BACK TO POLITICS AS USUAL
With summer recess over, the Palace of Westminster and London Assembly are back in business and political parties rekindle the controversies and machinations that marked the first part of the summer.
This issue of LDN provides an overview of several key political developments affecting the capital, as well as news from the spheres of transport, planning and the third sector.
Many LDN readers may have seen the tweet and personal statement from our chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, following the news that our close friend Alan Davidson has died. Alan was a founding non-executive director of LCA from 1999-2016, the founder of Hayes Davidson and a true pioneer in the field of architectural visualisation. He fought the effects of Motor Neurone Disease with tremendous courage and dignity. Do click here to read Robert’s statement if you haven’t had the chance yet.
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KNIVES OUT FOR KHAN?
The Evening Standard has this week launched a ‘comprehensive audit’ of Sadiq’s performance at the halfway point of his tenure, which will carry on throughout this week (and perhaps beyond). The paper, edited by former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, praises the Mayor for ‘standing up’ for London’s ‘tolerant, open values’, but its investigation into his progress on housing, crime and transport is less flattering. The newspaper’s Comment on Monday asserted that Sadiq’s housing plans have ‘flopped,’ citing City Hall figures showing ‘just’ 886 new affordable homes funded by the GLA were finished between April and June – but failed to provide comparative figures for the three months before, or the same period during Boris’ last year in City Hall. Elsewhere, the Standard refers to more convincing research by Molior, which found that major house-builders started 53,846 new homes in London between end-Q2 2016 and end-Q2 2018, compared to 58,472 during the preceding two-year period, when Boris was still Mayor - an 8% drop. The newspaper does concede that the proportion of affordable homes in new planning applications has risen from 13% in Boris’ last year to 34% at present. A spokeswoman for the Mayor has responded by highlighting his improved performance on affordable housing - for an even more vigorous rebuttal of the Standard’s claims, see this article by Inside Housing’s Peter Apps. It now remains to be seen whether the Standard will openly back any of the three shortlisted nominees for the 2020 Tory Mayoral candidature. In 2016, it had endorsed Zac Goldsmith’s campaign.
CROSSRAIL, WHERE ART THOU?
Commuters in London were in for yet more disappointment this past week, as it was announced that Crossrail’s official launch, planned for this December, has been pushed back by nine months. It is worth noting that the new line, in its present form, was first proposed in 1974 and after decades of debate and deliberation, was approved in 2008 and entered construction phase in 2009. The delay was reportedly caused by a variety of difficulties with new signalling systems and fitting out stations, while Crossrail chief executive Simon Wright has cited the need for ‘further time to complete the testing of the new railway’. Aside from commuters, Crossrail’s deferred opening is bad news for landowners, developers and other businesses invested in property along its route, taxpayers, as well as TfL and the Mayor himself. All are depending on Crossrail to unlock new development sites (especially for new homes), business opportunities and jobs. TfL is also banking on the new line as a source of revenue, which was expected to help offset dwindling government funds. This announcement comes on the back of significant controversy surrounding the management of England’s rail infrastructure – existing and planned. It represents yet another debacle casting doubts on national and regional authorities’ ability to run, maintain and develop infrastructure at the level needed to sustain economic growth and inward investment post-Brexit.
LONDON LIB DEM CHANGES
There have been two notable changes at local council level for the Liberal Democrats in London. Firstly, last month Councillor Sharron Sumner, who represents Alexandra ward in Kingston, announced that she was resigning from the party. Via a blog, Sumner gave reasons for her resignation including ‘a lack of vision at the top of the administration’, and perhaps most hurtfully said that it’s ‘as if [former Conservative Leader] Kevin Davis is still in charge’. Sumner has said that resigning the Lib Dem whip will enable her to lobby more strongly on behalf of residents in her ward as an independent. Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets councillor Rabina Khan has joined the Liberal Democrats, in doing so disbanding the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets (PATH) which she led and whose members now appear to have also joined the party, meaning that there are now only three party groups on the council, which on the eve of the May 2018 elections boasted no less than six. Khan ran to be Mayor of Tower Hamlets as a PATH candidate at this year’s local elections, coming second. She was also formerly a member of the Tower Hamlets Independent Group, Tower Hamlets First and Labour.
TOUGH AUTUMN FOR TOWER HAMLETS?
The London Borough of Tower Hamlets is preparing for a series of planning appeals that will test the mettle of the borough’s planning officers and the integrity of the local plan. As trade publication Building Design has reported, three noteworthy refusals – either by planning committee in accordance with officer recommendation for refusal, or against a recommendation to grant – are set to take up a total of 21 days of appeal inquiries. For all three, Sadiq had said he is content for the local authority to determine them.
Planning officers will:
- Defend the committee’s decision to refuse consent to a 48-storey development containing 332 homes at 225 Marsh Wall, on grounds of overdevelopment (11-14 & 18 September).
- Defend their own decision to recommend refusal (see p3) of the redevelopment of Sainsbury’s Whitechapel proposals, which featured 559 homes including a 28-storey tower, on grounds of causing substantial harm to nearby Grade I listed buildings (9-12, 16-19 & 23-24 October).
- Defend the committee’s decision to refuse a mixed-use redevelopment at Millharbour including two buildings ranging from 26 storeys to 30 storeys comprising 319 homes, on grounds of excessive scale not proportionate to the site’s position in the context of the Tower Hamlets Local Plan (23-26 & 30-31 October).
Separately, it is worth adding that six more days of inquiries are scheduled in November for an appeal on Tower Hamlets councillors’ decision to refuse consent for a 13-storey aparthotel on daylight/sunlight grounds… and another eight days next April following officers’ recommendation to refuse a part 18, part 37-storey building at 82 West India Dock Road, on the basis of unsustainable overdevelopment, daylight/sunlight and a failure to provide adequate amenity space.
Councillors in Tower Hamlets are faced with a dilemma few others would gladly suffer; the borough is the second-densest by population in the United Kingdom and has the second-highest London Plan targets in the capital. Yet members have a duty to protect their residents from fears of overcrowding which over-development can lead to, as much as officers have a duty to defend the rigour of their own planning policies. However, a successful appeal decision made in February to overturn Tower Hamlets’ officers’ recommendation to refuse a scheme (on daylight/sunlight grounds) could see more scheme decisions reversed.
LONDONERS LESS CHARITABLE?
A Centre for London (CfL) report published this week has assessed the scale and impact of charitable giving in London – in terms of both volunteering and money – offering recommendations as to what the city can do to ‘give more, give better and give together’. Strikingly, the research underpinning the report suggests that the proportion of Londoners who regularly give to charity has fallen significantly between 2013/14 and 2017/18, from 81% to 73%. The report also found that volunteering rates also fell in same time period, from 24% to 21%. This trend is disturbing, when one considers the importance of philanthropy in filling the widening funding gap faced by police forces, health services and local authorities – and it is telling that authorities themselves are keenly conscious of this, with City Hall investing in a dedicated programme, ‘Team London’, to encourage volunteering. As suggested by the CfL report itself, tackling the root causes of enduring inequality, rising violent crime rates and the ever-present threat of home-grown terrorism requires a hands-on, collaborative approach involving the public, private, and third sectors, as well as individual Londoners active within their own communities.
The Labour Party was engulfed in factional disputes over the summer break – most notably relating to anti-Semitism – and one could probably put money on them continuing as parliamentary business resumes. How might this impact the party’s London MPs? Firstly, reports have suggested that Birkenhead MP Frank Field’s resignation of the whip concerning anti-Semitism could trigger a chain of events that sees others MPs follow. The Times’ Lucy Fisher highlighted WhatsApp messages attributed to Ilford South MP Mike Gapes, which would suggest he is most likely to do so. News outlets have also reported on Enfield North MP Joan Ryan being targeted for deselection by members of her Constituency Labour Party (CLP), in light of comments local activists feel have criticised the actions of Jeremy Corbyn on his handling of anti-Semitism over the summer. Ryan, who is chairwoman of Labour Friends of Israel, has written to local members saying that ‘this vindictive behaviour will never stop me doing what is right’. In a critical development, the Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) yesterday voted to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which should at least temporarily extinguish anger felt by some in the party. But Barking MP Margaret Hodge, who recently made waves by vocally challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the issue, has said the progress achieved had been ‘sullied’ by an accompanying statement from Corbyn, that appears to qualify the party’s position, in spite of adopting the IHRA definition.
THE WIZARD OF OZ RETURNS?
Things have been quieter for the London Tories this week, perhaps being overshadowed by the continuing national party’s divisions over Brexit, which have threatened to boil over from the moment summer recess ended. We were especially intrigued by reports indicating that Lynton Crosby’s firm CTF Partners is supporting the European Research Group (ERG), in an effort to confound Theresa May’s Brexit plans from within the party. The infamous Australian campaign strategist has been credited with helping Boris Johnson win the 2008 and 2012 London elections, as well as David Cameron in the 2015 general election. But in more recent years, he has been blamed by at least some Tories for Zac Goldsmith’s disastrous and much maligned 2016 campaign, as well as Theresa May’s disappointing performance in the 2017 snap general election. As for whether we might see Crosby make a comeback in London politics in the lead-up to 2020, one suspects that at least one of three shortlisted Tory nominees, Andrew Boff, would be highly resistant, as he was one of the most vocal Conservative critics of the Goldsmith campaign’s tactics.
- Green Party members have elected Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry as the party’s new co-leaders, with 6,239 of a total 8,379 votes cast. Bartley is staying on, while Sian Berry replaces Caroline Lucas MP, who has stepped down. Both Bartley and Berry are London councillors, in Lambeth and Camden respectively, while Berry is also a London Assembly member.
- HB Reavis has announced the promotion of Steven Skinner to UK Chief Executive. Skinner joined the Slovakian developer’s UK arm in April 2017 as a Director responsible for acquisitions, leasing, financing, asset management, and marketing. He will now oversee the company’s plans for growth and the delivery of flagship projects in London, such as the redevelopment of Elizabeth House in Waterloo and over-site development at Farringdon West Crossrail station.
- Meanwhile, the political blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire has appointed two new Special Advisors - Alexander Jackman (formerly a Senior Public Affairs Manager at EE) and Lucy Noakes (a director at Finsbury PR).
- Finally, it is worth noting that former Hounslow Chief Executive Mary Harpley is starting as GLA Head of Paid Service next week, replacing the long-serving Jeff Jacobs (and interim appointee David Lunts).
NOT SUCH A BAD PICTURE
Following a story we ran a couple of weeks ago on the attendance of London’s museums, which featured worrying figures that 53% fewer people had visited the National Portrait Gallery in June 2018 compared to June 2016 (131,814 to 61,449), it appears the outlook is less ominous than it originally appeared for the museum. The sharp decline in footfall has been attributed to faulty sensor equipment covering the main door of the building, and had been reported as early as March 2017. Revised figures have revealed visitor numbers at the museum have in fact fallen by 10% from 2016-17 to 2017-18, contrary to the 42% that had previously been reported.
MAMMA MIA AT O2
LCA clients MAMMA MIA! THE PARTY have announced that they will be taking up residency in a specially-adapted venue within London’s The O2. The project provides an immersive theatrical and dining experience set in an imagined and wonderfully exotic Greek tavern, which was originally launched in Stockholm, Sweden. It is produced by Björn Ulvaeus, an original member of iconic Swedish pop group ABBA, and Ingrid Sutej, who has produced a variety of successful live music and entertainment productions across the UK and Europe. Led by Steve Tompkins of architects Haworth Tompkins, work has already begun on transforming one of the venues within The O2 into ‘Nikos’ Taverna’, and guests will feel as if they’re right in the heart of a Greek island paradise. The London production of MAMMA MIA! THE PARTY is set to open late Spring 2019.
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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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