Have we got news for you this week, in an edition packed with polling, politics, planning, the politics of planning, people news, and much more besides, both in London and further afield.
We start with the latest Mayoral approval ratings, which will have made for uncomfortable reading at City Hall, not to mention within Sadiq Khan’s 2024 election campaign team.
Our crack editorial team also unpicks the latest statistics on City Hall-funded council home building; assesses the status of the boroughs’ Local Plan-making; lists some of the latest major planning decisions across London; takes a look at major stories from the capital’s high streets; as well as covers some high-profile people news. And that’s just the London Lowdown section!
In Caught Our Eye, we delve into the latest news from DLUHC, before visiting Labourland and venturing beyond the M25 to examine the prospects of tomorrow’s local elections. And in Our Week, we touch on some of our exciting work for the EC Business Improvement District.
In all, a busy, boisterous week for everyone concerned and barring the sprinkling of sad news inevitably in the mix, that’s just the way we like things here at LCA Towers.
Oh and lest we forget, the upcoming Coronation weekend and Bank Holiday is of course the talk of the town and the LCA team is holding its own early celebration today, just as we go to print. LDN will cover the once-in-a-generation event and what it means for London in more detail next week, after the dust has settled.
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‘Half of Londoners feel Sadiq Khan "doing badly" as Mayor,’ blared several newspapers last week. The relevant reports cited a poll by YouGov and we’ve taken a closer look at the detailed results, which put this headline-grabbing figure into some context. Of the 1,107 Londoners polled between 14 and 25 April, 50% did indeed say Khan is doing fairly (18%) or very (32%) badly, against only 35% who said he is doing very (5%) or fairly (33%) well, with 15% saying they just don’t know. Khan’s approval rating has also slipped noticeably from the last comparable YouGov poll in January, when his ‘score’ was 38% total good, 48% total bad and 14% don’t know. The results otherwise confirm what we already knew – i.e. that Khan does better among Labour voters, Remainers, young people, the middle class and in Inner London, but relatively worse among Conservative voters, Leavers, older people, the working class, as well as in Outer London. He also enjoys comparatively better ratings among London’s sizeable ‘minority ethnic’ than its ‘white’ population, to use YouGov’s rather broad-brush categories for ethnicity. The poll’s most significant finding is perhaps that a large proportion of Londoners also felt he was doing badly in key areas over which he has significant powers, namely crime (60%), housing (56%), and transport (49%).
So what does all this mean? On the one hand, it’s important to remember that Khan’s approval ratings have been dipping for a while now (see headlines from 2019 and 2022), which in itself is not all that surprising for a second-term mayor and still not that worrying for his chances in 2024 considering the overall strength of the Labour vote in London. On the other hand, his predecessor did generally enjoy better ratings throughout his two terms. Khan’s re-election campaign team will however be more reassured by the poll’s finding that the Mayor fares better among Londoners than the Prime Minister and about as well Leader of the Opposition. So, while the GLA Conservatives have understandably pounced on the poll as a damning ‘performance review,’ others are commenting that, if anything, Khan has proved ‘pretty resilient’ considering the circumstances.
London’s boroughs are beating important targets by building more homes and other infrastructure for their residents – though the fine print is important to note as well. City Hall has announced that more than 23,000 new council homes funded by City Hall, have been started since 2018, beating the Mayor’s target for 20,000 starts by 2024, with time to spare. Of these, more than 10,000 were started in the last year alone, ‘more than any year since the 1970s.’ All of which is of course terrific news, and a credit to the boroughs directly responsible for delivering these homes in the face of adverse market conditions. However, we could not fail to notice that the Mayor’s press release also cherry-picks its figures slightly to take a few punches at the Government. Khan brands only ‘4,325 council homes being started in the rest of England’ as ‘national scandal’ and ‘a direct result of the lack of central Government support.’ But let’s take a closer look. First, he admits that he is comparing 2022/23 figures for London with 2021/22 figures for the rest of England (more recent figures for the latter not being available). Second, the Mayor does not provide a detailed breakdown of the London figures, pointing only to a tangle of ‘stats available here‘ and not including several critical pieces of information, such as when these 23,000 homes will be completed, and what tenures ‘council homes’ specifically refers to. And third, the Mayor fails to mention that his Building Council Homes for Londoners programme is largely funded by… the Government.
Beyond housing, we are also pleased to see several boroughs pressing ahead with plans for new leisure facilities – with schemes supported by Hackney, Redbridge, and Waltham Forest councils the latest to attract the attention of the media.
LONDON LOCAL PLANS LATEST
Many councils across England appear to be pausing Local Plan reviews, but London’s are by and large pressing on. Over recent weeks it has been widely speculated that national planning policy reforms have led to many English councils downing tools on their Local Plan reviews. However, these delays cannot all be exclusively attributed to planning reforms. In many cases other factors, from financial difficulties to workforce shortages, legal complications and (dare we say it) sheer bureaucratic inertia, will be to blame. Additionally, many reviews will also be delayed in fact but not in principle, making an accurate tally difficult to come by, with the England-wide figure floating anywhere between 26 and 55 councils having hit pause on new Local Plans – i.e. somewhere between 8% and 18% of 300-plus planning authorities nationwide. In London, according to our latest count, 23 boroughs are actively reviewing their Local Plans (72%), with seven (22%) having a recently-adopted Plan and only two (6%) having officially delayed theirs. These are Croydon, which has attributed the decision to financial restrictions and the significant change in the council’s political direction heralded by the last local election; and most recently Hounslow, as the borough seeks to rehaul proposals in line with ‘comments made by the Planning Inspectorate and residents during the various consultations.’
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- London Square’s proposals for a 253-home (43% affordable) development on the site of Springfield Park, Wandsworth, have successfully secured planning permission from Wandsworth Council.
- Southwark Council has granted permission to Aviva Investors to develop offices as part of a renovation of the historic Vinegar’s Yard Warehouse on Bermondsey Street – buildings up to 11 storeys hosting 16,067sqm of office and retail space.
- Southwark Council also gave the green light for Alumrose LLP and JH Rockingham Ltd plans to build a 24-storey, 244-bedroom student accommodation scheme on Rockingham Street.
- British Land has secured planning permission from Westminster Council to develop a new 120,000 sq ft low carbon logistics centre set underneath the company’s offices at Kingston Street, Paddington – a former works site for Crossrail.
- British Land and AustralianSuper have meanwhile announced the latest iteration of plans for the redevelopment of the iconic Printworks building at Canada Water. Their plans for The Grand Press are centred on 158,000 sq ft of workspace ‘alongside, subject to planning permission, a unique cultural venue.’ It has since emerged that this tantalising mention of a new venue refers to the legendary club operating on the site, which closed only this Monday. The venue’s operators, Broadwick Live, have announced a ‘provisional deal’ with British Land for a ‘revamped’ club to reopen on the site from 2026.
LONDON HIGH STREET REVIVAL?
While we wait for the Secretary of State’s final decision on the called-in application for the redevelopment of M&S on Oxford Street, other news suggests that the future of London’s high streets may be generally looking a little brighter. On Oxford Street itself, where Westminster Council is continuing its crusade against ubiquitous ‘US candy shops’, music and entertainment retailer HMV has announced a comeback four years after its flagship store closed. The chain returned to profit last year and although the new shop will have different branding and an updated layout, it is set to return to the unit that it occupied for almost 100 years. Separately, in South London, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) has made headlines after buying Hammerson’s stake in the Croydon Partnership. URW is now working on plans for the masterplan for the site, which includes both the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres, as well as office buildings, car parks and high street retail, though no details have been given about what the final product may look like. Previous proposals to redevelop Croydon’s shopping centres have repeatedly been set back by issues, including the pandemic and the Council’s financial issues.
- Assembly Member Neil Garratt has been elected as the new Leader of the GLA Conservatives, taking over from Susan Hall. Emma Best has been elected as the group's Deputy Leader, succeeding Peter Fortune.
- Leader of Camden Council Cllr Georgia Gould has announced that she is expecting a baby and will be going on maternity leave for three months from September.
- Former Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad has announced that she is leaving the Labour Party.
- Haringey councillor and Cabinet Member for Communities and Civic Life Julie Davies has sadly passed away following a short illness.
- One of London’s leading theatre and stand up directors and writers, Adam Brace, of the Soho Theatre, has also died this last week at the age of just 43.
MACLEAN COME CLEAN
Housing Minister Rachel Maclean has had a bruising week of public interrogations. Last Monday, Maclean appeared before the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee as part of its inquiry into national planning policy. It is impossible to summarise the entire wide-ranging discussion here, but suffice it to say that Maclean faced quite the grilling. Fellow-Tory MPs Andrew Lewer and Natalie Elphicke quizzed the minister on claims that proposed reforms are stymying Local Plan-making and housebuilding. Maclean was also hard-pressed to provide clarity on the timeframe of progressing a revised National Planning Policy Framework. Separately, when responding to an Urgent Question on the possibly adverse impact of new voter ID requirements, Maclean struggled to provide a clear answer, resorting to accusing her questioners of making ‘shrill and hyperbolic claims’ about voter suppression, and even of ‘hysterical scaremongering’. And later in the week, on BBC Question Time, neither Maclean’s defence of the Government’s handling of the Sudan crisis nor her account of its housing delivery record seemed to impress the audience. To be fair, Maclean has inherited a tough gig, being the 15th Housing Minister in 13 years, not to mention being called upon to defend the Government’s record across several complicated areas… including ones not within her own brief.
...AND OTHER DLUHC NEWS
- The tally of housing developers yet to sign the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (DLUHC) remediation contract has decreased to just three, with Avant Homes confirmed to have signed up. Dandara is currently in talks with DLUHC and wishes to sign ‘as soon as possible’. Rydon Homes is holding out as it believes it classes as a SME builder, with reported turnover of £19.2m in its most recent accounts. Abbey Developments has not, as far as we are aware, so far commented.
- Further to this – and to an earlier outline description of the policy – DLUHC has published more detailed draft regulations to establish the Responsible Actors Scheme, as provided for by the Building Safety Act. The Scheme aims to improve standards and safety in buildings (and more specifically help enforce remediation contracts) through a register of developers active in remediation and refurbishment for safety defects in residential buildings over 11m.
- Government proposals to increase planning fees for developers have generally been welcomed across the built environment sector, though concerns over a lack of investment in planning reforms and local planning departments have raised questions over the effectiveness of the plans. DLUHC is currently considering responses to a consultation it held on the proposals, which closed for submissions on 25 April 2023.
- Proposals to reform the Compulsory Purchase Order system are proceeding following a separate DLUHC consultation. The purpose of the reforms is to make compulsory purchase easier for local authorities to enable better uses of land for regeneration projects. Crucially, the proposals reform the so-called ‘hope value’ so that landowners’ compensation for lost premises are capped at existing property values or at a certain percentage above values in certain circumstances.
- And from Number 10 come reports that the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is drawing up plans to restart the Help to Buy scheme, which closed in October 2022 for new loan applications. The reports were met on Monday with a mixed reception, with the Labour Party having also made pledges for first-time buyers the previous weekend.
The Labour Party has continued to release details of the policies it would implement in Government, whilst reminding us that pledges made can always be… unmade. Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy has been elaborating on how a Labour Government would achieve its aim of achieving 70% homeownership, with the announcement of plans for a mortgage guarantee scheme similar to Help to Buy, which would be reserved for first-time buyers and would exclude buy-to-let landlords. Meanwhile, despite the support of senior Labour politicians for rent controls (including one Sadiq Khan) the Party’s national campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood consistently dodged the topic when questioned on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, indicating that a Labour Government would not be quite as radical in this area as once thought. The Party has also said that in Government it would reintroduce the target of delivering 300,000 homes per year which has been scrapped by the Prime Minister due to opposition from over 50 of his own MPs. Will Labour's positioning on these crucial issues sway voters at the next General Election or indeed tomorrow’s local elections (more on which below)? Who knows? It is however highly unlikely that Keir Starmer will have won many hearts and minds by dropping a pledge to scrap university tuition fees…
LOCAL ELECTION WEEK
Tomorrow’s local elections are being closely watched as a bellwether for the next General Election. Our 5 April edition covered the seats up for grabs – mostly in England, all outside London – early polling and the main parties’ campaign launches. More recently, legendary psephologist Prof Sir John Curtice has expressed scepticism about predictions of a major Conservative rout, pointing out that the governing party simply has ‘fewer [seats] to lose’ and that is actually polling ‘slightly better’ than four years ago, when most of the seats up for election tomorrow were last up for grabs. Separately, professors Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings have given Sky News their benchmarks for assessing the parties’ success, suggesting that if the Tories lose less than 500 seats they can plausibly argue they’ve done well, whilst Labour needs to win about as many to claim some kind of success. All eyes are on the Red Wall, where Labour will hope to lay the grounds for a General Election comeback, with elections in Bolton, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Stoke-on-Trent, Stratford-on-Avon especially closely watched – and a YouGov MRP projection for Sky News suggesting Keir Starmer’s party will do well in these areas. Further to the south, urban councils including Brighton & Hove, Gravesham, Swindon, and Plymouth are also being touted as key battlegrounds. Looking to the day after, the results will start trickling in from about midnight on the day of the election itself, but the full picture is unlikely to emerge before Friday evening… but by Saturday a certain other major event in London may well steal the limelight from the local election results, to the delight of any party that performs poorly.
GAME, SET, MATCH
Earlier this week, London’s Square Mile became the Capital’s newest destination for padel tennis. Brought to the City by LCA client EC BID, in partnership with the Central London Alliance, Aldgate Connect and Blue Orchid Hospitality, the all-inclusive and fully accessible padel courts will be open to the public for the next eleven weeks. Open seven days a week until 14 July, Padel Tennis Festival offers the local business community the chance to prioritise their health and wellbeing in a fun way that encourages team building and networking. LCA supported EC BID with the media relations surrounding the launch.
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