A ‘revolution’ can mean many different things and it feels like we’ve had all sorts of them over the past few days.
Some of these revolutions have been entirely fictional, like The Telegraph being up in arms about Mayoral decisions relating to the environment and culture. Then there’s the routine but important cycles of the planning process and of people moves in our sector, covered as ever in this week’s edition.
The Government has done more than a couple of pirouettes over the past few days in the face of volatile markets and rebellious backbenchers. Meanwhile, the housing association sector seems to be undergoing yet another round of mergers.
And finally, the infamous Marble Arch Mound is, believe it or not, exemplifying the best of a circular economy: much of its structure and greenery is being reused for a nearby estate regeneration scheme.
You may have noticed that today’s edition has hit your inbox a bit earlier than usual. That’s because much of our team happens to be out and about today at various events and conferences, from Future of London’s annual conference here in the capital to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham (for our report on the latter, keep an eye on our Twitter feed).
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Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in August 2023 have reportedly been ‘plunged into turmoil’ – but have they really? The Telegraph had the scoop on leaked documents ‘revealing’ that 66% respondents to a TfL consultation opposed the expansion plans, with only 32% in favour, hinting also that a ‘review’ of the results may have applied ‘more stringent screening’ to negative responses than to positive ones. We took a closer look and found more cause to doubt The Telegraph’s reporting about TfL’s consultation. First, when originally posted online, the article’s headline said that ‘two thirds of Londoners’ oppose expansion (see screengrab and archived version). Second, that title was edited to just ‘two thirds’, omitting any mention of what. Third, even after the update, the article’s wording is still misleading, with references to ‘responses’ inexplicably mutating into ‘votes’ – language enthusiastically repeated by the London Assembly Conservatives, who allege that ‘66% have voted against’ the expansion. To be clear, there were no ‘votes’, because this was not a referendum, nor even a representative poll. It was a public consultation, now closed. Critics of the ULEZ’s expansion have raised a number of other perfectly valid questions about its environmental, social and financial implications. Separately, others have recently questioned the Mayor’s environmental credentials on different grounds entirely.
FOURTH PLINTH BUSTUP
Along with this Trumpian dog-whistling about stolen elections, The Telegraph has also kicked off on another front in the so-called ‘culture wars’. Over the past few weeks, a handful of MPs and other commentators have suggested that a permanent sculpture commemorating the late Queen could be put on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth – perhaps recalling that former Mayor Ken Livingstone had said, in 2013, that the location was ‘reserved’ for a statue of Elizabeth II. However, others responded that alternative locations might be more appropriate. A civil debate, until ‘a wave of social media abuse, some of it racist’ was unleashed against the Mayor. The Telegraph kicked things off with an article headline (since amended) reading ‘No room for Queen Elizabeth statue on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, rules Sadiq Khan’. Similar headlines subsequently appeared elsewhere. In fact, it seems City Hall had simply explained to anyone asking that the Fourth Plinth is an established, long-running programme, currently expected to continue for at least four more years. The Fourth Plinth has since 1998 hosted temporary art installations and the latest, a statue depicting a Malawian anti-colonial activist, was unveiled just the other day. Believe it or not, The Telegraph’s own art critic quite liked it.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The GLA has partnered with Knight Dragon to deliver 3,000 homes at its Meridian Quays district in the Greenwich Peninsula regeneration scheme, with plans to ensure ‘up to 60%’ of the homes will be affordable.
- Croydon Council is inviting 25 architects and design experts to join its new Design Review Panel, which replaces a Place Review Panel formed in 2016.
- Residents in Westminster’s Pimlico district have voted to approve a neighbourhood plan for the area, with 93% in favour (though on a typically small turnout of 14%). The plan notably includes provisions limiting the height of future developments in the area.
- Enfield Council’s planning committee has approved plans for 676 homes at Meridian Water – as part of the scheme’s phase 1b – including tower blocks of 24 and 30 storeys tall. The scheme’s phase 1b will deliver 50% affordable homes in total.
- Also in Enfield, it has been reported that a request for the Secretary of State to call in TfL’s planned 351-home development at Cockfosters Station is still ‘under consideration’ by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).
- Southwark Council has unanimously rejected Lendlease’s proposals to develop an 18-storey office building in Elephant and Castle following community opposition.
- Merton councillors have approved Bellway’s plans for more than 100 new homes on the old London Electricity Sports and Social Association (LESSA) sports ground, despite more than 120 objections from residents. This was the third time the developer had submitted plans for the site.
- Hammersmith & Fulham’s Planning and Development Committee has approved plans for 134 new homes on the Aintree Estate – 84% of which will be ‘genuinely affordable’.
- Redbridge's planning committee has approved PTB Partnership’s plans for 26 homes in one seven-storey and one three-storey building. A small scheme – with no affordable homes included – but worth highlighting as the committee’s first approval ‘in almost a year’.
- Lambeth Council has approved plans for a 14-storey extension to the Waterloo Hub Hotel in Kennington which will add 193 rooms to the complex, more than doubling the size of the hotel.
- Bromley Council has confirmed that Areli is withdrawing their planning application to regenerate The Walnuts Shopping Centre – a major and locally contentious scheme.
- A public inquiry has begun into London Luton Airport's expansion plans, which were approved by Luton Borough Council in December (more on proceedings here).
- Andy Haldane, the former Bank of England economist who was appointed by the Government as Head of the Levelling Up Taskforce in September 2021 and Chair of the Levelling Up Advisory Council in June 2022, is now reported to be working with Shadow Housing Secretary Lisa Nandy on the Labour Party’s plan for regional growth.
- Former Labour Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has been appointed to the Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA) board.
- Former Notting Hill Genesis (NHG) Chief Executive Kate Davies has joined the board of housebuilder Stonebond.
- Architect and tower block safety campaigner Sam Webb has sadly died at the age of 85.
- Centre for London is on the lookout for new trustees, as is charity Share Community.
OF POLLS AND U-TURNS
They say a week can be a long time in politics and we think the Prime Minister and Chancellor might agree. The market turmoil triggered by the Chancellor’s Growth Plan has abated, with both bond markets and the pound rallying. However, the political fallout has proven more persistent. The latest voting intention polls find the Conservatives between 17 and 32 points behind Labour, with Liz Truss’ personal approval rating also tumbling. A brace of scandalous scoops by The Times over the weekend (here and here) won’t help. As the Tories trooped to Conference in Birmingham, beset by train strikes and disruption, backbenchers including former ministers were openly mutinous, taking particular exception to the abolition of the 45p rate of income tax. Attempts to enforce party discipline only seem to have emboldened rebels. On Sunday, Liz Truss was still contending that she was not for turning, but 24 hours later, the Chancellor conceded on the 45p rate’s abolition. And just yesterday, it was reported Kwarteng aimed to deliver a Medium-Term Fiscal Plan, initially planned for 23 November, ‘this month’, only for Kwarteng himself to then tell the media “It’s going to be the 23rd”. Tory backbenchers and even Cabinet Ministers are now also threatening rebellion over tentative plans to freeze the benefits payments cut. In the same interview, Kwarteng suggested the “high speed, high pressure environment” of the period of national mourning and State Funeral somehow contributed to the Growth Plan’s negative reception by the markets. In her speech to Conference this morning, the PM said that the Government will press ahead with its plans and will be ‘proudly pro-growth, pro-aspiration and pro-enterprise’.
No surprise then that an increasingly bullish Labour Party is looking to the next General Election and in London, its parliamentary candidate selections are well underway. LabourList has a rolling list of selected candidates, but there are a few which are particularly interesting. In South London, a new candidate is set to be selected for Harriet Harman’s ‘safe’ Camberwell & Peckham seat. Harman has announced that she will not be seeking re-election after over 40 years in Parliament and the contenders notably include Mayoral Advisor and former Southwark councillor Johnson Situ. BBC London has meanwhile looked into the selections in several other ‘safe’ Labour seats in East London, including Ilford South, where sitting MP Sam Tarry is being challenged by Redbridge Council Leader Jas Athwal; Barking, where Barking & Dagenham Leader Darren Rodwell is among aspiring candidates seeking to succeed the long-standing Dame Margaret Hodge; and also Poplar & Limehouse and Stratford & Bow, where local issues make selection processes… tricky, to say the least. As for the Conservatives, their selections are typically obscure, but we’ve picked up reports that they have shortlisted three candidates for the Putney seat, won by Labour only in 2019. Of course, the next General Election could take place as late as January 2025 – practically a lifetime away, in political terms.
Meanwhile, these and other constituencies are expected to be affected by a seemingly interminable boundary review process, whose latest iteration would affect most London constituencies’ boundaries and increase the total number of seats in the capital from 73 to 75. Whether that review is completed in time for the next election is anyone’s guess…
MERGER MANIA (CONT'D)
The housing association sector continues to be re-shaped by the mergers of major players. Sanctuary has announced that it has entered into talks with Swan Housing Association on the same day that Swan confirmed it had ended merger talks with Orbit. The announcement comes after a tough year for Swan; in December, the housing association was rated non-compliant on governance and financial viability by the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). Sanctuary has form when it comes to absorbing troubled housing associations – they stepped into save Cosmopolitan Housing Group in 2013. Meanwhile, Southern and Optivo’s boards have just approved proposals to merge and create a new 77,000 home social landlord named Southern Housing, by early 2023. Southern Housing Group’s current Chief Executive Alan Townshend will leave when the merger completes. As with other landlords and housebuilders, housing associations are facing a perfect storm of rising costs, supply chain issues, the prospect of rent caps and extension of Right to Buy, not to mention the worsening of many of their most vulnerable residents’ household finances. Mergers of this kind continue to be considered an attractive way to consolidate operations, cut costs and secure better access to financing.
After many misadventures, it seems the infamous Marble Arch Mound may end up being useful after all. Westminster City Council (WCC) commissioned the artificial hill to draw people back to the West End after lockdown but it ended up costing almost double the projected £3m and was ridiculed by the public and panned by critics. Not only that, but the project’s botched opening, ballooning costs and questionable appearance triggered resignations at WCC and may well have contributed to the toppling of its Conservative administration at the May 2022 local elections. However, its story may have a happier ending as many of the materials and trees used to create the mound, which was designed by Dutch studio MVRDV – who to their credit had planned for all of the installation’s wood, soil, grass and trees from the installation to be reused – will be repurposed into gardens and a play area at the Council-led redevelopment of the Ebury housing estate.
We are pleased to confirm that our long-standing partners New London Architecture have re-appointed LCA co-founder and Chief Executive Jonny Popper as the Chair of their Expert Panel on Planning. Along with the Chairs of the NLA’s other expert panels, Jonny has been working to help shape NLA’s “New London Agenda”, a “multi-year project that will develop a joined-up vision for London to be presented to the next mayoral candidates” in 2024. After what Jonny summarised as “a frankly ridiculous year on the planning policy front”, the panel has set three areas of focus for the coming year – measuring and embedding Social Value through planning; securing greater community engagement; and continuing to feed into the ever changing planning policy agenda.
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