'It says something about the circles we run in that there has been a buzz in the air today.
Phrases heard in LDN Towers today include ‘Levelling up day is finally here’, ‘I don’t want the release, I want the full report’ and ‘we’ve been waiting for this for so long’.
With expectations like that, we were obviously going to be disappointed and of course, we were braced for the White Paper to sacrifice London in an effort to play to the imagined braying crowds in other towns and regions.
The truth is of course that this ‘London versus the Rest’ set up is a false premise, a culture war with a catchy name and a generous budget (or not so generous, as the case may be). And the good news is that the media and stakeholder reception seems pretty wise to that fact.
In the short-term the question is, will this save Boris’ skin, or at least buy him more time? In the long-term, will London transcend this casting as the ‘big bad’ to ensure investment reaches the communities that need it, even if they happen to live near a Tube station?
And on that note, TfL’s latest funding deal runs out this Friday. Without a new, sustainable deal it may be that living near a tube station doesn’t mean much at all anyway.'
LDN Editor and LCA Board Director Jenna Goldberg
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PUT IT IN THE MICROWAVE
Boris Johnson has fulminated about ‘levelling up’ Britain’s left-behind communities since entering No 10 in mid-2019. Two and a half eventful years later, after multiple delays and on the back of an extensive media push, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has today made the big reveal. According to his press release and statement in Parliament this afternoon, the Government is marshalling a kaleidoscopic array of policies and funds, across multiple Departments, from education to housing and everything in between, to deliver against the aims of 12 ‘missions’ by 2030. But only two newspapers mentioned the White Paper on their front pages today – tellingly, many chose instead to lead with yet more questionable No 10 parties – and others' reactions have also been mixed.
Speaking for the Opposition, Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy has branded the white paper ‘big slogans with absolutely nothing behind it’, arguing that the vast majority of policies and funding announced are ‘rehashed’ and ‘recycled’. Of course, Nandy would be a sceptic, but she’s not alone. The BBC’s Economics Editor Faisal Islam is one among many veteran journalists to detect holes in Gove's plan, while newspapers from The Independent to The Telegraph have cited ministers using colourful language to describe the paper’s substance (or lack thereof). Meanwhile, the publication of the white paper has (coincidentally?) coincided with that of several separate investigations, by the National Audit Office (NAO), New Economics Foundation and The Guardian, all of which strongly suggest (from a variety of angles) that the Government's approach to levelling up has been, to date, questionable at best.
(NOT) LEVELLING UP LONDON?
As you’d expect, the LDN team has been particularly eager to learn what the white paper heralds for the capital. While we are only beginning to leaf through the 400-or-so pages of the document itself and its technical notes, early indications are not great. Despite previous (and renewed) assurances to the contrary, it does seem that almost all the focus of policy and funding is being shifted away from London and the South East. Indeed, all 11 mentions of London in DLUHC’s initial press release referred either to giving places beyond the capital ‘London-style’ transport or devolution deals, or, to spending that is explicitly highlighted for being allocated ‘outside London’. It also stated, quite clearly (as did Gove in Parliament later in the day), that London will in future receive a smaller share of central government funding for housing and for the arts. Tired resignation was apparent across a brace of pre-emptive communications issued yesterday by key London representatives, including the Mayor, London Councils, the cross party MPs comprising the APPG for London, and Centre for London. Subsequent, early reactions to the published white paper document also range from lukewarm to ice cold - see those of Labour politicians in London including the Mayor; cross-party local government groups London Councils and Central London Forward (see also here); business groups London First and London Chamber of Commerce and Industry; think tank Centre for London; and the Evening Standard's front page. Not hugely surprising, if you consider that the Government has deliberately excluded its own capital city from a strategy of national importance.
(CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION
With that in mind, the Levelling Up white paper would have made for a bad enough week for the Mayor of London… even without the polling. YouGov has released the results of a survey on Londoners’ satisfaction with the Mayor, which suggests that more (48%) say he is doing badly than well (38%) – leading to a -10 rating overall. Even Labour voters appear more likely to think he is doing badly than well on key issues like housing (49% badly to 30% well) and perhaps less surprisingly crime (49% badly to 37% well). That said, Labour voters seem to feel he is doing well overall (52% well to 33% badly) and on this measure he does fare better than his own party's leader Keir Starmer and (less surprisingly) the Prime Minister. Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick also rates poorly, with an equal proportion of Labour and Conservative voters (57%) saying she is doing badly. The last time the Mayor slipped into negative satisfaction rating territory was in 2019 (with one poll finding a rating of about -3). The next Mayoral election is just over two years away so there’s time to fix it yet.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Croydon Council has refused permission for a new co-living scheme. Wittington Investments’ proposals were for around 500 homes in a 28-storey development. Councillors expressed their concerns about the height and the lack of affordable housing.
- Developer Reselton has unveiled a third planning application for the Mortlake Brewery in Richmond. The previous iteration was approved by the Council in January 2020 before being called-in and refused by the Mayor of London in July 2021, amidst local opposition and concerns about the proportion of affordable housing. The new planning application is for over 1,100 new homes (the proportion of affordable is so far undisclosed), leisure and retail facilities, a hotel and new secondary school.
- Lewisham Council has granted permission for LCA client Renewal’s New Bermondsey plans – see Our Week below for the details.
Andrew Percival and Griff Marshalsay have been appointed to the Board of Brick by Brick, Croydon Council’s housing company, to help oversee a wind-down expected to be complete by summer 2023.
Dolphin Living has hired David Stevenson as Regeneration and Development Director.
EcoWorld London has hired Matthew Dearlove as project director.
Sir Patrick Vallance has been announced as the Natural History Museum’s next Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
Angela Knight CBE and Gwyn Burr are set to leave the Taylor Wimpey Board in April.
The National Housing Federation has started the search for a new Chair.
Planning reform is a contentious subject, but there is universal agreement on the need to further embrace the digital world and make planning more accessible. So it’s encouraging to see DLUHC support the development of digital planning technologies with some money and with several councils in London set to receive funding. Havering and Harrow will benefit from £150,000 each to develop more applicant-friendly online platforms. Separately, Camden is receiving £400,000 to join other councils in a trial of apps aimed at speeding up the ‘householder application process’.
In stark contrast, the Government seems to be dragging its feet on virtual planning committee meetings. We all got used to these quickly once Covid hit in 2020, but the emergency regulations that enabled those meetings to take place via Zoom have expired and the system is now, once again, bound by outdated legislation requiring all council meetings to take place in-person. Michael Gove has recently expressed ‘sympathy’ with those calling for legislation to allow ‘hybrid’ council meetings and his department has consulted on plans to do so, but we still await progress.
Last week’s lifting of ‘work from home if you can’ guidance has not magically rewound us to March 2020 – and it seems that settling into the ‘new normal’ will take a while. The latest office occupancy figures and Tube footfall statistics are encouraging, but not all employers will find it easy to tempt workers back to the office. A YouGov survey for the Times has found that almost two in every five people who have been working from home “say that they will never return to the office”, with 71% of those surveyed saying that they generally prefer working from home. A separate survey by messaging app Slack indicates that almost one in three workers are considering changing jobs because their employers are insisting they return to the office, identifying those working in law, IT and telecoms, sales, and media and marketing as ‘most likely to make a move’. Ministers have meanwhile been big on the public sector ‘leading by example’ but there are mixed signals coming from Whitehall. Indeed, despite Ministers’ exhortations, most civil servants are being told to work from home part of the week, and only a couple of weeks ago Government Property Agency’s (GPA) Chief Executive Steven Boyd told Property Week that the government aims to cut its office footprint by ‘at least 25%’ – believing it would work ‘more effectively’ as a result.
There is more excitement about several major fixtures of London’s cultural calendar returning this year. The organisers of Pride in London have announced that the LGBTQ+ community’s annual march will return after two years, to take place on 2 July. The announcement comes just as LGBT History Month begins, with the aim of promoting equality and diversity for the benefit of all. We are also hopeful that the Notting Hill Carnival will make a big return this August. London’s art, design and fashion industries are also gearing up for a fabulous 2022, with London Fashion Week back this month, running from 18 to 22 February 2022 as a ‘digital-physical hybrid’. Looking further ahead, the London Festival of Architecture is due in June, the Festival of Place in July and London Design Week will be back in September. We look forward to seeing our friends, partners and clients out and about!
In the past week, two separate reports have highlighted concerns about the loss of industrial land and logistics space. ‘Making Space: Accommodating London’s industrial future’ produced by the Industrial Land Commission, a group convened by the Centre for London think tank, has found that over the past 20 years, a quarter of London’s industrial space has been released for other uses, resulting in increased land values and rents for businesses. The Commission makes a series of recommendations to stop the further loss of industrial land and recommends urgent action to address the shortage of such land in the capital. On a similar note, a report by Savills and the British Property Federation, ‘Levelling Up – The Logic of Logistics’, has found that a combination of national planning policy and high housing targets have ‘restricted’ the delivery of industrial and logistics space in England. In turn, the report concludes that the development of more logistics space could have wide-ranging socio-economic benefits and spur additional demand.
'LONDONGRAD' ON NOTICE?
Why does the tension between Russia and Ukraine affect London’s property sector? Well, one of the non-military options under consideration by the Government to deter Russian aggression is a threat to freeze the assets of individuals linked to the Russian state’s leadership. And while sceptics have questioned how far the Government is actually willing to go, it is generally estimated that Russian citizens ‘accused of corruption or with ties to the Kremlin’ control about £1.5bn worth of real estate in London alone. This particular situation is also part of a wider perception issue for the capital and the country, whereby London’s property market is seen to be used to ‘launder dirty money’.
DOING GOOD, DOING BETTER
This week, LCA has celebrated 12 months since we committed to becoming a Living Wage Employer – a pledge reinforced through a separate commitment to the PRCA to provide only paid internships. Meanwhile, as part of our efforts to make our workplace even more inclusive and representative of the communities we work in, we are pleased to have signed New London Architecture’s Diverse Leaders Pledge. This commits us to actions and measurable goals spanning recruitment, progression and advocacy over the coming years. Our Pledge comprises 10 specific commitments, from publicly advertising all new vacancies with a salary range and on platforms most likely to attract the greatest possible diversity of candidates, to ensuring that we send balanced representation to all organised networking events.
NEW BERMONDSEY SUCCESS
Last Thursday, we were delighted that our client Renewal secured permission from Lewisham Council’s planning committee for the outline and Phase 1 of the New Bermondsey Masterplan. The Masterplan will transform an underused industrial area in the northernmost tip of Lewisham with 3,500 new homes, including 35% affordable, as well as new jobs and public spaces. It will also enable the delivery of a new London Overground station by TfL. The unanimous approval is also a significant milestone for LCA, after 10+ years of supporting Renewal with community and media engagement, including through the COVID-19 pandemic, since the outline Masterplan was initially approved in 2012. We look forward to seeing this major London regeneration project progress over the coming months. Find out more about Renewal’s plans here.
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