“When Labour’s Jim Callaghan lost the 1979 election, he reflected that sometimes ‘there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of’. And that election – along with 1945 and 1997 – was certainly one of those moments of great political change. On current polling, the next General Election could well join this exclusive club.
Certainly the mood privately among some at the Conservatives' conference in Manchester, where I’ve been for the past few days, was rather resigned about their prospects. Other obvious signs were that the exhibition space felt sparse, the fringe was smaller and numbers in attendance weren’t all that great suggesting that many in the corporate and campaigning world have already made up their mind about where power will lie in the coming years. Next week’s Labour Party gathering in Liverpool could be a total contrast.
That being said, the next election result is not yet determined. Sometimes the public – while unhappy with the incumbents – are not yet fully sold on the opposition either. Election results can end up a lot closer and sometimes throw up surprises. You only have to look at 1974, 1992, 2010 and 2017 for where voters were less certain about who they wanted running the country.
And the Conservatives aren’t the most successful political party in the western world for nothing. They won’t give up without a fight, and we might just have seen what form that fight takes this week with a string of headline grabbing announcements, in the mould of Rishi Sunak’s political Bazball approach, which has seen much policy red meat thrown at the Tory core voting base.
Over all of this hangs HS2. It cannot be by design that a conference in Manchester has been dominated by the ‘will they, won’t they’ cancellation of the city’s high speed rail line. Perhaps the Prime Minister and his team just aren’t as good at politics as we thought. But cancelling Phase 2 has ramifications far and wide, and it is a monumental job for the Government to put a positive spin on the debacle.
What’s been seen this week is a governing party acting like an opposition. Their strategists have clearly concluded the Tories can’t win on the status quo or pointing to their record in office – instead, the focus is on a suite of new policies and spending announcements for a future Tory Government to deliver on.
Attention will quickly shift down the M62 to Liverpool at Labour’s conference. Will the party respond to the Tory’s new tactics, or will they stick to the focus on being a competent Government in waiting? We’ll soon see. And LCA colleagues will be in Liverpool, where we hope to see many of you.”
Nick Bowes, Managing Director, Insight
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CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE POLICY UPDATE
HS2 FINGERS TO MANCHESTER: The big issue hanging over conference was Phase 2 of HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester. In his speech, the Prime Minister confirmed it won’t go ahead, instead switching the funding to a raft of other road and rail projects, predominantly in the north and Midlands, and retaining the £2 bus fare.
Resignation watch: Not everyone in the Tory ranks is happy, Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, was reportedly considering resigning but has now decided against.
Euston, we don’t have a problem: In the space of a few days, the Prime Minister has gone from redesignating Old Oak Common as ‘central London’, to the link into Euston being back on.
Or do we? More details have emerged this afternoon, with the Prime Minister stripping HS2 of responsibility for the Euston project, blaming their mismanagement for delays and soaring costs. Instead a new Euston Development Zone will be set up, led by the private sector, to manage a wider commercial and residential scheme. Who will be the public sector client here is not clear.
Station to Station: With Sunak specifically mentioning £6.5bn being 'saved' from the Euston project for projects elsewhere, it is now becoming clear that these savings are partly delivered by reducing the scale of the upgrade. Six platforms for HS2, not 10 and critically no upgrades to the Underground.
Town and out: Unveiling a new £1.1bn levelling up pot of money for 55 towns, Sunak announced that for too long cities have had all the attention.
Lease is the word: Housing Minister Rachel Maclean really wants to see a leasehold reform Bill in the King’s Speech, and Michael Gove denied the Renters Reform Bill had run into the sand, vowing it’d have its second reading this autumn. Gove also reiterated his threats to intervene on the London Plan if the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, didn’t step up housebuilding in the city. But not a word from Sunak in his speech about the urgent need to deliver more homes.
Harper’s Bizarre: Transport Secretary Mark Harper vowed to clampdown on ‘sinister’ 15 minute cities, threatening to end local council’s access to the DVLA database for enforcing restrictions on motorists and blocking the blanket roll out of 20mph zones. Despite the fact there is no evidence of any local authority seeking to control 'how often you go to the shops'.
Best of the rest: Living wage to rise to £11, abolition of A-levels (replacing them with an Advanced British Standard), tightening restrictions on smoking and vaping, mobile phones banned in schools.
FROM FRINGES TO THE FRINGE: Despite not being invited to speak on the main stage, Conservative Party Mayoral Candidate Susan Hall was busy speaking at fringe events this week, trying to rally her party’s voter base for next year’s election. In an unfortunate gaffe, Hall spoke about her ambition to be London’s first female Labour Mayor.
A lasting impression: Hall’s assertion that some Jewish Londoners were ‘frightened’ by Sadiq Khan’s ‘divisive attitudes’ has been widely criticised, including by the Board of Deputies. She later refused to apologise for these comments but did not then appear at a London Councils fringe event at which she was due to speak.
Slipping standards? In a punchy response, an Evening Standard editorial wrote that Hall’s comments were ‘both unwise and untrue’ and that she ‘ought to act’ like she could be the next Mayor of London.
Déjà vu: Business Minister Nusrat Ghani did not hold back from condemning Hall’s comments, citing the ‘language of fear’ deployed by Zac Goldsmith’s team in the 2016 mayoral election. The Home Secretary, on the other hand, leaped to Hall's defence and the Prime Minister namechecked her in his speech, saying Londoners will be 'safer with Susan' when it comes to tackling crime.
A long seven months: Between Hall’s comments and the heavy-handed removal of Assembly Member Andrew Boff from the conference hall, it’s been a lively few days for the London Tories.
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- The Secretary of State's decision on Mitsubishi Estate and Co-Re's plans to redevelop London Studios on the South Bank has been delayed yet again, this time to December. The proposals were previously approved by Lambeth Council in March 2022 and subsequently granted Stage 2 clearance from the GLA. Mitsubishi Estate and Co-Re have proposed delivering a 25-storey office building connected to two mixed-use blocks of 14 and six storeys, providing 83,600 sq m of office space. The wait goes on.
- The Cavalry Barracks near Heathrow is soon to be marketed for sale for redevelopment following developer Inland Homes filing for administration. Inland Homes received planning permission in October 2022 from Hounslow Council to build 1,525 homes (35% affordable) and 2,673 sq m of non-residential commercial and community space at what remains the largest remaining brownfield site for redevelopment in London at 37 acres.
- Related Argent has secured a £243m loan with ICG Real Estate to deliver 484-Build-to-Rent (BTR) homes at their Tottenham Hale scheme. This latest finance forms the second and final phase of the developer’s £600m+ Heart of Hale regeneration project, comprised of 1,032 homes across seven buildings.
- Evans Randall Investors is proceeding with plans to redevelop Thavies Inn House on Holborn Circus after tenants Lloyds Bank terminated their lease. Evans achieved planning permission from the City of London Corporation in November 2022 to deliver a 10-storey block providing 100,000 sq ft of workspace and ground floor retail space.
Bek Seely, Lendlease’s European Managing Director for Development, has announced her departure. Regional CEO Andrea Ruckstuhl will step in to lead the development side in an interim capacity, with a permanent successor to be announced ‘in due course’.
Victoria Lawson has been announced as the new Chief Executive of Islington Council.
Legal & General Capital has appointed Steven Wright as Portfolio Director for Housing.
CITY OF WESTMINSTER LATEST
THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS? Westminster City Council (WCC) has launched a consultation on its first ever Evening and Night-time Plan, which will be published in 2024, setting out guidance on ‘noise management, street-lighting, planning, and licensing policies and antisocial behaviour’ in the borough.
Tourist tax? Meanwhile, last month Leader of WCC Cllr Adam Hug called for the introduction of an ‘overnight levy’ for tourists staying in hotels and Airbnbs in the borough, saying that the local authority is already working on the plans ‘with business partners’. Similar fees have been introduced in a number of other cities, including by a Business Improvement District in Manchester – as those who attended Conservative Party Conference will now know!
Going green? Westminster Property Association (WPA) has responded to WCC’s plans to increase its carbon offset fee from £95 to £880 per tonne, calling the methodology used to reach the new figure ‘deeply flawed’ and ‘inconsistent’ with national and regional guidance. The WPA also said that the proposals will have the unintended consequence of ‘eroding investment and social and economic prosperity across the city’.
DEVO FOR LONDON
ETERNAL FLAME: As neighbouring councils in Essex draw up plans for a new combined authority, the topic of further devolution to London makes the rounds again like a political carousel.
Everything I Wanted: As mentioned last week, departing Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon has said the city needs a regional parliament with powers to run ‘health and education and railways’, crucially with the ability to ‘raise and spend money.’
I’ll Set You Free: This spirit of localism is shared in a new report from New Local, co-authored by seven Labour council leaders including Camden, Islington, Ealing and Southwark. The report urges investment in communities through a ‘new settlement’ for ‘empowered, sustainably resourced local government.’
Walking Down Your Street: London Councils and the Local Government Association have also signalled support for the final report of the UK Urban Futures Commission, which urges a transformation of ‘local capacity and capability’ for delivering prosperous cities.
If She Knew What She Wanted: Tory Mayoral hopeful Susan Hall hasn’t been overly vocal on the subject of more devolution for London, although she has previously hinted on social media that the London Assembly does ‘not have enough powers’ for scrutinising the Mayor’s position. But given Mark Harper’s comments implying ’sinister’ moves by local authorities to restrict residents’ ability to shop, one doesn’t sense much hope for greater devolution.
I Got Nothing: For Havering Council, a review of local government finance has been urged, as its Leader, Cllr Ray Morgon has signalled the council faces a ‘desperate’ situation and could be bankrupt within six months. Rumours continue to grow that a number of local authorities, focused especially around the Home Counties and South East, could be preparing Section 114 notices later this autumn and winter.
Manic Monday: With polls continuing to suggest a Labour Party win at the next election, there’ll be a lot of focus on how much devolution is discussed at next week’s Labour Conference. Will a new Government usher in a new era of decentralisation or will a newly elected Labour Government be reluctant to let go of power it has fought so hard to get hold of? After all Gordon Brown was arguably the most centralising Chancellor in modern times….
- Reflections on last week’s London Real Estate Forum (LREF) by LCA Director, Kirsty Moseley
- The London Society’s new podcast, London Explained, which launched this week. In the inaugural episode exploring Earls Court - described as 'a place of legend in inner West London' - host Dave Hill spoke with LCA client The Earls Court Development Company (ECDC), along with the local community and politicians about the area’s rich heritage and legacy, and ECDC’s plans to create a sustainable, affordable, mixed-use scheme, with inclusivity at its heart. You can listen to this first episode here. More podcasts focusing on other parts of London to follow soon.
- Going to see one of the 16 best films being shown as part of London Film Festival, which is taking place until 15 October.
- Dylan Jones’ comment piece on the future of Oxford Street.
- The BBC’s coverage of the train named after Asquith Xavier, a former Euston railway worker who overturned a racist recruitment policy.
- The Times’ piece on London’s ‘Roaring Twenties’.
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