A KHAN-DO ATTITUDE?
For a Mayor who has frequently appeared reluctant to expose himself to controversy, the past week’s events are a reminder that, when push comes to shove, Sadiq is well capable of standing firm. But that’s not to say that this latent resolve will definitely pay off.
Several stories in the news this week show the Mayor going out on a limb, in some cases on contentious projects and policies, notably the Silvertown Tunnel and TfL’s Uber ban. This still begs the question, however, of whether he’ll be remembered for putting his shoulder into it, or putting his foot in it?
This week’s edition isn’t just about Sadiq, though. We cover the latest stories and controversies in planning and development, key news from the election campaign, the latest from TfL, people moves, industrial action and more!
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UP THE TRELLIS
While the ‘pre-election period of sensitivity’ has caused an apparent (and predictable) slowdown in London planning authorities’ work, there have been some significant moves. For one, the City of London Corporation has issued its ‘final consent’ for Singaporean developer Aroland Holdings’ plans for the 1 Undershaft (aka ‘the Trellis’) tower. Designed by architects Eric Parry and standing at 1,000ft (73 storeys), the building will be just 17ft shorter than the Shard – currently London’s tallest building – and will be constructed on the site currently occupied by the Aviva Tower. While the plans secured conditional consent back in 2016, with officers’ approval and the Mayor’s tacit consent, they reportedly had to be resubmitted following further objections before being approved this month (see here for the project’s full planning history). According to the applicants, the building will accommodate 12,000 office workers, 21,500 sq ft of commercial space, a public viewing gallery, restaurant, education centre and ‘the world's highest climbing wall’.
FRIARY PARK GO
Ealing Council has meanwhile approved Catalyst Housing’s plans for the Friary Park Estate in Acton – which entail the demolition of 225 existing homes and their replacement with 990 new homes (45% affordable, split 71% social rent, and 29% intermediate) as well as flexible commercial and community floorspace. The hybrid application approved by the council’s planning committee (see the officers’ report here) entails full planning permission for 500 homes and most of the scheme’s commercial space, in four blocks of between three and 24 storeys in height and outline permission for the remaining 490 homes and commercial space. While in receipt of Greater London Authority funding and meeting relevant criteria, Friary Park is one of 32 such projects to be exempt from a residents’ ballot requirement, as funds were committed by the Mayor ‘on or prior to 18 July 2018.’ However, the scheme will replace and increase the number of social homes on the estate, delivering the majority of these in the first phase of development.
Last week we reported on some of the – mixed – headlines from Transport for London’s (TfL) 20 November board meeting. A week later, we are still picking through the meeting’s hefty reports pack, lengthy proceedings and often ambiguous outcomes. One additional item worth highlighting from the meeting itself is Sadiq’s opening statement, in which he disclosed that several senior TfL executives are leaving the organisation (see People Moves below for more). TfL also released its full quarterly performance report last week, which paints a better-than-anticipated financial picture (but tells us little about the bumpy ride ahead, not least as a result of Crossrail’s further delays). In terms of entirely new things to report, the Silvertown Tunnel project has passed a critical milestone with the Mayor’s ongoing support, as TfL and the Riverlinx consortium have finally signed a £1bn PFI-financed contract (following fraught permitting and tendering processes and in the face of continued local opposition). As for the elephant in the room, TfL has (again) decided that Uber is ‘not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence.’ Uber, which will be contesting the decision, ‘can continue to operate pending any appeal and throughout any potential appeals process’.
- Mark Allan, currently Chief Executive Officer of St Modwen Properties Plc, has been announced as Landsec’s new CEO. He will take up his new role and become an Executive Director no later than 1 June 2020.
- As of January, GLA Chief Planner Juliemma McLoughlin will be leaving her role to take up a post at Northumberland County Council. Debbie Jackson, currently the GLA’s Interim Executive Director for Development, Enterprise and Environment, will be taking over McLoughlin’s responsibilities on an interim basis.
- As stated by the Mayor at the last TfL Board Meeting, Investment Delivery Planning Director David Hughes will be leaving to join Transport for the North in February 2020, while Director of Transformation Andrew Pollins and Head of Corporate Affairs Andy Brown will also shortly be leaving TfL.
- Martin Brookes has been appointed the new CEO of pan-London civil society organisation London Plus. He will take up the post at the start of 2020.
LONDON SPEAKS OUT
Fourteen leading Londoners have co-signed a letter to the Evening Standard, calling on the parties running in the General Election to commit to ‘redoubling investment and devolving powers from Whitehall’ to all of the UK’s cities and regions, starting with giving them ‘more power over taxes raised locally’. The Standard’s Assistant Editor, Julian Glover, has responded by welcoming the proposal to devolve more tax revenues, as well as challenging the letter’s co-signees to ‘think big’ and consider ideas such as a ‘London-only visa for employers’ or ‘a different relationship with the EU [such as that] the Government’s just agreed it for Northern Ireland’. In an election dominated by wrangling over Brexit and an often toxic view of ‘London vs the rest’, this cross-party intervention is a welcome contribution to the political discourse. It has been signed by the following:
- James Banks, Chief Executive, London Funders
- Siobhan Benita, London Mayoral Candidate
- Siân Berry, London Mayoral Candidate
- Peter Bishop, CEO, London Chamber of Commerce
- Andrew Boff, Member of the London Assembly
- Cllr Ruth Dombey, Lib Dem Leader of the London Borough of Sutton
- Cllr Peter John OBE, Leader of Southwark Council
- Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
- Catherine McGuinness, Chair, Policy & Resources Committee, City of London Corporation
- Bharat Mehta CBE, Chief Executive, Trust for London
- Ben Rogers, Director, Centre for London
- Rory Stewart, London Mayoral Candidate
- Tony Travers, Director, LSE London
- Jonathan Werran, Chief Executive, Localis
- Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive, London First
The Conservatives launched their manifesto on 24 November in Telford. The imaginatively-entitled ‘Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential’ is, as expected, focused on a commitment to leaving the EU in January 2020. Away from Brexit it also comprises extensive plans to boost spending across a brace of core services. But the party takes rather ambiguous positions on some points, such as the expansion of Heathrow Airport and the future of HS2. Looking to planning and housing, the party largely sticks to the current (and former) administration’s guns on pledges to deliver 300,000 homes of all tenures annually by the mid-2020s, protect the Green Belt from development and introduce a ‘Better Deal for Renters’ (including an end to no fault evictions and the creation of a ‘lifetime’ deposit system). The Conservatives will be hoping that its mix of ‘dead in a ditch’ certainty on Brexit, massive spending on bread-and-butter domestic services, and waffle on certain issues, will help it clinch that much-needed majority (and, well, ‘get Brexit done’).
BREXIT PARTY MANIFESTO
The Brexit Party also launched its manifesto last week – sorry, its ‘Contract with the People’. While the rather slim document focuses on the importance of delivering Brexit, it offers some insight into the party’s approach to other issues. The party is quick to explain that many of its proposed initiatives will be funded by a ‘Brexit Dividend’. In terms of policy, the party notably says that, given the chance, it would scrap HS2, keep the NHS in public hands and introduce swathes of constitutional reform, including the abolition of the House of Lords.
NEW CONSTITUENCY POLLING
The Guardian has released yet another tranche of constituency-specific voting intention polling – this time on the Conservative-held (but hotly contested) seats of Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea & Fulham, and Hendon. The results are similar to those previously released by the Observer, for other Remain-voting seats in central and North London, where the Lib Dems have also charged into second place, ahead of Labour, while still trailing the Conservatives in all three seats. You may find the detailed polling results – and some interesting analysis of these by polling expert Peter Kellner – here. His headline takeaway is that the results tell us to ‘beware projections of parliamentary seats from national polls’ as they do not necessarily reflect the fluctuating intentions of voters (and their impact) at the local level.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The Standard has reported on a variety of party figures visiting one of London’s seats-to-watch, Finchley and Golders Green over the past week. Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn’s partner Laura Alvarez and even former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell (canvassing on behalf of Lib Dem candidate and former Labour MP Luciana Berger) were all spotted in the three-way marginal. Meanwhile Sadiq has been out campaigning for Labour candidates in his former seat of Tooting, as well as Croydon Central and Bermondsey & Old Southwark. And after urging Conservative voters to support the Lib Dems, former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine has gone one step further by specifically endorsing two of the party’s candidates standing in London: former Conservative MP Sam Gyimah who is contesting the Kensington seat, and former Labour MP Chuka Umunna who is standing in the Cities of London & Westminster.
RORY WALKS ON
Independent Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart launched his ‘#LondonSpeaks’ campaign on 23 November. The initiative will see Stewart and his campaign volunteers visit different parts of the capital with a view to understanding the concerns of Londoners, to be addressed in his forthcoming manifesto. Over the past few days, he has been in Camden and Islington, asking residents what changes they would like to see in their local area. While Stewart has not yet made any specific policy pledges, he has recently expressed his opposition to what he calls ‘unnecessarily high’ buildings in the City, perhaps indicating that a restrictive policy related to tall buildings will be included in his manifesto. Beyond canvassing, Stewart also took a leaf out of Boris’ book, appearing as a guest on Have I Got News For You and featuring as a critic on the FT’s Best Books of 2019 list.
BAD PRESS FOR THE SECTOR
It is undeniable that the wider property development sector faces an ‘image problem’ – and recent press coverage indicates it faces an uphill battle. An investigation by The Times suggests that annual management charges and ground rents levied on many retirement flats built between 2001 and 2015 have sent their value into a nosedive – affecting both their elderly resident-leaseholders and their inheritors. This seems to reflect, in large part, fault lines in the wider leasehold system, which both the Conservatives and Labour have pledged to ban for new-build homes. Meanwhile, the issue of so-called ‘rabbit-hutch’ homes built using Permitted Development Rights (PDR) has again reared its head, this time in North London. The Guardian has pounced on plans to convert an office block in Haringey into 219 flats, some of which could reportedly be as small as 4x4m. PDR enable certain changes to buildings without requiring full planning permission and many – including Labour and the Lib Dems, who have both pledged to scrap them – argue that they enable unscrupulous developers to profit from homes not truly fit for habitation. It may be debatable whether or not these cases are representative of the wider industry, or even impartially reported; but their impact on our collective reputation is not.
Industrial action continues to affect sectors crucial to London’s economy – with pay, benefits and working conditions, as well as technological and organisational change fuelling workplace disputes. The spectre of major rail disruption over the election and subsequent Christmas holiday period still looms large, after talks between South Western Railway and the RMT (to resolve a long-running dispute over guards on trains) again broke down. From 2 December until 2 January, SWR services will be significantly affected – see full details here. Meanwhile, the UCU is leading staff from almost half of the UK's universities on strikes (over pensions, pay and conditions), taking place between 25 November and 4 December. However, planned strikes by RMT members on the Underground’s Victoria Line, scheduled for 27 and 28 November, have been suspended to allow for further negotiations. RMT claims that London Underground has ‘reneged’ on several pledges previously made during an arbitration process. Meanwhile, it seems likely that TfL’s organisational ‘Transformation’ programme (particularly changes to Overground ticket office hours) will lead to more friction with unions.
Tomorrow we’re off to the International Building Press (IBP) Journalism and Communications Awards Dinner. Held at Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane, the event celebrates the best of journalism in the built environment and this year has a bit of a twist, as it’s a joint event with the Communications and PR awards (as part of their 50th Anniversary) – for which we have been shortlisted for ‘PR Consultancy of the Year’. Wish us luck!
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