BRACE FOR BREXIT
The day is fast approaching. In not much more than 48 hours Brexit will truly be upon us. For London, the implications are massive and between this continental tie being severed and the Government’s 'levelling up' agenda turning Ministerial gazes north, the capital may feel a little… lonely and unloved.
Then again, it makes for interesting timing, with the 2020 London Mayoral and Assembly election campaigns heating up. Sadiq has been a loud pro-Remain voice since 2016 and we expect that he will make much of this from Friday through to polling day. But will Brexit be a top election issue? This week, we launch our special 2020 London Mayoral and Assembly Election section, which will cover all the latest issues and manoeuvring in the lead up to 7 May.
Brexit and elections aside, this issue also covers everything from the Mayor's Budget and London Plan, which are both nearing their final stages before adoption, to major changes at Westminster City Council, the latest planning interventions from the Secretary of State and much more.
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Before you read on we also just wanted to take a moment to say that the team at LCA were very sad to hear of the sudden death of Adrian Lee, development director at LCR, just before Christmas. LCR were for many years a client of ours. His funeral is this Friday and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
MIND THE (BUDGET) GAP
The Mayor’s Draft Consolidated Budget for 2020-2021 was published on Tuesday 21 January, following a period of scrutiny by the London Assembly. Today’s plenary session concluded with the first of two votes on the draft by Assembly Members: 12 voted for and 10 against its adoption (along party lines, with a few opposition AMs also absent) and two motions for amendments (by the Conservatives and Greens) failed to pass. A final draft of the consolidated budget will be published in February, and the Assembly may – in theory – amend the budget if a two-thirds majority of its members vote in favour of a specific amendment proposal. With 12 of 25 seats on the Assembly held by Labour AMs (and judging by today's vote) this would be unlikely. According to the Mayor’s Background statement to the draft budget, the council tax precept – City Hall’s ‘cut’ of your council tax bill – will increase by £11.56 (3.6%), from £320.51 in 2019-20 to £332.07 in 2020-21. While opposition AMs have argued that the Mayor could better allocate existing funds, none appear to have contested the need to raise the rate. The Mayor himself has defended the increase (the maximum allowed without a referendum) as necessary to help fund more police officers – and says that the additional revenues raised will help put an additional 600 officers on the streets from 2021/22.
LONDON PLAN LATEST
The London Assembly Planning Committee met last week to discuss the draft London Plan. Assembly Members voiced their concerns about its provisions for tall buildings and the provision of family-sized homes, as well as asked for more details about the publication of supplementary planning guidance (SPGs). But the most interesting part of the session was, perhaps, confirmation by Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe and GLA officers that the Mayor expects to receive the Communities Secretary’s response to the Plan on 17 February. It also emerged during this line of questioning from Conservative AM Tony Devenish that the Mayor hopes to have the Plan published ‘before the pre-election period begins, so by 20 March’ - although a delay is possible, depending on contents of the Communities Secretary's response.
ALL CHANGE AT WESTMINSTER
If you thought that Councillor Rachael Robathan – the newly-elected Leader of Westminster City Council – was the “continuity Aiken” candidate, think again. On Monday, the Council announced sweeping changes to the composition of its Cabinet, detailed in full here. Some notable headlines:
- The new Cabinet is a slightly slimmer operation, with nine full members, ten deputy members, and two non-executives. Previously it numbered ten full members, nine deputy members and no less than 12 non-executives.
- Six of the sitting Cabinet Members (including Robathan) remain, albeit with new responsibilities, alongside three new appointees. Further details on these new cabinet portfolios will be clarified in due course.
- Former Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Planning Richard Beddoe has been replaced by Matthew Green, in the new position of Cabinet Member for Business and Planning.
- Former Chairman of Planning Melvyn Caplan has been promoted to Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Property and Regeneration, while the new Chairman of Planning is Councillor Robert Rigby.
Beyond people moves, the Inspectors appointed to examine Westminster’s City Plan 2019-2040 have 'paused' the process. Their relevant letter lists multiple areas of evidence where they ‘require further information and reassurance as to the legal compliance and soundness of the Plan’ and it explicitly refers to likely ‘change in the composition of the council’s Cabinet which is likely to delay approval of the publication of the data.’
As reported by LDN before Christmas, four Councillors of Brent’s ruling Labour party resigned over the course of November and December. The councillors, representing Alperton, Barnhill, and Wembley Central wards, stepped down for a variety of reasons. The by-elections for their seats were all held last Thursday. Labour held the one Wembley Central and two Barnhill seats, but in a shock result lost the Alperton seat to the Liberal Democrats’ Anton Georgiou, with a margin of 300 votes. According to Britain Elects’ calculations, all four by-elections saw significant swings away from Labour: In Alperton, Labour suffered a swing of -25.6 from the 2018 local election (mostly benefitting the winning Liberal Democrat candidate), while even in Barnhill and Wembley Central, they saw swings of -11.8 and -18.3 respectively (in these cases, the Conservatives reaped the benefits). All that said, turnout was down by more that 10% in all three wards, at a low 28%-34%. Furthermore, even down one seat, Labour’s hold on the borough remains solid and Georgiou is now one of only four opposition Councillors in Brent and the only Liberal Democrat.
The second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry, which aims to ‘examine the circumstances and causes of the disaster, including how Grenfell Tower came to be in a condition which allowed the fire to spread’ started on 27 January. In just the first few days, evidence has emerged, in the form of emails, which suggests that some firms involved in the primary refurbishment of the tower may have been aware that the materials used in the cladding were unsafe and that, crucially, they would ‘fail’ in a fire. Meanwhile, Benita Mehra has resigned from the Inquiry Panel following reports that she has ties to Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) panel manufacturer Arconic. The Phase 2 timetable can be seen here.
Craig McWilliam’s departure from his role as Chief Executive of Grosvenor Great Britain & Ireland has triggered a number of changes to the leadership of the Westminster Property Association (WPA). According to the WPA’s announcement:
- McWilliam has been succeeded as Chair of the WPA by Dolphin Living’s Chief Executive Olivia Harris, who has been elected for a one-year term.
- Paul Williams, Chief Executive at Derwent London, will be the WPA’s Vice Chair, before taking over as Chair in 2021.
- And Brian Bickell, Chief Executive of Shaftesbury, has been elected to the newly role of WPA Deputy Vice Chair.
- It should be noted that McWilliam is expected to continue supporting the WPA’s Policy Committee in an advisory capacity.
Elsewhere, Workspace has appointed former CBRE UK Chair Stephen Hubbard as its new Non-Executive Chair, starting on 9 July. He is already a Non-Executive Director of the company’s board and Member of its remuneration, audit and nominations committees.
From way across the pond, we hear that Andy Byford, the President of the New York City Transport Authority, has resigned. One cannot help but wonder whether Byford, the Englishman widely credited with turning around the Big Apple’s subway system, will consider returning to Old Blighty. After all TfL, where Byford began his career as a railman, is on the lookout for a new Commissioner…
JENRICK’S (IN)VISIBLE HAND
After having granted permission for the Westferry Printworks site in Tower Hamlets last week, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick has now called-in the plans to redevelop the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Jenrick issued a holding order for the development in December. The application, which would convert the historic foundry into a hotel, café and space for artists – while restoring the Grade II listed sections of the site – was approved by Tower Hamlets Council in November 2019. The Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry campaign, supported by Independent Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart, has welcomed the call-in, in the hope that the scheme will be rejected. This week, Jenrick has also granted permission for two London developments. Comer Homes’ North London Business Park scheme was rejected by Barnet Council in 2017 but the Secretary of State has now given the go ahead for 1,200 homes, a school and sports facilities delivered on the former Barnet Council office site. In South London, the Secretary of State has given the go ahead for proposals to deliver 365 homes on a supermarket car park in Lewisham. Planning law expert Simon Ricketts has written up both these cases on his excellent blog.
LABOUR ASSEMBLY SELECTIONS
The shortlist of Labour London Assembly candidates for the Lambeth and Southwark and North East seats have now been confirmed. The former constituency is currently held by Florence Eshalomi, whose election to Parliament in December as the MP for Vauxhall means that she will not seek re-election as originally planned. As for the North East seat, the shortlist was reopened following the election of Claudia Webbe, one of the two shortlisted candidates for the seat, as MP for Leicester East in December. On the shortlist of candidates (which has proved controversial) for Lambeth and Southwark are Bromley councillor Marina Ahmad, party activist Shahina Jaffer, Wandsworth councillor Maurice McLeod and Chair of GMB Race Taranjit Chana. On the shortlist for the North East is Hackney councillor and Mayoral advisor Sem Moema, Islington councillor Sara Hyde and Haringey councillor Emine Ibrahim. Voting opens on 5 February.
PEOPLES QUESTION TIME
LCA attended the latest People’s Question Time session last Thursday. PQT is essentially a travelling town hall meeting, which provides Londoners the opportunity to interrogate their Mayor and Assembly Members. Thursday’s event was held in Haringey and chaired by local constituency AM Joanne McCartney. Encouragingly, it saw a strong and diverse turnout. Crime was the most emotive issue among residents with housing and development also high on people’s list of concerns, particularly complaints about social housing conditions, as well as fears about the effects of regeneration schemes on local communities. Aside from fielding questions from the audience, Sadiq and opposition Mayoral candidates Shaun Bailey (Conservative) and Sian Berry (Green Party), who are also sitting AMs, used the opportunity to take pot-shots at each other. While Berry’s support for an expansion of the Mayor’s estates ballot policy seemed popular with the crowd, Bailey’s misgivings about Sadiq’s rent control proposals earned him more than a few heckles – gleefully spurred on by the Mayor. The next PQT session – and final one before the election on 7 May – will be held on 11 March, in Battersea.
KURTEN VS DRILLMINISTER
Londonwide AM David Kurten has declared that he will be running for Mayor as an Independent this May. Elected under UKIP’s banner in 2016, Kurten defected from the Party in December 2018. He still sits alongside UKIP AM and former Mayoral candidate Peter Whittle on the Assembly, as part of the Brexit Alliance Group. Kurten describes himself on Twitter as a ‘Brexiteer, writer, speaker, Christian, social conservative’ as well as ‘pro-Trump, pro-life, [and] anti-woke’. His policy pledges include ‘end[ing] politically correct policing’, scrapping HS2 and ending the ‘uncontrolled construction of ugly tower blocks’. But Kurten is not the only Independent candidate to throw his hat in the ring over the last week. The Huffington Post UK reported yesterday that rapper Drillminister has announced that he will also run as an Independent. The artist – who only appears in public wearing a balaclava – has put forward his upbringing in South London as proof that he would stand for the underrepresented Londoners ‘no one is really thinking about’. His policy pledges so far include diversifying the police force, as well as introducing a ‘contactless card’ for homeless people, ‘that can be topped up to provide food, hostel accommodation and clothes.’
The future of HS2 is still the subject of heated debate, after the Financial Times revealed that a leaked draft of the government-commissioned Oakervee report warns that the costs could rise to £106bn from the originally estimated £55.7bn. Most recently, opponents of HS2 quickly seized the opportunity to demand that the government ‘pull the plug’ on the project, and a recent House of Lords debate saw condemnations of the project from Lord Forsyth and Lord Hollick, who drew on the report to argue that HS2 funds ought to have been redirected to the Northern Powerhouse. However, many peers defended the project and insisted on its necessity, while more than 120 business leaders from the North and Midlands wrote to Boris Johnson last week urging him to ensure that it goes ahead. Johnson is set to meet with Sajid Javid and Grant Shapps later this week in order to make a final decision.
LABOUR LEADERSHIP LATEST
As reported last week, London MP Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy have made it to the final round in the Labour leadership race, and Rebecca Long-Bailey is looking likely to join them after winning the backing of Unite in addition to 21 constituency nominations. But London MP Emily Thornberry, who was the first to announce her bid for leadership, has only received four constituency nominations and is yet to receive any affiliate nominations. She is therefore unlikely to make it onto the final ballot by Friday 14 February when nominations close.
Meanwhile, Angela Rayner has stormed ahead of her opponents in the deputy leadership race, winning 54 constituency nominations, largely due to grassroots support across the North. This is in addition to the backing of Unison, the National Union of Mineworkers, GMB and Usdaw. London MP Dawn Butler is in second place with 12 constituency nominations and the backing of Chinese for Labour, while Richard Burgon has the backing of Unite and seven constituency nominations. Ian Murray and London MP Rosena Allin-Khan have not yet received any affiliate nominations, but have secured seven and four constituency nominations respectively.
- The Centre for Cities has released its 2020 Cities Outlook providing information on population, employment rate and wages in UK cities. On housing, the report found that while London added the most homes in 2017/18 (36,700), this only represents a housing stock growth of 0.9%.
- The Institute of Economic Affairs (a right-leaning think tank) has published a report on the effects of rent controls based on the example of Sweden which has had rent controls since 1942. The report finds that the implementation of controls fails to achieve the primary aim (i.e. ‘egalitarian economic outcomes’) and have actually caused housing shortages and ‘social segregation’.
- Centre for London’s latest report, Building for a New Urban Mobility, has highlighted that new housing developments in London may in fact be contributing to ‘congestion, pollution and public realm difficulties’ by encouraging car use. It found that new housing developments are more likely to provide car parking facilities and recommends that ‘New Urban Mobility’ be prioritised in planning and development control to encourage public transport use.
- Following their month of strikes in December, members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) employed by South Western Railway (SWR) have voted for more industrial action. The poor financial performance of the franchise has led Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to announce that his Department is preparing ‘suitable contingency measures’ including its possible renationalisation.
- Workers on the Woolwich Ferry are set to strike yet again in their ongoing bid for better pay. 56 members of the Unite trade union, who are paid less than the London living wage, have opted to strike on 28 February and 13 March.
ETHICAL PROPERTY SURVEY
The Ethical Property Foundation (EPF) has launched its biannual Charity Property Matters Survey. If you work in or are otherwise involved in a charity, do complete the questionnaire and please forward it to any friends or family who do. It only takes six minutes and could genuinely help or even save an organisation. Previous surveys have found that non-profit organisations are increasingly dependent on the private sector for their property needs – and that lack of expertise in related matters can lead to serious financial difficulties. The EPF uses the survey to better understand the property issues facing the voluntary sector and by extension refine and better target its services. These include free and low cost advice, education workshops and more to help charities navigate the world of property. The survey’s Interim results will be published in late spring, with the full report launched in November. We at LCA are delighted to be supporting the Foundation, of which Director Sarah Rawlings is a Trustee. For more information about their work, please visit their website.
GOLDMAN SACHS BACKS QUINTAIN
Quintain, the developer behind the transformation of Wembley Park, has successfully completed a £150.9m financing package with Goldman Sachs to deliver 396 new rental homes across three new buildings at the North West London site. The financing deal also secures the development of 117 new affordable rented homes. All of the homes will be managed by Tipi, Quintain’s lifestyle-focused rental brand and are due for completion in May 2022. The buildings sit within the 8,500 home Wembley Park masterplan and will range from seven to 21 storeys. The backing from Goldman Sachs marks Quintain’s third successful financing deal over the last 12 months, with a total of £438.5m secured since March 2019. Quintain is a long-term LCA client and we were delighted to handle their latest announcement.
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