MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
City Hall tied up its 2019/20 Budget last week and London’s 33 Town Halls are now in the process in finalising theirs. It would appear all are raising council tax rates to help fund core services, but will it be enough?
Balance sheets aside, this week’s edition of LDN covers Brexit-related developments, news from the boroughs of Westminster and Haringey, the latest from London’s sport and transport sectors, as well as key people moves – not to mention some exciting news from LCA’s own week.
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As London’s local authorities confirm their budgets for the 2019/20 financial year, all 33 are set to increase council tax. Some, including Hillingdon and the City of London, will end over a decade of frozen rates, while Kingston is set to levy London’s highest annual Band D rate at £1,870. Westminster will have the lowest, at £753. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy estimates that the annual Band D bill will rise by an average of £71 in the capital and this year’s instalment of London Councils’ council tax monitor, can be expected to provide more insight on the situation in the capital. The GLA’s new budget has also increased the Mayor’s share of council tax by 8.9%. Meanwhile, the impact of austerity has been measured by new research led by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the assets sold off by local authorities since the cost-cutting regime began, while the Local Government Association has released figures indicating that the planned council tax hikes will not suffice to prevent further cuts to care for millions of older and disabled people.
OF BRICKS AND BREXIT
It’s not just direct central government funding that London’s leaders are worried about these days. Sadiq, alongside London Councils' executive member for housing and planning Darren Rodwell and the G15's Chair Paul Hackett last week signed an open letter to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire. In the letter, they expressed unease about a potential ‘no deal’ Brexit and specifically the impact on housebuilding in the capital. They warned that exiting the EU without a deal will dampen investment interest, restrict access to labour and construction materials and ultimately diminish the supply of new affordable housing. They called on Brokenshire to help by removing restrictions on councils’ use of Right to Buy receipts, guaranteeing access to lending for councils and housing associations if required, expanding the land funds currently provided to the GLA, and releasing ‘without delay’ the ‘London share of the Housing Infrastructure Fund’.
A few days later, the Government announced a new £1bn Strong Towns Fund to ‘give communities a greater say in their future after Brexit’. None of these funds have been earmarked for London, and the money is to stretch over several years, though another £600m will be made available ‘through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country’. Considering the GLA’s Budget for 2019/20 alone amounts to £18bn, one wonders how much this money is expected to achieve.
Speaking of budgets, Westminster City Council (WCC) is set to approve its spending plans for 2019/20 at today’s council meeting. These will include £743m for investment in housing, to be spent in the period 2019/20 to 2023/24 – and according to the Estates Gazette, this will see Westminster boost its five-year spend by £81m. The allocation will be supported by the council’s asset disposals, as well as increased borrowing through the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – the latter facilitated in large part by the removal of restrictions by the government last year. WCC has been keen to emphasise that the investment will help it realise its aim of providing 1,850 affordable homes by 2022/23, as part of its ‘City for All’ pledges. WCC’s Cabinet has also this week approved plans for the part-pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. The proposals include the creation of two new ‘public piazzas’, the re-routing of bus routes and the implementation of a reduced speed limit in the affected area. The plans were supported by 66% of those asked during the public consultation for the scheme, but Sadiq has reiterated that the plans ‘nowhere near match the ambition’ of those previously drawn up by the GLA in collaboration with TfL and WCC (and scrapped by the Council following the 2018 local elections).
It was confirmed last week by the GLA that the MCIL2 Charging Schedule will take effect from 1 April. The Mayor’s Community Infrastructure Levy 2 will supersede MCIL1, with the specific aim of funding the overspend on Crossrail (and eventually Crossrail 2, as originally planned). The draft Charging Schedule was recommended for approval by an independent Examiner, subject to changes to clarify some of the terms used, as well as to exempt the Elephant and Castle Opportunity Area from the Central London Charging Area.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council is reportedly preparing to consult on proposals for the modernisation of the Linford Christie athletics stadium to accommodate Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in their long-running search for a new home ground. The Daily Mail and Evening Standard say that they have seen documents which outline four options, the most expensive of which would see the ground host other events such as concerts and exhibitions, at a cost of £425m. The Council is expected to soon launch a 12 week public consultation on the options, at which point we will hopefully find out more about the plans, who will be expected to pick up the bill – and what QPR thinks about it all! In other sports-related news, Formula E – which uses only electric vehicles - will be making its return to London in July 2020, when the Docklands hosts the final race of next year’s season. Formula E cars raced around Battersea Park in 2015 and 2016 but this was stopped following complaints from local residents. In other news, it has been reported that UK Sport and Sadiq are supportive of a potential bid to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games back to London in 2036.
LONDON TRANSPORT IN THE COURTS
Any major transport policy or infrastructure project is bound to ruffle a few feathers, but the sheer number of legal actions launched against schemes in London over the past week is remarkable. The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has threatened to seek a judicial review against Sadiq’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) daily charge, which comes into effect from 8 April. The IWGB claims that the decision unfairly discriminates against a workforce of private hire drivers that is ‘mainly BAME’, while ‘mostly white’ black cab drivers will be exempt. Meanwhile, black cab drivers represented by the United Cabbies Group (UCG) have had their appeal to block Uber's licence to operate in London dismissed. The UCG had argued that the magistrate who ordered TfL to grant the 15-month licence to Uber was biased, due to her husband's professional connections. In the world of rail, US-based engineering firm Bechtel has lodged a High Court claim against HS2’s decision to grant a £1.3bn contract to build the Old Oak Common Station, won by Balfour Beatty and Vinci. Bechtel, which had submitted a bid for the contract, claims the procurement process was unfair.
- The Health Service Journal has reported that Ian Dalton will be stepping down as chief executive of NHS Improvement and that he is to be replaced by Simon Stevens, current chief executive of NHS England, who will become head of both bodies.
- Looking forward to the 2020 GLA elections, current Sutton Councillor Neil Garratt has been selected as the Conservatives’ candidate for the Croydon & Sutton London Assembly constituency. Other Assembly candidates are expected to be announced soon, with many Tory and Labour hustings known to be taking place this week.
- Jim Kelly, London cabbie and Chair of Unite’s London and Eastern branch, has been elected as Chair of the London Labour Party at its Regional Party Conference, held last week. He is joined by Haringey Labour Councillor Seema Chandwani, who has been appointed Vice Chair. Dave Hill’s On London blog on the results makes for interesting reading on these results.
GLA'S FIRST 'SMALL SITES' SCHEME APPROVED
LCA was at Barnet Council’s Planning Committee on Monday with client Kuropatwa, who got the green light for the redevelopment of the TfL-owned Beechwood Avenue in Barnet. The disused brownfield site next to the north circular is the first of the Greater London Authority (GLA) ‘small sites’ pilot programme’s schemes to be approved. The Small Sites programme is backed by £13.4m from City Hall and the London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP) to enable the redevelopment of 10 publicly-owned sites by small and medium sized developers. Kuropatwa are planning to deliver 97 homes (50% affordable) in a new pedestrianised mews street. The proposals were approved unanimously by the Planning Committee, with councillors praising the high quality design and affordable housing offer. Kuropatwa are aiming to start on site later this year, subject to the Section 106 agreement. With the GLA looking to TfL, local authorities and other public bodies to bring more small sites forward for redevelopment, Kuropatwa’s work underlines that such schemes can make a useful contribution to London’s housing supply.
THE YEAR OF THE TALL BUILDING
LCA is proud to support New London Architecture (NLA) in launching the results of its sixth annual London Tall Buildings Survey. Working with property consultancy GL Hearn, NLA is keeping track of all buildings over 20 storeys, which are proposed, in planning or under construction in London. The report found that the current pipeline now stands at 541 buildings for the year 2018, up 6% from 510 in 2017. A record number of 76 tall buildings are set to be completed in 2019, a three-fold increase on 2018. The survey also notably found that 22 out of the 33 London boroughs now contain tall buildings under construction. 90% of all tall buildings proposed include a substantial residential component and are expected to provide more than 110,000 new homes, meeting a major part of London’s housing need. LCA helped to promote the launch, which was covered by The Times, The Guardian and the Evening Standard among others. The survey was released just a day ahead of the of the new London Plan’s Examination in Public hearing on Tall Buildings, which took place this morning.
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