“If I had the energy for Twitter discourse, I might pose the following question to the masses. Is there a public institution or structure in this country that is currently working well, or if not well, then at least adequately? Genuine question – answers in an email or via the comments box at the end of our LDN Readers’ Survey here (it’s your last chance to fill it out!).
In this edition we start with strikes (multi-sector and for weeks on end), move onto a planning system on its knees , a transport system in desperate need of cash and some cold hard truths about housebuilding.
Luckily, all these challenges and more will soon be met by promised ‘visions’ from both the Prime Minister and the Labour Party. Devolution, in some form or other, seems to be a key ingredient of all possible solutions but no one wants to talk about the enormous economic engine in the room.
Neither the Government’s (the GOVE-erment’s?) Levelling Up agenda nor Gordon Brown’s Commission can quite bring themselves to suggest that London might have a role to play in a better future. Indeed, that was the focus for much of the discussion at last night’s OnLondon and London Society debate which I was honoured to be part of. Chaired by Dave Hill, it took the form a thought experiment, what would happen if London was an independent state, would anyone miss us?”
LCA Managing Director, Insight and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg.
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Rail workers' announcement of strikes at Christmas are not so much a surgical strike against their employers as a carpet-bombing of London’s economy. The RMT union had already called rail strikes on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December, as well as on 3, 4, 6 and 7 January. They then rejected the Rail Delivery Group’s latest pay rise offer (4% this year and 4% the next) and called an additional strike lasting from 6pm on Christmas Eve to 6am on 27 December. If it goes ahead as planned, their action will affect Network Rail and national rail operators, including services in and out of the capital. It remains to be seen whether RMT members at London Underground and other TfL services will join in (some bus lines will be affected by separate strikes, on 9, 10, 16 and 17 December). Needless to say, the RMT is not alone, with workers across multiple sectors also staging walkouts throughout the coming weeks, over a variety of issues mostly centred on pay and working conditions amid high inflation and the cost of living crisis. Nevertheless, RMT’s Christmas strike is a risky gambit, which may backfire. Polling suggests that the public is less than pleased, while the strikes will strain already-fraying relations with the Labour Party and may cost hospitality businesses alone something in the order of £1.5bn, according to one estimate.
With the Government cooking up legislation that could restrict the right to strike, this could well be a last hurrah from the RMT – but even if so, they seem intent on going out with a bang. Either way, the collateral damage will be significant, particularly in London, whose wider ecosystem of hospitality, retail, entertainment, arts and culture organisations is bound to be disproportionately affected. All we want this Christmas is... a compromise.
In a remarkable plot twist, Tory rebels have succeeded in substantially changing the course of planning reform. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has accepted, wholly or in part, several amendments to the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Bill (LURB) from two camps of backbench Tory MPs. The first U-turn sees Gove effectively agreeing to scrap mandatory housing targets by accepting an amendment proposed by Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers and Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely, who are naturally quite chuffed. The target number will now be merely ‘advisory’ and the rebels have also achieved concessions on a number of other amendments. The second U-turn will relax planning restrictions on new onshore wind farms via an amendment tabled by MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Simon Clarke, who is also quite pleased. Gove insists that the Government can still meet its 300,000 new homes per-year target, despite evidence (see Planning Crunch below) that even the current, more demanding regime has failed to achieve this. While the Government says it will work to incentivise building on brownfield land in urban areas, it’s been promising to do that for what seems like aeons. It therefore seems doubtful that, absent significant funding (which the Government doesn’t seem to have much of these days), London and other metropolitan areas can realistically be asked to carry this burden for the entire country. In fact, it seems much more likely that Seely, Villiers & Co.’s amendments will enable local authorities, whether in London or elsewhere, to lower their ambitions for housing growth.
Looking ahead, the LURB is expected to return to the Commons for its second Report Stage vote as soon as next week, whilst the long-awaited consultation on the new National Planning Policy Framework ‘prospectus’ has now been promised ‘before Christmas.’
Planning reform cannot come too soon, amid mounting evidence that the system is stuttering. According to analysis of DLUHC housing delivery figures by Savills, 232,820 additional homes were built in England in the year to March 2022, up 10% on the previous year. However, over the same period planning approvals for new homes reached a seven-year low (281,000 approved in the year to June). A serious lack of resources for planning authorities is clearly straining the system and research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has found that nine in ten local planning authorities are facing enforcement backlogs and ‘unmanageable’ workloads, resulting in fewer pre-application discussions and applications being considered. Meanwhile, a report by the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee states that the Government itself is likely to deliver 32,000 fewer homes than it set out to achieve with its 2016-2021 affordable homes building programme. The Committee goes so far as to say ‘DLUHC does not seem to have a grasp on the considerable risks to achieving even this lower number of homes.’
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The planning inquiry into Mitsubishi Estate and CO-RE’s proposals to demolish and redevelop 72 Upper Ground, the site of ITV’s former headquarters on London’s South Bank, into an office complex began on Tuesday. The inquiry is expected to last 12 days into the new year.
- Ealing Council has launched a consultation on its draft new local plan. Local residents have until 25 January to provide their feedback.
- Tower Hamlets Council’s planning committee has unanimously voted against China’s proposals for a new embassy at Royal Mint Court. The committee resolved to reject the application, against officers’ recommendation, ‘due to concerns over the impact on resident and tourist safety, heritage, police resources and the congested nature of the area.’ The application will now be referred to the Mayor of London.
- Hammersmith & Fulham Council has approved Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s proposals for 1,700 homes (340 of which will be affordable) across nine buildings next to its Westfield London shopping centre in White City.
- Haringey Council has approved Catalyst Housing Association and developer Hill Residential’s plans (part detailed and part outline) to redevelop parts of the St Ann’s Hospital complex and build 995 homes (59% affordable), a supermarket and other commercial spaces in a series of buildings up to nine storeys high.
- Hounslow Council has approved proposals by A2Dominion and TTL Properties, Transport for London’s commercial property company, to develop 348 new homes (100% affordable, a mix of shared ownership and London Affordable Rent) across four blocks near Hounslow West Tube station.
- Southwark Council's planning committee has approved Tribe Student Housing’s plans for a 14-storey block of student accommodation with 219 bedrooms next to the Crown Court on Newington Causeway.
- Kingston Council has revealed its plans to redevelop the Guildhall, its now-vacant former HQ. They include 217 homes, shops and offices in buildings up to nine storeys tall. The news comes as the council’s new draft Local Plan is out for consultation.
- The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has ‘hit back’ at calls to withdraw plans for a huge expansion of the Wimbledon sports grounds, in a letter to Merton council’s planning department.
See Our Week section below for more planning news
RETAIL PROPERTY WORRIES
Another week, another round of stories suggesting that commercial property is in for a tough 2023. Whilst Springboard’s latest research indicates rising footfall as Christmas approaches, it also confirms that the recovery of London's high streets continues to lag behind other regions’ and remains below 2019 levels. In this light, the Mayor has called for a widening of Business Rates relief measures (and full devolution of Business Rates to the capital), whilst luxury fashion brands have joined others in calling for a return of VAT-free shopping for foreign tourists. Elsewhere on the high street, Fenwick has clearly decided that its Bond Street department store is unviable and has confirmed its closure and sale after more than 130 years. HSBC meanwhile announced the closure 114 of its branches across the UK (including in London) starting April 2023, though in this case the company cites customers' increasing preference for online over in-person transactions. But location is everything and some places are clearly faring better than others, with West End landlord Shaftesbury announcing that its earnings for the year ending September 2022 increased by 45.1% and that it had returned to pre-pandemic levels of rent collection. Looking to the future, it is clear that the mix of high street uses will shift, with Savills expecting around 1m sq ft of retail space on Oxford Street to be converted into offices over the next five years.
- Chief Executive of Waltham Forest Martin Esom has announced that he is to retire at the end of 2023.
- The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has appointed Paul Morrison as its new Chief Executive.
- Peabody has appointed Elly Hoult as its new Chief Operating Officer. She joins from Notting Hill Genesis where she is currently Director of Assets and Sustainability.
- Nadia Whittome MP (Labour, Nottingham East) has been appointed to the Levelling Up. Housing and Communities Committee, replacing Florence Eshalomi MP (Labour,Vauxhall).
- Dominvs Group has appointed former Berkeley Group veteran Sean Ellis as a Non-Executive Director.
With the pandemic mostly behind us and a General Election not all that far off, both of the UK’s biggest political parties are beginning to trail their respective long-term visions. Politico’s London Playbook had the scoop on plans for Rishi Sunak to ‘lay out his broad vision in the early part of next year – January or February – in a speech or similar set-piece moment.’ More immediately, The Times has reported that ‘Big Bang 2.0’, a package of measures to boost the competitiveness of the City, could be launched ‘as soon as this week’. However, the Labour Party has arguably attracted significantly more attention with the final report of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Commission on the UK’s Future. The report makes a variety of recommendations for reforming the Lords, devolution, the ‘future of the union’ and ‘cleaning up our politics’. While launched to great fanfare, the Labour Party has not yet technically accepted the report’s recommendations in full and though Gordon Brown is bullish, Keir Starmer’s endorsement is heavily caveated, pending a ‘period of consultation.’ From the perspective of the capital, Centre for London’s Nick Bowes has found Brown’s report ‘underwhelming’, suggesting that it wrongly treats devolution in London as ‘job done,’ whilst OnLondon’s Dave Hill similarly argues that the report ‘tiptoes around fraught and crucial questions about London’s relationship with the rest of the country.’
Transport for London’s draft Business Plan, the first since before the pandemic, was published last week ahead of today’s Board meeting. The papers reveal that TfL will have to find an additional £600m a year in savings by 2025-26 due to inflationary pressures and the conditions of the funding settlement agreed with Government in August. That corresponds to about 20% of TfL's operating budget last year and is on top of £400m in recurring annual savings already achieved since 2019. As expected, the papers also state that more Government funding is required if TfL is to proceed with long-term capital investments, including new rolling stock and signalling upgrades. The Greater London Authority family’s wider budget-making process is also well underway, with the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee meeting twice this week to discuss funding for the Mayoral Development Corporations and for Police and Fire services. The Assembly will continue this process in the new year, and should conclude in late February. The early draft Budget for 2023-24 reveals that the biggest single new funding allocation is £4.9m to support Londoners through the cost of living crisis, while £1.4bn has been allocated to housing delivery. Next week, we will also take a closer look at the recently-announced UK Shared Prosperity Fund's (UKSPF) allocation for London.
The Mayor has separately – though we assume not coincidentally – released the findings of research from Savills, which suggest that London needs an additional £22.2bn over the next five years to deliver affordable housing and meet the identified demand for an average of 52,000 new homes a year. In the Mayor’s own words that is ‘an additional £4.4bn annually’ and ‘equivalent to more than six times the funding settlement London received.’ We wish him luck in securing that kind of money from Jeremy Hunt.
MAYOR OF THE ARTS?
The Mayor has been burnishing his arts and culture credentials. First, it was announced that City Hall is working alongside community groups and the arts sector to create a new annual event that will celebrate Black culture, as promised in his manifesto. The first such event will take place in autumn 2023 and will be shaped by a new advisory group. Separately, the Mayor also attended the unveiling of a new artwork in Lewisham as part of the London Borough of Culture programme. ‘Breathe:2022’, a series of drawings depicting the borough’s residents and air quality campaigners, will be projected onto buildings and bridges. Also, in a handy crossover with his environmental agenda, Sadiq has announced that the GLA has part-funded The Arts Green Book: Sustainable Buildings, a guide put together by Renew Culture and Buro Happold, focusing on how cultural buildings can be more sustainable. In addition to these new features, London’s cultural scene is set to look a little different over the next few years, after the closure of the Museum of London at the weekend. After welcoming a record number of visitors, the Museum shut it doors ahead of its relocation to Smithfield Market as The London Museum, set to open in 2026.
Former Health Secretary and recent I’m a Celebrity candidate Matt Hancock is the fifteenth Tory to announce they will be standing down ahead of the next General Election. His announcement follows similar statements from some of the party’s ‘big hitters’, including former Chancellor and Leadership contender Sajid Javid and current Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison. One wouldn’t wish to idly speculate, but many of those stepping aside were at one point considered to be rising stars of the party. Perhaps they are now more eager to avoid a potentially embarrassing election defeat, or stint in opposition.
On the other side of the aisle, Labour Leader Keir Starmer continues to attract criticism over his party's selection drama. In Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Labour’s regional office in London has disbanded the local selection committee claiming that emails sent out to local members ahead of nomination meetings were “giving an unfair advantage to one candidate”. Ongoing developments suggest London Office’s intervention has propelled Starmer’s reported preferred candidate and current Camden Council Cabinet Member, Danny Beales, on to the shortlist despite receiving support from just one branch. Elsewhere, Abtisam Mohamed has won the closely-watched selection process for Sheffield Central, beating Eddie Izzard.
DOUBLE SUCCESS IN ISLINGTON
Newlon Housing Trust’s plans for Old Barnsbury estate were approved unanimously by Islignton’s planning committee last night. The project is part of the wider Barnsbury Estate Transformation (BEST) project, which aims to improve housing conditions, deliver more green spaces on the Estate, and future-proof homes for residents of Old Barnsbury. Only last week ‘New Barnsbury’, a redevelopment JV between LCA clients Newlon and Mount Anvil was also approved. LCA has worked on both projects for over three years, delivering workshops, drop-ins, resident newsletters, stakeholder and community engagement and a positive Estate Ballot result in March 2021.
LCA BACKS NLA
We are delighted to be supporting our partners and friends at New London Architecture (NLA) as they begin a new chapter in their history. Our founder and now Senior Advisor, Robert Gordon Clark has been appointed as one of three senior advisors to NLA along with cities expert Greg Clark and architect Sadie Morgan, who will chair the NLA’s Sounding Board, succeeding Robert Evans of Argent. Meanwhile, our Managing Director, Insight (and LDN Editor) Jenna Goldberg has been appointed as Chair of the new Opportunity London Steering Group.
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