A WEEK-AND-A-DAY TO GO
London’s news keeps landing thick and fast as a new dawn beckons with London Local Elections just over a week away.
We understand that new London polling is set to be published before the end of the week, which according to Twitter speculation could dim any hopes of complete Labour dominance across London. We will of course be analysing the poll once it is published and penning our thoughts on this in a blog available to be published on our website. On that note, we ponder on the possibility of Labour overpromising or under-delivering when results come out next Friday, yet another late scare for the Tories in Barnet and the ongoing Tory/Labour battle in Westminster.
In other news, we report on news of Capco potentially scaling back its long-standing Earl’s Court Masterplan, the unveiling of Parliament Square’s first female statue and one of our favourite subjects - affordable housing stats.
And… keep your eyes peeled for a brand new, revamped and sleeker LCA website, which we are set to launch next week, along with another surprise that we will keep up our sleeves for now.
Thank you for reading and do get in touch if you have any feedback. You can also follow us on Twitter @LDNComms.
ONLY THE START
Following our report on the Mayor accelerating the pace of affordable housing starts a few issues ago, Sadiq has now met, for the first time, his own annual delivery target of 12,500 affordable housing starts. According to statistics published by the GLA, 12,526 affordable homes were started in 2017/18 under its programmes, of which 2,826 qualified as social housing. While these numbers are not indicative of the overall picture of affordable housing provision, it is interesting to see that the three Labour councils of Camden, Brent and Hammersmith & Fulham had fewer than 100 housing starts in their boroughs this past year. An accompanying press release from London Labour also bashes Boris on failing to start any homes for social rent in his full final year in office (2015/16) while emphasising that City Hall is ‘breaking the record for both the number of genuinely affordable and social homes started in a single year.’ While both of London Labour's claims are correct, the release, coming through the party and not City Hall, should be treated with some caution. For instance, it appears to suggest that Boris’ definition of ‘affordable’ was set rigidly at 80% rather than up to 80% as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework. In reply, Conservative assembly member Andrew Boff has described the Mayor’s claim that he has met his target as ‘quite miraculous’ after nearly 6,000 affordable housing starts were registered between February and March – although City Hall has said these were registered at the end of the year for financial reasons. Nevertheless, the Mayor should be pleased that he has reached this milestone for the first time, securing a total of £4.8bn of funding from government that made it possible, and establishing effective working relationships with housing associations to kickstart a healthy pipeline of starts. But, the bigger challenge is whether this can be maintained and if Sadiq can meet his adopted housing target of 116,000 affordable housing starts by 2021/22.
HAVE MONEY, WILL NOT SPEND?
HuffPost has developed a keen interest in unspent public funds during recent months. This week, an article by the website took aim at councils for ‘hoarding’ £375m raised from Section 106 agreements with developers, rather than spending it on new affordable housing. The article (and a follow-up piece) is based on some quite impressive research, including Freedom of Information (FOI) requests asking every council in England and Wales to disclose their Section 106 receipts, allocations and spending since 2013/14. It also reveals some interesting facts: Two-thirds of the unspent funds - £235million - are held by only 14 of the 267 councils which responded to Huffpost’s enquiry. Of these 14, nine are in London. But the pieces’ analysis and commentary left us a bit confused. It initially singles out Tory-run Kensington & Chelsea as ‘sitting on £21million’ in its subtitle, only to later clarify that the other eight London Boroughs to make the ‘top 14’ are actually Labour-led. Most importantly, the article provides little in the way of benchmarks for assessing its findings. The £375m figure spread across dozens of boroughs – especially if viewed as an average of roughly £1.4 million per each of the 267 local authorities - seems somewhat less significant if compared to the actual cost of any major housing or estate regeneration scheme in London. It would be rather more useful if the article could tell us whether the annual ratio of Section 106 receipts to spending has improved or worsened in recent years. Or if it could reveal how long the sums cited in the report have actually been ‘sitting unspent’. Ultimately, the article seems to lay the blame on councils, without fully conveying the complexity and timescales of the planning system and housing development in general.
STATUE OF SUFFRAGIST UNVEILED
A statue commemorating the life of suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled opposite Parliament – the first statue of a woman to go up at the landmark. Fawcett campaigned for women's right to vote during the early 20th Century and is seen as one of the most influential feminists of the past 100 years. Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to the ‘truly great’ campaigner's ‘lasting impact’ and Sadiq welcomed the fact that ‘Parliament Square is no longer a male-only zone for statues’. Female MPs across the political spectrum were in attendance including Emily Thornberry, Justine Greening, Dawn Butler and longest continuously serving female MP Harriet Harman. The bronze casting, by the artist Gillian Wearing, was commissioned as part of this year's centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave some women over the age of 30 the vote.
CROYDON’S CLADDING CONUNDRUM CONCLUDES
An agreement has been reached ensuring residents of the Citiscape site in Croydon will no longer need to pay £2m for the removal of cladding and fire warden charges. The tower block had failed fire safety tests undertaken following the Grenfell tragedy. A stalemate had developed between the building’s residents and block management company First Port, after an independent tribunal ruled that the cost of recladding and ensuing temporary fire safety measures were in principle recoverable through leaseholders via service charges. However, leaseholders were told last week that Barratt Developments, who originally built the high-rise block in 2002, had made the decision to pay for any backdated and future fire safety costs. A spokesperson for Barratt, as quoted on BBC’s website, saidthat ‘Citiscape was built in line with all building regulations in place at the time of construction’ adding that though it no longer owned the building or had liability for the cladding, that residents having peace of mind was paramount.
TELFORD IN BUILD-TO-RENT BID
Following the British Property Federation’s (BPF) recent announcement of figures indicating build-to-rent (BTR) development is growing at a healthy pace, Telford Homes has reiterated its own commitment to the burgeoning sector as well as the London housing market as a whole. The residential property developer has, since at least 2016, sought to position itself ‘as a key build to rent developer and partner across London’. The company reportedly has 4,000 new homes in the pipeline, including 500 BTR homes pegged for institutional investors and is also seeking planning permission for a further 900 of the latter. Telford’s Chief Executive, Jon Di-Stefano, has expressed hopes that BTR will amount to a full 50% of the business in the coming years. Di-Stefano also used a turn-of-phrase much reproduced by the press this week, saying that the company’s growth is ‘underpinned by the lack of supply of new homes in London and demand for our product at more affordable price points remains strong’.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK?
According to an extensive report in the last week’s Sunday Times, the Earl’s Court regeneration saga is entering a new chapter. Capco, it would appear, is in talks with Hammersmith & Fulham Council over the potential return of the Gibbs Green and West Kensington council estates to the borough. Handing back the estates – many of whose residents have vocally campaigned against Capco’s plans – would significantly diminish the scale of the project’s ambition and reduce the number of homes it delivers by almost 50%, from 6,600 to 3,600. But it could also allow the developer to divest itself of the project’s most troubled component and finally unlock the next stages of the scheme. The project dates back as far as 2007, when Capco began buying up land in the area. Since then, it has reportedly been shedding value, due to market trends as much as political uncertainty as well as fraught relations with the Labour council administration elected in 2014. A resolution to this costly, drawn out dispute between the developer and council may be a relief to many, but we question whether in the long term it will be a victory for anyone involved.
Labour has been on the offensive over the government’s bungling over the citizenship of Windrush migrants, and Conservatives will be mindful of the potential this has to alienate London’s Afro-Caribbean community ahead of the local elections. Unlike Labour’s anti-Semitism issue having a more localised impact across the Jewish population that resides mainly in Barnet, London’s Afro-Caribbean diaspora is far more diffuse, with populations of over 10,000 in 12 London boroughs including Wandsworth – arguably Labour’s key target borough for these local elections. While Conservative MP for Finchley & Golders Green Mike Freer has come out to call those on the opposition benches politicising the issue ‘opportunistic’, the optics of the government’s handling of Windrush migrants could also deter more socially progressive Conservatives in London from voting for a party they feel no longer in sync with their views.
Besides the title of UK City of Culture for 2021, Coventry has now secured the services of one of Britain’s best creative producers. Chenine Bhathena, Senior Culture Manager at the Greater London Authority (GLA), will be leaving City Hall in June to take up a new role as Creative Director at Coventry 2021. Chenine has been central to delivering the Mayor’s Cultural Manifesto and has served as City Hall’s lead on its strategic vision for Creative Placemaking across the capital – including major events such as Lumiere and the London 2012 Festival – and to embedding culture in planning and regeneration policy.
LABOUR: NO STONE UNTURNED
Labour in London – much like the Conservatives were nationally this time last year – are viewed by commentators as so far ahead that any underperformance or complacency will be marked as abject failure. Yet, when you are so far ahead in the polls in the capital, is the tactic to manage expectations, or throw the kitchen sink at it? On the one hand, Labour is well and truly parking its tanks on Tory lawns, launching eye-catching policy proposals that could resonate with Londoners include wide-sweeping changes set out in a Social Housing Green Paper, free bus travel for under-25s, and four additional bank holidays to boot. Yet Guardian columnist Owen Jones only yesterday posted that ‘it’s not in the bag’ after suggestions that London polling set for publication tomorrow will show a less sanguine picture for Labour in the capital than expected. And Labour’s campaign chief Andrew Gwynne, prescient of higher turnout among older voters, has stated ‘it is so important for young people not to leave local elections just to the over-55s’. Recent polling suggests that older voters - and especially over-65s are the only age group where a majority still votes Conservative in London.
HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A LOCAL COUNCILLOR SCORNED
The Tories may be buoyed by rumours of a last-minute surge, but recent developments only confirm that they will have to work hard to hang on to their boroughs. In Barnet, which remains on a knife edge, deselected Conservative councillor Sury Khatri’s disgruntlement boiled over once again during his farewell speech, in which he urged voters to vote anything that might help with toppling the Tories. CCHQ is certainly well aware of the need to campaign hard and its leaders are on the march, with Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis and his Vice Chair for London Paul Scully MP out and about in Westminster and Sutton over the past week. Local issues represent the core of the party’s messaging on social media and the doorstep. Up in Harrow, where the Conservatives are hoping to stage a comeback, the party’s ‘seven-point pledge’ promises to increase town centre policing, discourage high-rise housing development, reduce the cost of bin collections and parking, tackle fly-tipping and seek ways to reduce council tax. And down in Bexley, the Conservatives are telling voters ‘Bexley’s got a great council. Don’t throw it away’ in a manifesto which focuses on council tax and services, education provision, road cleaning, social care, protecting green space, supporting new transport links, housing for local residents and skills training.
The newly-released Conservative manifesto for Westminster very much reflects the party’s focus on local issues across London. After a consultation on proposals for the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street was extended by TfL (more of this in a recent LCA blog), the Conservatives have highlighted their commitment to ensuring local views are taken into account in a dedicated section of the manifesto. As well as reiterating eight pledges to support communities affected by the Oxford Street proposals, they will (finally) allow members of the public to speak at planning committees, while pledges on a ‘cleaner, greener’ city actually appear twice. The potency of local issues is illustrated by the fact that the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street has unveiled its own candidates in West End, Marylebone High Street, and Bryanston & Dorset Square – all wards surrounding the popular shopping street. Meanwhile, Labour continues to send in its big beasts to beef up its campaign in the borough, and Jeremy Corbyn’s bold housing pledges – mentioned above – were announced in Westminster’s Churchill Gardens Estate. The Labour manifesto for Westminster was published back in March and broadly reflects the national party’s positions and messaging on housing and planning.
ON LONDON GUIDE TO THE LOCAL ELECTIONS
On 18 April, LCA attended a panel discussion on the upcoming local elections in London, hosted by OnLondon.co.uk’s founder and editor, Dave Hill. Joining him on stage were elections guru Lewis Baston, Labour Councillor (and former Camden Council Leader) Sarah Hayward, and Centre for London Director Ben Rogers. We were particularly engaged by Hill and Baston’s presentation of their encyclopaedic On London Borough Elections Guide 2018 – which assesses Labour as most likely to continue dominating London politics, but actually quite hard-pressed to make further headway in currently Tory-held wards and boroughs. In their interventions, both Rogers and Hayward seemed to agree with this overarching assessment, with Hayward appearing to suggest that her party has overly raised expectations over how well it might do. She also commented that the impact of Momentum is being overstated, largely because of events in Haringey, and claimed that a noticeably rightward shift within the Conservative party is being overlooked by commentators.
LCA ON THE BBC
Our very own Director Emma Crowe was interviewed by BBC London last Thursday, alongside LSE’s Professor Tony Travers and political analyst Lord Hayward. Standing on Chelsea Bridge where the borough boundaries of Westminster, Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea meet, the trio were interviewed about their thoughts on what might happen on 3 May.
Last night LCA were delighted to host Future of London’s annual Pre-Election party, during which our Board Director Chris Madel gave an audience the lowdown on what boroughs to keep an eye on ahead of May elections. Also speaking at the event were OnLondon.co.uk’s Dave Hill, sharing his thoughts on what the future holds for regeneration in the capital and Head of Borough Planning at TfL Lucinda Turner, who shared her top seven survival tips as an officer.
THE OTHER POPPER
For those that don’t know, the hit Channel 4 comedy show Friday Night Dinner is written and produced by Robert Popper, our Managing Director Jonny Popper’s brother. The show is based entirely on the Popper family (in exaggerated form!) with the cast playing the two siblings and their parents. The new fifth series returns to Channel 4 every Friday evening at 10pm, beginning next week on 4 May, only a few hours after the final results of the local elections are expected. Here is the trailer. So if you need a good laugh and some comic relief from the incessant politicking and electioneering of recent weeks, tune in and get a slight insight into the Poppers.
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LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
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