“When people think about where to invest their money, go to study or simply for a holiday, a city’s cultural offer is often high up on the list. London’s offer has, historically, been incredibly strong. Only last week this New York Post article compared London to New York in a very positive light highlighting the recent opening of both the Elizabeth Line and Battersea Power Station and referencing back over 20 years to the opening of the London Eye.
But this perception of London may be weakened by the Arts Council of England’s (ACE) decision last Friday to significantly reduce the grants it makes to some important London (not to say national) institutions. To many, including me, a reduction in London’s amount wasn’t a shock. The writing has been on the wall for some time, and the fact this decision was delayed a few weeks suggested that there were some tough calls to make. The surprise was the scale and impact it will have. Total cuts to venues like the Hampstead, Gate and Donmar theatres means they need to survive on sponsorship, donations, one off grants and higher ticket prices (so much for audience diversity). ACE clearly assumes they will, but that is quite a call. Meanwhile, the English National Opera is being given a one off £17m grant to ‘move north’. Sure, it has always been a bit odd that within a few 100 yards from the ENO sits the Royal Opera House, though Berlin and Paris have at least three a piece. The new CEO of the ENO was bullish about this ‘exciting opportunity’. I guess he has to say that, given the offer was £17m or nothing. But how will this impact on the nationally funded and highly acclaimed Opera North? Is there enough demand and other support (eg major sponsors) to ensure the move will work? We shall see.
But forget the detail for a few moments and observe that this is probably the most tangible example of levelling down we have seen to date – all done by an ‘arms’ length’ QUANGO of central government. True levelling up would have sustained London funding whilst raising it elsewhere. Odd that the Arts Council hasn’t itself volunteered to up sticks and head for, say, Redcar.”
LCA Partner and Senior Adviser Robert Gordon Clark
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Things are looking up for London’s transport, which is continuing to recover from the impact of the pandemic, though Londoners will be hit by further Tube strikes tomorrow. The latest figures from Transport for London (TfL) show that average passenger numbers have recovered to 78% of pre-pandemic levels on weekdays, while the figure is over 90% for weekends. The numbers are not only positive for TfL itself – which relies disproportionately, compared to global peers, on fare income – but for the London economy, suggesting that more commuters and consumers have been heading into town. The other good news for Londoners is that the three sections of the Elizabeth Line have now been joined up, meaning that passengers will no longer be required to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street as they did previously. Not only will this mean that journey times will be slashed even further, but the Line is also estimated to have created 55,000 new jobs. Nevertheless, passengers will be facing disruption tomorrow, as the RMT is set to stage industrial action on the Tube, despite calling off train strikes planned for earlier in the week.
LEVELLING DOWN (CONT'D)
While things are looking better for transport, the same cannot be said for London’s arts and culture sector, which has been hit hard by last week’s Art Council England’s funding announcement. Overall, the Arts Council has cut a total of £50m from London institutions in its 2023-2026 settlement. Some of the capital’s most iconic venues, including the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Opera House are set to have their subsidies reduced, while others, such as Hampstead Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse have seen theirs removed entirely. The English National Opera has also seen its funding removed but has been allocated £17m on the condition that it leaves London, with reports suggesting that it is most likely to relocate to Manchester. In response to the news, the Mayor has called on the Government to rethink the cuts, saying that London’s arts and culture scene contributes billions to the UK economy. It’s good news, then, that the team over at Queen Mary University of London have appointed 12 Cultural Advocacy Fellows who will lead the charge in calling on the Government to support the capital’s creative sectors – we wish them good luck!
THIS IS LEVELLING UP
Two announcements this week have shown how, in fact, London is part of the UK’s talent eco-system. Sheffield Hallam University has made a splash by announcing a new satellite campus in… London. It has unveiled plans for a new 110,000 sq ft campus for up to 5,000 students, starting from 2025/26, at the Brent Cross Town development, which is being led by LCA client Related Argent and their joint venture partners Barnet Council. As reported in the Evening Standard and elsewhere, this is the university’s first campus outside its home city and will focus on the recruitment of local students living in and around London – and who knows, many of these might be drawn to South Yorkshire in years to come. Separately, and just over London’s border, we’re thrilled that another client, London-based Grounded Practice, has been shortlisted as part of a team of firms led by Haworth Thompkins and Kjellander Sjoberg, in the Tendring and Colchester Borders Garden Community international competition to masterplan a 704ha Garden City-style development in Colchester, Essex. The masterplan features 9,000 homes, employment space, a new country park, university buildings, a rapid transport system and retail, leisure and community facilities. The winning team is expected to be announced in January 2023.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
The planning inquiry over M&S’ proposals to redevelop their Marble Arch store in Westminster came to an end on Friday last week. The inspector’s report is expected to be published in January, after which the Secretary of State will be able to make a final decision.
Havering Council has effectively let go of 60% of its planning enforcement staff – specifically deciding to not extend the contracts of agency staff – as part of a bid to make £13m in savings.
Kingston Council has approved London Square Developments and NHS Property Services’ plans for the redevelopment of an old NHS clinic on Hawks Road to make way for a new 13-storey building compromising 125 homes (50% affordable).
Schroders and Stanhope have submitted proposals for a 285 metre tall tower at 55 Bishopsgate in the City of London. According to Stanhope, the tower will be one of the first all-electric tall buildings in the UK and they hope it can be built by the end of the decade.
- Carolyn Downs has announced that she is to step down as Chief Executive of Brent Council in April 2023, with her replacement to be announced in early 2023. Also at Brent, Zahur Khan has been appointed Corporate Director of Communities and Regeneration.
- Southwark’s Strategic Director for Finance and Governance Duncan Whitfield has announced his departure from the Council.
- Patrick Franco has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of Notting Hill Genesis.
- The Crown Estate has appointed Rachael Sherratt as its Net Zero Transformation Director.
- David Silverman has been appointed to the Board of Lazari.
- Fatima Zaman has held Croydon’s Selsdon Vale and Forestdale seat for the Conservatives in a by-election triggered by the incumbent’s death.
- Dr Valerie Vaughan-Dick has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). RIBA has also announced Robbie Turner as its new Director for Diversity and Inclusion.
HOUSING MARKET LATEST
Higher interest rates and the cost-of-living crisis have increasingly priced buyers out of the market, prompting speculators to ask: how low can prices go? Following a series of Bank of England rate hikes and September’s ‘mini-budget’, demand for homes has fallen sharply, as much as 40% in the southeast of England, as borrowers face costly fixed-rate mortgages of around 5-6%. As a result, house prices are beginning to fall, though Nationwide and Halifax have only recorded relatively modest 0.9% and 0.4% drops in October. Forecasts for further price reductions in 2023 vary significantly, depending on who you ask. Nationwide expects prices to drop by 8-10%, but has warned a 30% drop is possible in a ‘worst case scenario’. Savills has predicted a 10% fall next year, while its counterpart Knight Frank has given a more conservative forecast of a 10% fall over two years. A cooling market could be positive for first-time buyers, however and an 8-10% drop will just about bring house prices in line with the highs of 2021. Nonetheless, prospective buyers can be hopeful of mortgage rates declining, albeit slowly, as the BoE signalled a more ‘dovish outlook’ for interest rates after its most recent rate hike. Whilst a downwards ‘adjustment’ would be welcomed by buyers, it heralds more difficult questions for developers and investors who have sunk large sums on land and projects – some of major housebuilders’ share prices are currently being pushed lower following a series of bearish trading updates this past week.
As ever, we’ve been closely tracking goings-on at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). On the ‘people’ front, the full responsibilities of junior Ministers at the department have finally been confirmed, with Helen Frazer MP formally taking on housing and planning and her (very brief) predecessor Lee Rowley MP confirmed as the minister responsible for local government, as well as building safety. Felicity Buchan MP has been handed the brief for homelessness, with her portfolio also spanning other supported housing, refugees and the private rented sector. Dehenna Davison MP retains the levelling up brief. And while Baroness Bybrook retains her faith and communities brief, she also gains responsibility as ‘lead for social housing’. Meanwhile, on policy, reporting by the Financial Times reinforces rumours that Liz Truss’ much-vaunted ‘Investment Zones’ will be killed off by the Treasury, with Michael Gove’s agreement. Gove has meanwhile been re-appointed to the Cabinet’s Union committee, which convenes key ministers to oversee Government strategy on the devolved nations. He has also continued to talk tough about building safety, most recently during a Commons session on the Social Housing Regulation Bill – though he does appear to have achieved more than talk during discussions with Persimmon. He has also expanded the Government’s intervention at Liverpool City Council ‘to get the city’s finances back on a stable footing’. Looking ahead, we’ll be watching Gove’s grilling by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee, on Monday 21 November.
England’s constituencies could look very different at the next General Election, judging by the Boundary Commission for England’s revised proposals. Under the plans – which will impact all of England – the number of constituencies in London specifically will increase from 73 to 75 and only three existing constituencies would be entirely unchanged. Analysis by The Times has found that under these most recent plans, Sir Keir Starmer would no longer live in his current constituency of Holborn and St Pancras and would instead be part of Hampstead and Highgate, a seat that would most likely be represented by Tulip Siddiq, currently the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. On a national scale, analysis by professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher – to be released after the proposals are confirmed next year – has found that the Conservatives would benefit slightly from these rejigged constituencies overall, though they favour Labour in the capital. These new proposals are now subject to a public consultation, the third and final one that will take place as part of this process, until 5 December. Proposals for the final changes to constituency boundaries need to be submitted to Parliament before 1 July 2023.
MUSK WREAKS HAVOC?
The Twittersphere is in a tizz over Elon Musk’s buyout, but what does it all mean for the media ecosystem? Following a fraught negotiation, the tech entrepreneur famously bought US-based Twitter for $44bn on 27 October. He has since floated moneymaking ideas, including plans for allowing any user to buy a ‘blue tick’ verification badge for $8 per month. While promising to safeguard what he calls ‘free speech’, Musk has also announced plans to ban unlabelled ‘parody’ accounts (some, bearing his name, have already been suspended) and to retain key moderation tools. But what has Musk objectively done? He has laid off about 50% of Twitter’s 7,500-strong staff, worldwide, only for some to be reinstated. He has triggered a flight of major advertisers from the platform, admitting this has led to a ‘massive drop in revenue.’ He has sent many users to alternative platforms, from Mastodon to Tumblr, with one estimate suggesting one million users were lost last week (of 238m globally in Q2 2022). So, in all not great. But let’s take a step back: Twitter was already a loss-making enterprise before Musk’s takeover. While estimates of usage trends and market share vary (some seeing increases and others a decline) Twitter is actually relatively small compared to Facebook. Twitter is also not alone in facing an ad revenue crunch and carrying out layoffs. This is not just a Musk-induced Twitterstorm – it’s a social media sea-change.
LCA SELLS IN (AGAIN)
At LCA we have once again been busy flexing our media muscles over the past few weeks. For our client Legendre UK, a French construction firm relatively new to the UK market, we secured not one, not two, but three pieces of great coverage: an insightful op-ed on what the construction sector needs from the Government in Building, a profile piece of a ‘one to watch’ project manager in Construction Management and an article covering their complex Shorts Gardens project in Construction Europe. In addition, in response to the Government’s double U-turn on Sizewell C funding last Friday, we helped secure a reactive op-ed for our client Hydrock in Building. Hydrock’s divisional director (nuclear) and energy sector lead Peter Sibley called on Sunak and his cabinet to set out a clear position on nuclear investment in the upcoming Autumn Statement, highlighting the importance of maintaining funding for Sizewell C in order to support the delivery of the UK’s future energy mix – consisting of renewable wind, solar and hydro power, and firm technologies like nuclear. This would also make good on the promises outlined by Johnson in the Energy Security Strategy, which are made all the more important in light of rising energy costs, COP27 and the war in Ukraine.
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