"It’s very easy to draw a line between the first five stories in today’s edition of LDN. They cover between them, a skills and labour shortage, a shambolic police force, struggling schools, strikes, and tax increases to cover bare bones budgets.
Oddly, that last point is perhaps the most optimistic of all. December’s local government finance settlement is the most generous in 12 years and will mean that – with the council tax increases – many boroughs will see their core spending power up by around 10% next financial year. Through COVID in particular, the boroughs proved themselves to be a much needed and effective safety net for an ailing city, it seems like someone has noticed.
In much jollier news, thank you to all those who took part in our LDN turns 250 competition! The three winners have now been notified. For those who weren’t so lucky, you’ll just have to wait till we turn 300. Oh and, the answer to the question was Sweetings Alley…"
Jenna Goldberg - Partner and Managing Director, Insight
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The Mayor has waded into the Brexit debate once again, this time in a widely-anticipated and publicised speech at the annual Mansion House London Government Dinner hosted by the City of London Corporation. LCA Chief Executive Jonny Popper witnessed the barnstorming address first hand and it is clear that Sadiq pulled no punches. Consistent with views previously expressed on the issue, Khan argued that leaving the EU on the terms agreed by the national government has “weakened our economy, fractured our Union and diminished our reputation”. Looking to the future, he called for “greater alignment” with the EU, including a “pragmatic debate” about “the benefits” of the Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as devolving powers over immigration such that London can create its own regional shortage occupation list to address labour gaps. The media all crowed that Khan’s position is at odds with the Labour Party’s nationally but as of writing, no one seems to have rapped Khan’s knuckles (at least not in public). Indeed, one could posit a case for Starmer’s office being quite relaxed about Khan taking a strong line on behalf of a strongly Remain city, something he himself does not have the political headroom to do (if indeed he would want to).
ANOTHER MET FIASCO
Blue Monday felt even bluer for the women of London, and their allies too, as it was revealed that a serving Met Police officer was a prolific “serial rapist and abuser” who escaped scrutiny and consequences for far too long. Alongside this one particularly horrific case, it has emerged that the Met is currently investigating no less than “1,000 sexual and domestic abuse claims involving about 800 of its officers.” That’s about 2% of the 45,000 officers and staff employed by the Met. Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has apologised on behalf of the service, admitting that it has “failed” on several counts and offering assurances that work is underway to tackle the backlog of outstanding cases, vet other staff and review standing procedures. He has said that the Met "will reform at speed. I promise that to Londoners.” Mayor Sadiq Khan, who as Police and Crime Commissioner for London bears ultimate responsibility, has urged Londoners to give Rowley “time to turn around the police service,” referencing the fact that Rowley has only been in post for a few months. Still, we’ve begun to lose count of the times that the Met has fallen woefully short of any expected standards and promised to change. The clock is ticking and the world is watching.
Opposition to the planned expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has also been making headlines, with the Mayor of London now being accused of ‘manipulating’ the results of the consultation for the proposals. The GLA Conservatives have said that documents show that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Transport Seb Dance made ‘untrue’ remarks to the London Assembly when asked whether they had seen the interim findings of the consultation. The group is also claiming that there is proof that thousands of responses were excluded from the final results, which according to City Hall emails retrieved through a Freedom of Information request, was due to a prevalence of ‘copy and paste’ responses. Conservative London Assembly Member Nick Rogers has lodged a formal complaint against the Mayor with the GLA’s monitoring office. Separately, many boroughs have made their opposition to the expansion well-known; Lib Dem-controlled Sutton Council has said that it will ‘block’ the installation of new ULEZ cameras in the borough (though it is unclear how they would do this in practice). The extent of London’s traffic congestion problem has been laid bare by recent findings that it is, according to traffic information supplier Inrix, the most congested city in the world, with drivers in the capital spending an average of 156 hours stuck in traffic in 2022, with Chicago in second place on an average of 155 hours.
NO CITY FOR YOUNG PEOPLE?
Mergers or closures of primary schools in London could be on the cards as forecasts show a sharp fall in pupil numbers. A London Councils report states that 29 of the 32 boroughs expect an average 7.3% decrease in reception pupils over the next four years. The 17% fall in the capital’s birth rate between 2012 and 2021 is considered to be the primary driver for this trend, but London Councils has also noted families leaving the city due to Brexit and Covid as “other key factors at play”. Most school funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, meaning falling numbers could leave already financially-constrained schools having to close their doors for good. Recent examples in Redbridge, Islington and Camden highlight the impact on children and parents. The trend is however not uniform across the city and fewer schools will also lead to more competition for places. A separate analysis by The Access Group suggests some East London boroughs are struggling to cope with demand for primary places. Mitigation measures include mergers with nearby schools, narrowing the curriculum and cutting staff numbers, all of which will impact the quality of education. To avoid school closures and mergers, London Councils has called on the Government to provide appropriate funding which takes inflation into account. And on this note, the National Education Union has announced seven days of teachers’ strikes in February and March across England and Wales to protest ‘real terms pay cuts’.
LONDON, ON A BUDGET
It’s well and truly budget season for London’s local government and the writing’s on the wall – your council tax is probably going up. The City Hall portion of Londoners’ bills will increase by 9.7% or about £38.55 for Band D households, meanwhile at least 12 of London’s 33 boroughs have published draft budget plans for 2023/24 so far and of those, nine Labour and Tory-led boroughs are increasing Council Tax (including the social care precept) by the maximum of 4.99%. The other three are Barnet (Lab) which is proposing a rise of 3.8%, Haringey (Lab) at 2.99% and Tower Hamlets (Aspire), which believes it can manage with only a 2% increase. Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman asserts that he is “reversing austerity in London’s poorest borough,” though some of his spending decisions have raised eyebrows already. The ability to increase Council Tax is a mixed blessing for boroughs, as it is widely considered as a “regressive” tax.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- A judicial review of the Hendon Hub plans launched by a local resident will no longer go ahead after Barnet Council’s administration dropped the supplementary planning document (SPD) it had previously drawn up to guide development in the area.
- The planning inquiry into TfL and Native Land’s plans to redevelop South Kensington Station is reportedly “set to release its findings this month.” The appeal was lodged last year, following a decision by RBKC to reject the latest iteration of the joint venture’s plans to build shops and new apartments above the station.
- Lambeth Council will consult on plans for the redevelopment of the Pop Brixton site, including the refurbishment of International House’s commercial spaces, over 200 new homes (50% affordable), as well as various improvements for the local street markets and public realm and infrastructure.
- Taking part in a ballot, residents of the Juniper Crescent Estate in Camden voted in favour of One Housing and Countryside’s plans for the demolition and redevelopment of their estate. This is the second such ballot held by the housing association – the first having been the only estate regeneration ballot to have resulted in a no vote in recent years. 63% of the 116 votes cast were a “yes”.
- Late last week the ballot for the Church Street regeneration led by Westminster City Council also went through, with 73% voting in favour on a 56% turnout.
- Bromley Council has approved plans by Riverside Regeneration and Countryside Partnerships for 275 new homes as part of the regeneration of Calverley Close Estate. Existing residents will be provided with new homes and an additional 96 flats are also being built on the site.
- Bromley Council has also approved plans for a new endoscopy unit at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Orpington – though the plans seem to have proved controversial, with eight votes in favour and seven against. The new extension will create seven endoscopy theatres at the hospital.
- Redbridge Council has approved Peabody’s plans – part-funded by the GLA – for 98 new flats (100% affordable) on a TfL-owned builder’s yard.
- Tower Hamlets Council’s planning committee has approved TTSP’s proposals for a seven-storey data centre on a car park behind the former Financial Times Printworks building, despite concerns about the impact of the new development on the grade II*-listed structure expressed by both Historic England and the Greater London Authority.
- Developer St George has submitted plans to Sutton Council for the redevelopment of a B&Q site to deliver 1,000 new homes across eight buildings, including a 21-storey tower.
- Barking & Dagenham has launched a new £35m architectural services framework while RBKC has announced a £375m construction services framework.
- The London Assembly’s Planning and Regeneration Committee has published a report titled The Future of Planning in London. The report sets out 11 recommendations for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, and other proposed planning reforms.
- Turley has appointed Mark Underwood as Senior Director, Planning and Head of London. He joins from Deloitte where he was Head of Planning.
- Sir John Armitt has been re-appointed as Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) for another two years.
- Long-serving Barnet councillor Melvin Cohen passed away in December following four decades of public service, having first been elected to Barnet Council in 1982. A by-election will be held in the Golders Green ward on 16 February.
- Toby Fox has joined Inner Circle Consulting as Head of Marketing.
GRAPPLING WITH GOVERNANCE
Barnet Council’s new Labour administration is consulting on plans to move from a committee system of governance to an executive system with a leader and cabinet. The former, which the then Conservative administration adopted in 2014 to “encourage a broader and properly informed debate about the future of the council and the borough”, enables decisions to be made by politically balanced committees. Instead, like most other councils in London (excluding Richmond and Sutton), the Labour group wants Barnet to adopt an executive system, where most decisions are made by the Leader and cabinet members without the participation of opposition members. Unsurprisingly, the Conservative group has criticised the plans, accusing Labour of ditching a “far more inclusive and democratic system”. Council Leader Cllr Barry Rawlings has explained that the move will deliver on his Party’s manifesto pledge to ensure that decision-making is “more transparent, efficient and accountable” as it would be “much clearer” which councillors are making decisions. Residents have until 25 January to take part in the public consultation and the Council are hoping that the change will be in place from May 2023.
WHIZ THROUGH WHITEHALL
- The Government has cut financial support for businesses’ energy costs to £5.5bn over the 12 months from April, down from an estimated £18bn over the six months of this winter. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has described the move as “catastrophic” and spelling “the beginning of the end for tens of thousands of small businesses”.
- The Guardian has reported that fewer than 20 ‘investment zones’ will be implemented despite the Government receiving ‘hundreds of bids’. Ministers have also given final approval for two new freeports in Liverpool and East Anglia. Each will be given up to £25m in seed funding.
- Housing Minister Lucy Frazer has confirmed that the Government would be publishing a consultation on its proposed new Infrastructure Levy “shortly”. Frazer made the comment to MPs during an Oral Questions session last week.
- Local Government Minister Lee Rowley stated at the LGA’s Local Government Finance Conference 2023 last week that the Government will put more “meat on the bones” of the promised Office for Local Government (OFLG) over the coming weeks. DLUHC officials also at the conference outlined the Government’s thinking on local government financial reserves.
- The Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has published Reshaping consumer regulation: our implementation plan setting out the steps RSH is taking to get ready for the landmark Social Housing Regulation Bill.
- The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has appointed the Bartlett School of Architecture to work with innovation agency DG Cities to come up with ways to improve the energy efficiency of housing that is ‘difficult’ to decarbonise.
NET ZERO REVIEW(ED)
The Government has published former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore’s Net Zero Review, which sets out recommendations for the Government and built environment sector to realise Net Zero objectives. The review was commissioned to assess whether the approach to achieving net zero was the 'most economically efficient path' against a 'changed economic context' (including the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis). Skidmore has concluded that net zero is 'the growth opportunity of the 21st century' and the UK 'must go further and faster to realise economic benefits'. Amongst his many recommendations, Skidmore calls for a reform of the local planning system and the NPPF as it currently does not give sufficient weight to net zero as a 'national priority'. Additionally, the review includes a '25 by 2025' framework calling for clarity on the timelines for gas-free homes and appliances; bringing forward all consultations on the Future Homes Standard and legislating minimum energy efficiency rating to EPC B for all non-domestic buildings, both rented and owned, by 2030 (2025 for all new non-domestic building). React News and EG have set out further implications of the review, alongside industry reaction that has been mostly positive. The UK Green Building Council has urged the Government to 'decisively take forward the recommendations".
Since the New Year, the Labour Party leadership has certainly seemed on a drive to win over voters who may be hovering around the centre ground. Speaking to Laura Kuenssberg at the weekend, Sir Keir Starmer said that the NHS needs to ‘reform’ if it is to survive and criticised the ‘bureaucracy’ of the current system. Meanwhile, in an exclusive for The Sun, the Party also announced that it supports a freeze on fuel duty to ‘ease pressures’ on families and businesses, while in response to the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Starmer said that he thinks that 16 is too young for someone to legally change their gender. On a more local scale, the Financial Times has reported that relations between businesses in the borough and the new Labour-led Westminster City Council are ‘surprisingly cordial’, despite concerns from businesses in the immediate aftermath of the local elections. Leader of Westminster Cllr Adam Hug said that the Labour administration are ‘not revolutionaries’ and that the relationship between businesses and the local authority is a ‘pragmatic’ one.
The next London Mayoral elections are a year and a bit away and with Sadiq Khan now officially reselected as Labour’s candidate, the other parties are shifting into gear too. Long-standing London Assembly Member Andrew Boff confirmed that he will be seeking selection as the Conservative candidate for the sixth time, while Minister for London Paul Scully has suggested that he could also stand. In September last year, Samuel Kasumu, a former Special Advisor to Boris Johnson on Civil Society & Communities during his time as Prime Minister, announced his intention to seek the Conservative candidacy and just yesterday was the focus of an article in which he said that housing is set to be at the heart of his campaign. As for the other parties, the Greens so far have three people seeking to be selected as the Party’s candidate: Hackney councillor Zoe Garbett, Islington councillor Benali Hamdache and Lambeth councillor Scott Ainslie. As for the Lib Dems, at the time of writing it doesn't seem like anyone has publicly declared their intention to seek the candidacy for the Party...
CITY BUBBLES GLEAM
Giant bubbles appeared across the City this week, as the Evanescent art installation arrived in London for the first time. Commissioned by LCA client the Eastern City BID, the sound and light installation has been designed by Australian studio Atelier Sisu and delivered by FESTIVAL.ORG. It consists of clusters of 7.5m high bubbles, reflecting rainbow colours into its surroundings. The installation has been placed beside the west entrance of the Leadenhall Building, aka the Cheesegrater, and was featured live on Monday’s BBC London evening news, including an interview with new EC BID CEO Kate Hart. The installation is part of RECHARGE, a campaign launched by the BID to support the mental health and wellbeing of workers and visitors to the area, and drive footfall to local businesses struggling during a quieter-than-usual January. LCA was heavily involved in creating, promoting and delivering the campaign.
LCA SELLS IN
LCA kicked off the new year with a Letter-to-the-Editor takeover in the first edition of Property Week 2023, helping secure coverage for our clients Hydrock and VU.CITY. Hydrock energy associate Sadaf Askari spoke to the importance of government adopting in-use energy metrics over EPC ratings, while VU.CITY chief executive Jamie Holmes called on the industry to use a turbulent 2023 to lay the foundations for a resurgent UK economy in 2024 and 2025. Elsewhere, LCA helped secure an extensive feature for our longstanding client Quintain in Building Magazine – showcasing the dramatic regeneration at London’s iconic Wembley neighbourhood.
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