"Every issue we cover in LDN is a ‘Women’s Issue’ and every ‘Women’s Issue’ is in fact a societal issue. If a road, a building, a transit system, a campaign, or even an economy is designed without due consideration and respect for 52% of the population, it’s going to be sub-optimal. Sounds obvious.
In this edition we cover the productivity puzzle – the UK and London’s productivity (and therefore economy) is lagging, and when you put that together with the labour force issues many sectors face, enabling the 1.7m women who want to work but can’t because of childcare issues and costs also seems blindingly obvious. This isn’t a women’s issue, it’s an economic imperative.
In 2021 the gender pay gap in London stood at 16%, higher than the UK average. That’s a lot of spending we could choose to unleash on our high streets, on our transport system, in our housing market. Women, as ever, are the solution."
Jenna Goldberg, LCA Partner & Managing Director, Insight and LDN Editor
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CARROTS AND STICKS
To say the social housing sector is facing a crackdown would be the understatement of the week. On Monday, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) launched the ‘Make Things Right’ campaign, encouraging tenants to complain about substandard housing to their landlords and the Housing Ombudsman. On the same day, the Mayor of London announced that he has ‘frozen funding’ to three social housing providers ‘in a crackdown on poor performing landlords in the capital.’ This followed warnings from Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley and a review of those beneficiaries of Affordable Homes Programme funding who were downgraded by the Regulator for Social Housing (RSH) in December. The good news is that social landlords have not only pledged to improve standards, they are putting their money where their mouth is. According to the RSH’s last quarterly survey for 2022-2023, published on Thursday, private registered housing providers alone spent £1.7bn across England on repairs and maintenance by the end of December, 8% up on last quarter ‘and among the highest quarterly totals on record.’ Another recent RSH report indicates that repairs and maintenance represent more than half of the sector’s expenditure in 2022. Unfortunately, these reports also highlight strong financial headwinds, which look likely to affect registered providers’ housebuilding pipelines. The social rented sector houses four million English households (17% of the total, rising to 22% in London). In 2020/21, housing associations in England also started the construction of 44,000 homes, completing 38,000. The sector is a workhorse. It may have strayed from its path, but flogging it will only get us so far and it’s fair to say it could use more support from the Government.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The Prime Minister has introduced a Holocaust Memorial Bill, which will legislate for the delivery of a Holocaust memorial and education centre next to Parliament. Plans were blocked by the High Court in 2022 due to a rule in the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, which restricts building in Victoria Tower Gardens.
- Tower Hamlets Council has refused plans for the redevelopment of the Aberfeldy Estate against officers’ recommendations and despite existing residents voting overwhelmingly in favour of the plans, which would have seen almost 1,600 homes delivered on the site. Councillors took issue with “The tall building; inadequate affordable housing provision; traffic distribution impacts; daylight and sunlight impacts; and density linked to open space and play space.”
- The Chinese Embassy has said that the UK should ‘fulfil its relevant obligations’ by enabling its relocation to the Royal Mint site in Tower Hamlets. It said that the local Council had rejected the plans ‘out of factors beyond planning itself’ and that the Government has an obligation ‘to provide convenience and support for the construction of premises of diplomatic missions’.
- Ealing Council has approved proprosals by Montreaux Developments for the first phase of its Margarine Works scheme, which will see 867 homes (30% affordable) and a new hotel delivered, as part of a wider scheme, which aims to deliver almost 2,000 homes.
- Kew Gardens has announced plans for a new learning centre to provide ‘first-class learning opportunities’ and encourage more visitors to the world-famous gardens.
- Greenwich Council’s housing delivery company Meridian Home Start has unveiled new plans for the Shepherds Leas site, after previous proposals were turned down by councillors. The new scheme will be 24 metres in height, down from 30 metres – and will include 62 homes rather than 70.
- Westminster City Council has resolved to submit an objection to the redevelopment of Paddington Green Police Station. After being rejected by the borough’s planning committee, the application was called-in by the Mayor of the London and a public hearing on revised proposals by Berkeley Homes is set to take place on 17 March.
CORRECTION: In our last edition we referenced an Enfield Dispatch story reporting that Enfield Council’s planning committee has cancelled two planning committee meetings in succession and that the Council was in ‘special measures’ for failing to meet housing targets. This was incorrect and we apologise for repeating this misleading report. In reality, following the results of the last Housing Delivery Test, Enfield Council is currently obliged by central government to consider planning applications for residential schemes with a presumption in favour of sustainable development and to maintain and monitor its performance against a Housing Action Plan for housing delivery. It is by no means unique in being in this position. In relation to the cancellation of planning committee meetings, the Council has stated that housebuilding rates are rising and that the cancellation of the particular meetings in question will not affect its ability to meet targets going forward. Enfield will also be proactively proceeding with its Local Plan in order to make progress against its housing targets. We take pride in the accuracy of our reporting and apologise both to Enfield Council and our readers for falling below our own standards in this case.
The numbers are (more or less) in and it looks like Council Tax bills are going up everywhere in London. Dave Hill’s OnLondon website has been keeping a handy tally, according to which of 32 boroughs, no less than 25 are going for a fulsome 4.99% increase, while six are raising theirs between 2% and 3.8% (in some of these cases boroughs are technically freezing Council Tax and specifically increasing the social care levy). Then there’s Croydon, which as reported in a previous edition of LDN, has been granted special dispensation from Government to implement an extraordinary 15% hike, without needing to consult residents through a referendum. The thing is, the directly elected executive Mayor’s Conservative group does not command a majority on the Council. Following warnings earlier this year, opposition councillors from the Labour, Lib Dem and Green parties have now shot down the Mayor’s proposed 15% increase at last week’s full council meeting, leaving cash-strapped Croydon in limbo. A second session of the full council, later today, will presumably be trying to find a compromise. The last London Councils’ Leaders meeting meanwhile lays bare the financial challenges faced by the boroughs, which mirror those of the rest of the country. Nationally, it appears that more than half of local authorities across England are planning to raise council tax by 4.99%, even as they cut expenditure. For the real local government geeks among our readers, we highly recommend Localis’ recent report on the future of local government finance.
CITY IN TROUBLE?
Post-Brexit and post-Covid, it has been common to hear concerns that the City of London is losing its appeal as the pre-eminent financial centre, but the reality would present a more mixed, and even optimistic picture. According to a deep dive by The Economist into the London Stock Exchange’s (LSE) fortunes, the City’s stock market is under pressure from international competitors and indeed it is true that several FTSE100 and FTSE250 firms are looking to the US and other countries. The good news is that the City has got the message and is on the move. David Schwimmer (not that one, the head of the LSE) is taking the challenges head on, laying out to The Times why the City is still ‘the most international financial centre in the world’ with a bright future ahead of it. As we slowly (and thankfully) move away from more black-and-white conceptions of levelling up, both the Government and the City for London Corporation are working closely together to boost the entire UK’s credentials as a modern, forward-looking financial marketplace. It’s notable that the City Corporation has co-funded a new Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT)… in Leeds, which was launched last week. CFIT will establish financial innovation hubs in cities across the country to ‘build on the dominance of the UK’s fintech sector’ and enable people and businesses to ‘benefit from new waves of technological change and innovation.’
A key mark of a city’s success is its productivity and here too London clearly has bit of catching up to do. A new report by Centre for Cities, published in partnership with LCA client the EC BID, has found that compared to other international cities, London’s productivity growth is significantly lower due to a sharp slowdown in the capital’s key firms in the financial, information and professional services sectors. This has cost the UK economy £54bn in 2019 alone. Centre for Cities makes a series of recommendations to improve London’s standing, including reforming the current planning system, extending visas, devolving more fiscal powers to London and reforming Transport for London. Thankfully, London is standing on solid foundations and is well poised to bounce back. Separate research, by New West End Company and Colliers, has shown that London’s West End alone will reach an annual turnover of £10bn by 2025, despite ongoing economic uncertainty and the cost-of-living crisis. The research found that following the pandemic, customers visit the West End less often but (thankfully) spend more money when they do.
- Steven Halsey has been appointed as interim Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets Council following the departure of Will Tuckley.
- Dominic Amey has been appointed as Managing Director of Avison Young’s London markets team.
- David Lockyer has been appointed as British Land’s Head of Development.
- The chairman and two directors at Inland Homes have stepped down from their roles ‘with immediate effect.’
- London Labour MP Rupa Huq has had her suspension from the Party lifted after completing ‘anti-racism and bias training’. Huq was suspended last year following offensive comments she had made about then-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng.
- Alistair Gale is leaving his role of Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategy at the Port of London Authority (PLA) to become CEO of UK Flour Millers.
- Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, who designed London’s Walkie Talkie, has sadly died.
PAYING FOR PLANNING
‘Heal thyself’ seems to be the Government’s prescription for the built environment’s ills. Late last month, DLUHC launched a consultation on ‘proposals to increase planning fees and to improve the performance of local planning authorities’ – hiking fees by 35% for major applications and 25% others and raising a series of other fees. The consultation closes on 25 April and Lichfields’ blog offers a useful summary. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has meanwhile convinced the Competition and Markets Authority that housebuilders and private rental landlords are up to no good, leading to the launch of two ‘market studies’ – wide-ranging probes into each of those sectors over the next year, though interim findings are expected sooner. There’s plenty more change in the offing too, as attested by the list of other consultations and activities covered in the latest Planning Newsletter from Chief Planner Joanna Averley.
The debate over the Ultra Low Emission Zone’s expansion rages on and the Mayor only fanned the flames at a town hall event last week. Speaking at the latest Peoples’ Question Time session, in Ealing, Sadiq Khan drew howls of indignation (and some applause) by suggesting that anti-ULEZ protesters are ‘joining hands’ with people who are ‘part of a far-right group.’ There’s no denying that protests against the ULEZ expansion in Ealing, Trafalgar Square and elsewhere have drawn a variety of characters, some of them unsavoury. There’s also no denying that critics of the Mayor’s plans span the entire political spectrum, including elected Labour members. Hillingdon Council’s Labour opposition is one prominent example, with its councillors travelling to the Ealing PQT session to deliver their concerns to the Mayor, very publicly indeed. Sadiq Khan’s intentions are good, we have no doubt about that. But questioning the intentions of all his critics is a dangerous game on his part. Over the weekend The Telegraph, which makes a sport of Khan-bashing, ran an article on TfL’s early stage work exploring the use of various technologies to enforce the ULEZ and other forms of future road-user charging, spinning it as a ‘plot.’
A LONDON FIT FOR WOMEN
We’re pleased to see London stepping up to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) in both substance and style. The cross-party London Assembly Housing Committee has published a report with 13 recommendations for reducing inequalities in housing for women in the capital, including a suggestion that London Living Rent levels have regard to the gender pay gap and be set at median women's incomes rather than general median incomes. For his part, the Mayor has hosted a Women’s Policy Summit at City Hall, where he called for a ‘wholesale’ review of workplace policies, to ensure they are inclusive of and supportive to women ‘at every stage of their careers.’ London Councils has meanwhile supported the first London-wide Women’s Rough Sleeping Census led by Single Homeless Project, the Women’s Development Unit, and St Mungo’s. The ‘first of its kind’ project is designed to improve understanding of the extent and nature of women’s rough sleeping in the capital. Separately, The Evening Standard has highlighted a list of 23 female changemakers to know in London in 2023 and compiled an excellent list of all sorts of IWD events in London, as have Time Out, Wallpaper and Secret London.
FAIRER ECONOMY = THRIVING ECONOMY
Since International Women’s Day 2022, LCA has supported client the Central District Alliance (CDA) on the delivery of Un_Biased – a research programme exploring the barriers that women face in their work life journeys that can stop them from realising their full potential and identify opportunities for change. The final report will set out actionable but ambitious recommendations to remove or mitigate barriers, either through the CDA’s own interventions, recommendations for businesses or new policy suggestions. One year on, this IWD we supported the CDA in hosting a special event bringing voices together to discuss and refine the recommendations that will be published in the report next month. The panel event included author and broadcaster Caitlin Moran, Cllr Comer-Schwartz (Leader of Islington Council), and Cllr Sabrina Francis (Cabinet Member for Young People and Culture at Camden Council), Juanita Ingram, Founder of Dress for Success London and Claire Reindorp, CEO of the Young Woman’s Trust. To fill in the survey and learn more visit the website.
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