Each LDN story this week seems to contradict the next.
Londoners are feeling the pinch when it comes to the cost of living – 43% are either struggling to make ends meet or ‘just about managing’ – but the capital remains at the forefront of global investment and innovation.
The capital’s MPs are making their concerns known to the PM about the Government’s apparent ‘anywhere but London’ approach to policy-making but City Hall can’t get the money it needs to keep Transport for London afloat.
Perhaps most starkly, five years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, social housing reform legislation is only now making its way through Parliament and the Grenfell Inquiry itself still has years to run.
A pessimist would see the woe and inequality, an optimist the glimmers of change and opportunity; to wit, London’s global position is resilient, those London Tories may just get through to Boris Johnson yet and when it comes to social housing reform and the response to Grenfell, it’s better late than never.
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FIVE YEARS ON
Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. A service was held at Westminster Abbey and near the remains of the tower in West London. Survivors of the fire and the families of those who died have said that, five years on, they are still seeking justice. The Met Police has said that no charges will be brought before the end of the Grenfell Inquiry, which is only set to conclude in late 2023 or early 2024. While some of the recommendations made by the Inquiry have been adopted by the Government through legislation such as the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Act, there is still a long way to go to ensure that all buildings are safe. As reported by The Times at the weekend, only 6% of flats with flammable cladding (including low-rise buildings) have been made safe and it was only this month that the Government announced that the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower and which is thought to have been the reason for the rapid spread of the fire, will be banned from all new buildings in England from 1 December. The Government also eventually managed to secure an agreement with many of the country’s major developers to help fill the building safety repairs funding gap and Housing Minister Eddie Hughes has said this week that the Government may ‘name and shame’ developers who are too slow to remediate dangerous cladding. So there is clearly a long way to go before survivors and the bereaved families can achieve some sense of closure.
With just over a week until the current funding deal with Government expires, Transport for London and the Mayor have been making the case for a sustainable financial settlement - with markedly increased levels of alarm. At last week’s TfL Board meeting, negotiations with Government were described as ‘one-way traffic’ and the Commissioner warned that without the £0.9bn of additional funding needed for this financial year, TfL faces a ‘managed decline’ scenario which will result in cuts to Tube and bus services. The Mayor has in recent days written to the Transport Secretary demanding an urgent meeting and has also sent letters to Conservative London MPs who voted against the Prime Minister in last week’s confidence vote, urging them to join him in lobbying the Government to provide appropriate funding for TfL. Adding to TfL’s issues are unions’ plans for another strike. While separate national rail strikes are set to take place across the country on 21, 23 and 25 June, London Underground members of the RMT are also set to strike on 21 June in an ongoing dispute over changes to pensions and jobs which TfL has insisted are not planned. The impact of these combined strikes on the capital next week will be significant.
COST OF LIVING CRUNCH
It’s not only TfL that finds itself in dire straits – a large and potentially growing proportion of its passengers, namely Londoners, are struggling to make ends meet. A YouGov poll commissioned by City Hall has found that about 83% of Londoners have seen their cost of living increase over the last six months. It also found that the proportion of those ‘having to go without my basic needs and/or rely on debt to pay for my basic needs’ stands at 4% (up from 3% in January), with ‘struggling to make ends meet’ at 11% (up from 10%), and those ‘just about managing’ at 28% (up from 23%). City Hall has highlighted these figures alongside separate analysis suggesting that low income households, large families, recipients of housing benefits, renters, migrants, and others are actually ineligible from much of the Chancellor’s £15bn cost of living support package unveiled in late May. The Mayor has separately warned that the cost of living crisis could exacerbate crime. That’s on a backdrop of news that the economy contracted in April, even as the spectres of Brexit and Indyref cast a further shadow over the market. Turning to possible solutions, the London Recovery Board – which is co-chaired by Sadiq Khan and London Councils’ Cllr Georgia Gould – has launched Building a Fairer City, which sets out 14 actions that London’s employers, public bodies and others can take to help ensure that economic recovery from the pandemic explicitly addresses widening inequalities.
SOCIAL HOUSING SEA CHANGE?
The Government has formally launched a major reform of social housing through the introduction of the new Social Housing Regulation Bill in Parliament last week. The Bill seeks to give the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) a raft of new powers, including subjecting landlords to ‘Ofsted-style’ inspections and unlimited fines, in a bid to raise housing standards. The Bill’s focus on improving standards and tenant rights has been welcomed by the Local Government Association and London Councils, however, both groups have warned that the proposals form only part of the solution as more new social housing need to be delivered and social housing providers require further investment. The housing association sector has also welcomed the bill – see responses by the National Housing Federation and G15 group of London’s biggest associations.
Separately, the Prime Minister has announced plans to extend the Right to Buy for tenants renting their homes from housing associations in the hope of increasing home ownership amongst the lowest earners – and of course win some votes along the way. The industry has offered a very mixed reaction, with some expressing concerns that the extension would further limit the supply of affordable housing at a time when the existing stock is already stretched. Responding to this criticism, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has said social housing stock would be replaced for every house sold – although he has failed to pinpoint how this would be funded. Similar questions have been asked about other elements of what appears to have been a rather hastily cobbled together set of policy pledges focused on boosting home ownership levels.
Homes England has hired Kirsty Shaw as its first ever COO to help implement a new strategy, that is expected to focus more on regeneration, design and encouraging new building in areas of the country outside the South-east, in line with the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.
- According to reports, Barratt Homes is planning to begin the search for a new Chairman with current Chair John Allan set to step down next year.
- Meanwhile, at another major housebuilder, Michael Dobson has been appointed as the next Chair of Berkely Group and will take over from current Chair Glyn Baker following the group’s AGM on 6 September. Dobson was previously Chair at Schroders and held leadership positions at Deutsche Bank and Morgan Grenfell.
- Rachael Venables has announced that she will end her role as a correspondent for LBC’s Breakfast show, but will continue at LBC, focusing on ‘big investigations and breaking stories that count’.
LONDON PROPERTY RECOVERING?
While London’s economy is facing significant headwinds, a brace of property deals and planning permissions give us hope that the property sector is still on a path to recovery. John Lewis has announced plans to enter the property market, with proposals to deliver new build to rent homes on sites that it already owns. Two of the three first sites identified are in London, in Bromley and Ealing, where homes will be built on top of Waitrose shops. The third site is a vacant warehouse in Reading. The company has said that it will aim to deliver 10,000 homes over the next ten years. Meanwhile, a number of potential buyers are reported to have been contacted about purchasing the iconic Camden Market. Estimated to be worth £1.5bn, the total site is 16 acres and includes Camden Lock Market, Stables Market and Buck Street Market. The busy tourist destination was put on the market in 2019 but withdrawn when the pandemic hit. Also up for sale is the 91,000 sq ft retail and leisure element of Dickens Yard in Ealing. The Berkeley Group is expected to sell for over £20m. We also noticed that the first major planning committee sessions in Westminster, Southwark and Tower Hamlets have resulted in major approvals – to be covered in more detail in our next edition.
TECH ME TO THE MOON
London Tech Week, a five day celebration of the city as a global hub of technological innovation, is back for its ninth edition. Amidst a packed programme of events and speakers, we noted the remarkable preponderance of Government Ministers in attendance – which, in a time when ‘levelling up’ has partly meant disparaging London, is an especially rare and welcome sight. The event, which was co-founded by London & Partners in 2014, has been addressed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, and tech Minister (and London MP) Chris Philp , who launched the new UK Digital Strategy. A cavalcade of London Government representatives are also in tow, from Mayor Sadiq Khan himself, to Deputy mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal and City Hall’s Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell. Tech Week also coincides with the publication of a wealth of research underlining that London remains a world-leader in attracting and nurturing technological innovation in all its forms, with analysis by the UK’s Digital Economy Council finding that the £12.4bn in venture capital funding raised so far this year puts the UK ‘second only to the US in terms of start-up investment’, with both this and separate research finding that London ranks high among its peers nationally and globally.
LONDON TORIES RESTIVE?
The Prime Minister finds himself in an uncomfortable position as fellow London Conservatives openly question his leadership and policy. Several London Tory MPs have distanced themselves from the Prime Minister over Partygate, – including Nickie Aiken (Cities of London & Westminster), Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner) and Elliot Colburn (Carshalton & Wallington) – all openly calling on Johnson to resign. Others have been slightly more discreet with their dissatisfaction, Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) criticised the ‘lack of leadership’ from No.10 while Bob Blackman (Harrow East) stated ‘those who set the rules must abide by them or face the consequences’. Separately, on the policy front, Bob Neill warned that ‘levelling up shouldn’t be at the expense of London’ and levelling up is needed within the capital to address high levels of poverty. Sadiq Khan will delight in Conservative MPs echoing his talking points and has sought to leverage signs of division to urge the rebel MPs to both oppose Johnson and lobby him for a long-term funding deal for TfL.
A CITY HALF-EMPTY?
Green London Assembly Member and former Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has published a report on the capital’s ‘dead spaces’. Through the use of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, Berry found that between them, 25 of London’s local authorities currently own 442 sites, including retail units, industrial units and offices which are currently out of use. In her report, Berry makes a number of recommendations about how these vacant buildings can be brought back into use, including through a mapping exercise carried out by the GLA and recovery funding to help local authorities and community groups make better use of these spaces. Berry may be happy to hear that as part of its recently published Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Government has launched a consultation on changes to Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) processes which aim to make the system ‘faster’ and ‘more efficient’ and result in ‘the right outcomes to bring forward much needed development including for housing, regeneration and infrastructure’.
WALKING AS ONE
Yesterday marked 5 years since the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, a tragedy inextricably linked to the built environment. To memorialise the many lives lost, a series of mosaics has been installed along the route of the Grenfell Silent Walk in North Kensington. The Grenfell Community Mosaic, named Walking as One, was organised by the Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art (ACAVA) and Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, bringing together local people under the guidance of artists, Emily Fuller and Tomomi Yoshida. LCA was privileged to help raise awareness of the project on behalf of ACAVA, a charity which provides studios for more than 500 visual artists in permanent and meanwhile spaces in London and the UK. You can read more about the project in Building.
LCA KICKSTARTING CAREERS
We’re delighted that a piece penned by LCA Account Assistant Adina Ovsiowitz, reflecting on her path to full-time employment in the PR industry, has been featured on the Creative Access website. Adina joined LCA via the Government’s Kickstart scheme and with the support of Creative Access – a leading diversity, equity and inclusion organisation that enables aspiring young people to access careers in the creative industries. Adina reflects on her first steps in the job market, her overwhelmingly positive experiences with the Kickstart programme, Creative Access’ support, and her rollercoaster first few months at LCA. We’re lucky to have Adina aboard, initially as our first Kickstarter and now as a full-time member of our team. Onwards and upwards!
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