Schools are out this week, so our somewhat depleted team brings you a slightly shorter edition. That said, the stories we unpick for you today are no less meaty than usual!
Take the latest readings of the national and London economies, which are surprisingly encouraging (with important caveats) amidst the doom-and-gloom. Or a stack of planning decisions and other built environment news from across the city. Or major policy changes in the spheres of building safety, sustainability, and social housing. As ever, we’ve taken a fine comb to these and other topics, honing in on the real story under the headlines, with handy links to further information and analysis!
Meanwhile, the LCA team is gearing up for this year’s MIPIM in Cannes – read on for more on our delegation to this major fixture of the property calendar.
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The news could be better, but was widely expected to be worse, with the UK narrowly avoiding a recession in late 2022. Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures indicate that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remained “broadly flat” during the last quarter of 2022, though it did fall by 0.5% in December and of course performance varies by sector. It has since been reported that our EU neighbours are also set to avoid a recession, suggesting the UK is not alone in beating what turned out to be overly pessimistic forecasts. There’s also been good news on other economic fronts. UK annual consumer price inflation (CPI) slowed to 10.1% last month – still high, but thankfully “the lowest reading since September” and London’s FTSE 100 index meanwhile marked a new high only yesterday, putting a smile on traders’ faces in the City. Indeed, on paper at least, the capital’s regional economy as a whole has “bounced back” from Covid’s impact, with analysis of separate regional GDP figures for the third quarter of 2022 suggesting that London’s output was 2.7% above the last quarter of 2019, with growth markedly higher than other English regions’. Even so, per the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, “we are not out of the woods.” Looking ahead to the budget statement on 15 March , an alliance of business groups has warned that even London’s bouncy economy faces structural impediments to continued growth, not least of which is a “chronic” labour shortage.
Social housing providers, already under close scrutiny, now face strict time limits to address damp and mould issues under proposed new legislation. Following the tragic death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak, caused by damp and mould in his home, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has tabled amendments to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to introduce ‘Awaab’s Law.’ The amendments will require landlords to fix reported health hazards within specified timeframes or ‘face the full force of the law’. The new rules will also form part of the tenancy agreement so that landlords can be held accountable by law if they fail to provide a ‘decent home’. The clauses’ implementation will however also require a consultation ‘later this year’ to set the specifics of required timeframes for landlords to act, as well as secondary legislation. Alongside Awaab’s Law, the Government has also tabled amendments that aim to deliver a range of improvements to insolvency arrangements, data protection and written reporting after inspections.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The MSG Sphere proposals for Stratford could be called-in by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove as the Telegraph reports that he has asked London Legacy Development Corporation officials “not to grant permission on the applications without specific authorisation.”
- The Mayor of London has decided not to call-in plans for a new Chinese Embassy in Tower Hamlets after they were refused by the borough. The Telegraph has, however, reported that the applicants are preparing to appeal the borough's decision, leading to speculation that Gove may also call this application in.
- The planning inquiry into Montreaux’s plans development plans for the B&Q site in Cricklewood in Barnet started on Tuesday 14 February. It is expected to sit for 7 days.
- Waltham Forest Council has announced it will carry out an additional consultation on part two of its Local Plan to ensure that it “fully aligns” with the modified version of its Local Plan part one, after inspectors raised concerns about the document's high housing target.
- Camden Council has approved proposals for a new entrance building at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The new building will create a new main entrance for the children’s hospital, as well as 30 consulting rooms, 120 beds, training areas, a cancer centre and intensive care units.
- Having submitted a revised planning application for phase one for Site A of the Church Street regeneration project, Westminster City Council is now also seeking a joint-venture partner for this section of the wider scheme.
- Meanwhile, Westminster City Council’s planning committee has rejected plans for a gambling arcade on the site of a former Boots store on London’s Oxford Street, going against officers’ recommendations, due to concerns about anti-social behaviour and harm to the street’s reputation as a retail district.
Sir Jonathan Thompson has been appointed as the Chair of HS2 Ltd. Thompson had already served as Deputy Chair for the past year and succeeds Allan Cook (who stepped down in June 2021)
DLUHC’s Director of Planning Conrad Smewing is reportedly leaving his role to return to the Treasury.
The Green Party has selected Hackney councillor Zoe Garbett as its candidate for the 2024 London mayoral election.
Architects and developers working on certain schemes will need to go back to the drawing board following updated guidance from the Mayor on both fire safety and air quality. The GLA’s Planning team has confirmed that, with immediate effect, all planning applications for residential buildings over 30 metres in height must now include a second staircase before they are referred to the GLA at Stage 2 for a decision from the Mayor. This is in alignment with the proposals set out in the Government’s consultation on mandating second staircases, which closes on 17 March. Sadiq Khan has separately announced the adoption of new planning guidance which aims to reduce the negative impact new developments have on air quality - specifically Air Quality Positive (AQP) guidance and Air Quality Neutral (AQN) guidance. In spelling out the requirements of London Plan Policy SI 1 Improving air quality, these two guidance documents raise the bar for ensuring new developments do not contribute to harmful emissions, by requiring developers to consider air quality at every stage of the development process. Aside from clarifying existing policy, they crucially specify new benchmarks setting out the maximum allowable emissions of NOx and particulate matter based on the size and use class of the proposed development – and it is widely expected that these benchmarks will further restrict the use of gas- and wood-burning heating systems.
SCRAMBLE TO SUSTAINABILITY
There has been a whole host of other news in recent weeks about steps being taken to improve the sustainability of the built environment:
- University College London has announced that it is launching The Centre for Sustainable Governance and Law in the Built Environment, a new research centre which will focus on reducing the carbon emissions created throughout the construction process.
- The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has announced a Commercial Retrofit Task Group of over 30 property industry experts, who will lead a study on understanding the effectiveness of different retrofit measures for commercial buildings. The findings of the study will be published this summer.
- Natural England has published a Green Infrastructure Framework aimed at planners and developers to ensure that people are able to access green space or water within a 15-minute walk from their home.
- The City of London Corporation has submitted proposals which would require buildings to either switch off or dim their lights at night in a bid to ‘cut light pollution and save energy’.
- Former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore, who published his independent review of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy last month, has more recently said that delays to planning reform pose threats to the UK achieving its net zero goals.
London’s transport is looking to the future, with the DLR and parts of the Tube working on long-awaited upgrades – though strike action continues to affect services. The Mayor visited Beckton depot last week to see the first of the 54 new DLR trains that will be introduced from 2024. Newham Council has meanwhile said that it is ‘working closely’ with partners including Transport for London to ‘build the case for the funding’ of the extension of the DLR to Beckton Riverside and Thamesmead, long-mooted plans that have never really got off the ground due to TfL’s funding issues. Meanwhile, passengers are now able to benefit from 5G on more of the Tube network, with coverage now having been rolled out on the Central line between Holland Park and Queensway, as well as on the Northern line between Archway and Kentish Town. However, there are still a few bumps in the road, with Abellio bus drivers going on strike on 20 and 21 February, continued disruption on the Elizabeth line due to ongoing industrial action and with Aslef set to ballot Tube drivers over pensions.
LCA AT MIPIM
It’s that time of year again! LCA Partner & Co-Managing Director, Politics, Engagement and Planning Jane Groom and Senior Advisor Sarah Rawlings, will be heading down to (hopefully sunny) Cannes from 13 to 16 March for MIPIM, joining LCA co-founder Robert Gordon Clark. We have our usual mix of events and meetings and are looking forward to catching up with clients and associates. Do get in touch if you are also planning on attending and would like to connect!
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