ALL RAILWAYS LEAD TO LONDON
…but very few seem to be working, in a week jam-packed with news on property development, planning, transport and people moves.
The Mayor has proudly unveiled his new vision for the ‘East Bank’ (the site once known as ‘Olympicopolis’), even as it emerges that his estate regeneration ballots proposals have received a rather chilly reception from London’s boroughs.
Meanwhile, Heathrow’s third runway may at last be taking off after it secured cabinet approval and it heads for a vote in the Commons. But the DfT’s celebrations are likely to be rather muted, as Chris Grayling’s department struggles to manage the ongoing fallout of a chaotic rescheduling of train timetables across England. The capital’s own rail system is audibly creaking, as TfL fights to plug the gap left by a dwindling government grant.
In other news, London Councils, the association representing the capital’s boroughs, has elected Southwark’s Labour Leader Peter John as its new Chair. We also cover a number of other high-level people moves at the GLA, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and well-known local newspaper the Ham & High.
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ENTER EAST BANK
Yesterday saw the unveiling of the East Bank, the Mayor of London’s vision for a new £1.1bn cultural hub on Stratford Waterfront. It if sounds familiar, that’s because it is – the plans replace his predecessor’s ‘Olympicopolis’ project on the same site. This became a bit of a handful for anyone that attempted to pronounce it as well as for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), who have scaled back some schemes put forward at previous stages, owing in part to some of the proposed towers encroaching on a protected viewing corridor of St Paul’s Cathedral from Richmond Park and other nearby developments. The new plans will deliver spaces for use by University College London (UCL), Sadler’s Wells, London College of Fashion, a V&A - Smithsonian Institution partnership, and the BBC (read below for more detail on the last). According to the Mayor’s press release, East Bank will create 1,500 jobs, generate £1.5bn for the local economy and 600 new homes, of which half will be affordable. The next stage of public consultation on the new masterplan for Stratford Waterfront will open on Saturday 9 June; a hybrid planning application is due to be submitted this summer.
MAIDA VALE GOES SILENT
The BBC has finally decided to close its iconic Maida Vale Studios complex. The Corporation plans to relocate much of its Maida Vale team and functions to the East Bank cultural quarter in Stratford, by 2022. The complex was originally built in 1909, as the Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club, and the BBC only acquired the site some twenty-odd years later. Since the 1930s, it has been the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, while the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are but a handful of the groups and artists that have recorded music at the complex. The BBC has long-mooted the move from Maida Vale’s ageing facilities, announcing in 2007 that the studios are ‘wholly unsuitable for the 21st century’ and launching a call for ‘innovative outline proposals’ for the site’s redevelopment in 2013, envisioning a mixed-use scheme worth anywhere between £15-40m – though it is unclear what the outcome of that tendering process was.
MIXED MESSAGES ON BALLOTS
Inside Housing magazine has published the headline conclusions of extensive research into London Boroughs’ responses to Sadiq Khan’s consultation on mandatory ballots for estate regeneration. Focused on a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and further approaches for comment to all 32 boroughs, the article confirms that London’s boroughs remain divided on the controversial policy. According to the article, 19 councils responded to the requests (seven of which provided their consultation responses), two refused, and 10 said they didn’t respond to the consultation, meaning that one is still missing in action. Of those that responded, most councils have offered their qualified support, suggesting various measures that Sadiq could take to amend the new requirement. These include Labour-controlled Newham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Hackney, as well as Lib Dem-led Sutton. Others, including Ealing (Lab) and Kingston (both its previous Conservative and current Lib Dem administrations) are reportedly altogether opposed to the idea. Indeed, Ealing’s response is cited as including the very stark sentence: ‘No, Ealing does not agree that regeneration schemes should be conditioned to residential ballots’. It would appear that Labour-controlled Haringey, Islington and Greenwich are among the 10 which actually didn’t respond to the consultation.
The latest Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) statistics (see Table 100 in the link) taken from figures provided by City Hall on the total number of social housing (i.e. council and housing association-owned homes) in the capital provides useful insight as to whether councils are achieving their stated aim of protecting affordable housing. As shown by analysis cited in online news outlets Inside Croydon and The Canary, the net number of social homes in the capital fell between April 2016 and April 2017 by 1,710 (or 0.2%) to 801,180. However, it is curiously Haringey which seems to buck the trend for council-owned homes specifically, as the figures show a net increase of 110 council homes for the borough - the most out of London’s 32 local authorities and one of only six to report a net increase at all. Net changes in council housing over a year alone are not in themselves the best indicator for the borough’s performance, but it does at least challenge the claims of those opponents of the HDV who accused Claire Kober’s administration of being an agent of ‘social cleansing’.
RETURN OF THE HEATH-ROW
The Transport Secretary went from Grayling to plaything following his ministerial statement on rail timetabling at the Commons on Monday. Chris Grayling was dealt a drubbing from all sides of the house, united in their criticism of the government’s response to major national rail disruption, following the introduction of new timetables on 20 May for Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern rail franchises - all owned by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). Meanwhile, Grayling's oral statement in Parliament yesterday, on the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS), has restored a long-standing conundrum for the government that unifies party-political enemies across the South West of London. Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth Ruth Cadbury was vocal on Tuesday’s Today Programme in her concerns over the new proposed runway, while Conservative MP for Putney and potential Mayoral candidate frontrunner Justine Greening called for a free vote on the same show. Meanwhile, some reports are suggesting that Tory big beast Boris Johnson would rather leave on a jet plane (from Boris Island?) than weigh down on either side of the debate, having been so opposed to the plan during his Mayoralty. With the slenderest of government majorities, it may only take a handful of Tory MPs betrothed to their constituents – many of whom you are likely to see feature at tomorrow’s Westminster Hall debate on the NPS – to ground Heathrow’s expansion plans for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, LCA Director Anna Mitra will be chairing a debate discussing what the expansion of Heathrow could offer investors at the London Real Estate Forum next Wednesday (which we cover in more detail below).
Following two weeks of moving testimony from families and friends of victims of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry started hearing opening statements this Monday, turning to the causes and spread of the fire. This week also saw the release of five expert reports which cover the tower’s safety features, how the fire spread and the evacuation – the key findings of these reports can be viewed on the BBC website here. Meanwhile Andrew O’Hagan’s The Tower, published in this month’s London Review of Books, has raised new questions over the degree of blame that can be fairly pinned upon officers and officials at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s (RBKC) over its handling before and during the event. However, it has drawn a response from Inside Housing’s Luke Barratt who suggests in a Twitter thread that O’Hagan’s piece serves to act in the council’s defence, while overlooking the extent to which regulatory and legislative failings over the years caused the fire.
PEOPLE MOVES AT THE GLA
As LDN previously reported last week, Hounslow CEO Mary Harpley has been appointed to take over as Chief Officer (Head of Paid Service) at the GLA from September. Meanwhile Executive Director of Development, Enterprise and Environment Fiona Fletcher-Smith leaves this week to join housing association L&Q. These moves have triggered a number of further changes to City Hall’s interim management structure. Interim Chief Officer and long-standing Executive Director of Housing and Land David Lunts has promoted Lucy Owen into the role of Interim Executive Director of Development, Enterprise and Environment. Owen is currently Head of Housing for South London in the GLA’s Housing and Land directorate. LCA understands that Harpley will decide on a permanent appointment to replace Fletcher-Smith this autumn, around the time of the inquiry into the London Plan. Lunts has also appointed Emma Strain and Sarah Mulley as job share Interim Executive Directors for the GLA’s Communities & Intelligence directorate (C&I) - a position that Jeff Jacobs previously held, alongside his Head of Paid Service role. The C&I directorate deals with a wide brief, including culture and creative industries, intelligence and data, communities and social policy, health, education, sport and the Team London volunteering programme.
OTHER PEOPLE MOVES
London Councils, which represents London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London, elected Southwark’s Labour Leader Peter John as its new Chair at the Leaders’ AGM yesterday (4 June). John will be succeeding Claire Kober, Haringey’s former Labour Leader, who did not stand in this year’s local elections. Meanwhile Kate Nicholls, CEO of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers has reportedly been appointed the acting Chair of the London Night Time Commission, succeeding Philip Kolvin QC, who stepped down at the end of his tenure this past January. It is unclear whether Nicholls is leading the Commission in an interim or full-time capacity, but she is listed as its Chair in the agenda for a relevant London Assembly Plenary session to be held tomorrow. Finally, James Brokenshire’s team at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has recruited Liam Booth-Smith as a local government special adviser from his role as Chief Executive of the Localis think tank. It also appears Eddie Hughes MP (Con, Walsall North) is now MHCLG’s newest Parliamentary Private Secretary. See also our story below on the Ham & High for more people moves in London’s local press!
TORY RUNNERS AND RIDERS
The media – and especially online media – have recently been in a tizz over the Conservative Mayoral candidate for the 2020 elections. Have we learned anything new? The answer is yes… and no. Pro-Tory blog Conservativehome did usefully reveal the details of the party’s selection process with nominations taking place this June, followed by campaigning over the course of July and August and a vote in September. So far, so good. Right-wing blog Guido Fawkes followed up with a long-list of no less than 12 ‘runners and riders’, but the majority of these have cropped up in other reports over the past couple of months. It is worth noting that most of the lists tend to include Justine Greening MP, James Cleverly MP, Ed Vaizey MP, Syed Kamall MEP, No10 Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell, Shaun Bailey AM and Andrew Boff AM, as well as former Deputy Mayor Munira Mirza and former Mayoral advisor on transport and digital Kulveer Ranger. A certain George Osborne is also almost always mentioned, though one struggles to imagine how he could juggle yet another job. We do know, however, that both Cleverly and Vaizey have ruled themselves out – the latter endorsing Greening, though the Putney MP and former Education Secretary has yet to confirm her interest in running.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is not quite alone in suffering from rail-related woes. Sadiq has been compelled to launch a severance pay review for the entire GLA family of organisations after TfL reported shelling out £51m in one-off voluntary severance payments to 224 employees in the past financial year alone. Meanwhile, strike action brewing on the Tube was only narrowly averted this week - Aslef and RMT union members on the District were dissatisfied with the handling of safety incidents involving a driver, while union members on the Jubilee Line had threatened a walk-out to oppose new timetables requiring them to work more Saturdays. On the plus side for TfL, the Guardian has reported that for the transport authority’s new consulting arm may bag a major contract to help run the Buenos Aires metro system, which would bring in much-needed revenue. But for the moment, TfL’s finances do not inspire confidence – whatever the source of its woes. Relevant concerns are bound to be aired further next week in the London Assembly. On 12 June, the GLA Budget and Performance Committee will be quizzing senior TfL executives on its financial situation.
HAM & HIGH ON THE MOVE
The Ham & High newspaper, which has provided coverage on North Camden, Haringey and Barnet and other patches of North London for nearly 150 years, will no longer have its own dedicated editor and team. The newspaper is owned by publisher Archant, which also owns a number of other local newspapers in London and further afield. As part of a wider restructuring of its North London newsroom, Archant has decided to expand the role of Hackney Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel to include oversight of the Ham & High, the Islington Gazette and the Brent and Kilburn Times, as North London Editor. The four titles will also be served by a joint team of seven reporters. Alwakeel succeeds Ham & High editor Emily Banks, who had held the position since 2016 and left the newspaper on 26 May. The news appears to have been broken by media sector magazine Press Gazette, which previously reported that Archant is shutting down its Finchley Road office where the Ham & High team is currently based. Some staff will be relocated to Barking, while editorial staff will be moving to Newington Green on the border of Islington and Hackney.
FALTERING FOREIGN INVESTMENT?
Wider political uncertainties appear to be vexing foreign investors involved in some of the capital’s biggest schemes. Firstly, Chelsea FC’s widely-publicised £1bn Stamford Bridge redevelopment is set for indefinite delay, according to a club statement citing ‘the current unfavourable investment climate’. It has been suggested that Russian owner Roman Abramovich has halted the scheme in response to the delay in his visa being renewed by the Home Office (which some commentators have linked to worsening UK-Russia relations). Elsewhere, a statement from Chairman of Indian conglomerate Essel Group Dr Subhash Chandra says that he has been ‘deeply disappointed’ over delays in meeting the Greater London Authority (GLA) to discuss plans over a £1bn takeover of the GLA-owned Silvertown Quays site. Dr Chandra not only suggests that the UK is currently failing to live up to its global trading outlook, following its decision to leave the EU, but suggests that his investment – if accepted – would show ‘London is united with the world’. More generally, the Financial Times has recently reported on research from real estate consultant Cushman & Wakefield, according to which Chinese investment into central London real estate has also fallen to its lowest level in two and a half years. This is partially attributed to a tightening of internal controls in China (although these appear to have been relaxed once more this week), but underlying concerns over Brexit appear to have also played a part. At least one facet of each of these stories relates to the UK’s shifting geopolitical situation and it remains to be seen whether this can be leveraged to inspire action from political leaders, and unblock key development schemes in the capital.
LCA AT LREF EVENT
We will be front and centre at this year’s London Real Estate Forum, run by New London Architecture and Pipers on 13 and 14 June, a major two-day event supported by the Mayor of London, the City of Westminster, London & Partners, Estates Gazette and the Financial Times, as well as a host of developers and other property sector companies. On 13 June, our Executive Chairman Robert Gordon Clark will be chairing a session on West London, while Board Director Jane Groom will be leading two panels, on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and London City Airport & The Royal Docks. Later that day, Director Anna Mitra will be chairing a panel on Heathrow & Airport Expansion (she will also be moderating on the future of Wembley on the day after). On 14 June, our Managing Director Jonny Popper will be heading a panel discussion on the build-to-rent sector, while he will later be joined by Board Director Chris Madel for a look at the recent local elections and its impact on London’s political landscape and property sector.
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