One’s mental capacity for institutional failure only goes so far but today, amid news of screeching U-turns from Government and wobbly markets we also bring the latest on the Metropolitan Police and Baroness Louise Casey’s interim report into ‘abhorrent’ behaviour among its officers.
A positive, at least so far, is that the response from those in power seems to demonstrate an appropriate appreciation for the scale of the issue.
We also bring you some good news and bad news on affordable housing, some progress as well as politicking on the Hammersmith Bridge and a mixed review of the commercial real estate market as it currently stands.
Meanwhile, if, understandably, you are feeling the urge to run for the hills, why not direct yourself to one of the many cultural events we have listed below instead? It’s more economically productive and we need all the help we can get.
Even as we went to print, news was trickling in of yet more ructions in Westminster - with Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigning, and several Conservative MPs declaring they would vote against the Government on raising the ban on fracking, in what could prove to be a significant test of confidence in Liz Truss' leadership. We will be covering these events and whatever else the days ahead bring, in our next edition.
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GROWTH PLAN IN TATTERS?
So where does Jeremy Hunt’s demolition of the Growth Plan leave London? Skipping over the whirlwind of events that led his appointment as Chancellor, Monday saw what has been described as ‘the biggest U-turn in British economic history’ or, in the Treasury’s own words, ‘a reversal of almost all of the tax measures set out in the Growth Plan that have not been legislated for in Parliament’. The Mayor of London, New West End Company, BusinessLDN, and LCCI have all expressed relief that the statement stabilised markets. However, none were especially impressed and all have criticised the dropping of VAT-free shopping for non-UK visitors as counterproductive. Most reactions to the statement glossed over the retention of Stamp Duty cuts, which may help to partly offset rising mortgages – though Centre for London’s notes that those cuts also bring risks in an ‘over-heating’ housing market. Meanwhile, Monday’s statement said nothing about Investment Zones, a key plank of the Growth Plan and one in which several London boroughs (including Enfield) have expressed an interest. However, the FT has since reported that Investment Zones’ tax benefits are likely to be cut, to minimise their impact on revenues. Then there’s the ‘decisions of ‘eye watering difficulty’ Hunt only obliquely referenced, in other words spending cuts that are bound to have a knock-on effect on London’s boroughs and other local services, with London's social care system in particular facing a challenging winter.
Keep in mind that Hunt’s statement was only an initial heads up on some of the key decisions to be detailed in a Medium Term Fiscal Plan, which is still expected on 31 October.
POLICING PALAVER (CONT'D)
The pressure is mounting for new Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to act decisively in fixing the problems at the Metropolitan Police Service. Baroness Louise Casey’s interim report into the service’s culture and standards has found that hundreds of officers in the capital have broken the law while accusations of misconduct, homophobia, racism and sexism against officers have been mishandled. Rowley has said that he is ‘appalled’ by the findings, while London Councils are ‘looking forward’ to hearing more about his plans. The Mayor has responded to say that he has confidence in the new Commissioner and raised eyebrows when he said that Rowley was not ‘lethargic, defensive or arrogant’. Sadiq Khan is set to appear in front of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on 16 November to answer questions about the events surrounding the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick as Commissioner earlier this year. Separately, the Met is also facing a significant operational challenge as a result of the Just Stop Oil campaign group’s latest demonstrations. The group was only yesterday served an injunction by Transport for London, which will give the police additional powers to arrest those blocking roads. This followed significant disruption and came after the Met’s leadership signalled it needed transport and local authorities’ support if it was to act more decisively.
After fighting critics tooth and nail for years, the Mayor has signalled that the Ultra Low Emissions Zone’s (ULEZ) expansion in 2023 is not guaranteed. The ULEZ was implemented in 2019 and expanded in 2021, with TfL now working on plans to further expand it right up to the Greater London Boundary from August 2023. Our 5 October edition covered claims from some quarters that a consultation over the summer showed a majority of Londoners opposed the plans (it didn’t). Since then, City Hall has published the results of a Londonwide poll carried out in July, which found that 51% of respondents support the expansion, with 27% against. Clearly, however, evidence that as many as one in four Londoners oppose the expansion may have given City Hall pause. Pressed on the subject by Conservative London Assembly Members during last Thursday’s Mayor’s Question Time session, Sadiq Khan stated that ‘I have not made up my mind until I have seen the report and the analysis that is being done by TfL.’ The ULEZ is arguably Khan’s most distinct legacy, and his instinct will be to press on. Simultaneously, with the cost of living disproportionately affecting low-income Londoners and SMEs, might he decide that another expansion of the ULEZ boundary is ‘too far, too fast’?
GLA HOUSING LATEST
If there’s one bit of silver lining this week for the Mayor, it’s in relation to housing. The London Assembly Housing Committee’s annual Affordable Housing Monitor for 2021-22 confirms the Mayor’s own assessment that City Hall’s £4.82bn Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) 2016-23 has started ‘a record number of homes this year, at 18,722.’ Indeed, it found that AHP-funded projects have, between April 2015 and end-March 2022, started 91,000 of the 116,000 starts targeted by 2023. This, however, is where things get a little less rosy. The report warns that whilst achieving 78% of his target is a positive result, the Mayor needs to complete that final 22% of his starts target between April 2022 and end-March 2023 alone – that’s 25,000 homes, requiring him to break his own record by a margin of 6,278 homes, in an increasingly difficult economic environment. Not only that, but the new £4bn AHP for 2021-26 aims to deliver 35,000 homes, of which 50% will be at social rents (requiring higher grants per unit). While the majority of its grants have been allocated, rapidly rising build costs and other adverse conditions are already starting to bite. Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley told the Housing Committee as much on Monday, warning that meeting the 116,000 home starts by March 2023 target now looks ‘increasingly challenging’, as do the targets of the new AHP.
LONDON PLANNING AND HOUSING ROUNDUP
- Hounslow Council has launched a consultation on proposed plans for two of the borough’s opportunity areas - the Great West Corridor (GWC) and West of the Borough, and the accompanying Site Allocations Development Plan and Focussed Issue Review.
- Merton Council says it has committed to ‘an ambitious affordable house-building target by 2026’, identifying six further sites across the borough for potential housing development to bring the number of new affordable homes on council owned land to ‘around 400’.
- Meanwhile, Wandsworth Council’s Cabinet has approved even more ambitious plans to make all the homes in its 1,000 homes programme available for council rent (from 442 council rent homes previously).
- Ealing Council has meanwhile admitted that its estate regeneration programme, spanning several sites, has been delayed – citing the effect of the pandemic on the process of moving tenants ahead of demolition and construction, as well as legal action and the slow process of securing Compulsory Purchase Orders. Overall, around 3,500 existing homes will be demolished, with the council planning to deliver ‘at least’ 4,000 new social homes in their place.
- Greenwich Council-backed developer Meridian Home Start is appealing to planning inspectors against the refusal of its proposals to build a 9-storey residential block close to Oxleas Woods, by the borough’s own planning committee. The scheme, which formed a part of the council’s housing plans and was recommended for approval, would deliver 70 flats at rents set about 65% of market value. Councillors rejected the scheme due to objections over height concerns.
- Taylor Wimpey has appealed to the planning inspectorate after Barnet Council delayed making a decision on proposals to build 250 homes (32 homes of which would be affordable) in blocks up to seven-storeys high on the Homebase site in north Finchley. The Council’s planning committee argued the scheme falls significantly short of the 35% affordable homes target and would be an overdevelopment of the site.
- Camden Council has approved the third and final phase of the Abbey Co-op regeneration masterplan which will see the development of 139 homes (36 social rent and 10 Camden Living affordable rent).
- BlackRock Real Assets and NEAT Developments have submitted plans to Waltham Forest Council for a development of up to 1,800 new homes in Blackhorse Lane - including detailed plans for one 18-storey block of 119 flats in Uplands Business Park and outline plans for eight further blocks, ranging from just over 22m high to 145m high.
- Peabody Land Limited has submitted plans to Bexley Council to demolish 596 homes, as well as 253 disused garages, at Harrow Manorway in Thamesmead East – to make way for 2,000 new flats (35% affordable homes), a new shopping space, and ‘revamps to the nearby Abbey Way park’.
- The Hill Group and Pinnacle Investments are preparing to submit plans to Brent Council ‘in the early part of 2023’ for more than 1,800 homes and a college across sites in Dollis Hill and Wembley.
- Telereal Trillium have unveiled plans to convert the Royal Masonic Hospital in Ravenscourt Park into flats including ‘later-living’ apartments. They reportedly plan to launch a public consultation ‘early next year’ with plans being submitted to Hammersmith and Fulham Council between March and May 2023.
A number of prominent London figures have been nominated for Peerages this week, including former MP for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray, Leader of Bexley Council Teresa O’Neill, Deputy Mayor of London for Fire and Resilience Dr Fiona Twycross and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame QC, Professor of International Law at King’s College London.
The Chancellor has announced a new Economic Advisory Council consisting of Rupert Harrison, Gertjan Vlieghe, Sushil Wadhwani and Karen Ward.
Conrad Smewing has been appointed as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ new Director of Planning, replacing Simon Gallagher.
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY FIRE SALE?
Reading the property market runes is difficult at the best of times and commercial property is especially inscrutable. Research by Lambert Smith Hampton and MSCI suggests that the third quarter of 2022 was not great for UK commercial property, though the performance of different subsectors and locations varies significantly. Encouragingly, research by the Centre for London for the London Property Alliance and separate research by Savills paints a better picture for Central London offices, whilst Colliers’ work suggests West End retail’s recovery continues apace. Looking ahead, the situation admittedly looks more precarious. Analysis by Goldman Sachs forecasts commercial prices will fall anywhere between 15% to 20% by the end of 2024. The FT is meanwhile regularly running stories with titles like ‘property funds offload offices and warehouses’, which do not bode well. Financial worries are dovetailing longer term trends like the shifts to working from home and shopping online. Marks & Spencer is not only considering downsizing its London HQ but has also said it is accelerating store closure plans. NatWest is meanwhile set to shut 43 bank branches across England and Scotland. Yet, there is opportunity in every crisis. Fashion retailer Superdry says it has renewed 55 store leases at a bargain ‘average reduction of 45%’ whilst Lazari Investments are reportedly poised to snap up Fenwick flagship New Bond Street store for between £400m and £425m (compared to an initial asking price of £475m).
A DOUBLE-DECKER BRIDGE?
This week an announcement on progressing with the Hammersmith Bridge’s restoration made a big splash – but things remain somewhat complicated. A Hammersmith & Fulham Council press release, preceded by a New Civil Engineer ‘Exclusive’, focuses on their intention to press forward with seeking planning permission for a temporary ‘double-decker’ design, drawn up by Foster + Partners and Cowi (and first seen in late 2020), allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Thames while permanent repairs are carried out. It also sets out the Council’s decision to spend £5m on part of the enabling works needed to proceed. However, looking at relevant Cabinet papers, at the (long-silent) Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce’s website and at the relevant section of TfL’s latest financial settlement (p5), it’s clear that there’s more afoot. Stabilisation works on the bridge are actually well underway and now due to be finished by the end of February. It seems, however, that decisions on the next steps remain elusive and H&F are clearly unhappy. H&F Cabinet Member for Public Realm Cllr Sharon Holder’s declares that ‘once again to expedite the full restoration works at pace, we will fund in good faith and at risk the £5m rather than wait for the Department for Transport and TfL’s governance processes to sign off on their one-third shares. We, of course, anticipate that their shares will be subsequently reimbursed.’
POLITICAL ADS LATEST
Political instability and talk of a possible early election have put political advertising – past and present – under a spotlight. You may have missed it amidst the general political chaos, but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that part of a major Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities campaign broke advertising rules. The £2.15m billboard, social media and local newspaper campaign promoting the government’s levelling up agenda was rolled out in March this year. The ASA specifically concluded that ‘advertorial’ pieces published by local titles owned by Reach Plc were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications, ruling that these ‘must not appear again in their current form’ and that any future DLUHC ads should better labelled. The investigation followed a complaint submitted by the Labour Party, who argue that the campaign as a whole – launched just before local elections – used taxpayers’ money for ‘what was effectively Tory propaganda’. The Labour Party itself is meanwhile preparing some propaganda of its own. The Sun had the scoop on new attack ads designed for Labour by advertising agency Lucky Generals, reporting also that party staffers are ‘getting pumped up on vintage New Labour clips’ from their archive. The funny thing is that, according to Lucky Generals, the images were only concept pieces – we wonder how the Sun got their hands on them and just how cross Labour HQ will have been with the free advertising…
Following the opening of the refurbished Battersea Power Station last weekend, there are plenty of other events to look forward in the coming months:
APPG FOR LONDON
This Monday we attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s public meeting on the cost-of-living pressures facing Londoners. We heard from a diverse range of speakers, including APPG Co-chairs Sir Bob Neill MP and Florence Eshalomi MP, Cllr Georgia Gould (Chair of London Councils and Leader of Camden Council) Manny Hothi (CEO of Trust for London) and Stephen Jones (Policy Research Manager at the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry). The event also saw a lively Q&A with a diverse range of attendees, from council officers, to advocacy groups and voluntary and organisations – including our clients London Sport – who attended to share their perspectives, concerns and proposals. The session has held as part of the APPG officers’ preparations for a meeting with Minister for London Paul Scully later this week.
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