“Usually, August is a quiet month on the politics front. Westminster empties out, and political parties store up stories to feed a hungry media keen to fill their rather thin column inches. Often stuff gets prime coverage during August which probably wouldn’t get more than an inch buried on page 27 at other more busier times of the year.
Yet recent years haven’t followed this pattern – with Brexit, political instability, leadership contests and pandemics turning what is usually one of the calmest times of the year into one of the most frantic. But 2023 seems to have reverted to type – so quiet was it that one of my daily political update emails majored on big cat sightings in the English countryside. Silly season is well and truly back.
A more atypical August has seen the return of the themed ‘weeks’, so favoured by those in charge of the fabled media grids in No 10 and opposition HQs. So far this summer we’ve had Small Boats Week, Health Week, Education Week – all intended to dominate a quieter news period. As we cover further down, Michael Gove has done a good job to give off the impression he hasn’t left his desk all summer with his flurry of interventions. Unfortunately for the Government, attempts to regain the initiative don’t seem yet to be showing too many signs of success – with Labour even hitting the symbolic 50% in one poll.
As August slips away, and once the Bank Holiday is behind us, battle will fully recommence. The next major moment will be party conference season – and eyes will turn to Manchester, Liverpool and Bournemouth where the parties’ focus will be on regaining the initiative/demonstrating a government in waiting/trying to get your message heard*. These could well be the last gatherings before the next General Election.
They’re certainly the last before next May’s Mayoral Election, and the London political temperature is being turned up very slowly from a low heat to simmering. As we touch on below, it’s only a few days now until the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) extension goes live – although reports suggest that not everyone is quite reconciled to this still going ahead as planned. For the Mayor, much is pinned on the success of ULEZ, and no doubt he’ll be watching the polls closely. Just this week, the stark inner versus outer London contrast in voter sentiment was laid bare. In some respects, after eight years as Mayor, it shouldn’t be surprising Sadiq Khan underperforms against Labour more generally – that being said, with the move to first past the post next May, all sides will be desperate to excite their voters to come out on polling day.
As a reminder, there isn’t an LDN next week – we’ll be back to our regular schedule from 6 September. In the meantime, enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend.”
Nick Bowes, Managing Director, Insight
*delete as appropriate
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Despite Parliament being in recess, Housing Secretary Michael Gove has certainly been busy intervening in London’s planning and housing. Earlier this month, he delayed his decision on the called-in application for the redevelopment of ITV Studios on the South Bank until October from August. Not too far along the river, Gove also issued an Article 31 Holding Directive on Stanhope’s plans for a new life sciences hub in Waterloo. Lambeth Council and the Mayor have already granted approval for the proposals that include over 160,000 sq m of office space for life sciences (9,000 sq m of which are affordable) and 130 homes. The proposals also include bringing affordable homes to a site where there are currently none, creating new routes across the site, and increasing the amount of publicly accessible green space by 41%. With this holding order, the council are unable to sign off permission until Gove decides whether or not to call the application in. Perhaps sensing that Gove’s willingness to get involved in controversial planning decisions, protestors are now actively calling on him to get involved in major projects.
Gove’s busy summer also saw him writing furiously to seven local authorities (four in London: Camden, Ealing, Lambeth and Westminster), and seven housing associations, all of which had either received severe maladministration judgements from the Housing Ombudsman or were found to have breached consumer standards by the Regulator of Social Housing. In the strongly worded letters, Gove states he is taking a ‘personal interest’ in the changes made to rectify failings and has called for improvements the services provided to residents.
There’s not a cloud in the sky which hasn’t rained on the housebuilding industry lately. Home Counties developer Crest Nicholson revised profit warning on Monday sent shockwaves through the London Stock Exchange, slashing over £500m from the value of the UK’s biggest housebuilders. Persistently high inflation and rising interest rates have seen the biggest names in the sector cut staff and development plans. Bellway Homes and Persimmon’s decisions to rein in their ambitions are symptomatic of the serious challenges facing the industry, with the recent collapse of leading London housing contractor Henry Construction still lingering over some of the capital’s projects. Amid this turmoil, and recognising the threat posed to future house building ambitions, the Mayor of London reconvened his London Housing Delivery Taskforce. Further analysis from City Hall has exposed the growing pressure from the housing market on public sector workers, with the Mayor reiterating his calls for an additional £2.2bn of Government funding to boost affordable housing delivery.
For all the criticisms, the levelling up debate over recent years has brought renewed focus on the country’s stark geographical inequalities. But too often the debate is oversimplified as ‘rich south versus poor north’. Compounding matters, the politics of the moment has seen the focus much more on the so-called Red Wall in the Midlands and the north, with London’s own needs neglected.
So this week’s Centre for London report – Homes fit for Londoners – is a welcome if shocking reminder of the sheer scale of the social challenges the capital faces. It’s a grim rollcall – here are six damning facts:
- 50% more people sleeping rough than a decade ago,
- 300,000 on council house waiting lists,
- a quarter of the country’s households awaiting social housing are in the capital,
- a quarter of Londoners live in poverty after paying housing costs,
- average London rent equivalent to 40% of average household income and
- 2 in 5 Londoners have experienced damp or mould in their homes in the past year.
One criticism thrown at London as part of the levelling up debate is that the city receives more public spend than elsewhere, and that some of this needs switching away to other parts of the country. On one level, new chunky analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) would support this. On some measures, parts of the city – particularly inner London – come out well, being home to some of the highest spend on NHS, schools, local government, police and public health. But the IFS go on to show that, in fact, if spending were allocated purely on the basis of a needs-based calculation, London ought to receive more money – particularly local government, which is substantially underfunded.
Both reports also shine a light on the stark internal contrasts within the capital, with a clear inner versus outer London split. Yet with boroughs around the fringes of the city increasingly demonstrating characteristics similar to the more urban inner London boroughs, might we see pressure grow for reallocation of public spending within the capital itself? It will take deft handling by London Councils and City Hall to maintain a single collective London position on public spending which, in the face of a more vocal and bolshy England beyond the M25, is more important than ever.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Revised proposals from Barnet Council to develop the ‘Hendon Hub’ have been submitted following a public consultation on its previous designs.
- Dephna Group has submitted plans Brent Council to develop a 10-storey, 5,000m2 commercial kitchen at the site of its 1970s-era office in Neasden. It follows the developer’s similar plans for an 11-storey kitchen block in north Acton submitted to Ealing Council in early August.
- Meadow Partners’ plans to refurbish a five-storey office building, at Rochester Row have been submitted to Westminster City Council.
- Steven Wild has been announced as the new managing director of Hounslow Council’s housebuilder Lampton Homes.
- Lord Neil Mendoza has been appointed as the new Chair of Historic England.
- Michelle Walker has been appointed as Arts Council England’s new area director for London.
- Labour MP for Brent South Dawn Butler has revealed her intention to put herself forward for the London Mayoralty once Sadiq Khan steps down.
- Camden councillor and former co-leader of the Green Party Sian Berry has announced that she will re-stand for the London Assembly despite having been selected as her Party’s candidate for the Brighton Pavilion constituency.
- The Building Safety Regulator has made a number of appointments to its new industry competence committee.
- Haringey Community Press has reported that two Labour councillors have resigned. Former Council Leader and councillor for South Tottenham Charles Adje and Yvonne Say, who represented White Hart Lane, are understood to have resigned last week, though there has been no official statement from the Council.
- Lambeth councillor Liam Jarnecki has sadly passed away after a long battle with illness.
It might be just a matter of days now until the ULEZ expansion, but there’s been no end to the coverage and the politicking. Despite both legal and political challenges, the ULEZ will reach the edges of Greater London on 29 August. Ahead of this milestone in the capital’s history, here is a look at some of the latest developments:
- The Government was reportedly exploring the possibility of blocking the ULEZ expansion but lawyers warned it would be rejected in the courts.
- The widened eligibility criteria for the £160m ULEZ scrappage scheme has opened for applications from all Londoners. Deputy Mayor for Transport Seb Dance defended the amount of money available, saying he was ‘confident’ it was enough for every owner of a non-compliant vehicle to secure funding.
- Problems on the cameras front, with reports that more than 800 ULEZ cameras are yet to be installed by TfL. Figures from the Metropolitan Police revealed that 387 cameras installed between April and August have been targeted by vandals in ‘vigilante’ action. Despite this, TfL has said this ‘will not stop’ the scheme’s expansion.
- Protesters opposed to the extension took to the streets of Orpington last Saturday, bringing local roads to a standstill.
- Five Conservative-led councils that challenged the expansion in court have so far paid £280,000 to TfL in legal fees as a result of losing the judicial review. Khan has called on bordering Conservative-led county councils to ‘put their politics aside’ and allow ULEZ warning signs to be installed on their borders with Greater London.
While it might feel like the end of summer is sadly approaching, there are still more than enough activities for Londoners to enjoy. From 6 September, Open House Festival will provide opportunities for built environment enthusiasts to explore some of the capital’s most known buildings (and best kept secrets), join walking tours and learn about our city’s architecture and history. Meanwhile, in the City, the historic Bartholomew Fair is making a comeback for three weeks in September… for the first time since 1885. The event, which started in the 12th century and was originally a cloth fair, is back with a modern twist providing free performances and cultural events including dance, theatre and immersive experiences.
- The Evening Standard’s YouGov polling, showing large variations in the popularity of the Mayor between inner and outer London.
- The Sunday Times (£) on the fortunes of the City of London and the threats posed to the wider UK economy.
- Financial Times (£) on whether King’s Cross can be a template for UK regeneration.
- BBC’s Shared Data Unit research showing that on average, local authorities will be facing a deficit of £33m by 2025-26.
- The Economist (£) on Britain’s Green Belt ‘choking the economy’.
- The sad closure of London institutions La Gavroche and The India Club.
A HOOP EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER
With LCA client, Knight Dragon, we worked on announcement of the public opening of London’s first rooftop basketball court at Design District in Greenwich Peninsula. Sky Sport attended the launch, with further coverage across Time Out, Metro, Secret London and more.
The open-air court tops one of sixteen buildings that make up Design District neighbourhood on Greenwich Peninsula, London’s first purpose-built home for the creative industries. Giving incredible views across the O2, the Peninsula, the Thames and across to Canary Wharf, it’s open to the public and the Design District community.
To launch the court, LCA established a partnership between Design District and UK’s premier basketball club, the London Lions. The event was hosted by NBA star OG Anunoby along with other Lions players and coaches to provide aspiring young basketball enthusiasts with top-tier coaching and avenues to refine their skills. More than 200 basketball fans attended, with music, merchandise and an amazing buzz filling the new space.
Photo courtesy of Taran Wilkhu
THE LOOKOUT OPENS TO THE PUBLIC
This week, 8 Bishopsgate’s 50th floor viewing gallery, The Lookout, opened to the public. Book your free ticket to visit now and see brilliant views across London.
For LCA’s clients WilkinsonEyre and Stanhope (who designed and developed the site respectively), we secured a series of media tours including Bloomberg, Financial Times, Architects' Journal, The Times and the Evening Standard.
LCA also secured a feature on BBC Radio London’s Breakfast Show on the opening of The Lookout. Ayman El Hibri, Associate Director at WilkinsonEyre and Kevin Darvishi, Leasing Director at Stanhope spoke with BBC presenter Salma El-Wardany on the importance of 8 Bishopsgate giving back to the local community, and the role that tall buildings have in the city.
Photo courtesy of Dirk Lindner
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