LONDON ON THE BACK FOOT?
Talk of the ‘North-South divide’ and ‘levelling up’ the regions is nothing new, but recent developments have brought it to the top of the agenda (and potentially sent London tumbling to the bottom).
In today’s LDN, we unpick the rhetoric which increasingly casts London as the villain. The capital – and especially its political leaders – face an uphill struggle in reshaping this debate: with a Government Budget due in March, a Comprehensive Spending Review still pending, and a Devolution White Paper in the works, this is a high stakes game.
Besides London’s roles in the high drama of national politics, this issue covers a host of stories closer to home. We bring you the latest London local government news, a roundup of developments relevant to building safety, the lowdown on multiple major development projects in the capital, and some sobering takes on the state of the property sector from The Economist, Shelter, London Councils and others.
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SADIQ STRIKES BACK
LCA last week attended the annual City of London Corporation’s London Government Dinner, a fixture of the capital’s political calendar, where Sadiq Khan used his keynote speech to urge both major parties to set aside their ‘anti-London agenda’ and warn that ‘the way to make our country more equal is not to make London poorer’. Speeches by the Lord Mayor of the City of London William Russell and Chair of London Councils Peter John also underlined that London’s prosperity pays dividends for the rest of the country – but also that too many Londoners do not benefit from their hometown’s relative wealth. Of course, Sadiq et al were preaching to the converted at Mansion House, even as the Conservatives are floating various ideas for ‘levelling up’ the regions including a new formula for channelling the Treasury’s infrastructure funds, taking their party HQ North and even moving the House of Lords out of London. Meanwhile, Labour leadership contender and MP for Salford and Eccles Rebecca Long Bailey told the attendees at a hustings in Liverpool that the party’s next leader should be from the North, while another Labour MP (Middlesbrough) and Shadow Secretary Andy McDonald, has argued in favour of breaking London’s ‘stranglehold on power and wealth.’
AND THEN THERE'S HS2
This disconcerting North vs South narrative also manifests as a strong undercurrent of the roiling debate surrounding HS2. See, for example, a recent opinion piece by the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, in which he basically argues that any cuts required to make HS2 viable should affect those parts of the railway serving London. Burnham was responding to yet another leaked draft of the Oakervee Review report commissioned by the Government. The document reportedly puts the project’s total cost at £106bn (up from the current official estimate of £88m and the original price tag of £55.7bn). While it advises the Government to continue with the project, it suggests that HS2's later phases (involving lines between Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester) be delayed or reassessed to help cut costs. It is this leak which has sparked the latest broadsides by HS2’s proponents and opponents in the national press – including an open letter by 40 senior rail and construction sector executives urging the Prime Minister ‘to get HS2 done’. Ultimately, any decision rests with Boris Johnson – who has previously expressed scepticism about the railway – along with the Chancellor and the Transport Secretary. It is understood the final version of the Oakervee report will be published next month, with a verdict from No10 expected shortly after.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has granted planning permission for the redevelopment of the Westferry Printworks site on the Isle of Dogs. The proposals for the 15 acre site aim to deliver over 1,500 homes, commercial and office space, a new secondary school and two new parks. Jenrick was given the final say on the plans after the applicant appealed against the Council’s ‘non-decision’. It is understood that Tower Hamlets Councillors were sceptical about the plans, which were also opposed by the Planning Inspector appointed to consider them. Concerns focus on the scheme’s height (the highest block on the proposed development is 43 storeys) and the proportion of affordable housing (just 21%). In his decision, however, Jenrick argued that the housing and employment benefits of the scheme outweighed any such concerns. Demolition works have already been carried out as an earlier scheme for 700 homes was granted permission in 2016 by then-Mayor Boris Johnson.
BARNET BUILDS TALL
Barnet’s Planning Committee has approved plans by Sainsbury's and St George for the redevelopment of a supermarket site on Hyde Estate Road, Colindale. The scheme comprises 1,309 homes (35% affordable, split across four tenures) in 12 blocks of up to 28 storeys, as well as a new supermarket and public park. The plans received 880 formal objections and was approved in a close planning committee vote of seven in favour and five against. Concerns have centred on the scheme’s height, density and impact on local infrastructure but the council’s planning officers recommended approval, arguing that it ‘delivers a high-quality development which fully justifies an increased density.’ The plans have now been referred to the Mayor for his consideration.
With the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry set to start next week, the Government and the Mayor alike are keen to be seen acting on the recommendations made in its Phase 1 report:
- The Government has published its response to the Phase 1 Report and its recommendations.
- Meanwhile, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published two consultations in line with the planned review of Building Regulations, one on ‘risk prioritisation in existing buildings’ and another on ‘the ban on the use of combustible materials’ on buildings.
- Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has also announced a series of measures to improve building safety standards, including the creation of a new Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive, as well as the provision of further advice to building owners about how to improve safety.
- For his part, Sadiq has published his first update on the implementation of recommendations made in the Grenfell Inquiry Report with regards to the London Fire Brigade (LFB), in which he reiterates his commitment to implementing all of them.
However, the Prime Minister’s appointment of Benita Mehra to the Inquiry panel came under criticism when the Guardian reported that she has ties to Arconic, the firm which made the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panels used on the tower. Perhaps most importantly, MHCLG’s latest Building Safety Programme data indicates that as of 31 December 2019, there are still 315 publicly owned ACM-clad high rise residential buildings in England which have not yet undergone remediation works. The figure for private buildings is 174.
- David Goldstone has been appointed as CEO of the Delivery Authority for Parliament’s Restoration & Renewal Programme.
- Sue Brown will be leaving her role as Executive Director of Planning and Development at London First as she has been appointed as the new Managing Director of Real Estate Balance, the advocacy organisation campaigning for gender diversity at senior levels in real estate.
- Supermarket chain Sainsbury's has announced Chief Executive Mike Coupe will be retiring in May. He will be succeeded by former Head of Retail and Operations Simon Roberts.
- Grosvenor Britain & Ireland has appointed Tor Burrows as its Director of Sustainability and Innovation — a new role designed to ‘galvanize delivery’ of the company’s ambition to go net zero carbon by 2030.
LONDON LEADERSHIP LATEST
Lady Rachael Robathan (Con) is expected to be confirmed as Leader of Westminster City Council at a full Council session this evening. As previously reported in LDN, fellow Conservative councillors selected her as their favourite to replace Nickie Aiken (now MP for the Cities of London and Westminster). Robathan, currently Cabinet Member for Finance, Property and Regeneration, has represented Knightsbridge and Belgravia ward since 2010 and has been a Cabinet Member since 2012. Outside the Council, Robathan has worked in finance for two decades and is a Big Lottery Community Fund Board member as well as director or advisor to several other organisations. Her husband, Lord Andrew Robathan, is a Conservative peer.
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan announced at the last Mayor’s Question Time session, on 16 January, that a new Deputy Mayor for Housing will be appointed by 24 February. Former Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray resigned in October in order to run for Ealing North, where he is now the MP.
Labour’s new shortlist for the Lambeth & Southwark Assembly seat (necessitated by Florence Eshalomi’s election to Parliament in December) has opened a new schism within the party. Lambeth and Southwark’s Labour Leaders have written a harshly-worded letter to the Evening Standard, as well as co-signed a letter to London Labour alongside ninety fellow councillors, calling for the process to be reopened. The letters essentially accuse the national party of imposing a shortlist of people with no connection to either borough, while side-lining councillors with close links to the local community.
Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan’s Mayoral campaign continues to churn out pledges: having promised in 2016 to be ‘the greenest mayor ever’, Sadiq has now announced a ‘Green New Deal’ for London, with the ambition of making the city carbon neutral by 2030. Speaking at the FEPS-Fabian New Year Conference, Sadiq sought to frame the election as a ‘two horse race’ between him and Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, accusing the latter of defending ‘his government’s failure to meet its climate and air pollution obligations’. For his part, Bailey as well other candidates, including Lib Dem Siobhan Benita and Independent Rory Stewart, continue to prioritise crime in their campaigns. Bailey has pledged that he would launch a fund to help ‘end the cycle of violence’, Stewart has said that he would treble the number of dedicated community policing officers and Benita has promised an ‘evidence-based plan’ for tackling violent crime.
Jess Phillips quit the Labour leadership race yesterday, saying that she was unable to ‘unite all parts’ of the Labour Party movement. She had not yet received any nominations from trade unions, affiliate bodies or local parties. It is expected that many of her supporters will now back Keir Starmer, who has already made it to the final stage of the contest (with the backing of the Unison and USDAW unions as well as the SERA affiliate). Lisa Nandy is expected to join him after winning the backing of the GMB, one of the party’s biggest backers, yesterday, as well as Phillips’ personal support (and having already won an endorsement from the NUM union). The GMB also backed Angela Rayner for Deputy Leader. Meanwhile, Rebecca Long-Bailey, who is five points ahead of main rival Starmer in a recent poll of Labour Party members by LabourList and Survation, is expected to receive the backing of Unite on Friday, which will likely secure her place on the ballot. The Labour Party’s Chairman, Ian Lavery, notably called for Starmer to ‘stand aside’ at Long-Bailey’s latest campaign event in order to allow a woman to lead the party.
BATTERSEA PLANS TWEAKED?
According to recent reports, the Battersea Power Station Development Company is considering building 200,000 sq ft of office space as part of the project’s ‘Phase 3b’, instead of the 250 flats it originally had planned. Those homes would then become part of ‘Phase 4’ (the scheme’s backers still hope to deliver 1,600 new homes overall). According to the Standard, the developer only began consulting on the proposals on 16 January, is ‘expected to apply to Wandsworth Council next month for consent’ and hopes it will be granted ‘by September.’
Developer Avanton made a splash in the press when it revealed that an alligator enclosure is being considered as part of its plans for a mixed-use development on the OId Kent Road. Proposals for the site, which is centred around a Victorian gasholder, would deliver ‘hundreds of new homes including affordable housing, open space and over 50,000 sq ft of light industrial commercial use’ as well as potentially an alligator enclosure, visitor centre and educational facility. Other options for the site include a lido and an ‘artistic garden’. While some (such as homesick Australian expats, 10-year-olds and big lizard enthusiasts of all ages) are likely to be elated at the idea, animal welfare campaigners have been less than impressed at the idea of 'gators in Southwark. The developer has offered reassurances that if the enclosure were to be built, it would seek the advice and guidance of experts. If the plans do go ahead, this would only be the second such attraction in the UK. As for why an alligator enclosure? The developers say that they were approached by ‘an out-of-town specialist’ looking for a location for such an attraction in the capital.
LONDON LOW LINE
Plans for Southwark’s Low Line, a new ‘walking destination for London’ along the length of the rail viaducts spanning Bankside, London Bridge and Bermondsey have been revealed by a partnership comprising Better Bankside, Blue Bermondsey, Borough Market, Team London Bridge, The Arch Company and Southwark Council. Last year, this partnership teamed up with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) to launch a competition for the design of the Low Line, with 82 entries received in the first stage which were whittled down to just five in November. The chosen design by PDP London Architects, ‘Low Line Commons’, ‘puts the local community, as well as nature, at the heart of the project’. The plans are being funded by the Low Line partners and the Mayor’s Good Growth Fund.
LATEST HOUSING (AND LONDON) RESEARCH
The past few weeks have seen the release of several research publications and press exposés poking holes in the practices of the wider housing and development sectors. Whether or not you agree with their methods and findings, they provide much food for thought for policymakers, architects, developers and landlords alike:
- The Economist’s latest edition has published an extensive ‘special report’ on housing. Its relevant editorial, entitled ‘Home ownership is the West’s biggest economic-policy mistake’, argues bluntly that ‘it is an obsession that undermines growth, fairness and public faith in capitalism’.
- A ‘national audit’ of 140 new housing developments in England led by UCL’s Professor Matthew Carmona for CPRE and the Place Alliance, found that their design is ‘overwhelmingly ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’, with less-affluent communities the worst affected’.
- A new survey of renters In England, by YouGov for housing charity Shelter, has found that almost one in four private renters ‘have felt physically ill or sick because of housing problems or worries in the last year’.
- New research from London Councils suggests one in every 50 homes in the capital is let on a short-term basis – stoking concerns about the sector’s impact on the affordability of London’s housing stock.
Separately, a report by the Sutton Trust and researchers at the London School of Economics, entitled Elites in the UK: pulling away?, will make uncomfortable reading for many in the capital. It suggests that London is increasingly ‘difficult to access for people from working class backgrounds outside the capital, with those from an already privileged background more likely to move to the capital for work.’
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