This week's edition is an apt reminder that all becomes clear if you follow the money and - to mix and match our proverbs a bit - that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.
Resistance to the expansion of the ULEZ, covered by our headline story, is ultimately about car-dependent residents' and businesses' ability to pay. Other stories - covering City Hall, social and private rented housing, high streets, and even some of our planning news - are also, fundamentally, about money matters.
To mix things up a bit, we also bring you a pile of people news, political intrigue, and a bit of culture too! Finally, we ask whether you have five minutes to help with an important research project – read to the end for more about our Un_Biased campaign for an economy where gender is not a barrier and to find a link to a short survey.
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THE ULEZ WAR?
Opponents to the Ultra Low Emission Zone’s (ULEZ) expansion are lining up to bash Sadiq Khan’s flagship policy. Apparently, Ministers are looking at whether the Mayor has exceeded his powers under the GLA Act of 1999, though the Government itself has downplayed these reports. Meanwhile, Conservative backbenchers, including Boris Johnson, are supporting an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill tabled by Lord Moylan, which if passed would not only prevent the ULEZ’s expansion but also threaten it in its current form. Separately, the Tory-led London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon, alongside Surrey County Council, have announced a legal challenge against the expansion on multiple grounds. The Mayor is also facing gentler opposition from London Labour MPs Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden), Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham), Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) and Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) who have expressed concerns about the expansion’s impact in the context of other cost-of-living pressures. Trade union Unite has meanwhile branded the expansion nothing less than ‘anti-worker’. Despite all this, the Mayor has insisted that there will be no change to the expansion timetable, a big gamble with an election just over a year away. A gamble not unlike the one that Ken Livingstone took when he pushed through London’s Congestion Charge 20 years ago. Ken won his bet. Will Sadiq win his?
A FREE MEAL?
A cynic might wonder about the timing of the Mayor’s expansion of free school meal provision in the capital. One would be forgiven for thinking it might be related to the ULEZ heat and the fact that the Mayor’s final 2023/24 Budget is due to be considered by the London Assembly on Friday. This budget does after all include a hefty hike of City Hall’s share of Council Tax. But that would be a very cynical take on what is only very good news for London’s poorest families. The Mayor’s announcement outlines a ‘one-off’ expenditure of £130m, funded by additional business rates income, which will provide all 270,000 primary pupils in London with free school meals for a year. Even the London Assembly Conservatives have endorsed the plan in principle – and how could they not? However they, and others like former Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke, have argued that the spend might be more effective if focused on lower income families, allowing its benefits to be extended secondary schools also.
Beyond City Hall, the capital’s Town Halls are also in the final stages of approving their budgets. According to our latest tally, 20 of 33 local authorities in the capital are planning to raise Council Tax by 4.99%, the maximum allowed without a referendum. One (Croydon) has secured special dispensation to raise its rate by a staggering 15%. One (Barnet) is aiming for 3.8%. Whilst four (RBKC, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster) are going for 2%. Seven have yet to declare.
SOCIAL HOUSING LATEST
Meanwhile, social landlords are also facing a difficult financial and political landscape. An informal national survey by Inside Housing suggests that most social landlords are planning to raise their rents by the full 7% allowed by the Government. Not surprising in light of inflation but certainly a tough pill to swallow for tenants given current perceptions of the sector. Indeed the Housing Ombudsman continues to take many a landlord to task over poor housing conditions, with London sadly a hotspot that seems to keep the watchdog ‘busy.’ The Ombudsman has also launched a consultation on its business plan for 2023-24, which assumes a ‘fourfold increase’ in investigations as the sector deals with the cost-of-living crisis, economic pressures, ‘heightened media coverage,’ as well as ‘a year of further change’ in the policy landscape (notably the progress of the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and other reforms heralded by the Social Housing White Paper). Meanwhile, the National Housing Federation has welcomed ‘Awaab’s Law,’ which will force landlords to investigate and repair serious cases of damp and mould faster. Given all of this, many providers will find some relief in being granted a three-month extension to deliver works funded by the first stage of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). Only 7% of energy performance improvements in 66 authorities across England have been completed so far.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Housing Secretary Michael Gove has issued an Article 31 holding directive for the MSG Sphere development in Stratford. The directive puts a pause on the LLDC and Mayor of London signing off on the proposals, while Gove weighs up whether the scheme should be called in.
- Waltham Forest Council has launched a commission ‘of industry experts from a range of sectors’ to explore ways of increasing affordable housing supply in the borough. The commission is expected to publish a report containing recommendations for the Council later this year.
- Enfield Council has decided to ‘review’ the Meridian Four phase of its Meridian Water flagship regeneration scheme, citing an ‘unprecedented’ rise in construction costs’.
- The GLA has said NEAT Development’s proposals to build 1,800 new homes (35% affordable) in eight blocks up to 38 storeys tall in Walthamstow are not compliant with planning rules as the area is not identified as ‘suitable’ for tall buildings.
- The City of London Corporation has approved Dominus Group’s proposals to build a 780-bed, 21-storey student housing development at 65 Crutched Friars.
- The City of London Corporation has also appointed Mace to construct the Salisbury Square Development, a new civic hub designed by Eric Parry Architects (with community engagement undertaken by LCA), which will house a new legal facility for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and new HQ for the City of London Police.
- Newham Council’s planning committee have voted unanimously to approve the borough’s own plans for 147 new affordable homes on Vincent Street, at the edge of Canning Town.
- TfL’s property arm, TTL Properties, has signed a joint-venture agreement with Helical to develop sites above Bank, Paddington and Southwark stations. All three sites currently have full planning permission for commercial office developments.
- Kensington & Chelsea Council has selected Mount Anvil as its development partner to deliver 600 homes across several sites in the borough, 50% of which will be for social rent and key workers.
- Media company Time Out has abandoned plans for a 20,000 sq. ft plus food market in London’s Spitalfields due to the ‘drawn-out planning approval process’.
- Just outside London, in Buckinghamshire, Pinewood Studios has been granted planning consent for a 1.4m sq. ft expansion, which would make it ‘the largest studio complex in the world.’
- L&Q Chief Executive Fiona Fletcher-Smith will become the Chair of the G15 group in June, when Geeta Nanda’s, Chief Executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley, term comes to an end.
- The National Housing Federation has appointed Alistair Smyth as its new Director of Policy and Research, starting in March. He joins from Guinness Partnership, where he was Director of External Affairs and Social Investment.
- Smith Mordak, currently Director of Sustainability and Physics at Buro Happold, has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC). In June, Mordak will replace Julie Hirigoyen who is stepping down after eight years in the role.
- Telford Homes has appointed Lesley Chen Davison as Chief Operating Officer. Chen Davison joins from GoSpace AI and has previously held roles at Seaforth Land and Delancey.
- The Rt Hon Chris Philp MP has been reselected as the Conservative candidate for Croydon South.
- The Conservatives have held a safe seat in Golders Green ward in Barnet, in a by-election triggered by the death of long-standing councillor Melvin Cohen. Cohen is succeeded by Peter Zinkin, who is no stranger to the Council, having previously been elected to represent Childs Hill ward between 2014 and 2022.
LONDON FOOTFALL RISING
Recent data indicates that there a mixed outlook for the capital’s high streets. Springboard has reported that in the week to 7 February, footfall in central London rose by 36.4% compared to the same week last year, clearly positive. We were, however, just coming out of a mini-lockdown at that point last year and the same data suggests that footfall remains 19.5% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Separate data from the Office for National Statistics meanwhile shows that UK retail sales unexpectedly grew in January and CBRE has meanwhile found that there is 3m sq ft of new retail and office space underway on Oxford Street. Nevertheless, hybrid working continues to challenge central London retail and hospitality, perhaps even more so following a successful pilot of a four-day work week coordinated by the aptly-named 4 Day Week Campaign. Following a trial period of six months, 56 out of 61 participating companies have opted to extend the new working pattern, including 18 that have already made it permanent for their staff.
Times are certainly tough for the millions of Londoners renting from private landlords, who are faced with ever-increasing rents and falling supply. Research by Hamptons has found that 40% of Londoners whose tenancies came to an end in 2022 opted to leave the capital, compared to 28% a year ago. For their part, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has warned that more buy-to-let landlords are expected to sell their properties unless the Government makes changes to the tax system to make renting out properties more appealing (though, from some tenants’ and certainly prospective house buyers’ perspective, this might not be all that bad…). The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee has meanwhile published a report called Reforming the Private Rented Sector, in which it accuses the Government of failing to ‘address the underlying cause of the affordability crisis’ while also highlighting the need for the Government to remedy delays in the court system so that its own plans, including banning ‘no fault’ evictions, are not undermined. High demand is, of course, a boon to developers of new purpose-built rental housing, with Savills reporting that there has been record investment in the UK’s Build-to-Rent sector for the fourth year in a row.
CULTURE CAPITAL LATEST
If you’re looking for a bit of distraction from all the doom and gloom, our city’s peerless arts and culture scene offers just what you need. On 12 March, London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations will return to London, with a host of events celebrating Irish culture and heritage supported by the Mayor. BFI Flare 2023, London’s LGBTQIA+ film festival, is taking place from 15 to 26 March. In April, artists Gilbert & George are set to open a free exhibition centre in Spitalfields, with the aim of it becoming a ‘leading cultural institution’. In May, Tate Britain will reveal a complete rehang of its entire free display collection for the first time in ten years. The gallery’s collection will include a number of more modern pieces and half the contemporary artists on display will be women. And in June, Joseph Fiennes will be playing the role of Gareth Southgate in a new play at the National Theatre. Dear England will explore the ‘gentle revolution’ in the England football team brought about by Southgate’s leadership.
NEW LABOUR RISING
Labour is ahead in the polls, busy cleaning up its internal affairs and limbering up for an election. Its polling lead remains at a steady 20+ percentage points with UK-wide voting intention polls from Techne, Redfield & Wilton Strategies and People Polling putting the party at between 21 and 27 points ahead of the Tories. Labour HQ will also be chuffed at YouGov finding that 70% of Britons disapprove of the Government’s record to date, with just 12% approving, far less than the 18% who said that they ‘don’t know’. And separate polling by Ipsos suggests that the UK public are more likely to trust Labour (35%) that the Conservatives (28%) on immigration and asylum. Clearly feeling bullish, Keir Starmer has also been keen to highlight the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s ruling that Labour has ‘made the changes required by its agreed action plan to address breaches of the Equality Act.’ In a victory lap of a speech following the EHRC decision, in which he declared a decisive win over anti-Semitism in the Party, Starmer also announced that his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn ‘will not stand for Labour’ at the next election. Corbyn and his allies have cried foul, but YouGov polling suggests that a majority of Britons approve of Starmer’s decision. Unsurprisingly, other Labour-left MPs are more than a bit spooked. Looking ahead, Keir Starmer is poised to reveal a ‘big five’ of top pledges on Thursday.
Have your say to help create a more inclusive economy! As International Women’s Day approaches for another year, the LCA Team would like to ask LDN readers for a favour. We are supporting the Central District Alliance on an important research project, working with socio-economic specialists PRD to identify practical recommendations to make the economy more inclusive for women. We want to hear about your experiences and ideas for change and would be very grateful if you could spare five minutes to learn more and fill in a survey here.
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