Londoners mourn the passing of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, not to mention one of their own, as Queen Elizabeth II was born and raised in the capital, spending much of her long life here.
Unsurprisingly, much of today’s edition focuses on the impact of hosting the complex set of events following the death of a monarch. It is an endeavour that will stretch transport, police and other services to the limit as central London welcomes hundreds of thousands of mourners coming to pay their respects, including hundreds of foreign dignitaries.
The period of national mourning in the leadup to the State Funeral on Monday 19 September has already caused much soul-searching and indeed disruption across the public and private sectors. In a country unused to this kind of nationwide, “organised” grief, many were bound to struggle when it came to striking the right tone. Indeed, all of us here at LCA feel a sense of loss that is hard to articulate – and finding the right words is very much our business.
But the show must and does go on. We are still grappling with the outcome of the Conservative Party’s leadership race and we bring you the latest from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. There are also economic headwinds to consider, a host of planning and people moves to cover and more.
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ALL EYES ON LONDON
Even for a city well-worn by history, the funeral of a monarch is a unique challenge. Between restrictions on foreign dignitaries attending the State Funeral on Monday, estimates of long queues to pay one’s respects during the Lying-in-State and warnings that TfL and rail services are being stretched to the limit, the logistics are somewhat complex. It’s no surprise really as hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on Westminster over five days – on top of the usual throngs of commuters, shoppers, punters and tourists. In 1952, when London last hosted a State Funeral for a monarch, it was presumably less of a global affair.
Meanwhile, we suspect that for anyone mindful of guidance produced by Government, TfL and the Met Police, moving around the city over the next few days shouldn’t be much more complicated than usual. Relevant advice from sector associations including the Construction Leadership Council also suggests that for the most part, business activity can very well continue normally, with just a dose of common sense. Some cynics have even ventured a view that this week will be a boon to London’s visitor economy; many hoteliers are certainly eager to take advantage of increased demand.
Still, ambiguous national mourning guidance may have encouraged well-meaning decisions that in turn are causing a cascade of unnecessary disruption in many areas. We’ve seen the cancellation and postponement of everything from strikes (sensible), to football matches (debatable), concerts (questionable), as well as holidays and local festivals (needless). There are even reports that some funerals and medical operations are being cancelled. The country and London rightly mourn the passing of an extraordinary person and mark this momentous transition of power, but it does seem that some have either exploited or misplayed the situation, instead of celebrating the life of a Queen famous for – above all – keeping calm and carrying on.
POLICING PALAVER (CONT'D)
New Met Commissioner Mark Rowley is experiencing an extraordinary first week on the job. Aside from the long list of historic scandals and failures he is tasked with setting to rights, the Commissioner is facing two unforeseen missions, from day one. First, the ‘massive challenge’ of policing a national week of mourning, accession ceremonies and a State Funeral involving a complex, joint operation with police forces outside London, national security bodies, the military, and international partners. It also entails the legally and ethically fraught handling of anti-monarchist protests – and some officers’ heavy-handed approach to this have already been scrutinised closely. Which brings us to Rowley’s other major challenge this week, the shooting of 24-year-old Chris Kaba by police in south London. The officer involved has been suspended pending an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and while the circumstances of the incident remain unclear, it comes at another low point for the Met’s community relations. The press around Rowley’s appointment set him up as the man for the job with exclusives and profiles highlighting his ‘steely determination’. He will need it in spades.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The GLA has upheld Wandsworth Council’s approval of Balance Out Living’s proposals for a 18-storey 213-home co-living scheme in Battersea.
- Greenwich Council has approved Meyer Homes’ plans for a 15-storey residential tower near the Woolwich Tesco store. The proposals will deliver 134 flats (23% affordable homes) alongside retail and office space.
- Tower Hamlets Council has refused plans for a 114-home (35% affordable) tower block complete with a new home for existing LGBTQ+ nightclub Studio Spaces in East London, disagreeing with homes being built so close to a nightclub and citing general noise concerns.
- Before standing down, outgoing Housing Minister Marcus Jones approved Urban & Provincial’s plans for a metal recycling centre in Lambeth, overturning Lambeth Council’s decision to reject the scheme – against officers’ recommendations for approval – in July 2021.
- The Mayor of Croydon has announced that Westfield and Hammerson are expected to scrap existing, long-mooted proposals for their new £1.5bn shopping centre development in the borough and create a new masterplan focused on refurbishing and reusing existing assets, rather than demolition and redevelopment.
- Havering Council has re-submitted revised plans for more than 1,000 homes on the outskirts of Romford. The application indicates that less than 35% of the homes will be affordable.
- Helical has submitted an application to the City of London to extend and refurbish parts of the 100 New Bridge Street office building.
- Residents are reportedly taking Ealing Council to court over its plans to turn Ealing Town Hall into a luxury hotel.
- Police were called to the Highgate Bowl in Haringey as a confrontation between environmental protesters and a developer’s contractors became ‘aggressive’.
LONDON PROPERTY JITTERS
We continue to monitor closely indicators of national economic health and the road ahead does seem bumpy. The latest Office of National Statistics CPI figures suggest that inflation may have eased slightly, to 9.9% from July’s 10.1%. That will be small consolation for most households, especially in London, where falling petrol and diesel prices mean less than skyrocketing food prices. Still-high inflation reinforces expectations of further interest rate hikes, which will in turn affect the housing market. Halifax’s latest House Price Index shows prices rising slightly in August, reversing July’s negative score; in London, the average home costs a ‘record’ £554,718, up by £44,669 (8.8%) over the last 12 months. High housing prices are, however, a mixed blessing in the midst of an affordability crisis, especially when employers are struggling to fill vacancies. Some suggest prices are being propped up by dwindling supply (itself concerning) and most experts seem to agree that house price falls are inevitable. Indeed, a widely-publicised HSBC report earlier this month suggested that the UK is ‘on the cusp of a housing downturn’, saying prices could drop by 15% in central London. Separately, still-climbing private rental sector costs, up 2.5% in the year to July in London, belie the fact that more and more tenants are falling into arrears, while landlords face costly new energy standards and other regulatory changes. Beyond housing, CBRE’s monthly index has found that commercial property values fell 1.6% nationally in August (though offices are doing better than industrial and retail property).
- While Cabinet has now been fully staffed, junior ministers and their responsibilities are still being confirmed. At the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Marcus Jones (Housing) and Eddie Hughes (Rough Sleeping) have both stood down, though Paul Scully (Local Government and London) has retained his brief. He is joined by new faces Dehenna Davison and Lee Rowley – but their responsibilities are yet to be formally confirmed (read on for more news from DLUHC).
- Landsec has announced that its Chief Operating Officer, Colette O’Shea, is leaving the company next March following a transition period.
- The Chief Executive of Inland Homes, Stephen Wicks. has announced he will step down from his role.
- Mace has appointed Andrew Beck as interim Chief Financial Officer to replace Richard Bienfait, who has left the firm.
- Watkin Jones has hired Simon Lowe from Avison Young as its Investment Director.
- Thurrock Council’s Conservative Leader Councillor Rob Gledhill has resigned after the Government sent in commissioners to address concerns about its finances.
- Croydon Conservative Councillor for Selsdon Vale ward, Badsha Quadir, has sadly died at the age of 64.
PLANNING ACCORDING TO CLARKE
The new Truss regime is starting to get its feet under the table though what that means for planning and development is still a bit murky. New Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke has previously shown a willingness to increase housebuilding and insisted on ‘take[ing] on the curse of Nimbyism’. Clarke also has a history of supporting ‘deregulation’ and in fact was one of relatively few Conservative MPs to publicly support the planning reforms put forward by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick – before Jenrick was sacked and replaced by Michael Gove and his reforms significantly watered down. However, there are contradictions inherent in what both Clarke and the new Prime Minister have said. For example, their promises of deregulation include support for scrapping ‘top-down’ housing targets for local planning authorities and promises to reign in the power of the Planning Inspectorate, because ‘it is too easy for local councils to be overruled’. It is unclear how this combination of policies would improve housebuilding rates. If anything, they seem likely to further strain the already-stretched capacity of local planning teams and according to recent research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), expenditure on planning by English councils has decreased by 43% since 2009/10.
GREEN BELT BATTLES
The new government’s policy on green belt is also rather enigmatic. In 2018, Clarke authored a paper calling on Theresa May’s Government to unlock green belt land within a half-mile radius of train stations to construct 1.5 million new houses, while Liz Truss launched her 2019 Conservative Leadership campaign with a pledge to build million homes on the London green belt. However, Truss distanced herself from this in the recent leadership contest, perhaps wary of angering blue wall Conservatives and allowing rival Rishi Sunak to monopolise this important voter base. Whilst most elected politicians (including but by no means only Conservatives) studiously avoid mention of the green belt, the pressures of population growth and housing targets have already begun to push the dial. According to research by the London Green Belt Council and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, there has been a 21% increase in green belt land being ‘offered up for development’ by planning authorities in London and the Home Counties councils since last year (see full report here). Just last week, Barnet Council’s planning committee unanimously approved a small key worker housing scheme on green belt land, against – if you would believe it – officers’ recommendation to refuse. The reason, 'we desperately need social, affordable housing in the area.’
More than 150 years since the first tunnel was dug under the Thames, the controversial Silvertown Tunnel has broken ground. The project, backed by the Mayor and TfL and delivered by the Riverlinx Ltd consortium, has faced stiff opposition from many local politicians (across party lines), groups and environmental campaigners, who believe it will only encourage car use, worsen air pollution at each end and release tens of thousands of tons of carbon into the atmosphere during construction. Its proponents – including two consecutive Mayors of London, one Tory, one Labour – have conversely lauded the link as a congestion-busting pollution conqueror. Whatever the balance of cost and benefit, tunnelling works have now begun, making a U-turn nigh impossible, though campaigners have promised to continue scrutinising the project through construction and completion. Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan himself has taken aim at a different project on environmental grounds, coming out loud and clear against the expansion of London City Airport. Which brings us full circle to questionable initiatives marking the Queen’s passing; Heathrow Airport has announced ‘some flights between 13:50–15:40 on Wednesday 14 September will be disrupted to ensure silence’ during that day’s the ceremonial procession and also anticipates 'further changes to the Heathrow operation’ on the day of the State Funeral.
NEW LONDON AWARDS
We’re delighted to see so many LCA clients past and present mentioned in the shortlist for New London Architecture’s New London Awards, including Argent, Groveworld, HB Reavis, LabTech, Lendlease, National Gallery, and Stanhope. And as we vicariously bask in their glory, we also recognise the brilliant design work that has gone into them and are very proud of our clients, friends and associates on that front too, including AHMM, HTA Design, John Robertson Architects, and Purcell. Shortlisted projects across 14 categories and 6 special prizes, including the Mayor's Prize, have been selected by London-based Expert Assessors and will be presented to an International Jury ahead of the NLA’s Annual Awards Lunch on 29 November – book your place here and don’t forget to vote for your favourite project for the People’s Choice Award.
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