“This week’s LDN is not easy reading and we are sorry not to be bringing more positive news to your inbox, but we hope it is at least interesting reading.
As you probably know, discontent is the order of the day and one does have to wonder how much it will take to get the Government to actually do something. If the TfL situation is anything to go by, then quite a lot. Indeed, I’m surprised that the ‘managed decline’ scenario set out months ago has not yet been downgraded to ‘unmanaged descent’; that certainly seems to sum up the Government’s current strategy across well, most policy areas at the moment.
And if the mood wasn’t quite apocalyptic enough then how about we add threats of flash floods and grass fires into the mix. And there’s a hosepipe ban too. There’s definitely an analogy there with the country’s planning system – there is so much structural dysfunction that all doom scenarios are on the table at once, despite seeming mutually exclusive. More on that below.
I’m off for a few weeks and I hope that my brilliant LDN colleagues will have more positive news for you next week. By the time I get back we will have a new Prime Minister so I look forward to their inspirational vision for capital and country and cogent plan for sustained and responsible growth. That’s not too much to ask right?
See you in September.”
Jenna Goldberg, Partner and Managing Director, Insight
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STILL NO DEAL
This is where we should be bringing you the news that the Government and Transport for London had finally come to an agreement about funding. Alas, as of writing nothing has been announced. Last week the TfL Board held an emergency meeting and the few papers made public showed that TfL had ‘made revisions’ to the Government’s initial proposals, but had not heard back from the Department for Transport on these and negotiations were ongoing. Little is known about what is included in the Government’s offer, with the meeting papers only saying that it was accompanied by ‘wide ranging and complex conditions’. This week the Mayor has said that he will ‘resist’ any attempt by the Government to require TfL to increase fares by RPI or RPI+1 which would ‘punish’ Londoners during the cost-of-living crisis. Here’s hoping that we can bring you some more positive news next week!
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
A planning inquiry on Marks & Spencer’s proposals to demolish and redevelop their flagship Oxford Street store in Westminster has reportedly been set for October. The plans were called in by former Housing Secretary Michael Gove in June.
A High Court judge has granted residents on part of the Cressingham Gardens Estate in Lambeth a fourth judicial review in a decade-long legal battle with the local Council. The estate is earmarked for demolition and redevelopment.
Barnet Council has approved proposals by the Hill Group and Home Group to redevelop the Douglas Bader Park Estate in Colindale. The proposals would deliver 753 new homes, 272 of which will be affordable.
The GLA has upheld Barnet Council’s approval of proposals to demolish and redevelop Ravensfield House and Fenella Building in The Burroughs to build 384 student flats. The proposals form part of Barnet Council’s Hendon Hub project.
The GLA has upheld the London Legacy Development Corporation’s approval of Anthology’s phase two proposals for its Marshgate Business Centre development in Stratford. The proposals would deliver 245 new homes (35% affordable housing measured by habitable room, and 28% measured by unit).
British Land has submitted a further application to Southwark Council as part of its Canada Water scheme. The proposals would deliver 419 homes (61% affordable) across five mixed-use and residential buildings of between three and 27 storeys.
Trade unions promised a ‘summer of discontent’ and that’s what we’ve got. Reliable statistics on work days lost to industrial action are hard to come by (ONS figures for 2020 were only released yesterday) but we struggle to remember a time when London saw so many simultaneous strikes. In transport, national rail workers are walking out tomorrow and on Saturday, with Tube, Rail and bus strikes on Friday, all mainly over pay. A criminal barristers’ strike over state aid rates is now in its third week. In local government, City of London Corporation workers are threatening industrial action over pay, whilst refuse workers in Newham have approved walkouts later in August and September. In media, employees of Reach (which owns the Express, Mirror and many local newspapers) have approved a strike over pay in September and employees of the BBC are also considering strikes over the merger of news channels that could see job cuts. In healthcare, nurses are being balloted in favour of strike action later this year, again over pay. Royal Mail workers will be going on strike for four days later this month and early in September, also over pay. That’s just a sample of strikes happening or planned in London. The writing is on the wall: inflation now stands at an estimated 10.1%, wages fell by 3% in the second quarter (the most since records began in 2001) and job vacancy numbers are also starting to fall.
EXTREME WEATHER (CONT'D)
As extreme weather conditions continue to impact the capital, Londoners have been warned of further grass fires and potential flash-flooding. The London Fire Brigade and the Mayor of London have issued a joint statement urging the public to take extra safety measures after firefighters attended more than 200 grass-fires over the weekend, including two large outbreaks in Enfield on Ramnsey marsh and Turkey Street. London has seen a 128% increase in grass fires this year compared with 2021 – a remarkable and worrisome development for a country (in)famous for its damp, drizzly weather. Speaking of damp, forecasts of thunderstorms and heavy rain may, perversely, bring Londoners yet more weather-related disruption. The Met Office has issued an amber warning for flash floods across the country, whilst the Environment Agency has issued specific flood alerts in 10 south London boroughs. In response, the Mayor has called on the Government to ‘tackle climate change at the source’ and ‘make sure that we adapt our cities in our country so that we can deal with the consequences of climate change’. The Evening Standard explores what adapting London to cope with extreme weather may look like.
LABOUR SETS OUT STALL
While the Conservative Party dukes it out with… itself, Labour has set out its plans to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. On Monday morning, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer announced that a Labour Government would freeze energy bills for six months, saying this could be funded by a combination of introducing a windfall tax on oil and gas companies backdated to January 2022, dropping the £400 energy rebate and reducing inflation with lower energy bills. In a potentially significant boost for Labour, a survey carried out by YouGov suggested that three in four Conservative voters would support these measures. As for the Government (and governing party), the Treasury is reported to be drawing up policy options for the next Prime Minister, but both contenders have ruled out freezing bills. In London, the Mayor has called on the Government to do more after polling showed that 20% of lower-income Londoners have ‘regularly’ or ‘occasionally’ gone without food or essential items, or relied on outside support in the last six months due to the cost-of-living crisis. The YouGov polling also shows that the crisis is disproportionately affecting lower income, disabled and Black and Asian Londoners, as well as the millions of Londoners who are renters.
Do you hear that sound? An ominous creaking? Yes, that would be England’s planning system. Both spatial planning (e.g. local plan-making) and planning decisions are primarily the responsibility of local government and it’s been known for a while now that council planning services suffered some of the heaviest cuts over the course of a decade-plus of austerity. The impact of those cuts – and of other adverse conditions – are starting to show. Whilst statistics on the number of applications and approval rates do not (yet) indicate any significant blockage or imminent crisis, anecdotal evidence and other statistics (e.g. on vacancies in planning departments), aptly summarised in this recent Building article, suggest that a reckoning may be on the cards. A lack of funding, staff shortages and the ever-shifting goalposts of national policy reforms are all cited as factors making the work of local government planners increasingly difficult. Central government’s mixed messages around Local Plan-making are not especially helpful in this regard, as attested by the number of draft plans paused or withdrawn of late. And while you’d expect the likes of Redrow and Persimmon to complain about red tape, Homes England notably also recently blamed ‘capacity issues in the planning system’ as one of the causes of its failure to meet delivery targets last year.
RIGHT TO BUY BACK
The Mayor of London is right chuffed about the success of his Right to Buy Back programme. We take a closer look. The government's Right to Buy programme has long enabled social housing tenants to buy their homes at favourable prices, allowing many low or middling-income tenants to get onto the housing ladder. The downside being that this brisk sell-off of social housing has eroded the available stock faster than councils and housing associations can replace it (about 300,000 have been sold this way in London alone since the 1980s). So, enter the mayor’s Right to Buy Back programme in July 2021, which offered councils funds to purchase social homes that were sold into the private market and return them to their initial use. Last week, the Mayor said the programme has dispensed £152m (through the Affordable Homes Programme and Right to Buy receipts) to 14 boroughs, to purchase 1,577 homes, beating the programme’s own target. Meanwhile, Inside Housing reports that the last financial year saw 1,756 London council homes sold under Right to Buy, suggesting that only slightly more were sold off than were bought back. Sceptics will also point out that building social homes and selling them off at a discount, only to buy them back at market rates is a bit of a false economy – but you can’t blame the Mayor for using all the tools at his disposal to bolster the social housing stock (and buying a home is faster than building it).
BEHIND THE BLEACHERS
Stadiums are supposed to host drama of the sporting and culture variety, not so much the financial and political. However, this week the London Stadium, an iconic but commercially problematic venue owned and run by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Allen & Overy after originally suing the legal firm for alleged negligence nearly two years ago. The negligence claim was in relation to the firm’s work for LLDC on the concession agreement which gave West Ham United a 99-year lease of the stadium. At the same time, a fresh row has erupted between the football club and the LLDC, over a fundamental part of the football experience, the cost of beer. The Hammers are unhappy that prices have been raised above those on offer at other Premier League clubs’ stadia and claim that the LLDC (and their catering partner) are breaching a legal agreement that stipulates prices should be comparable to other clubs. Elsewhere, Chelsea FC has submitted a planning application for largely cosmetic changes to ‘enhance fan experience’ at Stamford Bridge. These plans are, however, widely expected to be followed by more comprehensive stadium redevelopment plans by the team’s new owners, which are reportedly already in the making.
LCA SELLS IN
With all eyes on Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games, we worked with our client, Lendlease, to place an opinion piece in EG, highlighting the scale of the investment opportunity in the region and the development that’s already being delivered. By-lined to Lendlease’s Managing Director for Development in Europe, Bek Seeley, who herself is a West Midlander, the piece spoke passionately about the need to create truly inclusive communities and pioneer initiatives in partnership with local bodies to help them thrive long-term. This week also saw the publication of the first in an occasional series of columns on housing from our client, Grounded CEO Chloe Phelps, published in Building Design. The piece calls for an end to open-plan living rooms and kitchens as standard in new builds, with many people now expressing a preference for more cellular spaces. LCA also led the media sell-in for HB Reavis UK’s straight to zero net zero carbon pathway, securing a write-up in Property Week and other trade media titles.
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