Since LDN – London in short launched in its current form we have put out 250 editions!
The world, and the capital, has changed immeasurably since we started in October 2017 and these 250 emails together tell a story of an incredibly turbulent time.
The record we have created is there for you all to see – it’s all stored on the LCA website – and you might also have spotted our little social media celebration this week too, where we’ve allowed ourselves to brag about the calibre of our readership.
But what better and more LCA-ish way to mark our 250th edition than with a competition! The first 50 readers to respond correctly by 2:50pm tomorrow (Thursday 12 January) to the following question will be entered into a prize draw to win one of three London-themed prizes. The questions is:
250 years ago, London’s emerging stock market moved home… to where?
Please email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Met Police Commissioner has claimed the capital is ‘fantastically safe’, following positive news of falling homicide numbers in 2022. According to figures recorded under Home Office Counting Rules, the total number of homicides for the year decreased by 17% compared to 2021 and was the lowest level recorded since 2014. The reduction in teenage homicides was particularly positive, down 53% in the same period and also at its lowest level since 2014. The figures are indeed welcome news, though a deeper dive into the Met’s crime data suggests that in 2022, overall offences were up by almost 8% against 2021 on average. Indicatively, sexual offences were up 6.2%; robberies by 21%; and thefts by almost 30%. Making London a safer city is vital not only to preventing personal tragedies and making it a better place for its residents, commuters and other visitors, but also to enable the city to continue attracting much-needed investment and talent. Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has acknowledged that challenges remain, vowing to increase high-visibility patrol and boost community policing, and recognising that the process of tackling widely-publicised failures within the force has only just begun.
Michael Gove promised to launch a consultation on revisions to the National Planning Framework (NPPF) ‘by Christmas,’ which he did… on 22 December. But this consultation is only a part of a bigger, fairly convoluted process. In a nutshell, this a preliminary consultation on unfinished legislation, to be followed by further consultation. The consultation immediately at hand covers an array of emerging policies, including the ‘proposed approach’ to updating the NPPF and preparing new National Development Management Policies, among other elements of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill (LURB), all handily outlined in this blog by Lichfields’ Jenny Baker. ‘A fuller review’ of the NPPF ‘will be required in due course, and its content will depend on the implementation of the government’s proposals for wider changes to the planning system’ including the LURB. The LURB itself is meanwhile headed for its second reading in the Lords only next Tuesday. But what does this all mean for London? It does seem to us that if the Government implements changes as proposed, local authorities in the capital’s commuter belt (and Outer London) will be tempted to lower their ambitions for housing delivery. Several councils in Surrey, as well as further afield in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire, have already sent signals to this effect.
In other planning-related news, the Levelling Up Secretary has endorsed a Policy Exchange report calling for the Government to found a new ‘School of Place,’ to help ‘wholeheartedly revive traditional architecture.’ This is the latest in a long line of reports supporting this kind of approach by the right-of-centre think tank, which was co-founded by Gove himself. His Department has meanwhile put the last nail in the coffin of Robert Jenrick’s Planning for the Future White Paper, admitting that it won’t be responding to its consultation’s 44,000 submissions.
NOT ANOTHER ONE...
The Government launched another consultation just before Christmas, on fire safety and building regulations. This consultation includes proposals to require that all new residential buildings in England of over 30 metres in height include two staircases, which would have to meet specific requirements. It is noted that there will be a ‘very short transition period’ before the changes are implemented, with the Government encouraging ‘all developments to prepare for this change now’. The proposals have been long-in-the making and are no great surprise – though it had previously been speculated that 18 metres was more likely to be the threshold. In August last year, ministers had warned the industry that plans for tall buildings with single staircases would have to meet other strict fire safety requirements, whilst in December the National Fire Chiefs Council joined others in calling for the change. Indeed, even before this consultation began, planning applications for several single-staircase tall buildings were withdrawn before going to committee after relevant concerns were raised. The Government has separately launched another consultation on the appointment of a Building Safety Director to support resident-led organisations with their duties under the Building Safety Act.
BUILDING SAFETY NEWS (CONT'D)
Building safety more generally is clearly and rightly a huge concern. Recent figures from the Health and Safety Executive, secured via a Freedom of Information request, have shown that it raised concerns about 349 planning applications between August 2021 and October 2022, around 60% of those that it has a statutory duty to scrutinise. The majority related to tall buildings that only had one staircase and 180 of those were located in London. Separately, the Mayor of London has called for the renationalisation of the Building Research Establishment, the UK’s building materials watchdog, which was privatised in 1997, to ‘drive up industry standards and restore public confidence.’ Of course, regulation is one thing and compliance is another. It has been reported that major housebuilders are ‘refusing’ to sign the Government’s legally-binding contract, which would make them responsible for the removal of dangerous cladding on their buildings. According to The Telegraph, Michael Gove’s re-appointment as Levelling Up Secretary has seen the agreement amended to be more ‘onerous’ than the version that developers had negotiated with the Department in his absence.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Newham Council has launched a further consultation for its draft Local Plan (2023-2038). The consultation closes on 20 February 2023.
- Custom House residents in Newham have voted 'yes' in an estate regeneration ballot on the local council’s plans for the area. 62% turned out to vote and 53% of those voted ‘yes’ to the proposed masterplan to deliver 734 homes (50% social rent) and a retrofit programme for 68 existing Council homes.
- The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is consulting on measures to ‘cut red tape’ for local residents, making it easier for them to retrofit their homes without requiring individual listed building consent.
- The London District Surveyor’s Association has nominated the City of London District Surveyors Office to act as the ‘London Hub’ – the Building Safety Regulator’s point of contact for all 33 London boroughs teams in the capital.
- The City of London Corporation is meanwhile preparing to review how the pandemic and hybrid working policies have affected office demand in the Square Mile and whether its existing City Plan needs to be adapted accordingly.
- Havering Council leader Ray Morgon has written to the transport secretary Mark Harper asking him to intervene to support the proposed Beam Park train station project. More on the latest from Beam Park here.
- A planning inspector has rejected Croydon Council’s objections to the redevelopment of ‘the final part of the Heath Clark playing fields’, paving the way for Conegate Ltd to build 140 homes (of which 23 would be for shared ownership and 34 for affordable rent) along with a community centre on the site.
- TFC Leisure’s plans to enclose the existing football pitch on the Tooting Common Triangle and build five pay-to-play synthetic pitches have been refused by an inspector after a public inquiry. The proposal was originally approved by Wandsworth Council’s previous administration.
- Montreaux Developments Ltd has submitted detailed plans to Ealing Council for the first phase of the redevelopment of ‘The Margarine Works’ – Plot A and B, which includes 867 homes, a hotel and new shops and cafes. Outline consent for the site on the former Maypole margarine factory in Southall was secured in 2019.
- Meadow Partners has submitted a revised proposal to redevelop the Tolworth Tower in Kingston, after previous plans were refused at appeal in June 2022. The revised proposals for this seemingly never-ending development saga, seek to deliver 500 new homes, the refurbishment of the tower, and the demolition of existing shops on the site to make way for new buildings of 13, 15 and 19 storeys in height.
NEW YEAR HONOURS
Several London local government figures were recognised in the New Year’s Honours list, including:
- Council officers Katherine Eaton (Westminster), Jahran Allen-Thompson, (Waltham Forest), and Verena Cornwall (RBKC).
- Sitting and former councillors Margaret McLennan (former deputy leader, Brent), Stephen Curran (former leader, Hounslow), Catherine McGuinness (former policy chair of the City of London Corporation), and Susan Fajana-Thomas (cabinet member for community safety and regulatory services at Hackney)
A number of individuals from the built environment were also recognised, including:
- Chair of Grimshaw, Andrew Whalley
- Founder of Black Females in Architecture and senior architect and innovative sites programme manager at Be First, Selasi Setufe
- Saleem Fazal and David Mann, co-chairs of Freehold LGBT+ CIC
- Former Chief Executive of Crossrail Mark Wild
- Indy Johar, co-founder of Dark Matter Laboratories and advisor to the Mayor of London on good growth
FUND ME, FUND ME NOT
Given the wider economic context, the capital’s regional and local authority budgets are unsurprisingly strained. Addressing the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee, the Mayor of London insisted Council Tax was ‘outdated, regressive unfair and not fit for purpose,’ but argued that he had no choice but to hike his portion by 3%. Recent analysis by The Times confirms that the Government’s reliance on Council Tax to fund local authorities is indeed a bit bonkers, confirming ‘huge regional variations’ between the capital and other regions. The Mayor has also warned that economic headwinds could slow London’s affordable housebuilding and of course he is separately facing pressure from Government (as part of the conditions attached to TfL’s current funding deal) to raise public transport fares in line with the 5.9% increase to mainline rail fares. Beyond City Hall, most local authorities that have published their budget proposals for 2023/24 are, like the Mayor, reluctantly opting to hike Council Tax. To give you a flavour, Brent (Lab), Harrow (Con), Hillingdon (Con) and Merton (Lab), are proposing the maximum 5% increase, while Barnet (Lab), is coming in a little lower at 3.8%. Meanwhile Tower Hamlets (Aspire) has proposed freezing the core element of council tax but would utilise the 2% adult social care precept.
SOCIAL HOUSING LATEST
In our last LDN special rounding up predictions for 2023, we highlighted the social housing sector as one that looks set to have a tough year. This week’s news very much confirms that:
- Three more social landlords, including Lambeth Council, have now been publicly named and shamed by Housing Secretary Michael Gove, after they failed to carry out required repairs in properties.
- In Haringey, a Council document has shown that 30% of Haringey’s housing stock fails to meet the Decent Homes Standard, while in Hammersmith & Fulham, there are plans to bring its housing management service in-house to improve service quality.
- Analysis carried out by London Tenants Federation (LTF) and based on GLA data has found that over the past 10 years, 22,895 social-rented homes in London have been demolished and only 12,050 built in that time.
- A recent report by Shelter has found that of an estimated 123,000 homeless children in temporary accommodation across England, nearly half (74,000) are in the capital – underlining the pressing need for more social and other specialist supported housing in London.
- In other social housing news, the initial target date for housing association Sanctuary’s merger with Swan has been extended to the end of this month.
CITY OF GRIPES?
In related news, the Daily Mail reported last week that 90% of ‘Britain's most complained about councils’ are in the capital – a partly inaccurate claim. The article was referring to analysis of Local Government Ombudsman and ONS data from 2016-2022 by Claims.co.uk, a claims management company. The Mail’s reporting is, frankly, a bit muddled. The original article on Claims.co.uk’s corporate website is clear that their research specifically covered England and not the entirety of Britain. The analysis still makes for rather grim reading, naming Haringey, Lambeth, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Waltham Forest, Croydon, Hounslow and Southwark as having been the subject of between 45.3 and 32.2 complaints per 10,000 people in the seven-year period examined. For comparison, the least complained about council in England appears to have been Kingston Upon Hull in North Humberside, with only 2.6. It is notable that housing was the ‘highest complaint category’ in no less than seven of the nine London boroughs mentioned. The article offers a bit more nuance, including more on their methodology and sources, but leaves much else to the imagination. For example, it does not tell us how these councils compare with the rest of London’s boroughs. Nor, crucially, does it tell us how they compare with… the 300+ other English councils in between the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ 10.
HIGH STREET WORRIES (CONT'D)
The pandemic, cost-of-living crisis, strikes and shift to hybrid working continue to challenge the high street’s recovery – but at least Christmas was a welcome boost. The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium show that footfall in December 2022 was up 15.1% from the previous year and major retailers have reported strong sales – though analysis by Springboard suggests that this January could possibly be the worst on record for footfall, with consumers staying away to save money and to avoid disruption wrought by rail strikes. Looking at the broader picture, the Centre for Retail Research has found that shop closures increased by almost 50% from 2021 to 2022, with over 17,000 closing across the UK. As for the hospitality sector, this week D&D London announced the closure of four of its 40 restaurants, two of which are in the capital. The company says that this is down to the current economic climate and ‘spiralling’ costs. Meanwhile, mobile phone data has shown that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are still by far the most popular days for working from the office. It’s therefore no surprise that City A.M. has announced that it is to go digital-only on Fridays, aiming to ‘redefine the weekend’ with a ‘bumper’ edition on Thursdays.
OLYMPIC LEGACY FAIL?
A widely-publicised report suggests that the 2012 London Olympics left little if any legacy in terms of increasing participation in sport. At least, this is how the press has interpreted the findings of a House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee inquiry, which began in July 2022 and more specifically assessed central government’s efforts to get more adults into sport since 2012. The report will certainly make for uncomfortable reading at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and especially Sport England, as the Committee found that their efforts ‘fell short of expectations’ and that the tracking of public spending and its impact in this area has been very poor. The report does, however, acknowledge that the Games more generally produced real dividends, including ‘substantial economic benefits.’ It also notes that, after an embarrassing 0.9% fall in adult participation in sport nationally in the three years following the Games, the trajectory was reversed and the proportion increased by 1.2% in 2016-19. The report also acknowledged that the wider sports and leisure sector urgently needs more government support to meet skyrocketing energy costs, as well as to maintain and develop leisure facilities in the long term.
The nation’s political parties are already in campaign mode, for an election that *checks calendar* has not yet been set. Both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer gave what felt suspiciously like campaign launch speeches – both at Here East on the Olympic Park – outlining their respective visions for the country. “Outlining” being the operative word, as Sunak aired five paper-thin pledges on which he wants voters to judge him, while Starmer gave only a fleeting glimpse of Labour’s agenda with the announcement of a ‘Take back control’ bill that would apparently 'devolve new powers over employment support, transport, energy, climate change, housing, culture, childcare provision and how councils run their finances.' With the Tories around 20 points behind Labour in the polls, Starmer has the advantage with a test not too far away in the shape of May’s local elections elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are reportedly angling to capitalise on the ‘Surrey shuffle,’ which could enable the party to target Labour voters who have moved from London to the home counties. Elsewhere, Sky News and Tortoise Media’s recently launched Westminster Accounts tool, which documents donations to MPs, has Tories and Labour members under fire for having sometimes questionable donors. From an electoral perspective, we found it interesting that Starmer has received more in donations than any other MP since the last general election, raising £200,000 more than Sunak.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated insight team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
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