"I’m no expert but the economic outlook seems, well, not good. The warnings are coming thick and fast about an imminent ‘new to a generation’ shock and early tremors are already being felt. Read on to our penultimate story for the facts.
The optimist in me is squinting for silver linings and the best I can come up with is that, at the very least, we are now very well versed in navigating uncertainty.
Take LCA. As an employer we have learned agility through the pandemic and are braced for more change as our team confronts the rising cost of living and a very challenging labour market. As built environment specialists we have been on the frontline with a sector that has had to stop and start and, for an industry not known for its speed or grace under fire, adapt to changing market needs at breakneck pace.
With an injection of fresh blood and energy after the election together with experience hard won through austerity and the pandemic, we can also believe that our public sector is ready for the challenge and we have the latest on the boroughs below.
Having spent the last 24 hours in Leeds with Opportunity London I can at least attest to the fact that across the public and private sector there is a collective sense of responsibility to help London and Londoners navigate this latest challenge through innovation, collaboration and sheer force of love for the capital and its place in the world.”
Jenna Goldberg, LCA Board Director and LDN Editor
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LEADERSHIP LIMBO LATEST
With AGM season now well underway, the boroughs’ political masters – new and old – are in the process of setting out their key personnel and priorities for the next four years:
- Hillingdon was the first out of the blocks, with its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 12 May. The Conservative incumbent Cllr Ian Edwards was reappointed Leader and Cllr Jonathan Bianco his deputy.
- In Greenwich, incumbent Leader Cllr Danny Thorpe was ousted at a meeting of the Labour Group on 11 May. Reportedly beaten by just one vote, Thorpe has been replaced as Leader of the Council by Anthony Okereke, formerly the borough’s Cabinet Member for Housing. Okereke has pledged to increase Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) rates in the borough.
- The new (and first) directly elected Conservative Mayor of Croydon Jason Perry has set out what he has been doing every day since his election; namely, starting a review of the borough’s Local Plan, welcoming newly-elected councillors, tackling graffiti and reopening Purley Pool and Leisure Centre.
- The new Leader of Merton Council Cllr Ross Garrod, who has replaced Mark Allison after he lost his seat, has announced his new Cabinet, saying that the administration will focus on ‘cleaner streets, a greener public realm, more affordable housing and improving opportunities for everyone to be active’.
- The new Labour administration in Westminster has meanwhile said that it will end the Council’s ‘cosy relationship with developers’ and ‘create a fairer and more accessible planning system for residents’.
- Across the Thames, an early announcement from Wandsworth’s new Labour administration has seen the authority become a London Living Wage employer.
The above is but a sample of the movement taking place across London, as the city’s political landscape settles into the new status quo and we will be covering more on this front in the weeks to come. Indeed, as of writing, the Leaders and directly elected Mayors of at least 22 of the 32 boroughs have now been confirmed – whether formally or informally – of whom about nine are new in post.
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
Last week’s Queen’s Speech (via the Prince of Wales) was not, in itself, all that illuminating – but the details released since have given us a lot to chew on. Indeed, the briefing notes provide some further detail and a good 14 Bills have now landed in Parliament’s books. Of these, the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill (instantly dubbed ‘LURB’) will likely be of particular interest to our readers. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together from ragged bits of the Planning Bill that never was, odds and ends of emergency Covid-policy-made-permanent, plus chunks of the flagship Levelling Up White Paper. From the perspective of planning policy, the initial reaction from many was to highlight that the more ambitious parts of the 2020 Planning for the Future White Paper (specifically, a wholesale pivot to a more zoning-based system) have been ‘scrapped’. That is only partly true, as Planning magazine alone highlights no less than 23 (plus six) ways in which the Bill will fundamentally change the system, through measures including a long-trailed Infrastructure Levy that will in time replace Section 106 for all but the biggest planning applications.
From a London perspective, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry indicated that it wanted to see more support for small businesses in the Queen’s Speech, while London First joined the chorus of those saying ‘the decision to slim down planning reforms is disappointing’. The Mayor, clearly occupied with his US tour (more below) perfunctorily complained about the Queen’s Speech not offering more to those struggling with the cost of living and repeated his well-worn call for a rent freeze. Centre for London’s Nick Bowes (more here) and Richard Brown do, thankfully, offer some more nuanced analysis. We and a handful of others have also noticed that ‘LURB’ contains several clauses that amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999, suggesting that it may affect the Mayor of London’s planning powers. When we asked the Housing Minister about these clauses at the National Planning Summit earlier today, his response was equivocal. Later in the day, at the same event, we also asked Chief Planner Joanna Averley how the Bill will affect the Mayor's planning powers - to which she responded: "it won't".
GOVE'S OTHER BOMBS
Speaking of Government intervention in London planning, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s hot streak of holding up schemes in London continues. This time, Gove has issued yet another Article 31 order to halt demolition work at the former ITV headquarters site on London’s South Bank ahead of a possible call in. The order has stopped Mitsubishi Estate and CO-RE’s £400m proposals to redevelop 72 Upper Ground into office space just weeks before demolition works were due to start. Whilst Gove has not provided a reason for his order, there are rumblings that the Government is concerned about the environmental implications of redevelopment where refurbishment might be a more environmentally-friendly option for a site. Having already refused Foster & Partners’ proposals for The Tulip last year and issued an Article 31 order for Marks and Spencer’s plans to demolish and replace its flagship Oxford Street store, Gove is gaining a reputation as the ‘man who likes to say ‘no’’ – leaving developers guessing which scheme is next on his kill list.
Separately, Gove has made a number of other interventions this week – pulling some off better than others. He wrote a piece in the Sunday Mail on the need to ‘repair the broken property ladder and fix our dysfunctional housing market’ and has pledged to shut down the ‘racket of illicit money’ from Russian oligarchs in the property market. He also called on peers to temporarily relocate the House of Lords outside of London, opposing plans to relocated to the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster. However, somewhat bizarrely Gove attempted both a Scouse and American accent during a BBC Breakfast interview on the Government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis, prompting a cheeky remark from former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron that his party are in favour of legalising whatever the Secretary had for breakfast.
BIG SPLIFF ENERGY
Sadiq Khan is back from his US tour just in time to attend the grand opening of the Elizabeth Line’s central section, alongside Her Majesty and the Prime Minister. Since our last edition the Mayor made his way to the West Coast where he met his counterpart in Los Angeles to talk climate change, promoted London’s creative industries in Hollywood, and pitched the capital’s prospects for tech in Silicon Valley. Efforts to bang the drum appear to have landed well generally, though the the second half of his trade mission drew attention for Khan’s ‘fact-finding’ detour to ‘see first-hand the impact on the city since it legalised cannabis in 2016’ and an announcement of former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Lord Charlie Falconer QC as the chair of the ‘first-ever London Drugs Commission’. Subsequent reporting of the trip has focused primarily on how his decriminalisation plans have ticked off Ministers and even his own party.
The furore has also overshadowed an entirely separate piece of rather good news: City Hall’s latest figures suggest that affordable housebuilding starts in London are up to 18,722 for 2021/22 – better than any year since at least 2008/09.
CLOUDS ON THE HORIZON?
It’s hard to ignore the headlines and worrying economic forecasts and recent readings of national and regional economic health do make for grim reading. The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the annual rate of CPI inflation rose to 9% in April, the highest level since 1982, driven by the huge rise in the price of electricity and gas. The former chief economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane has meanwhile said that high inflation rates may remain until 2024 and will be a ‘massive shock’ for a generation. Other economists have advised people to use their savings and increase their borrowing to avoid Britain entering a recession. Meanwhile, in some slightly more positive news, ONS figures have shown that unemployment in the UK has fallen to its lowest rate since 1974. At 3.7%, there are now fewer people unemployed than there are job openings for the first time since records began. As for London specifically, a report by the Legatum Institute has found that there is a higher poverty rate in the capital than the UK average. Approximately 1m Londoners live in ‘deep poverty’ (more than 50% below the poverty line), while 17% of Londoners live in ‘persistent’ poverty, compared to 12% of people outside the capital. Analysis from Bloomberg News has meanwhile shown that the Government’s Levelling Up agenda is ‘going backwards’, with there being little progress made across a number of key socioeconomic metrics.
Our team is well and truly back on the events circuit this month, with a delegation dispatched to Leeds and our Insight Team out and about with its ears to the ground in London. In Leeds, we were with clients and the Opportunity London crew at UKREiif, hosting pub drinks with Darren Rodwell to spread the word about the Opportunity London campaign. Closer to home, we attended Planning magazine’s National Planning Summit in Marble Arch. We heard from an all-star cast of private and public sector planning professionals on everything from net zero to retention in local authority planning departments, as well as the Housing Minister and Chief Planner on the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. We’ve also been busy presenting to our wider network on London’s new political landscape and there is still time to sign up to tomorrow’s London Property Alliance briefing.
LCA SELLS IN
It’s also been an exciting time for those on the front line of media relations at LCA, with the local elections and Queen’s speech offering ripe opportunity for policy comment pieces. Digital democracy and trust and transparency were the hot topics of the day for digital smart cities platform, VU.CITY, with reactive op-eds secured in the Municipal Journal and EG. Meanwhile, our clients marked Mental Health Awareness Week with thought pieces in Building and EG. HKS discussed the importance of biophilic design – a focus on the connection with the natural environment – for promoting mental health while Lendlease underlined the importance of supporting men’s mental health in the workplace, particularly in the construction sector, which has one of the highest rates of suicide in the UK. Elsewhere, we helped to land an opinion piece for Monique Suskmanigsih (Broadway Malyan) in Cities Today, to discuss her work in the regeneration of Dolly, Indonesia; an infamous red-light district that is being transformed into a sustainable, vibrant neighbourhood.
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