“One could reasonably argue that Transport for London (TfL) has been in 'special financial measures' for some considerable time now as it limps along from one short term funding package to the next.
That’s challenging enough for Mayor Khan, but now we have the sobering – but perhaps not surprising - news that the Met Police have been put into special measures too. At least one can say that on this decision there is broad agreement between national and regional government with both the Home Secretary and Mayor welcoming the decision by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
But perhaps that is part of the issue – the Met reports to two political bosses and they are bosses with little direct oversight of the way the Met operates. This was a flaw I and other commentators pointed out as the GLA Bill wound its way through Parliament in 1998/99 and 23 years later it remains.
Looking forward, are there grounds for optimism for a force much lauded in the past by other nations’ own police services? It’s hard to say, and if the only candidates for the top job are from within, then the challenge to really reform the Met for the better will be that much tougher.
And for Mayor Khan? Well, many believe he does aspire to run for a third term and certainly his tone and words at LBC’s event last night suggested that to me. But with the election now less than two years away, how will it look if both TfL and the Met are still struggling?”
LCA Founder and Senior Advisor, Robert Gordon Clark
We hope you enjoy this edition and if you don't already, do follow us on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit our website for more information on LCA’s team, services, and clients.
Oh and a technical note: If you like hearing from us, make sure to add email@example.com to your contacts or ‘safe sender’ list – this will help ensure our news bulletin lands in your inbox.
FUND ME NOT?
Transport for London (TfL) remains in a rather precarious financial position, with no long-term settlement in sight. Instead, the current funding deal, originally agreed in February and nominally expiring on 24 June, was only extended to 13 July at the last moment, amid much acrimony. In a letter to the Mayor of London, the Transport Secretary accused Khan of making ‘untrue’ statements about what the Government has required of TfL as part of previous deals. Shapps also said that the Mayor had failed to deliver ‘a recommended approach or set out an acceptable plan’ to reform TfL’s pension scheme as required in the current funding deal, as one of the ways through which TfL can reach financial sustainability. The letter also stated that the relationship between the Government and TfL must be ‘reset’ if there is to be a long-term capital funding settlement agreed. In response, the Mayor published a Twitter thread accusing Shapps of having ‘no basic understanding of how TfL finances work’ and ‘no respect for the truth’. Separately and in more negative news for TfL, south Londoners will be experiencing disruption this week as tram drivers who are members of the Aslef union are striking over pay. Further strikes are expected to take place on London’s trams on 13 and 14 July. Tube staff who are members of the RMT union have also voted in favour of continuing industrial action, though no dates have yet been set.
Separately, the Mayor of London announced on Monday, the start of London Climate Action Week, an ambition for TfL to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. TfL has launched a Power Purchase Agreement tender which will aim to purchase around 10% of its electricity from renewable sources as the first phase in the process.
WATCHING THE WATCHMAN
The Metropolitan Police Service’s latest misadventure also does not bode well for London. Only yesterday a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the policing watchdog, concluded with evidence of 14 new and significant failings in the Met’s performance and practices, covering everything from stop and search, to the recording of crimes – failings entirely separate from the series of scandals relating to specific cases, which culminated in the resignation of Commissioner Cressida Dick. Furthermore, HMIC has put the Met under a form of special measures, formally referred to as the ‘Engage’ process, under which the watchdog will more closely scrutinise the service, requiring it to produce an improvement plan – a move welcomed by both the Home Secretary and Mayor. Looking ahead, the new Met commissioner is expected to be announced next month, with reports suggesting the last two candidates are former head of counter-terrorism Sir Mark Rowley and Met Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave.
COUNT ME IN
Initial results from Census 2021 are in and while the city seems to have grown, officials are worried. The first batch of information, already covered in the press, tells us that London’s population increased by 7.7%, to 8.8m in 2021, up from 8.2m in 2011. All but three boroughs saw population increases, Tower Hamlets’ by a whopping (pun intended) 22.1%, with Barking & Dagenham, Greenwich, Newham and even the City of London also recording growth in excess of 10%. Conversely, Camden (-4.6%), Westminster (-6.9%), and Kensington & Chelsea (-9.6%) saw their population shrink. The data also suggests that London boroughs top the list of densely populated areas and are on average younger compared to most other English regions. From an economic perspective, that all sounds fairly healthy, but it’s complicated. Umbrella body London Councils has warned (not for the first time), that Londoners may have been ‘significantly undercounted’, partly as the Census took place during a national lockdown, when many residents had temporarily relocated out of the capital. Indeed, the ONS’ own projections last summer suggested that London's mid-2020 population was slightly above 9m. A possible underestimation at 8.8m may in turn impact central Government funding allocations linked to population numbers. Such is their worry that central London’s boroughs have already launched a campaign to pre-empt any shortfalls in funding allocations. More detailed Census data are expected to follow from September 2022 and well into 2023.
WE HAVE A PLAN!
The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) Board adopted its Local Plan on 22 June. It’s been quite a journey, beginning in 2015 when the OPDC was founded by then-Mayor Boris Johnson as a Local Planning Authority and regeneration agency for the area where HS2 intersects with Crossrail, a 650-hectare site with huge potential, spanning parts of Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham. As announced back in December 2019, the adopted Local Plan shifts the OPDC’s target area for developing new homes from Car Giant’s site at Old Oak North, to land closer to HS2’s Old Oak Common Station. Understandably given the time which has elapsed and complexity of the site, while the Plan still identifies capacity for 25,500 new homes overall, the adopted version’s more specific delivery target of at least 19,850 between 2018-38 is down from 20,100 in the 2018 version and 22,350 in the 2017 version. The news will be a major boost to securing the Government funding it will need to finance land assembly and enabling infrastructure – with the adopted plan itself acknowledging that a sizeable ‘funding gap’ remains. Encouragingly, the papers of the 22 June OPDC Board meeting reports ‘good progress’ in discussions with Government Departments and agencies, whilst £50m from the Mayor’s Land Fund awarded earlier this year will also assist with site acquisitions and early infrastructure to get 1,100 homes built.
NEW SHERIFF(S) IN TOWN?
Newly-elected council administrations across London have moved to implement manifesto pledges to restrict unpopular forms of development. In Croydon, new Tory Mayor Jason Perry has approved the removal of the Suburban Design Guide Supplementary Planning Document (SPD2) as part of efforts to roll back the ‘erosion of local character’ caused by the ‘rapid over-intensification of new developments’. All the way across London, in Harrow, new Conservative Deputy Leader and planning supremo (being portfolio holder for Planning & Regeneration and Planning Committee Chair) Cllr Marilyn Ashton, has announced ‘action to remain true to the borough’s character’ including launching efforts to draw up a new Tall Buildings Supplementary Planning Document and residential conversion guidance. As covered in previous editions of LDN, new Labour administrations in Westminster and Wandsworth have also promised to be ‘tough on developers’, though here the focus seems to be on affordable housing. In Barnet however, the new Labour administration also shares Harrow and Croydon’s characteristically Outer London consternation with ‘tower-block blight.’
As for new administrations elsewhere, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman has also previously signalled opposition to certain developments. Havering’s new administration, which only announced its new joint Residents’ Association – Labour cabinet in mid-June, is keeping its cards closed, for now. Meanwhile in Greenwich, a Labour “hold” at this election albeit one followed by a successful leadership challenge, new Leader Anthony Okereke recently appeared at the Planning Board to support a scheme by the council’s own development arm… only for the scheme to be refused, mainly due to concerns about, you guessed it, height.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
GAW Capital has submitted a planning application to Tower Hamlets Council for a 52-storey residential tower on the Isle of Dogs. The proposals would deliver 457 homes, of which 35% will be affordable, alongside community and amenity space. Proposals were initially for a 60-storey building, but this was reduced after consultation with the Council.
Merton’s planning committee has refused controversial proposals by Bellway Homes for more than 100 homes (41% affordable) on a former sports ground, going against the officers’ recommendation, on the grounds that the loss of open space and sporting facility outweighed the scheme’s benefits.
Working in partnership with Richmond Council and Richmond Housing Partnership (RHP), housebuilder The Hill Group has submitted a planning application for the regeneration of the Ham Close estate which would deliver 452 new homes, replacing the 192 existing properties on site.
Dartmouth Capital Advisors have resubmitted proposals for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Stag Brewery site in Richmond. Following Richmond Council’s approval of the initial proposal, the Mayor of London refused the application due to low levels of affordable housing and its impact on heritage buildings.
Hillingdon NHS Foundation Trust has submitted a planning application to Hillingdon Council for the redevelopment of Hillingdon Hospital.
Galliard has submitted plans to redevelop the Leegate Shopping Centre in Lewisham and replace it with four blocks between eight and 15 floors high to deliver 563 homes, a community centre, supermarket, restaurant and medical centre.
London Councils has appointed Piali Das Gupta as Strategy Director: London’s Future.
Shazia Hussain has been appointed Deputy Chief Executive of Waltham Forest Council. She joins from Brent Council where she was Assistant Chief Executive.
Terry Fuller has been appointed as Head of Partnerships for Legal & General’s modular homes business. He joins from Homes England.
Chief Executive of Paradigm Matthew Bailes is the new Chair of the Consortium of Housing Associations in the South East (CASE).
The last of the 5 May local election’s ballots have now been counted, with the election for New Malden Village ward in Kingston now having taken place (it was postponed following the passing away of one of the candidates in the run up to the election). All three seats up for grabs were comfortably won by the Lib Dems, thereby strengthening their grip on this borough.
Inflation, industrial action and other factors make any sounding of London’s economic health perilous, but the ‘new normal’ has clearly landed in Central London. London office occupancy is reportedly ‘at [its] highest level’ since the pandemic began, but hovers at 35% or so on most days, while the figures for some sectors are even lower. Retail is still struggling, with Savills estimating that on Regent Street alone, store vacancy levels are at ‘a record 12% … almost twice what they were at the end of 2019’. Tube ridership, another key indicator, also remains below pre-pandemic levels, notwithstanding a Jubilee peak and strike day troughs. It’s not just commercial real estate and – not only London – driving concerns about property markets more generally. The shifting sands of the planning system are also complicating the repurposing of commercial property. But there are silver linings. Cushman & Wakefield estimates that 59 businesses signed up for central London office space for the first time last year, the highest since they began tracking this data in 2013. There is also broad consensus that demand for flexible workspace and for high-quality sustainable office space is resilient – and major leasing deals are struck every week. Change is certainly upon us, but evolution has always been the name of the game in London.
LEVELLING UP LAMBASTED
The Government’s ‘levelling up’ goals continue to prove controversial across the political spectrum. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee has written to Secretary of State Michael Gove raising a number of concerns about the contents of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and in particular proposed changes to the planning system. These include the findings by barristers (as instructed by campaign group Rights: Community: Action) that the reforms will only work to centralise planning and ‘erode’ public participation. Both Conservative and Opposition MPs have meanwhile voiced their concerns about the proposed Infrastructure Levy, which will replace Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy. MPs, including Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy, have criticised the lack of detail about how the new Levy will work, particularly how much money it will raise and how much affordable housing it will help deliver. As for the Government’s wider ‘levelling up’ ambitions, the Resolution Foundation has found that the policy will cost billions more than expected, with their research showing that differences in income across the UK are ‘significant’. The think tank is set to publish another report tomorrow, which will argue that the Government’s current policies fall short of what is needed if ‘levelling up’ is to be a success.
AIRB OR NOT TO BE
The days of owning a second home may soon be over for many people, as national and local Government ramp up a crackdown on holiday lets and empty homes. In the past week, Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove has reportedly been drawing up changes to the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill that would give regional Mayors the power to make rules governing holiday lets more restrictive. The move follows growing frustration, especially in seaside towns, where locals feel they are being priced out the market. Residents in Whitby, Yorkshire recently voted in favour of proposals to ban new build properties being sold to non-locals, whilst Brighton and Hove councillors have instructed officers to draw up proposals to ban new-build second homes and holiday lets in some areas of the city. A Government crackdown on second homes may reignite support from residents in traditional southern Tory heartlands, but it may also alienate Tory-voting landlords and investors. Speaking of alienating landlords, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has again described Britain's biggest property developers as a ‘cartel’, accusing them of building ‘shoddy’ homes and restricting access to the market for smaller housebuilders.
This year, LCA took part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index for the first time. This is part of our efforts to benchmark how we were doing and learn more about what else we could do to support mental health in our workplace. Linked to this, we are really proud to announce that LCA has been awarded Bronze in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Awards 2021-2022, recognising that we are achieving positive change – but this is just the beginning for us. By participating in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, we have made a long-term commitment to supporting the mental wellbeing of our team. Going forward, we will be reviewing the findings from Mind’s report and developing a plan for implementing the key recommendations, while no less than 31 members of our team will be attending Mental Health Training for Managers this summer.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated insight team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
We strive for balance and accuracy at all times; however, if you feel we have made a mistake, omission or have misrepresented a story or issue please alert the team by contacting the LDN team by using the details above.