Whilst our attention is naturally drawn to change and the extraordinary – whether good or bad – we shouldn’t forget to consider “the norm.”
In a world of information overload and overstimulation, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the things that anchor our reality. That make our daily lives generally good, or sometimes bad. That make the economy as a whole fairly strong, or relatively weak. That make the built environment sector a going concern or (whisper it softly) an overheated bubble.
Today’s edition is encouraging in that sense. It serves as a reminder that for all that London is locked in many a heated debate, actually it’s an incredibly diverse place and importantly, still a functioning one. People disagree, but they have it out in a more-or-less civilised manner and generally speaking they get on with things. It’s a similar picture for TfL, which despite the pain of recent years is still keeping things ticking along, with bus, Tube, rail and other services running – for the most part – pretty well.
There’s more in a similar vein in the arenas of fire safety, energy efficiency and council-led housebuilding. We cover the latest from these fronts, all fraught to be sure, but ultimately areas where everyone involved is getting to grips with hard realities and doing their damnedest to resolve things. It’s not easy, but collectively speaking, we’re dealing with it.
In all, things might not be exactly as we’d like them, but in more ways than one, they’re quite alright. And in that spirit of happy, humble moderation, we recommend our latest edition to you – ending with a tongue in cheek report from MIPIM by Robert Gordon Clark.
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LONDON REMAINS OPEN
If there’s one area where London’s Mayor has excelled it is in celebrating London’s cultural diversity – and working to ensure that this continues to be one of our city’s strengths. Last week, he switched on London’s first-ever Ramadan lights, which will be illuminated throughout the month in Piccadilly Circus. It has been funded by donations and led by the Ramadan Lights UK, a not-for-profit organisation. He has separately allocated £500,000 towards a new memorial to honour victims of the transatlantic slave trade and recognise the role the capital played in it. The memorial will be the first of its kind in the UK and will be located near the Museum of London Docklands at West India Quay, which is home to an exhibition on the history of London’s slave trade.
In other culture, arts and sport-related news – and looking to some of London’s most iconic sites and venues – Crystal Palace Park has secured over £300,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help restore its famous Tidal Lakes and Victorian dinosaur statues, as well deliver a new playground and information centre. In less positive news for the city’s cultural landscape a survey by Equity, the performing arts union, has found that most of the English National Opera’s chorus members ‘would be forced to leave their jobs’ if the company relocates outside London. There’s also been a flurry of further speculation around the London Stadium, including claims of a “a secret multi-million pound row” between owners LLDC and West Ham FC as well as reports that West Ham could table an offer to buy the stadium. Meanwhile there is separate speculation that Chelsea FC is eyeing a possible groundshare with the Hammers.
It’s been a while since we covered the battle over the Ultra Low Emission Zone’s expansion and the issue has continued to generate headlines. So what’s the latest? As part of attempts to counter his critics and reassure sceptics, the Mayor has this week unveiled plans for a new ‘Superloop’ of express bus services in Outer London. However, his opponents do not seem to have been convinced by this and and other previous efforts to soften the ULEZ expansion’s adverse impacts. There have been further protests and vandalism targeting a new ring of enforcement cameras, of which more than 300 have now been installed (of around 2,750 needed). The RAC has meanwhile challenged Transport for London (TfL) over how many non-compliant vehicles will actually be affected. The London Assembly Conservatives have continued to campaign enthusiastically against the expansion – since 21 March and as of writing about 50% of the posts by the Assembly group’s Twitter handle have focused on the issue. The Telegraph also reports on longstanding privacy concerns linked to possible Met Police access to ULEZ enforcement cameras. There’s additionally a petition to Parliament claiming the ULEZ expansion is an example of the Mayor and London Assembly having ‘too much power’ and calling for a referendum on ‘abolishing’ them (it has secured almost 59,000 signatures as of writing, but the Government has already ruled out any such referendum).
Ultimately, the expansion is still headed for implementation and looking beyond the headlines, it’s single biggest obstacle is arguably legal action by the London boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon and Surrey County Council, about which little has been reported over the past few weeks.
...AND OTHER LONDON TRANSPORT NEWS
Away from the controversy surrounding the ULEZ and the new Superloop, the rest of London’s transport network is also undergoing change. Papers published ahead of today’s meeting of the TfL Board revealed its proposed 2023-24 budget. Most media coverage of this key document has focused on the £4m that has been allocated to the assessment of ‘options’ for the renaming of all six London Overground lines, though few other details have been provided. However, it is perhaps more significant that TfL has also allocated over £63m to London’s boroughs as part of its Local Implementation Plan funding, to make their streets ‘safe, accessible and reliable’, by delivering initiatives such as cycle lanes, school streets and speed limits – about the same as 2021/22 levels. Separately, TfL has also released figures which have shown an increase in the number of passengers on its East London cable car – once known as the Emirates Air Line and now the IFS Cloud Car – with 1.5m people having used the service in the last financial year, up by 200,000 since 2021/22. TfL has said this is due to a ‘social media buzz’ that was created during the pandemic. Islington’s highways department will be less pleased at this week’s headlines, as the borough has been named as the UK pothole capital of the UK. According to an estimate by the Bill Plant Driving School, Islington has 25.74 potholes per mile, which is 22 more than the national average.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The Mayor of London’s new requirements for second staircases on buildings over 30m in height (and the Government’s own relevant, still under-consultation proposals) are starting to impact the progress of a number of projects. We noted last week that Westminster’s Church Street estate regeneration plans have been redrawn and have since heard that Hackney Council is reviewing twoers forming part of the wider Britannia Centre project, and that Southwark’s planning officers are expecting Berkeley Homes to revise its Borough Triangle scheme.
- Kingston Council has published a draft vision for the future of its town centre, which is out for consultation until 30 April.
- Sellar has submitted (more details here) plans for a mixed-use, purpose built student accommodation-led scheme on Borough High Street, in Southwark. The Kings Place scheme includes 444 student rooms, eight key worker homes and 2,124m2 of employment floorspace, in five blocks from five to 11 storeys. In 2020 Southwark Council had given permission for a hotel scheme on the same site.
- Also in Southwark, Regal London has submitted revised plans for its Devonshire Place scheme on the Old Kent Road, switching from proposals to deliver 565 homes to new plans for 220 affordable homes and 910 student bedrooms. The previous plans had received planning permission last year, but Regal has found that this was no longer deliverable.
- Latimer has revealed new plans for the residential redevelopment of London Chest Hospital in Tower Hamlets. The new plans protect the 400-year old tree which was at the centre of the High Court’s decision to reject earlier proposals in 2021 after they had been approved by the borough in 2020. The scheme seeks to deliver 280 homes (35% affordable) and three new public green spaces.
- David Lockyer has been appointed as Head of Development at British Land – an expanded role for Lockyer, who has held a series of senior posts at British Land since 2010.
- Former Chief Executive of Ealing Council Paul Najsarek has been appointed as the interim Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
- Gareth Blacker has been appointed as Executive Director of Delivery at the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC). He joins from Homes England.
- Two Common Council by-elections took place in the City of London last week. Dawn Frampton (Independent) was elected in Cripplegate and Michael Hudson (Independent) was elected in Castle Baynard.
- Trustee Opportunity! Design South East is on the search for a new trustee to join its Board and chair its Finance & Audit Committee.
FIRE SAFETY LATEST
The Levelling Up Secretary has secured a few more signatures for his building safety contracts – and showed us a glimpse of his secret weapon. When we went to print last week, eight major developers had yet to sign remediation contracts. That number has been whittled down to five, with Galliard the latest to comply. Michael Gove’s department has meanwhile released ‘details’ of a promised Responsible Actors’ Scheme (RAS) for residential developers. This disclosure is less a weapon and more a blueprint of one, but it does outline a formidable tool for enforcing compliance with Gove’s demands. Crucially, it states that ‘eligible developers that do not enter into and comply with the terms of the developer remediation contract will be prohibited from carrying out major development and gaining building control sign-off.’ As for when this weapon is likely to materialise, the government ‘intends to lay regulations in Spring 2023’ to establish the RAS, which ‘will be brought into effect by early Summer.’ Gove is now turning his attention back to manufacturers of construction materials... Separately, as noted above, the Secretary of State’s proposed (and still under consultation) requirement for second staircases in new high rise residential buildings is already beginning to have an effect on projects. But for some, it doesn’t go far enough: a coalition of organisations led by RIBA has written to Gove calling on him to lower the threshold of the proposed second staircase requirement from the proposed 30m to 18m, among other suggested changes to his proposals.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY DEFICIENCY?
Aside from ever-stricter safety requirements, deadlines for higher energy efficiency standards are rushing towards developers and landlords at an alarming speed. According to one estimate by BNP Paribas Real Estate, 8% of commercial properties in London alone risk becoming unlettable from as soon as this weekend, as they do not meet the new minimum EPC ratings which come in on 1 April (and this is no early April fool!). Landlords whose building are rented out but fall short of the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) face a fine of up to £150,000 and being ‘named and shamed’. The threshold is set to increase again in 2027 and BNP also estimates about as much as 51% of all offices in central London would become unlettable without the required retrofitting efforts. The figures are worrying for a market already battling through uncertain times – JP Morgan has warned commercial real estate is currently ‘one of the critical areas of risk’ globally, due to high interest rates. The situation is similarly tricky in the private rental sector, with the National Residential Landlords Association warning that the Government is running out of time to legislate the minimum EPC C rating for residential rental properties for new tenancies from 2025 and existing tenancies from 2028. A report by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit has warned that a two-year delay to the legislation would cost tenants £1bn more in energy bills.
HOUSING DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY
A new school for council-led development has been launched, in a welcome addition to London boroughs’ skills arsenal. The Housing Development Academy offers ‘short courses on the project management skills that deliver high quality new homes.’ It has been set up by the London Housing Directors’ Group, with the support of London Councils and grant funding from the Greater London Authority. The programme itself is delivered by Future of London (an organisation we have long supported), with University College of Estate Management (UCEM) and Beacon Partnership acting as training providers. Six continuous professional development (CPD) courses are currently on offer, covering site analysis; project feasibility; financial appraisals and feasibility; procurement specifications; commercial assessment; as well as construction contracts and contract management. With almost all of London’s boroughs now developing new homes – either through an ‘in-house’ development programme or an arms-length developer – this is a very timely initiative. By City Hall’s estimate, council-led delivery last year hit ‘the highest level since the 1970s.’ However, with all development projects facing challenging market conditions and a shifting policy landscape, upskilling and knowledge-sharing are all the more important.
The Labour Party has expanded on its policies to tackle crime… for the second time in as many months. In a speech at Port Vale FC on Thursday, Keir Starmer unveiled a new pledge to halve incidents of knife crime and the levels of violence against women and girls, alongside restoring confidence in every police force to its highest ever level. Given confidence in policing is low and the Met in particular has a way to go to clean up its act, Labour certainly has its work cut out. Labour had previously, only in February, announced plans for its approach to anti-social behaviour – a subject that the Conservative Government has also broached this week. Both parties clearly believe policing and crime will be a big issue at the polls (or are hoping to make it a big issue). Aside from fleshing out policy, Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves have been burnishing their individual brands lately, both giving more of an insight into their personal lives in interviews this past weekend.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party may be set for a tough General Election in Islington North, as Jeremy Corbyn is likely to mount an independent campaign after formally being blocked from running as a Labour candidate by the National Executive Committee. Corbyn retains a loyal following in the constituency as Labour is reportedly struggling to find a candidate willing to go against the former Leader - several Islington councillors are understood to have rejected invitations to run.
Robert Gordon Clark, Senior Advisor for both LCA and NLA, attended this year’s MIPIM conference – his 20th, no less. While in sunny Cannes, Robert took a stroll through the exhibition, exploring the various cities’ and regions’ promotional stands. Back in drizzly London, he has written up his thoughts on the slogans deployed to encapsulate these places’ draws as investment destinations in our latest blog: ‘What’s in a city’s strapline?’
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