With the Royal Wedding firmly behind us and things returning to normality following the local elections, we take a look at a new pledge from the Mayor to deliver 10,000 council homes over the next four years.
Meanwhile, his Deputy Mayor for Planning has hinted that the consultation on the draft London Plan has led to little change in the document, even as the latest draft of the Mayor's Housing Strategy is released.
Elsewhere, borough Annual General Meetings (AGMs) are in full flow keeping LCA very busy - and we provide a sneak peek of how things have shaped up in Wandsworth.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and do follow us on Twitter @LDNComms if you don’t already.
THE COUNCIL HOUSE CRUSADER
As reported last week, Sadiq has issued an announcement pledging 10,000 council homes over the next four years. This will form part of his overall commitment to delivering 116,000 affordable starts by 2022 – though this milestone goes beyond his current Mayoral term – and reflects pledges made in his Mayoral manifesto to support councils and housing association to build homes for social rent. The council homes will be delivered through ‘special funding’ taken from £1.67bn secured by the Mayor from the government in the 2018 Spring Statement and will be dispensed through City Hall’s Building Council Homes for Londoners programme. Bidding for the programme will open next month and closes on 30 September, with initial funding allocations to follow in October – details on the programme’s terms of eligibility and bidding process can be found here. Councils are advised to bid to deliver stock at London Affordable Rent (LAR) levels which at £150.03-£161.67 per week, are lower than the government’s ‘Affordable Rent’ definition of 80% of market rents. LAR levels do, however, appear to be slightly above ‘Social Rent’ levels, which are typically between 50-60% of market rents. Therefore, while many of the homes built through this programme will not strictly be at Social Rent, the GLA seems to have quite deftly secured government funds to deliver homes at more affordable rents that are actually required by the government’s own parameters. Sadiq has already struck deals with Waltham Forest leader Clare Coghill and the new Mayors of Lewisham and Newham to deliver 2,525 homes in total over the next four years. Sadiq and his Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray will be sitting before the London Assembly Housing Committee on 4 June, where they will be subjected to some forensic scrutiny on this programme, as well as the Mayor’s Revised Housing Strategy (more below).
OTHER GLA PLANNING NEWS
Only yesterday, Sadiq released the latest iteration of his London Housing Strategy. But before we get ahead of ourselves, this document is a revised version of the draft submitted for a public consultation ending 7 December 2017. It still needs to be considered by both the London Assembly and Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government before being formally adopted. We will be following the Strategy as London Assembly Members go through it with a fine comb over the coming weeks (beginning with a Housing Committee session on 4 June). Mayoral announcements aside, industry website Planning Resource has cited Deputy Mayor for Planning Jules Pipe as stating, last week that the draft new London Plan will be little changed following its public consultation. He said that ‘most of the suggested changes are about clarification’ and that ‘there aren't any I've seen that are reversals or changes of direction.’ Pipe was keen to emphasise that flagship policies and especially the 35% affordability threshold and housing targets will remain largely as they are. But as revealed by the London Borough of Brent’s submission to the London Plan consultation last December (released recently, following a Freedom of Information Request), even Labour-led boroughs have a bone to pick with Sadiq’s housing delivery targets. The Council is apparently ‘extremely disappointed’ with the GLA’s ‘unilateral decision to substantially alter capacity assumptions without discussion and for these to be incorporated into the draft Plan.’ It will be interesting to see what other boroughs have to say about the draft Plan – not to mention what the government thinks. Finally, in a development which seems to have flown in under the radar of most major news outlets, Savills has been appointed by the GLA to help it prepare an Industrial Intensification Investment Strategy, which will seek to balance the need for new housing while protecting and enhancing the capital’s industrial capacity.
Transport for London’s (TfL) finances are looking ever more strained as its government grant withers away. TfL’s board met this morning and discussed, among other issues, preliminary financial results for the year ended 31 March 2018. The relevant report is upbeat about making ‘good progress’ towards TfL’s ‘long-term objective of turning an operating deficit into a surplus’ and achieving greater-than-budgeted operating cost savings. But the figures reveal that over the past financial year, TfL saw its total income fall 3% (a full £189m) under budget – of which £135m is passenger income and £121m in Tube passenger income specifically. However some good news came with operating costs falling by 3% (an impressive £215m). But considering the negative trend of passenger income and the 49% reduction of the general government grant from 2016/17 to 2017/18 (by a full £219m, to £228m), the picture remains grim. City Hall and TfL bosses insist that they can scrape together funds and produce savings sufficient to enable continued network modernisation and expansion works. But again the numbers tell a different story. The report states that ‘the capital investment programme delivered key achievements this year,’ but later notes that ‘total capital expenditure excluding Crossrail, is £229m (-10%) lower than budget over the full year.’ And what of the ‘excluded’ Crossrail? Elsewhere in the report, it is stated that capital expenditure on the flagship project was 39% above budget for the year (£426m), while its funding sources produced 50% less (£108m) than budgeted. The Mayor and Assembly Members can argue with each other – as they often do – until they are blue in the face about whether Sadiq, Boris, Brexit or austerity are to blame. But the simple fact is that not all is rosy with TfL finances and the Mayor will surely view this with increasing concern as he moves into the second half of his Mayoral tenure.
LDN doesn’t generally do bullet-points, but this week they are warranted by the veritable Who’s Who of prominent resignations, appointments and related developments:
- In Lewisham East, local Labour members have chosen Lewisham Council Deputy Mayor Janet Daby Lewisham to fight the 14 June by election triggered by Heidi Alexander MPs resignation. Daby is understood to be a Labour ‘moderate’ – and defeated Momentum-backed Sakina Sheikh by 288 to 135 votes.
- It is also notable that Ian McKenzie, the chairman of the Lewisham East CLP, has been suspended from the party pending an investigation and has stepped down as an advisor to Newham’s Mayor, following a furore raised by publicity surrounding comments he posted on social media.
- Today’s TfL board meeting, mentioned above, also discussed changes to its composition. The relevant paper confirms that, as expected, Sadiq has nominated Heidi Alexander to replace outgoing Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross as TfL’s Deputy Chair. Baroness Grey-Thompson and Michael Liebreich will also leave the Board, once their terms of appointment expire on 2 September. A recruitment process to replace them will take place during the summer, but Kay Carberry CBE has been nominated by the Mayor to replace Liebreich in his parallel role as Chair of the TfL Safety, Sustainability and Human Resources Panel, with immediate effect. The Crossrail Board will also see some reshuffling over the summer, as the terms of three independent non-executive directors expire at the end of June.
- Separately, The Metropolitan Police Service has appointed Anna de Vries as its new head of media (succeeding Ed Stearns). De Vries is a Met veteran, having joined in 1999 and tackled numerous high-pressure briefs, including the force’s comms response to several terror attacks.
- We have also picked up reports that London Borough of Newham’s Director of Finance Deborah Hindson and Chief Operating Officer Nick Bracken have decided to step down. As underlined by the Local Government Chronicle, their departure comes only days after new Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz took office, replacing Sir Robin Wales, who led the council for 23 years (initially as Labour Council leader and since 2002 as directly elected mayor). As noted in last week’s edition of LDN, Newham is one of eight boroughs (to date) to have new leaders.
MY WAY OR THE HOLLOWAY
It seems the Estates Gazette has got the scoop on Holloway Prison’s redevelopment. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has reportedly done a deal to sell the 10-acre site, on Parkhurst Road, to developer London Square and housing association A2Dominion. Both local campaigners and Islington Council have been pushing to have a say on the development and its offering to the local community over the past three years – demanding a high affordable housing offering, green spaces and community facilities. Many of these demands are set out in a supplementary planning document adopted by the local council on 4 January (and drafted with the GLA’s support), which expects developers to provide for 50% affordable housing on-site. The last prisoners were vacated from the site in the summer of 2016 and the prison has now been decommissioned as part of a wider project to redevelop MoJ land and facilities in urban areas launched by former Justice Secretary Michael Gove to help fund the construction of nine new prisons.
Confirming that Millennials really do have more to complain about than having to give up avocado toast, first-time buyers in the capital must delve even deeper into their pockets to secure a property in the capital, according to the latest data published by Lloyds Banking Group. The Mayor’s recent moves to boost affordable housing provision are all the more important considering recent research by Lloyds, which has found that despite recent signs of a slowdown in London’s property market, the average amount a first-time buyer will pay for a home in London is £420,132, nearly double (99.5%) the £210,515 needed on average for a first home nationwide. According to Lloyds’ analysis, first-time buyers faced a (slightly) less fearsome market five years’ ago with the average price of a property bought by a first-time buyer in London being £255,794 at that time, 81% more than the £141,269 necessary on average for a first home in the UK in 2013. However, data published by the bank in 2017 indicates that first-time buyers in London needed to pay 96.7% more than the national average. While the cost of housing for Londoners clearly remains quite extraordinary when compared to the national average, it would appear that this discrepancy is no longer growing at quite the same rate as previously. It will be interesting if the host of planning reforms – national, regional and local – currently being mooted, as well as market trend more generally, serve to close the gap even further.
FOOTING THE BILL
The government has agreed to pay for the costs of removing combustible cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower from high rise residential properties owned by councils and housing associations. At Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday, Theresa May announced that she would make £400m available to cover extant costs associated with removing dangerous cladding. A spokesperson for May said that cladding replacement work was needed on 158 high-rise blocks, defined as high-rise at 18m or above, and that work had begun on 104 of these already. The announcement comes following a protracted dispute between the government and local authorities over who would foot the bill for de-cladding high-rise properties. Meanwhile, phase one of the Grenfell Inquiry began this week and will focus on the facts of the tragedy including where and how the fire started, its spread and how the tower was evacuated. Phase two, which now includes two additional panel members to cater for a more diverse decision-making panel, will begin in December.
The government-appointed Build to Rent (BTR) Joint Committee, co-chaired and organised by the British Property Federation and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), has been commissioned for another year of work. Under a new brief the taskforce will look more specifically into five workstreams led by separate teams and considered by the committee to be most important for the industry, including educating local authorities on tenure and affordable housing requirements. As the tenure comes into the mainstream of housing delivery, developer British Land has announced its plans to expand its presence in the sector, while Grainger boss Helen Gordon has stated her company’s intention to increase investment into BTR. Concurrently, Gordon has also voiced concerns in Property Week (£) that BTR remains ‘misunderstood by too many’ particularly around ‘misconceptions’ that the sector tends towards the luxury market. In other news, Chief Executive of Quintain Angus Dodd opened yesterday’s Bisnow conference on opportunity in the burgeoning B2R market, following news in this week’s Estates Gazette that the developer is looking to expand the business to a 30,000-flat operator by 2028.
Today, LCA took a dive down into London’s sewer network in aid of Sewer Week. Held annually at the Grade II listed Abbey Mills Pumping station in West Ham. LCA felt privileged to be granted a comprehensive tour of the sewage station, before going underground to view Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s remarkable engineering work. The 150 year old network is an example of some of London’s finest architecture and brickwork and is in fact quite breath-taking to behold. Kitted out in layers of protective gear, visitors were invited to take a short walk through the underground tunnels, with tales of fatbergs, motorcycles and even false teeth being located in the tunnel being told. Sewer Week marks a great opportunity for visitors to learn about an invaluable piece of Victorian infrastructure and how this system has been adapted over the years to accommodate London’s growing population leading up to the implementation of the new Tideway project – an LCA client – which will bring innumerable benefits to the capital’s environment and to future generations.
AGM WEEK: THE VIEW FROM WANDSWORTH
No less than 27 of London’s local councils are holding their Annual General Meetings (AGMs) this week (another five were held last week). These key sessions see all elected councillors attending their first full council session and formalising the composition of cabinets and committees. The LCA team is busy scouring the news, official council documents and social media activity for relevant intelligence – and in many cases, our dedicated borough specialists are attending AGMs in person to get a first-hand view of new councils’ fresh faces and evolving dynamics. Besides cases where new parties or leaders are now in charge, we were especially keen to see whether councils held (and led) by the incumbents after 3 May are set for business as usual, or using the election as an opportunity to shake things up a little. Wandsworth, where the Conservatives (and Leader Ravi Govindia) are still in power, is a case in point of the latter. The outcome of the council’s AGM (held on 16 May) suggests that the Tory leadership team have a trick or two up their sleeve, with several portfolios reshuffled and two new faces at the top table – Rory O’Broin on Economic Development, Skills and Employment and Steffi Sutters on Community Services and Open Spaces. Deputy Leader Johnathan Cook has also notably been given an expanded portfolio, covering Strategic Planning and Transport. Meanwhile, the Chair and Deputy Chair of Wandsworth’s Planning Committee (Will Sweet and Richard Fields) remain in place – but the Committee has seen six of ten members change overnight, with Labour taking an extra seat and now holding four against the Conservative’s six.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We strive for balance and accuracy at all times; however, if you feel we have made a mistake, omission or have misrepresented a story or issue please alert the team by contacting Duncan using the details above.