LCA is proud to see client Harlequin FC make history at the weekend as the club’s Ladies’ team set a new British record for the biggest ever crowd at a women’s club rugby match, beating Richmond in the process – within a week of International Women’s Day.
Elsewhere, 28 of London's 32 borough councils are raising their Council Tax and/or their Social Care Precept, the London Mayor’s media machine pushes ever onwards with Sadiq this time making headlines from across the pond, and affordable housebuilding in the capital – proceeding unevenly across the city - receives a boost in the Spring Statement delivered yesterday by the Chancellor.
Also in this edition, we look at the latest polling and developments ahead of the May elections, which seemingly spell more good news for Labour and another bad week for the Conservatives.
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CASH FOR HOUSES
At yesterday’s Spring Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond said that £1.7bn of the government’s affordable housing grant will go to London, to enable the construction of an additional 26,000 affordable homes in the capital by the end of 2021-22 – contributing to the delivery of a total of 116,000. According to early reports, this corresponds to a full half of the £3.4bn of government funds spent nationally on boosting affordable housing to 2022. This allocation – which actually amounts £1.67bn according to a subsequent press release by the Ministry for Housing, Local Government and Communities - does not represent a fresh pot of funding, but seems to draw on the £2bn for social housing pledged by the Prime Minister during the Conservative Party Conference in October 2017, and the £1.4bn of additional housing grant announced by Hammond in his Autumn Statement way back in 2016. For its part, City Hall is not impressed. Sadiq’s initial reaction, as cited by the housing sector press, is that the funding ‘does not go anywhere near far enough’ to tackle London’s housing needs, as it estimates that it needs £2.7bn on an annual basis to meet the capital’s requirements. As is often the case with such announcements, the numbers cited – by all sides – should be closely scrutinised before one reaches hasty conclusions. But whatever the exact scale or provenance of the funds, they do represent a much-needed commitment to affordable housing in the capital from the Government and have been welcomed as such by the sector, as reflected by announcements from the British Property Federation and the National Housing Federation.
There are days when one wonders whether City Hall’s press officers ever sleep or, indeed, whether the Mayor himself does. Housing aside, his latest announcements touch upon everything from tackling violence against women to supporting those affected by the tram tragedy at Sandilands, Croydon, in November 2016. Sadiq, it appears, also felt the need to burnish his ‘standing up to big business’ credentials this week. On Monday, he travelled all the way to Texas to bang the drum for London as a tech and innovation hub, but his speaking slot at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference focussed on warning web-based companies that Britain’s capital is no regulatory Wild West and that they must ‘play by the rules.’ Closer to home, Sadiq and Southwark Council’s Labour leader Peter John have jointly called on the owners of Dulwich Hamlet FC's ground to sell the site, asserting that there is ‘virtually no prospect’ of an acceptable redevelopment scheme while the developer remains in control of the Champion Hill stadium. Sadiq and John suggested that the site be sold by Meadow Residential to one of ‘a number of interested parties’ or even the Council itself, to ‘safeguard’ the future of the football club. Meadow has struggled to get the redevelopment of the site off the ground and this intervention by both the local council and City Hall will do little to advance the developer's plans for a £80million housing scheme on-site. It is worth noting that in a public statement, Meadow has asserted, inter alia, that Dulwich Hamlet FC has committed ‘repeated breaches of their licence agreement’ even though Meadow itself has paid off the Club’s debts to the HMRC and utilities, allowed it to use the ground rent-free and even subsidised its day-to-day operations. Meadow further asserts that while it has offered to replace the current ground with a new stadium as well as build new housing on the site, the Council has repeatedly opposed it’s plans ‘for unknown reasons’.
Hear ye hear ye: If you live in one of London’s 32 boroughs, your council tax bill is most probably going up from next month. All of the capital’s 32 borough councils going to the polls on 3 May have now passed their budgets for 2018/19. Of these, 28 are raising council tax, their Social Care Precept, or both. Since 2015, English councils have been empowered to levy the latter of the two taxes, the proceeds of which are earmarked specifically to fund adult social care services. Only four London boroughs are freezing tax rates - Hammersmith & Fulham (Lab), Newham (Lab), Hillingdon (Con), and Kingston (Con). This echoes boroughs’ tax decisions for 2017/18, which saw 29 raise taxes and only 3 freeze them, but it contrasts sharply with the lead up to the 2014 local elections when only six boroughs raised their taxes, 24 froze them and two even reduced them. The latest London polls, by YouGov for Queen Mary University and Lord Ashcroft, indicate that Council Tax rates continue to be among the ‘Top 5’ issues influencing Londoners’ voting behaviour. But Lord Ashcroft’s polling also indicated that hikes are becoming less of a red flag for many voters, especially where local services are obviously strained by central government cuts. In any event, the fact that 88% of London boroughs decided to raise council taxes in an election year reflects how dire local government finances have become.
FOR ALL TO SEE
The GLA has published a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, containing the consultation responses of several London Boroughs to the Mayor’s draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which was published in February. The responses were all submitted around a year ago and include documents from Barnet (Con), Bexley (Con), Brent (Lab), the City of London (n/a), Ealing (Lab), Hackney (Lab), Haringey (Lab), Harrow (Lab), Kingston (Lab), Lambeth (Lab), Wandsworth (Con) and Westminster (Con). It is notable that councils of all political stripes expressed scepticism about introducing a city-wide requirement to offer residents affected by estate regeneration a ballot on development plans. These include Conservative-controlled Westminster, as well as Labour-led Hackney, Harrow and Lambeth. While all agreed that meaningful consultation with residents is always necessary, they cautioned against simple ‘yes/no’ referenda on highly complex regeneration projects, which are often crucial to delivering the new homes needed by Londoners.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has announced that Neil Basu will be taking over as head of counter-terrorism operations in England replacing the incumbent Assistant Commissioner for specialist operations, Mark Rowley, who is retiring on 21 March. Basu is currently Senior National Coordinator for counter terrorism policing and the outgoing Rowley’s deputy. Meanwhile, Nick Moberly will be stepping down as Chief Executive of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust at the end of April. Moberly’s decision follows the resignation of King’s College hospital board Chair Bob Kerslake and NHS Improvement’s (NHSI) decision to place the trust under financial special measures in December last year. The hospital, which treats 1.5 million patients a year across several sites in Southeast London and Kent, has faced significant financial difficulties in recent years. Crossrail Limited, which is charged with the construction of the Elizabeth Line, has for its part announced that Chief Executive Andrew Wolstenholme OBE is stepping down after seven years as part of the planned demobilisation of its delivery and leadership team. Wolstenholme will be succeeded by Programme Director Simon Wright OBE, who will hold both posts as Crossrail completes its remaining works. And starting this April, London First’s former planning and development programme director Sara Parkinson will be joining housebuilder Galliford Try's regeneration arm, Galliford Try Partnerships, to lead on planning.
The Chancellor’s Spring Statement was not, to be fair, expected to deliver much in the way of additional funding. But the housing sector was keenly awaiting an interim report from Sir Oliver Letwin’s independent review of build out panel. But here too, the results are somewhat disappointing, as the Conservative MP for West Dorset has limited his report to a four-page ‘preliminary update’. In this letter, he explains that he has thus far focused on the question of why build out takes as long as it does on large sites developed by large housebuilders once they have secured planning permission. He lists several ‘commercial and industrial constraints’ widely cited as the reasons for holding back build out and commits to examining each of these in detail. But he tellingly suggests that he believes the ‘fundamental driver’ of build out rates in these cases is most likely ‘absorption rate’. He defines this as the rate at which housebuilders believe newly constructed homes can be sold into the local market ‘without materially disturbing the market price’. Letwin also notably goes on to say, inter alia, that ‘there are limited opportunities for rivals to enter large sites and compete for customers’. Looking ahead, Letwin aims to publish a Draft Analysis by the end of June, containing ‘only a description of the problem and of its causes’. This will be put out for comments from interested parties and experts, before he formulates his recommendations from the summer onwards and produces a Final Report in time for the Autumn Budget.
Conservative-led Richmond Council’s plans to redevelop the Twickenham Riverside site have been approved by its Planning Committee. But the proposed development, which has been the subject of heated local and political debate for over 10 years, is still subject to further examination by the Environmental Agency, which expressed reservations to the plans due to their impact on existing flood defences. While the project is nowhere near as large as any of the capital’s major development projects – it will replace a local swimming pool with 39 apartments, some shops and parking spots – it has generated considerable controversy among local residents, as well as fierce criticism by the Liberal Democrat opposition. Even Conservative Councillors who voted in favour of the plans reportedly expressed concerns about the affordable housing provisions - only 15% - and its design. With the Mayor’s new London Plan set to task Richmond with the delivery of 8,110 new homes between 2019 and 2029, the strong reactions to this relatively small, council-led project remind us of how difficult meeting such targets will be.
HAVERING AT THE FOREFRONT
Across the city in another outer London borough, Havering – which is led by a coalition of Conservatives and independent groups – has used the opportunity of the MIPIM conference in Cannes to unveil its joint venture (JV) partner for a £1bn scheme to regenerate 12 council estates over the next 12 years. Wates Residential has been selected as Havering’s preferred bidder to transform the borough's current housing stock of 856 homes and deliver 3,112 homes of mixed tenure, of which about 40% will be affordable - increasing the number of general needs rented homes from 414 to 694, and the total number of affordable homes from 595 to 1,186. The project will be co-funded by the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA), £33m in grants from the GLA, and the developer. While Wates are confident of estate residents’ support – and are guaranteeing their right to return as well as replacing all affordable housing on a like-for-like basis – it remains to be seen whether GLA funding will also require a residents’ ballot.
MIXED MESSAGES FROM TFL
The latest news from London’s transport authority continues to provide a medley of concerning and exciting developments. On the downside, City A.M. and the Standard have highlighted a recently-published TfL finance report which suggest passenger numbers and fare income are lower than budgeted for the year to date on both rail (-5%) and Tube (-4%), though these appear to have been offset by the achievement of savings in operating costs. Meanwhile, the operator of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) KeolisAmey Docklands and transport workers’ union RMT are in talks after the latter threatened to go on strike during the London Marathon on Sunday 22 April. If these fail and the strike goes ahead, runners and spectators could be significantly inconvenienced, while the Mayor would have to unhappily amend his tally of transport strikes averted (in which he takes great pride). On the development side, TfL has selected Native Land as its preferred joint venture partner for the prime land around its South Kensington station – a scheme which, along with other land redevelopment projects, will be crucial to propping up the authority’s finances.
WEST HAM AND THE LONDON STADIUM
The disputes between the tenants, managers, fans and owners of the London Stadium took on a new twist last weekend, as pitch invasions and protests repeatedly interrupted West Ham’s match against Burnley. The game ended in a 3-0 defeat for the Hammers, who are facing a possible fine from the Football Association. It appears that the team’s occupancy of the stadium continues to bring little more than grief to everyone involved. City Hall and the London Legacy Development Corporation Authority have been calling foul on their lossmaking deal with West Ham. West Ham fans are unhappy with the move to the former Olympic Stadium and ‘the subsequent lack of investment in the playing squad’ which is leading to poor on-pitch performances. The football club’s owners accuse the stadium’s proprietors of not allowing them to use its seating capacity in full and complain that not enough has been invested in security. Newham Council has already pulled out of the stadium’s management, but remains the certifying authority.
LABOUR ON A WAR FOOTING
As seen in previous weeks, Labour continues to poll strongly. The latest Survation poll (detailed results here) on behalf of the GMB labour union, released only this week, saw Labour leap ahead in general election voting intention to 43.9% against 37% for the Conservatives nationally. The poll surveyed a relatively small sample people in London itself (113 locally, compared to the 1,038 surveyed nationally) and focused on national, not local electoral intentions. But it is indicative that general election voting intention in favour of Labour for respondents in London specifically was found to be 53.8%, against 27.5% for the Conservatives. The party does not, however, seem content to rest on its laurels. Local branches in places such as Ealing have been busily hashing out their manifestos for the election. And across town, in Newham, the open selection process for Labour’s Mayoral candidate in the borough will conclude this Friday. Incumbent Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales is squaring up to his colleague and challenger, Councillor Rokhsana Fiaz, in an internal contest which appears to have seen hard campaigning and strong words. While seemingly confident of its own success, Labour is set on fighting hard for a win in London – whether on the doorstep in marginal Conservative wards and boroughs, or in its own local branches in councils where it already rules supreme.
CONSERVATIVES ON THE BACK FOOT
It has, conversely, not been a good week for the Conservatives. The party itself is now well aware of its own weaknesses in London. And if unfavourable demographic shifts, metropolitan opposition to Brexit and general fatigue with almost a decade of Tory-led governments in Whitehall wasn’t enough, recent developments have done little to reassure the party. In Westminster - now widely considered a marginal borough - Deputy Leader Councillor Robert Davis, has ‘stood aside’ from his leadership roles after questions were raised about his receiving corporate gifts and hospitality in the Guardian. And the local press has cited sources within the local party which claim that ‘at least 10’ Tory councillors will not stand for re-election due to ‘discontent’ with the leadership. Meanwhile in Richmond, where the Conservatives are facing a very visible and campaigning Liberal Democrat opposition, a Tory Councillor has been forced to resign (and stand down from her candidacy in the upcoming elections) after a heated exchange with a resident on the doorstep, in which she allegedly made ‘culturally insensitive’ comments. Conservative campaigners on the ground are certainly beating the pavements and fighting the good fight for their party and many senior Tories are doing their best to put on a positive face and grapple with the issues concerning Londoners, such as Tory MEP Syed Kamal, who recently penned an article on the housing crisis for City A.M. But is it too late and will it be enough?
LIB DEMS: REACHING OUT
The Liberal Democrats have been trying to reach out to new audiences ahead of the May elections. Last week Sir Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham, and his party made a play to woo London’s European vote - announcing a social media campaign to be released in 21 European languages. In doing so, the party is aiming to attract EU citizens registered to vote in UK local elections for the last time, by amplifying its message that it is the only party campaigning to stop Brexit. The Liberal Democrats’ focus on courting European voters is also happening in parallel with efforts by the party to renew its image and expand its core voter base. In an interview given to the Evening Standard, Sir Vince described his own party’s ‘lack of effort to diversify’ to date and his hope that it will put forward an ethnic minority candidate for the 2020 elections for the Mayor of London. While it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are attempting to remould the party in order to better reflect London, and the country’s, demographics, it may also be risking its hold on its own heartland. Speaking at his party’s Spring Conference this weekend, Sir Vince controversially appeared to suggest older voters were driven to vote for Brexit by nostalgia for a world where ‘faces were white’. But a careful look at voting patterns during the EU Referendum indicates that 53.7% voted in favour of Brexit in Liberal Democrat-controlled Sutton – one of only five London boroughs to vote Leave and the only borough the party currently holds. Perhaps this serves as a reminder that all parties have a fine line to tread between the language of accommodation and alienation in the capital.
Following dire general election results in 2017 and the prospect of a similar performance to follow in the capital’s local elections this May, it would appear UKIP’s status as a political party is being questioned by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on the basis it has never sent an elected MP to parliament. As the press has noted, HMRC considers political parties as eligible to claim tax relief when they have elected two MPs at the last general election or at least one MP and 150,000 votes. According to the relevant media reports, the HMRC has made this argument in court, where it is seeking to force UKIP donor Arron Banks to pay £300,000 of tax on a £1m donation he gave to the party prior to the 2015 general elections. It is worth noting that UKIP actually has been represented by three MPs, though all defected from the Conservatives and none have been elected under its own banner. The pro-Brexit party also won the 2014 European elections and sent no less than 23 MEPs to Brussels. But in London, UKIP currently has two London Assembly Members and elected a mere 12 councillors across the city in 2014. Now polling weakly, it does not appear likely to perform strongly this May.
HARLEQUIN LADIES BREAK RECORDS
On Saturday 10 March, LCA client Harlequin FC set a new British record for the biggest ever crowd at a women’s club rugby match. In an exciting local derby, Harlequins Ladies took on Richmond FC at The Stoop and dramatically came from behind to secure victory. The fixture, which attracted over 4,540 fans, was organised just two days after International Women’s Day and in support of the ‘Press for Progress’ campaign, which strives for parity and equality in sport. Members of England Women’s gold medal hockey-winning team in Rio also attended, along with Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies and other elite women’s athletes. The event has attracted national media coverage and is just one of the ways the Club has been working to develop both the reach of the game and its positive impact on the local community.
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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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