This week we bring you a classic, back-to-basics edition of LDN – all about property, planning, politics and all the other things that make London tick.
We open with what seems to be an increasingly successful campaign to bring back tax-free shopping for foreign visitors, which London’s wider visitor economy has long clamoured for.
There’s also the usual roundup of key planning decisions and related research, coverage of the latest from the boroughs’ housebuilding programmes, major news from our long-standing clients Related Argent, as well as the state of the wider construction and health estate sectors.
For the politicos amongst our readers, this edition also includes the latest from the borough’s “AGM season”, the London Conservative Mayoral candidate contest, and sparring between the national Conservative and Labour parties over policy for the built environment.
And finally, we bring you a debrief from a very busy trip to Leeds for this year’s UKREiiF conference.
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London’s retail and hospitality industries may be inching closer to reviving tax-free shopping for foreign visitors. The sector has, over the course of this spring, stepped up calls for tax-free shopping for overseas visitors to be revived. Walpole, a sector body representing UK luxury brands, has recently produced The State of London Luxury 2023 report in association with LCA client Cadogan, which among other things warns that without tax-free shopping, ‘other European capitals will continue to erode London’s number one status as a shopping destination.’ It’s not just a London concern and indeed the chief executive of VisitBritain and VisitEngland (public bodies sponsored by national government), has also joined the chorus. The scheme had enabled non-EU visitors to claim back VAT on purchases while in Britain, but it was scrapped in 2020 by then-chancellor Rishi Sunak. Liz Truss’ administration promised to bring it back, but her ‘Mini Budget’ crashed and burned along with her brief premiership. It now seems that under sustained pressure spearheaded by a host of major London-based organisations including LCA clients Knightsbridge Partnership, the Government might, just might, be reconsidering. Trade Minister Nigel Huddleston and Minister for London Paul Scully last week signalled they are open to the idea and while the Treasury has rushed to deny this is official Government policy, one has to wonder whether, per the Evening Standard, ‘the tide is starting to turn.’
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Euston One Ltd has been granted planning permission at appeal for the demolition of an office building and the delivery of a 15-storey student accommodation building providing 239 rooms. The plans were refused by Camden in 2021 due to concerns including the quality of the scheme, though the planning inspector agreed with the GLA that the proposals were of a ‘very high standard’.
- Camden Council has meanwhile granted permission for the redevelopment of Sicilian Avenue, including the delivery of new retail and office space, by Knight Frank and Tristan Capital Partners.
- Merton Council has approved plans by Wimbledon Square Developments for the demolition of the station entrance of Wimbledon Chase to provide a new entrance, a nine-storey residential building providing 74 new homes (20% affordable), and retail space.
- Inland Homes has finalised a Section 106 agreement with Hounslow Council on its Cavalry Barracks project, paving the way for progress on this major scheme to develop 1,525 homes (33% affordable) on one of London’s largest brownfield sites.
- New London Architecture’s 2023 Tall Buildings report, which looks at the capital’s pipeline of new buildings over 20 storeys during the 2022 calendar year, has been published. It found that 38 applications for such buildings were submitted last year (up from 22 in 2021), with 20 approvals (up from 9) and 6 refusals (from zero), with a noticeable concentration of new applications (36% of the total) in East London. The report also provides a treasure trove of other relevant data and insight on the planning landscape for high rise development and explores key themes such as sustainability, building safety, affordability and wellbeing.
- BusinessLDN has published its Place Commission report, setting out how London’s ‘places and spaces should evolve’ to support business. Recommendations by the cross-sector group of business leaders convened to assemble the report include ‘a new transparent mechanism to be developed for applicants to provide additional funding to support the hiring of more planners in Local Planning Authorities to speed up the planning process.’
- Looking to the Home Counties, it has been reported that Housing Secretary Michael Gove is set to ask for his own decision to refuse plans by Berkeley for a 165-home scheme in Kent to be quashed, after it emerged that the housing and land supply numbers for the area were out of date. His refusal was made on the grounds of the scheme’s design, but the developer launched legal action against the verdict. Following a quashing of the decision, Gove would still make a final decision on the application.
A week on from the announcement that the GLA has met a key target for affordable housing starts, ambitious borough-led housebuilding projects are progressing at pace. Here’s just a smattering of the latest:
- Brent Council has selected Countryside Partnerships to deliver more than 200 new homes, including 95 affordable units, on the South Kilburn Estate.
- Brent has separately bought two housing blocks from Regal London’s Fulton & Fifth development in East Wembley. The 294 homes purchased in the £85m deal will be added to Brent Council’s affordable housing portfolio, following expected completion in 2026.
- Plans to deliver 160 affordable homes on the site of a former school at Loxford Lane in Ilford have been approved by Redbridge Council. The council signed a deal worth £50m with Lovell Partnerships to develop the site for the council’s affordable homes programme.
- Hammersmith & Fulham Council have appointed Higgins Partnerships to deliver 134 homes on the Aintree Estate in Fulham, with 112 units allocated as affordable.
AGM SEASON, CONT'D
LCA’s borough specialists have been keeping a close eye on the latest London borough Annual General Meetings (AGMs) and we bring you highlights from some of the latest.
- Hackney Council’s Cabinet has remained the same but Cllr Mete Coban’s brief has been expanded to include Climate Change in their Environment and Transport Cabinet brief. The Cabinet recently agreed a new climate action plan and signed onto the UK100 climate network, bringing its net zero target year forward to 2030.
- A relatively quiet Enfield AGM saw Leader of the Council (and newly elected Leader of LGA Labour), Cllr Nesil Caliskan, agreeing with her Conservative Party opposition leader Cllr Alessandro Georgiou on the topic of an increase in councillor’s expenses, which was recommended by an independent review panel. Despite this modest agreement, council rules stated that members must vote on the proposed increase, which passed despite Conservative opposition.
- The London Borough of Redbridge has a new ceremonial mayor, Cllr Jyotsna Islam, who was Chair of the council’s Planning Committee since 2018. Its new Chair will be elected the next committee meeting on 14 June, welcoming four new members into its ranks.
- Despite also having a challenge to Boris Johnson’s seat at Uxbridge & South Ruislip on his to-do list, Cllr Danny Beales of Camden Council has retained his Cabinet position overseeing new homes, jobs and community investment, in an otherwise uneventful AGM. He also remains on the Council’s Planning Committee.
- In Harrow, councillors welcomed in the Council’s new ceremonial Mayor, Cllr Ramji Chauhan as the first East African mayor for the borough. The Council also confirmed the appointment of their new Managing Director, Alex Dewsnap, who replaces the outgoing Pat Flaherty.
MAYORAL HOPEFULS LATEST
The Conservative Party’s selection process for the 2024 London mayoral race has closed, after attracting what may be a record list of nine hopefuls. LCA understands that the following is the list of aspiring candidates that have submitted formal applications, in alphabetical order:
- Natasha Asghar, a member of… the Welsh Parliament
- Andrew Boff, London Assembly Member (Londonwide)
- Duwayne Brooks, a campaigner and former Lewisham councillor
- Natalie Campbell, co-chief executive of bottled-water company Belu and chancellor of the University of Westminster
- Alex Challoner, PR executive, entrepreneur and board member of the Tory Reform Group
- Susan Hall London Assembly Member (Londonwide)
- Samuel Kasumu, Welwyn Hatfield councillor and former special adviser to Boris Johnson
- Daniel Korski, tech entrepreneur and former Downing Street advisor under David Cameron.
- Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam and Minister for London
Nick Rogers, another London Assembly Member who declared early, has pulled out of the race and endorsed Scully. A shortlist of aspirants drawn from the above will be put before several hustings and finally to a vote by Conservative party members in London. The winner will be announced on 19 July – and then the real work starts.
WE, THE BUILDERS
The Labour Party is airing yet more policies for the built environment as part of its bid to be seen as ‘the party of homeownership.’ We’ve previously covered Labour’s emerging policy arsenal in an in-depth report published earlier this year and in more recent editions of LDN. Last week, the Leader of the Opposition went further than previously, making a splash with a widely-trailed speech to the British Chambers of Commerce and a separate interview with The Times. But beyond slogans and incendiary headlines, Starmer’s positioning was pretty carefully-worded. A pledge to ‘bring back housing targets’ sounds clear enough, but the devil will be in the detail. A promise to ‘take on planning reform’ means, well, very little as it stands. A commitment to ‘streamline’ planning for infrastructure and commercial development is easier said than done. And assurances that he will ‘remove the veto used by big landowners to stop shovels hitting the ground,’ is populism, not policy. Starmer’s Times interview was meanwhile published under the headline ‘I’ll allow more homes on the green belt.’ We looked more closely and what Starmer actually said is that he sees a ‘need to have that discussion,' underlining that it’s ‘not as binary or straightforward’ as people sometimes think.
Equally important as the above is what the Party has been steering clear of and here a ‘leaked’ document from the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum is instructive. While it hints at bold plans to ‘repurpose and reform’ Homes England and other key policies, it does not pledge to abolish Right to Buy and it certainly contains no mentions of rent controls, with Labour signalling elsewhere that the latter will not be included in its manifesto.
NO, WE THE BUILDERS
The Conservative Party has been in a tizz over housing and planning reform for a while now, but Labour’s big push may have given them a flag to rally ‘round. Clearly, Starmer’s comments were a godsend for the party’s spin doctors, with the Prime Minister wasting little time in coming out swinging. Speaking to reporters during his trip to Japan for the G7 summit, Rishi Sunak said that he is resolute about ‘mov[ing] away from a system of nationally imposed top-down housing targets on local areas,’ adding ‘I was very clear over the summer I wanted to make sure our green spaces are protected. I think that is what local communities want.’ The Government is, however, less-than-resolute about leasehold reform. Following reports that the next round of legislation in this area is to be delayed and watered down, junior DLUHC ministers Rachel Maclean and Lee Rowley were dispatched to explain the situation to MPs an Opposition Day Debate yesterday. They performed admirably under pressure but were markedly unable to give the House specifics. One wonders why it was they and not Secretary of State Michael Gove – who is usually keen to be seen championing reform in this area – facing the music.
RELATED ARGENT NEWS
Longstanding LCA client Related Argent (formerly Argent Related and before that Argent, of King’s Cross fame) have announced major corporate and leadership restructure plans. From May 2024, the company will formally transfer its employees, projects and assets to Related Argent Limited. From the transfer date, the business will operate solely under the Related Argent name. As for its leadership, the long-serving Robert Evans has stepped down as Joint Managing Partner of Argent but will remain as Partner and CEO of King’s Cross until his departure around the time of the business transfer. Nick Searl will continue as Managing Partner of Argent until the business transfer. Tom Goodall, Partner and Head of Residential for Related Argent has now become Managing Director of Related Limited effective immediately and lead the combined business from 1 May 2024. Nick Searl and fellow Partners André Gibbs, Morwenna Hall and Mike Lightbound will all become Executive Directors, and David Partridge will continue as the Related Argent Chair – all working closely with Ken Wong, Co-Founder of Related Argent and COO of Related Companies. The consolidated business will number 200-or-so employees overseeing a £9bn+, 12m sq ft mixed-use development pipeline, including at Brent Cross Town, Tottenham Hale, as well as the build-to-rent development Author Kings’ Cross . For further details on Related Argent’s plans, see the press release.
Just when it looked like the construction industry was recovering… the outlook seems to be worsening. According to data from Barbour ABI, contract awards in the built environment fell by a third in April, the lowest month since May 2020. The fall is thought to be caused by uncertainty in the wider economy, as well as in the industry itself, a point also raised at UKREiiF last week when panellists discussing net zero called for more clarity from Government on the introduction of minimum energy standards. Firms across the construction industry are generally facing difficulties, with construction firm Keltbray announcing that it will cut about 30 back-office roles to improve efficiency, while brickmaker Forterra has reported a 24% drop in revenue compared to the same time last year. And while big-hitter Vistry has said that it is expecting to make a pre-tax profit of over £450m, its shareholders have voted against its remuneration report, leading the housebuilder to reconsider its pay plans, including changes to bonuses.
Progress on the Government’s New Hospital Programme (NHP) is lagging, though it looks like there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. The plans for the delivery of 40 new hospitals by 2030 were first announced by Boris Johnson ahead of the 2019 General Election. They were greeted by widespread scepticism for the use of the term ‘new’ – as it quickly emerged that not all of the 40 would be brand new hospitals, with the figure including several refurbs of existing hospitals and the delivery of smaller health centres. Nobody, however, has contested the need to modernise the NHS estate. Sadly, progress has varied, with the allocation of promised funding a key sticking point. The BBC has found that work is yet to start on 33 of the promised projects, with 31 of the hospitals saying that the primary issue holding the projects back is a lack of funding for the works. Construction on five of the projects is underway, while work has been completed on just two of the new hospitals. Building has since reported that the Government is set to announce a new funding package for the NHP imminently… but nothing seems to have materialised as of writing. Separately, on Monday the Labour Party outlined its own plans for the NHS, with Keir Starmer announcing that in Government the Party would assess all NHS capital projects to ‘make sure that money is getting allocated efficiently’.
LCA AT UKREiiF 2023
LCA was on the ground at UKREiiF, in force, hosting our own events and supporting clients with their programmes. We hosted the official Opportunity London drinks reception, welcoming over 160 clients and senior political stakeholders at the fabulous Scarborough Pub. LCA Partner and Co-Managing Director, Politics, Engagement and Planning Jane Groom chaired a panel about The Building Safety Act and the implications that it will have on the built environment sector and investment for our client Hydrock. Elsewhere, LCA Senior Advisor Sarah Rawlings chaired the latest iteration of 'A Place at the Table' for Stride Treglown, a year on from the first of this event series that considers topics around placemaking. We also supported clients Avison Young │UK in hosting the ‘Leadership Matters’ breakfast event and two panels to consider what we can learn from what’s been done to date and what needs to be done to transform the cities and regions to accelerate growth across the UK. We further managed a programme of speaker slots for Lendlease, curating a panel on day three focused on communicating social value to investors, and delivering two podcasts with EG recorded ‘live from UKREiiF’ to be released next week. And it didn’t rain….
Five of the LCA team will be lacing up their running shoes tomorrow evening for the annual HD5K charity run in Hyde Park, raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association. Organised by the Alan Davidson Foundation, over 100 participants from the built environment sector will be taking part in memory of Alan Davidson, the founder of Hayes Davidson who was diagnosed with MND in 2012. Alan was also a Non-Executive Director of LCA and sadly passed away in 2018. If you would like to donate you can do so here – all funds will be matched by the Alan Davidson Foundation. Best of luck to all the runners!
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