“As we pore over the results of the voting last week in the local elections and consider the (far) more important voting for Eurovision 2023 on Saturday, this week’s LDN seeks to decide who got the maximum 12 points and who got ‘nul points’ politically. The straight answer is… that there isn’t one.
Labour will say they got close to a maximum score, when in fact the results weren’t quite as good as they would have privately hoped for. They did well in terms of total seat numbers, but their National Equivalent Vote Share (NEVS) was well below what they likely need to win a general election with a clear majority. Starmer is not the best of lead singers, so perhaps… nine points for Labour’s performance?
The Tories tried to manage expectations by trailing the possibility of losing 1,000 seats, hoping that they wouldn’t. But they did – and then some. While they can point to some bright spots, they lost ground in the Red Wall and the Blue Wall, often in Leave-leaning areas. It looks pretty bleak for them and a Eurovision score of three or four, for the somewhat repetitive five pledge chorus, is perhaps as generous as one can be. But can they “Rise Like a Phoenix” (Austria 2014) at the next general election or are they finally, yes you guessed it, facing their “Waterloo”? (Sweden 1973)
For both the Lib Dems and the Green Party the results perhaps slightly surprised them. Both did rather well, winning considerable grounds in terms of vote share, seats and councils - indeed the Green Party now actually runs a council for the first time, in rural Mid Norfolk. But people vote differently in local and national elections, with tactical voting also likely skewing results in their favour last Thursday. This may not be repeated at a general election. So, both the Lib Dems and the Greens sang a harmonious tune, securing them decent scores of seven or eight.
So, if the general election were to be held on Saturday instead of Eurovision, and Bucks Fizz classic ‘Making Your Mind Up’ (UK 1981) was playing in our ears, where’s our money? Well as of today and based strictly on events now and not what might happen over the next 12-18 months, you’d have to say a very slim majority to Labour. Could Starmer then be ‘A Puppet on a String?’ (UK 1967) or a hung Parliament? But then, as Johnny Logan sang for Ireland in 1980, ‘What’s Another Year’? A long time in politics…
For more on the elections, scroll down to Caught Our Eye, but don’t miss the latest London news too.”
Robert Gordon Clark, Partner and Senior Advisor (and no, I won’t be watching on Saturday night….)
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CANDIDATES TO THE FORE
The Conservative Party has officially launched its search for a candidate to contest the 2024 London Mayoral elections. The deadline for applications is 24 May and the winner will be announced on 19 July (for more on the process, see PoliticsHome). We covered the emerging lineup of candidates a couple of weeks ago, at which time London Assembly Members Andrew Boff and Nick Rogers had already thrown their hats in the ring, as had former special adviser to Boris Johnson Samuel Kasumu, whilst Minister for London Paul Scully had signalled he was “considering” whether to run. Since then, Susan Hall – another London Assembly Member – has also confirmed that she is running. A relatively diverse set of prospective candidates so far (although worth noting that no less than three of the Tories’ nine AMs have decided to stand) all with experience in politics and strong roots in London. And yet… none fit the description of the “high-profile” candidate that, according to (unnamed) “senior party figures” cited by The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, CCHQ was seeking. A line closely echoed by Tory grandee and former Mayoral candidate Steve Norris in a more recent interview with the same newspaper. The Conservatives are hoping that Sadiq Khan’s flagging approval ratings will boost their attempt at winning City Hall in 2024, but their candidate – whoever they may be – faces an uphill battle, with wider electoral tides clearly favouring Labour.
Meanwhile, Khan himself was re-selected by Labour to run for a third term way back in December. Former Hackney Mayoral candidate Zoe Garbett was picked by the Green Party in February. As for the Lib Dems, they are reportedly looking to announce their pick… “by the autumn.”
ALL EYES ON LONDON?
The Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla is the second Royal event in less than twelve months to put London in the limelight, but not entirely positively. The pomp and pageantry of the Coronation service, processions and other celebrations in Westminster and elsewhere made for a good show and drew much attention to London. But, aside from making front pages worldwide, the event seems to have attracted less interest at home than one might have thought. Within the UK, those viewing the Coronation on 11 major channels and services peaked at an estimated 20m, far fewer than the 26.5m who watched Queen Elizabeth II's funeral. It remains unclear how many were there in person, besides the 2,000+ invitees to the Coronation service. Paradoxically, the Coronation may have had a negative effect on footfall on high streets nationally and in London itself. Many factors will have dampened public interest, not least of which wet weather and mixed emotions for the monarchy, per recent polls (see for example YouGov, Ipsos). Meanwhile the Met Police effectively safeguarded the event, but also arrested over 60 peaceful protesters (including suspected demonstrators) using powers afforded by the new Public Order Act, which drove negative coverage internationally. London’s already-embattled police service has since equivocated between defensiveness and apologies, but the damage is done, with the Mayor of London joining the chorus of those demanding… yet another review.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The GLA has published new draft guidance on viability and affordable housing as part of the implementation of the London Plan. The viability guidance sets out how viability assessments should be carried out and the affordable housing guidance is specifically focused on implementing the London Plan’s measures to improve delivery, maximise output and ensure effective monitoring of affordable housing. Both sets of guidance are subject to consultation, which closes on 24 July.
- The Mayor has meanwhile called-in plans by Poplar Harca and EcoWorld London for the redevelopment of the Aberfeldy Estate. The plans, which include the demolition of the existing estate and the delivery of 1,582 homes (38.8% affordable) as well as retail and work space, were refused by Tower Hamlets against both officers’ recommendations and a positive residents’ ballot.
- The Mayor has separately written to Ealing Council, highlighting concerns about its draft local plan, specifically criticising proposals to redesignate Green Belt to Metropolitan Open Land and the lack of specificity as to areas deemed suitable for tall buildings in a single map.
- Ealing Council has meanwhile approved L&Q and Women’s Pioneer Housing’s plans for the UK’s first women’s-only tower block. The scheme aims to replace the existing 39 flats with 102 social rent affordable flats for women ‘who face inequality, abuse and disadvantages’.
- Waltham Forest has approved plans by Aitch Group for the redevelopment of the Percy Ingle factory to deliver 213 new homes as well as industrial and office space in buildings of up to 17 storeys high. The Planning Committee reportedly accepted a 20% affordable housing offer on the basis that the requirement for an additional staircase was affecting the scheme’s viability.
- Wandsworth Council has unanimously refused developer ISC Limited’s plans for the demolition of Wimbledon Park Rifle Club – which includes a clubhouse, rifle range and allotments – to deliver a nursery, play area and three mini tennis courts. A petition against the plans was signed by over 25,000 people.
- Enfield Council is reportedly set to demolish and redevelop 204 homes on the Shires Estate after it estimated that their refurbishment would cost at least £53m. The plans have reportedly been backed by over three quarters of residents who responded to a relevant consultation.
- Writing to The Times, celebrities and heritage groups have urged Michael Gove to call in Sellar’s plans for the redevelopment of Liverpool Street station, which include changes to the concourse and the delivery of offices, a hotel and retail space above the station.
DOWN AND OUT
Well-wishers lining the Mall last weekend would have been inconvenienced slightly by the rain. Now, imagine sleeping rough in that weather, night in and night out. Indeed, our changing climate could make the already-harsh experience of homeless people sleeping rough much more dangerous, as stated in a new briefing by London Councils. It notes that the boroughs activated their severe weather emergency protocol (SWEP) no less than six times this winter, with around 2,000 placements into temporary accommodation made at short notice to help rough sleepers shelter from the poor weather conditions. A wider Government consultation on proposals to replace the Vagrancy Act closed last week, as the Government is said to be holding off on its repeal until replacement laws are drafted. London Councils has issued a call to the Government to improve funding for SWEP so that boroughs’ ability to support rough sleepers isn’t held back. According to the latest quarterly report from the CHAIN homelessness database, a total of 3,107 people were recorded sleeping in rough in London between January and March 2023, a 14% annual increase. Of these, 1,490 people were recorded sleeping rough for the first time, 15% up on the same period in 2022. If you are concerned about any individual sleeping rough and want to help connect them to local support services, you can access StreetLink here. For housing advice, you can also access Shelter’s free helpline services.
- Fiona Taylor is set to be appointed as Chief Executive of Barking and Dagenham. Taylor has been acting CEO of the Council since April 2022.
- Chief Executive of Islington Linzi Roberts-Egan will be moving to Waltham Forest as its new Chief Executive, subject to approval by the Council.
- Centre for London has announced that its Director of Research Claire Harding will be taking on the role of Interim Chief Executive while recruitment for a full-time successor to Nick Bowes (who joins LCA next month) is ongoing.
- CEO of Cushman & Wakefield John Forrester has announced that he is to retire at the end of June. He will be succeeded by current President and Chief Operating Officer Michelle MacKay.
- David Done has been appointed as Chair of Gateway Housing Association.
- Michael Squire, founder of London-based architecture practice Squire & Partners has sadly died.
- Chris Darroch, an executive director at Federated Hermes and veteran fund manager, has sadly died.
- Hammersmith & Fulham’s former Strategic Director of Growth and Place Jo Rowlands has sadly passed away after a long illness.
While they didn’t take place on LDN’s usual turf, the results of last week’s local elections do give us a glimpse of what London (and the country) might see at the next General Election. The Conservatives’ loss of over 1,000 seats and a net -48 councils saw the Party’s own worst-case scenario come true. The atmosphere will have been much more positive in the Labour camp, which gained over 500 councillors and won a net +22 councils including Medway, Swindon and Dover from the Tories. There was also positive news for smaller parties, with the Lib Dems up by 400+ seats and winning control of a net 12 additional local authorities such as Horsham and Windsor & Maidenhead. The Green Party saw their number of local councillors increase by 241 and won majority control of a council (Mid Suffolk) for the very first time. Not to mention that, of the 12 additional councils that fell into No Overall Control, almost all were previously Conservative-held, bringing the total number across England to 92. Overall vote share estimates vary (see here and here), but generally put Labour at around 35%, the Conservatives definitively below 30%, the Lib Dems at about 20% and others at roughly 15%. Note that this estimate of NEVS is based on election results just in England.
So, what does this all mean? The BBC’s go-to psephologist Professor Curtice is distinctly unsure, whilst dynamic duo Professors Rallings and Thrasher are predicting that similar results at a General Election would produce a hung parliament. While it was clearly a good day for Labour and Starmer said that he is confident that his Party will win a majority at the next General Election, interviews with the BBC and Sky News also saw him hard-pressed to counter predictions of a hung parliament and refusing to rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems. Yet again, considering differences in voting behaviour at local and national elections and other factors, including the ongoing sagas for the SNP north of the border, we suspect that, were a General Election held tomorrow, Labour might just squeak through with a narrow majority, if not quite the stonking majority Sir Keir would like to see.
POLICY PASS THE PARCEL
Even as the two main parties religiously intone their respective five point plans, the past week has also seen them promise a multitude policies to fix the housing market. The Conservative Government had a bit of a false start on its long-promised Renters Reform Bill, with the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove going on Sky News last Wednesday to announce it would be out this week, only to delay it due to “procedural issues”. Also just before the election (repeat, just before the election), there was a spate of reports to the effect that the Prime Minister himself is considering the revival of Help to Buy to get beleaguered renters on the housing ladder. All that said, Labour have been playing a similar game, using coverage in the Economist, The Times and The Financial Times to hint at all sorts of policies, from “working in partnership” with housebuilders to solve “real problems with our planning regulations,” to restoring housebuilding targets whilst simultaneously empowering local government, reviewing Green Belt policy, and forcing housebuilders to restrict sales of new homes to local residents for a period before marketing them to foreign buyers.
Meanwhile, a CPRE / Savanta survey of local councillors in England suggests that majorities of locally elected representatives from all parties are opposed to key measures of the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (particularly National Development Management Policies), which is set to complete its journey through Parliament in the not-too-distant future. One wonders what they would have said if asked about Labour’s proposals too?
WHAT GOES UP...
Speaking of mixed messages, readings of the housing market are as baffling as ever. The latest Halifax house price index released this week, for April, found that the average UK house price decreased by -0.3% month-on-month (from a +0.8% rise in March), with annual house price growth slowing to +0.1% (from +1.6% in March). Cue depressing newspaper articles from even the left-of-centre press, and worried headlines from the London press in particular, as the index found that the capital and wider South East have seen values fall further. But the dip in London is not exactly dramatic, with the annual price growth figure at -0.2% (the monthly figure is not provided). Meanwhile the equally closely-watched Nationwide house price index, released last week, actually estimated that average home prices rose nationally by 0.5% on a monthly basis and the annual rate of growth improving to -2.7%, producing much more upbeat headlines. The difference seems to lie in slightly different research methodologies and samples of homes counted in each estimate. Ultimately, no single indicator (and reading thereof) should be viewed alone as a bellwether for an entire sector’s health. Even if house prices are seeing a gentle downwards adjustment, that will be good news for some: Back to Halifax’s estimate, London still holds the crown for “the costliest homes of anywhere in the country at an average of £538,409” against a national average of £286,896.
VENUES AT A CROSSROADS
We recently covered the good news for the iconic Printworks club, but venues elsewhere in London are facing much uncertainty. It was this week reported that the Met is pushing to revoke the O2 Academy Brixton venue’s licence altogether, prompting a 50,000-strong petition opposing the move. Last December, out-of-control crowding saw the death of two people in a crush, leading the Met to request Southwark Council suspend the venue’s licence. The Met’s insistence on going even further means that the historic Grade II-listed Academy’s future as a host for music, lights and song is in real doubt. Separately, the Met also want to pull the plug on plans to open a new nightclub all the way across London, in Barking. The LDN Riverside hopes to welcome up to 2,000 people into LDN East, a new venue on the Abbey Wharf Industrial Estate, but the local Met Police licencing team, who have called the site ‘unsanitary, unclean and unhygienic,’ disagree. The project will be considered at a licensing sub-committee meeting on 18 May. Looking to the big picture, a February 2023 Night Time Industries Association report outlines the sector’s challenges (and contribution) nationally, whilst the Mayor of London, who employs a dedicated Night Czar, also closely monitors the sector’s health in the capital. And for those particularly interested in Central London’s night economy, check out LCA client Heart of London Business Alliance’s recently-published relevant research into (and strategy for) the West End.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF PLAY
LCA is extremely pleased to be doing its bit to support the London Festival of Architecture, with our Director Andrea Klettner chairing a panel discussion on play space on 21 June, appearing alongside speakers from Lendlease, UK Play Safety Forum and the London Borough of Croydon. The LFA is a month-long celebration of architecture and city-making, starting on 1 June. This year’s rich programme of events, built around ‘In Common’ as the unifying theme, will see events and installations popping up across London.
Back to play space and on a slightly different front, we’d like to highlight a project by former LCA clients Make Space for Girls. Parkwatch, described by its organisers as “basically the Great British Garden Birdwatch for teenage facilities” asks volunteers to produce a spot count of young people using Multi Use Games Areas (MUGAs), skate parks and BMX tracks over the 27-29 May Bank Holiday. See details on how to help out here.
LCA recently supported client Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield in launching the second phase of Coppermaker Square, a major build-to-rent project in Stratford. LCA led the rollout of three new show apartments at the new Xavier building, each designed by acclaimed UK-based interior design studios Holloway Li, 2LG Studio and Studio Heff, who were selected for their unique design approach and distinctive, trend-forward aesthetics. Our team helped URW generate media interest in the project – see coverage in The Times – and promote it on social media, curating their dedicated Instagram profile.
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