every Friday and Saturday until June. Regular users of the Northern line are also facing disruption, with the ongoing upgrade of Bank station meaning that the line will be closed between Kennington and Moorgate for a total of four months. TfL has warned that other Tube lines will be busier than usual as a result, while stations including London Bridge are expected to be ‘exceptionally busy’.
...AND MORE TFL TROUBLES
The above is a drop in the ocean of TfL’s troubles though, as it struggles to keep services running and negotiate a new funding settlement with Government by 4 February. Following the resignation of Heidi Alexander as Deputy Mayor for Transport before Christmas, it has now been announced that after four years, TfL’s Chief Financial Officer Simon Kilonback will be stepping down in April to take on a new role. His successor has not yet been announced. And while TfL is sticking by its assertion that the first half of the year will see the long-awaited opening of the central section of the Elizabeth Line, a new report by Jacobs has indicated that a push by TfL for that very central section to open in March could actually put the opening schedule of the full line at risk.
LONDON PLANNING UPDATE
- Lambeth councillors have rejected plans by Squire & Partners for a nine-storey residential building, providing nine homes, near Waterloo Station, which had been recommended for approval – a relatively small scheme, but notable as it was was rejected by councillors due to its proximity to the Old Vic, which is Grade-II listed.
Countryside and L&Q have been granted permission to add a further 215 homes to the Acton Gardens development, which will now include a total of almost 3,500 homes. In addition to the new homes, the latest phase of the scheme will also include new gardens and public spaces, with existing allotments reconfigured and enlarged.
- Plans by Viewpoint Estates for a 17-storey building in Southgate, delivering 216 homes (31% affordable), have been approved by a planning inspector. The plans were rejected by Enfield Council in 2020, but the developer appealed the decision and an inquiry took place in September 2021.
- Barnet Council has approved plans for the Hendon Hub development, brought forward by the Council and Middlesex University for the redevelopment of The Burroughs to deliver new student accommodation, community facilities including a public library, teaching facilities and new homes.
- Tower Hamlets councillors are set to make a decision on plans for a 52-storey residential skyscraper proposed for Canary Wharf tomorrow. The proposals, for 421 homes (100 of which will be affordable) have been recommended for approval by officers.
- Matt Bell has joined the team at Heatherwick Studio in Kings Cross as Strategic Communications Director, after two years as Corporate Affairs Director at Grosvenor.
- In case you missed it (see this issue’s second story), TfL Chief Financial Officer Simon Kilonback is leaving London’s transport authority in April.
- Deborah Turness has been appointed as BBC News’ CEO, while Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg has announced that she will step down as the BBC’s Political Editor at Easter.
- And in other media moves, News UK’s latest venture, TalkTV, has announced a list of big names joining the programme, including Piers Morgan and Tom Newton Dunn.
With three and-a-half months to go until the London Borough elections on 5 May, our political antennae are picking up ever more movement. We’re starting to see some interesting speculation, with the Evening Standard publishing Tory strategist Lord Hayward’s early take and OnLondon’s Dave Hill issuing his first reading of the tea leaves. Both agree that the Tories are looking especially vulnerable in Wandsworth and to a lesser extent in Westminster, Barnet and Hillingdon, though they also note that expectations of a Labour takeover in 2018 proved to be off the mark. Also, while Hayward focuses on a seemingly possible (on the basis of national polling) doomsday scenario for the Conservative Party in London, in which it could be left with only three boroughs, Hill underlines that there are some boroughs where ‘the Conservatives are the hunters and Labour the game’. Meanwhile, activity on the ground is intensifying, with candidate selections in full swing – as ever, the Camden New Journal has the lowdown on the latest in their patch. Local parties are already canvasing hard and pondering their platforms, with Ealing Labour having recently published a pre-manifesto “values” document and Tower Hamlets Labour discussing theirs earlier this month.
THE TELEGRAPH'S BEEF
The Daily Telegraph seems to have a lasting grudge against the current Mayor of London – and a particular penchant for taking it out on the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). Two recent reports by the newspaper take aim at the LLDC’s stewardship of its major development schemes and of the London Stadium respectively and it’s worth a closer look at the allegations. On the one hand, The Telegraph cites unspecified ‘wider concerns about the future of the Olympic Park’, which has experienced (equally unspecified) ‘ongoing problems with the construction of new homes’. As if the LLDC is the only landowner struggling with the viability of schemes at a time of supply chain disruption, increasing build costs and labour shortages. On the other, The Telegraph has made a splash about how the London Stadium has ‘cost taxpayers an extra £30m last year’ and ‘£450m in the five years to March 2020’ gently implying that this is because its owner (the LLDC, via its E20 subsidiary) has ‘struggled to agree naming rights for the former Olympics venue’. One has to get to the end of the article to hear the LLDC’s side of the story, which is that an agreement signed in 2013, under the previous Mayor, remains by far the greatest constraint on its ability to cut costs…
BTR'S BUMPER CROP
All signs point to Build to Rent (BTR) as one of the residential development sector’s rising stars. According to research by CBRE, investors ‘poured a record amount of cash’ into the UK’s BTR sector last year, to the tune of £4.1bn, almost £500m more than the previous record in 2020. The funds are flowing in from a variety of domestic, but especially international investors, with The Telegraph covering the notable presence of US hedge funds and private equity. Estates Gazette has meanwhile highlighted 50 individuals – professionals from across the built environment sector – who ‘made their mark’ in the BTR in 2021, featuring (among others) representatives of numerous LCA clients, including Lendlease, British Land and Quintain. To get to grips with this important sector, we recommend the British Property Federation’s range of resources on the subject, from their dedicated members’ committee, to their annual residents’ surveys and their breathtakingly detailed map of projects across all stages the development pipeline.
BARBICAN SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED
LCA worked with the City of London Corporation to announce the five shortlisted teams for a major £50-150 million revamp of London’s Grade II-listed Barbican Centre. The two-stage competition launched in September, almost 40 years after the cultural complex first opened at the heart of the Barbican Estate. The Barbican Renewal will cover all aspects of the building, from upgrading venues and transforming underused areas into new flexible spaces, to improving the welcome, navigating and wayfinding, while also looking at ways to embed digital technology and upgrading environmental performance in line with the City of London Corporation's aim to become carbon-neutral by 2027. The news was shared by none other than The Architect’s Journal and The Evening Standard.
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