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Posted: 29.04.24

Race for City Hall: The future Mayor must galvanise good development

As Susan Hall and Sadiq Khan wrestle into the final days – and hours – of their respective election campaigns, it is being fought against the backdrop of the very thing they seek to win over: our ever-changing, fluid, dynamic capital city.

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London. The best city in the world. But what makes it so? From Bond Street to Willesden Junction, it’s a place of many parts and identities. Its evolution through the years has been punctuated by plenty of ambitious masterplans – some of which are now home to the best destinations London has to offer.

What these masterplans and developers had in common was the ability to provide long-term stewardship and a genuine commitment to create mixed-use spaces which would stand the test of time. However, what do we mean by long-term stewardship? Translated from development speak, it is the process of continuing to dynamically manage your places and spaces, ensuring they remain well-kept and safe, plus desirable to visit, live in, and spend time. In doing so, you guarantee the durability and longevity of your assets. Delivering long-term stewardship requires the security and assurance of patient capital. With patient capital, an investor will make a financial investment into a development with no expectation of turning a quick profit. This allows developers to make agile decisions regarding public realm and other important enlivenment which is fundamental to the creation of place with investors who forgo immediate returns in anticipation of more substantial figures later down the line.

So why is all this significant to the mayoral race? As we speak, there are several masterplans bubbling away in London’s back and foregrounds. Some are at embryonic pre-planning stages; others are further along in the development lifecycle. London is a tightly packed urban centre, yet there are current and future masterplans of gargantuan scale and opportunity. Brent Cross Town, Royal Docks, Stratford City, Meridian Water, Euston, Earls Court. The list goes on. Of course, many of these schemes began their journey as Opportunity Areas as identified in the Mayor’s London Plan.

But this isn’t enough. With many of them far from completion, they will require the full-throated, strategic support of the next Mayor of London. Not only does the property sector continue to face challenging economic headwinds – the phrase ‘survive ‘til ‘25’ seems to now be common scripture – it is also facing a further challenge. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill and Renters Reform Bill could yet upend many of London’s schemes and make it much more difficult to curate and sustain mixed-use places through long-term stewardship, and in turn to secure vital investment. The thrust of the Bills – designed to protect residents from Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, rogue landlords and spiralling ground rents – has noble objectives, but unintended consequences. The impact of proposals to introduce a 50% non-residential limit for collective enfranchisement may act to deter much-needed investment to deliver major regeneration projects. Collective enfranchisement can also increase the likelihood of fragmented ownership, meaning developers and asset managers could lose the ability to create, curate and manage a mix of uses – key to the delivery and maintenance of diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods. Simply put, if investors are uncertain they can maintain control of their assets, they’ll think twice about investing.

As professional communicators, we are alive to the sensitivities of challenging both bills in a public forum – often synonymous with going against the greater good. The current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is a firm backer of proposals to abolish no fault evictions and reform leasehold.  And yet there is so much on the line to lose if we get this legislation wrong. Both bills have further stages of scrutiny still to come, with some hoping that the outstanding issues are still capable of resolution.

One thing is for certain – the next Mayor of London must be unafraid to act as a bold steward for good, mixed-use development. A mayoral term punctuated by the successful delivery of several major schemes – particularly given both frontrunners talk in their manifestos of the need to build more homes to help solve the city’s housing crisis – should be a huge positive that the next Mayor will want to trumpet. To do this, the Mayor must work together with London’s burgeoning masterplans to unlock their economic and social potential, safeguarding our city’s position as a leader on the global stage.