“Excusing the Hamlet-esque headline, this edition reminds me, and I hope you, what a great job our Insight team do, as it is a real feast of detail. So this is a very short foreword from me!
At regional level there’s analysis of the Mayor’s affordable housing delivery and the ongoing impact of second staircases on schemes, as well as recent news of a fifth candidate for Mayor of London from the Conservative ranks.
At local level there’s details of the first batch of borough AGMs, with many more to come.
And at national level there’s changes at the Local Government Association, back peddling by the Government on a couple of policy issues and some progress on rental sector reform.
Plus a bit of mixed news on London’s galleries and museums sector.
Many of you will be at UKREiiF in Leeds, so you’ll probably read this on the train back to town tomorrow. Glad to hear the sun is shining up there.”
Robert Gordon Clark, Partner and Senior Advisor
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The Mayor says he has beaten a major target for meeting housing delivery in the capital. Let’s take a closer look. City Hall has stated that a target of starting 116,000 ‘genuinely affordable homes,’ has been ‘surpassed.’ This does not refer to all housebuilding in London, but specifically to homes using £4.8bn of Government funding that has been allocated to builders by the Mayor between 2015/16 and 2022/3. Whilst linking to various data tables, the official press release does not provide an exact total figure. It does clarify that it is referring to homes in the London Affordable Rent, London Living Rent, London Shared Ownership, and Social Rent tenures. Yet, as highlighted by the Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall, the 116,000+ figure (whatever it may be) also includes some 7,189 homes technically started in the last year of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, a fun fact buried low down in the 1,800+ word press release, which elsewhere none-too-discreetly bashes the performance of Khan’s predecessor. Critics have argued, not unreasonably, that completions would be a better metric than starts, which for the period in question amount to a more modest 63,817. However, the starts target was set by Government and is not, in itself, an altogether unfair way to measure Khan’s performance – as major housing schemes can take more than a Mayoral tenure to build out.
But let’s say it like it is: nit-picking numbers aside, the Mayor has hit a key target agreed with Government, fair and square. That is to his credit and also reflects the hard work of his Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley and predecessor James Murray (now an MP). It is even more so to the credit of the housing associations, councils and other beneficiaries of Affordable Homes Programme funding that have been busy getting schemes through planning and construction.
TWO STEPS UP, ONE DOWN?
In less good news, requirements for second staircases on tall residential buildings are proving – not unexpectedly – to be a drag on London’s housing pipeline. England-wide regulations proposed in December have not yet been implemented, with a relevant consultation only having ended in March. However, the Mayor of London separately announced that he would be pressing ahead with requiring second staircases for all new residential buildings of 30m (about 10 storeys) or taller, with immediate effect. LDN has over recent months covered several schemes that have been stopped in their tracks, with some redesigned to include a second staircase (sometimes at the expense of some affordable housing). The latest project to grind to a halt is the 1,380-home Waterloo and Queen Street estate regeneration scheme, with Wates Residential and Havering Council directly citing ‘uncertainty over proposed rules requiring second staircases in tower blocks’ as motivating their decision. Indeed, new analysis by Lambert Smith Hampton and Connells suggests that, in London alone, this lack of clarity about new regulations could ‘delay or mothball’ as many as 243 schemes, corresponding to 123,632 homes. Deputy Mayor for Planning Jules Pipe and Tom Copley have both acknowledged that the requirement is impacting delivery, but Pipe has blamed Government for the uncertainty, whilst Copley has also stressed that ‘safety comes first.’ When asked by Building whether the Mayor might lower the threshold to under 30m, Copley said City Hall ‘certainly wouldn’t rule that out.’
LAYING THE GROUND
London’s biggest public sector builders are meanwhile working together to marshal evidence in favour of more investment in the city’s housebuilding pipeline. Only today, London Councils launched a new London Infrastructure Framework at the UKREiiF conference in Leeds. The Framework lays out the city’s infrastructure needs for supporting housing growth as well as a host of other priorities, from meeting ambitious net zero targets to boosting economic growth. It also makes the case to both Government and the private sector that investing in that infrastructure will provide dividends for all. The Framework further contains several recommendations for improving partnership working, to channel London’s own considerable energy into this area. Separately, the G15 group of London’s biggest housing associations have told a parliamentary committee inquiry that unless the Government steps up its support for the sector, their development output (which in 2021/22 amounted to 11,600 homes) could ‘drop by a third.’ The G15’s asks include, among others: a longer-term rent settlement for the sector; more generous grant funding for regeneration and enabling the implementation of the Decent Homes Standard; the accelerated release of publicly owned land for affordable housing; and the removal of VAT on housing association activity.
- Euston One Ltd’s plans to redevelop an office building near Euston Station into student accommodation has won planning permission from the Planning Inspectorate. The scheme had previously been refused by Camden Council on several grounds including design quality. The developer altered its plans for the 15-storey building, following its refusal, to make provisions for a second staircase.
- Co-living developer Fifth State have been granted planning permission to transform vacant premises at Addiscombe Road, East Croydon into a 498-home co-living development, including 84 affordable homes and 6,400 sq ft of community and commercial space.
- A joint venture between Bloom and Angelo Gordon has secured planning permission for an ‘ultra-urban’ warehouse development in Southwark. The 52,410 sq ft site includes nine facilities laid out over two-floor parallel terraces with a large open service yard.
- Since our relevant story last week, the latest to throw his hat in the ring for the Conservatives’ London mayoral candidate is Daniel Korski, a tech entrepreneur and former Downing Street deputy head of policy under David Cameron. The list of aspiring Conservative mayoral candidates is growing longer by the day – and may be the longest we’ve seen yet.
- The London Conservatives are meanwhile confirming their picks for the London Assembly race also taking place next May. Incumbents Tony Devenish (West Central), Peter Fortune (Bexley and Bromley), Keith Prince (Havering and Redbridge), Nick Rogers (South West) have so far been re-selected.
- Reform UK (previously the Brexit Party) has opted for the ultimate anti-ULEZ candidate for Mayor, picking Howard Cox, the combative founder of the FairFuelUK campaign.
- Elsewhere, Enfield Council Leader Cllr Nesil Caliskan has put herself forward as a candidate for Leader of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour Group. Caliskan currently chairs the Group’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board.
- Hackney Council’s Deputy Mayor and current LGA Labour Group Deputy Leader, Councillor Antoinette Bramble, has meanwhile stated that she will not be seeking re-election, to ensure regional balance – but is putting herself forward for election as Chair of the LGA Labour Group. For an explainer of the various roles up for election at LGA, see here and read on in Caught Our Eye for more news from the LGA.
- Charlie Green, co-founder of the flexible office pioneer The Office Group, has decided to step down from his role as President. He will stay on as a special adviser to the group.
- LCA client Segro has announced several changes to its executive team. Andy Gulliford will be retiring as Chief Operating Officer in June; then there are four promotions, namely James Craddock to Managing Director UK; Marco Simonetti to Managing Director Continental Europe; Paul Dunne to Group Customer and Operations Director; and Andrew Pilsworth to Chief of Staff to Chief Executive David Sleath. All four have been appointed to the company’s executive committee, effective this July.
- Legal & General Capital has appointed Karen Bashford as its new Chief Operating Officer. She will join from Schroders, where she is currently Head of Enterprise Change, in July.
- The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) have meanwhile announced the full line-up of a long-trailed Older People’s Housing Taskforce (OPHT), to be chaired by Professor Julienne Meyer.
- LCA client, Stride Treglown, is looking for new leadership to shape its London studio and steer its influence in capital. If you as an individual, or as part of a group, are interested in leading an exciting phase of development for the employee-owned, carbon neutral practice – the first AJ100 B Corp in the UK – request the Expression of Interest document here.
LONDON CLIMATE WORRIES
Anxiety about climate change is not limited to often-controversial protesters. The Office for National Statistics’ latest Opinions and Lifestyle Survey has found that London is the most concerned about climate change compared to any other region in Great Britain. No less than 75% of adult Londoners are estimated to be worried about the issue, compared to only 53% in the North East of England. How can they not be stressed about the effects of extreme weather conditions? Last week, we reported on London Council’s warning that rough sleepers are especially vulnerable to climate change. Kingfisher has meanwhile found the London region could experience ‘severe water stress’ in the next 20 years, a situation where demand for fresh water exceeds its supply.
It’s that time of the year again, with local authorities up and down the country confirming their leadership, committee rosters and key policies for the new municipal year. LCA’s borough specialists are keeping a close eye on Annual General Meetings in the capital, though London’s crop of AGMs so far has been relatively uneventful. Recent AGMs in Enfield and Bromley, for example, have seen councillors Nesil Caliskan (Lab) and Colin Smith (Con) respectively reconfirmed as the two councils’ Leaders, while their cabinets' and planning committees' membership remains largely unchanged. This will get far busier as the month progresses though, with this evening alone seeing Croydon, Hackney and Merton holding their AGMs and by this time next week we’ll know the results from Harrow and Redbridge too. We expect all of the boroughs' AGMs to be done and dusted in time for the ‘AGM of AGMs’ – the next meeting of the London Councils’ Leaders’ Committee – on 6 June.
TAKING OUT THE TRASH?
It’s customary for Governments to bunch together bad news and last week saw Whitehall taking out an especially big bundle of trash. The scene was set by poor local election results, making for a pretty bad set of news cycles to begin with, plus the distraction of a minor event at Westminster Cathedral. No surprise then that Whitehall spin doctors felt there could be worse times to limit the scope of its flagship Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill, shortening the list of EU laws that the UK will revoke at the end of 2023, and separately, to shelve plans for abolishing the leasehold system altogether by the end of the year. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) signalled that legislation ‘later in this parliament’ will entail a smaller set of more limited reforms, including caps on ground rent and more powers for tenants to choose their property management companies. Reactions to these decisions highlighted seemingly widening rifts between the Conservative Party’s various factions, which were also on full display at two widely-publicised conferences attended by a Who’s Who of populist, right-wing Conservatives, in Bournemouth and London. Back to the local elections, many Tory MPs and council leaders have come out of the woodwork to complain that building ‘too many houses’ was what ‘cost them support’ – even though the planning applications pipeline continues to dwindle.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?
One area where the Government has finally taken action is reform of the rental sector, but here too the jury is still out on how far they are willing to go – and how fast. A long-awaited Renters’ Reform Bill was due to be submitted last week, only to be delayed. It was announced only this morning that it will be introduced to Parliament today. The LCA team is still poring over the detail, so it is unclear how much (or little) of the relevant White Paper has been included in the Bill. We do however know that it will span a range of policies aimed at improving housing conditions for tenants in the private rented sector, including: the abolition of controversial Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, as well as some additional new powers for landlords to evict ‘anti-social’ and ‘irresponsible’ tenants; a new Ombudsman service; applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector; making it illegal to turn away tenants in receipt of benefits or with children; and giving councils new powers and responsibilities for cracking down on rogue landlords. Within hours of the announcement, reports have emerged of mixed reactions by some renters’ and landlords’ groups, as well as many Tory MPs. To be fair, no form of this Bill could conceivably satisfy absolutely everyone – and perhaps, leaving everyone partly dissatisfied may, in itself, be a sign of healthy compromise.
LGA PAINTED RED
The local elections have triggered a change in political leadership at the Local Government Association (LGA). Following a strong result from opposition parties at the local election, the Labour Party now has the largest Group in the organisation, which now stands ready to elect a new Labour Chair. Councillor Shaun Davies, Leader of Telford and Wreakin Council in Shropshire, is Labour’s nominee for the position. The current Conservative LGA Chairman and former Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council, Councillor James Jamieson, will stay in post until the LGA formally elects Davies at its annual conference in July. Jamieson congratulated his successor on Twitter, adding ‘I just hope your time is less eventful, no pandemics, no illegal invasions and fewer prime ministers.’ The LGA’s leadership and that of its constituent groups is set to be confirmed by its General Assembly meeting on 4 July just before the beginning of its Annual Conference in Bournemouth.
LONDON MUSEUM WATCH
For visitors to London, a trip to one of its many iconic museums and galleries remains an essential part of the experience. But these are tough times for the sector. One of the biggest commercial art galleries in London, Gagosian’s site at Britannia Street in King’s Cross, will be closing after 20 years. The 15,000 sq ft gallery has hosted many evocative artworks, including Damien Hirst’s infamous ‘Natural History’ exhibition last year. Separately, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, the renowned Natural History Museum in South Kensington may have retained its crown as the UK’s most visited museum for the second year running, but its 4.6m visitors in 2022 were still well below pre-pandemic footfall of over 5.4m. In happier news, the Royal College of Surgeons has reopened the Hunterian Museum collection of extraordinary (and sometimes shocking) anatomical and medical exhibits, after a six year closure and £4.6m redevelopment.
Last week, LCA client Royal Docks launched Sea Change, a series of contemporary art commissions and an international symposium addressing issues of sustainability and creativity. Curated by Invisible Dust, Sea Change features four free public artworks, the product of collaboration between international artists and leading researchers at UCL. They explore the inequity of energy in our communities; the power and privilege we wrongly think we hold over the oceans; the unsustainability of excluding women and minority groups from, well, anything; and the importance of protecting and creating natural habitats. Highlights include a 3D print of artist Simon Faithfull’s own head, which serves as a home for a hive of bees. Viewable in and around Royal Docks and Thames Barrier Park until 29 May, Sea Change is the first event in the Royal Docks’ summer programme, At The Docks.
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