It’s been a week of major announcements at national, regional and local levels, and it’s not over yet with details of a potentially explosive – or possibly not – Cabinet reshuffle expected tomorrow.
In the meantime, LDN brings you an account of the Mayor’s latest broadsides and the retaliatory fire from his election opponents. We also have the lowdown on Boris Johnson’s latest bombshell on HS2 and the friendly fire afflicting the Labour Party’s leadership race.
In less incendiary news, we also cover a brace of planning and development stories, people moves, and the latest London Borough of Culture awards.
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GROUNDHOG DAY FOR THE LONDON PLAN?
The London Assembly held its formal Plenary session and vote on the Mayor’s Intend to Publish London Plan last Thursday. AMs were given the opportunity to interrogate – at length – the Mayor himself, as well as his Deputy Mayors for Planning (Jules Pipe) and the Environment (Shirley Rodrigues) and the senior GLA Officer leading the London Plan’s drafting process (Jennifer Peters, who left City Hall for pastures new only a day after this session). It is clear that members across all party groups are still uncomfortable with parts of the Plan, specifically its approach to overcrowding and family-sized homes, as well as density and tall buildings. Nevertheless, all Labour Group AMs present at the session voted it through in its current form. A move by the Conservatives to amend the plan, which would have required a two-thirds majority to succeed, failed.
It’s not over yet though, despite the Mayor’s pressing need to have it finalised and adopted before the pre-election ‘period of sensitivity’ starts on 20 March. The Communities Secretary is still considering the draft in conjunction with planning Inspectors’ (non-binding) recommendations. Some of those recommendations have been flatly rejected by the Mayor and the Minister has committed to responding on or before 17 February with any comments and (binding) directions for changes to the Plan. Any direction to make significant changes to the Plan (especially if these have a knock-on effect for other policies) could delay its publication further.
…AND MORE CITY HALL PLANNING
Aside from defending his London Plan before the Assembly, the Mayor also shook his fist in the general direction of the Communities Secretary in a combative press release urging against any directions to amend it. Indeed, the Mayor and his team seem to have embarked on a collision course with the Government across a range of planning-related issues this week. Having previously rejected plans for the proposed ‘Tulip’ tower in the City of London, Sadiq has now urged the Communities Secretary to do the same when he considers an appeal by the project’s backers. Putting his money where his mouth is, the Mayor has approved expenditure of ‘up to £350,000’ (plus VAT) to cover the costs of defending the Tulip’s refusal. Separately, the Mayor has also criticised the Government’s proposed ‘2025 Future Homes Standard’, whose carbon reduction targets for new homes are ‘25% lower’ than the standard first introduced by the current 2016 London Plan. The Mayor further argues that the Government’s proposed amendments to the Planning Act 2008 will make matters worse, by ‘withdraw[ing] local authorities’ powers to set tougher carbon reduction building standards than those set by ministers.’ Sadiq has subsequently launched the new £3.6m Retrofit Accelerator for Homes, to help local authorities and housing associations cut carbon emissions and reduce energy bills by updating and improving homes.
THE TROUBLE WITH AIRPORTS
One of the Mayor’s main worries is that the Communities Secretary could overturn his aviation policy, in line with the Inspectors’ recommendations. In its current form, London Plan ‘Policy T8 Aviation’ states that ‘the Mayor will oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport unless it can be shown that no additional noise or air quality harm would result, and that the benefits of future regulatory and technology improvements would be fairly shared with affected communities’. T8 further sets a high bar for any other airport’s expansion plans and seeks to block any new commercial heliports outright. However, in last week’s plenary session he was urged by AMs across all parties to go even further. Indicatively, the same session saw two relevant motions unanimously voted through by AMs, one restating their opposition to a third runway at Heathrow and another calling on Sadiq to campaign against RAF Northolt becoming a commercial airport ‘by stealth.’ But when pressed by Green Party AM (and Mayoral candidate) Sian Berry as to why he has stopped short of a blanket ban, Sadiq and his team argued that Policy T8 is calibrated to maximise its compliance with existing national policies (and therefore increase its chances of survival).
London is not unique in seeing elected local authorities push back against the expansion of airports on grounds including environmental protection, public health and pressures on local infrastructure. On Monday, North Somerset councillors refused to grant planning permission to Bristol Airport’s expansion plans by 18 votes to seven, against officers’ recommendation.
As doubts continue to hang over the future of Heathrow’s expansion, the Government has finally made its long-awaited decision on HS2. As LDN readers will certainly be aware, the high-speed rail project has been touted as vital to increasing rail capacity and reducing journey times – both to and from London – but also as a crucial catalyst for economic growth and new housebuilding in the capital and further afield. But cost overruns, environmental concerns and the disruption to communities and households along its route have led others to argue that the project should be scrapped or at least significantly revised. Others have argued that HS2’s second phase (entailing new links between cities in the North and the Midlands) should be prioritised. In any event, the Prime Minister told Parliament yesterday that the project will go ahead, more-or-less as originally planned and as per the recommendations of the official Oakervee Review, published on the same day (though leaked weeks earlier). The Government has self-consciously couched its HS2 decision with a pledge of £5bn, spread over five years, to improve local bus and cycling services across England and a commitment to accelerating progress on Northern Powerhouse Rail.
AND THE BIGGER (BUDGET) PICTURE
Of course HS2, Heathrow, bus services and even the London Plan are but pieces of a much wider puzzle for local and regional government. A few more pieces will fall into place on 11 March, when the Government delivers its Spring Budget. In anticipation, London Councils and Core Cities have issued a joint call (certainly a refreshing sign of inter-regional collaboration in an increasingly polarised political landscape) noting that ‘levelling up’ the whole of the UK, for the benefit of all, will require ‘radical devolution from Whitehall.’ They argue that the upcoming Budget must do more to ‘recognise and leverage’ connections between cities and regions as well as ‘give back control to local people’ and ‘end the culture of Whitehall hand-outs.’ They also look further ahead to the subsequent Fair Funding Review and the Government’s promised Devolution White Paper, arguing that they should deliver ‘real fiscal devolution to enable councils to raise their own funds and be more accountable to their communities for the money they spend.’
Sutton Council and The Institute of Cancer Research London (ICR) have announced that they have succeeded in securing £8.4m in funding to ‘prepare land for development and put in place the infrastructure required for the first wave of commercial life-science buildings at the London Cancer Hub.’ The Hub is a long term, cross-sector, collaborative project – covered previously in LDN – which seeks to create a ‘global centre for cancer innovation’. This latest funding boost for the plans has been provided by the Strategic Investment Pot, a pool of business rates revenue from all London Boroughs administered by the City of London, which is used to support projects promoting economic growth. The Council has previously invested more than £30m to acquire 4.8 hectares of land on the site and the area is already home to the Sutton sites of the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. Several component projects are already in the pipeline, including the ICR’s £75m Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, which is currently under construction.
MEET THE NEXT BOROUGHS OF CULTURE
The Mayor has announced that Lewisham and Croydon will be the next two London Boroughs of Culture (for 2021 and 2023 respectively). They follow Waltham Forest (2019) and Brent (2020). The scheme is now shifting to a biennial pattern (every other year), hence the gap in 2022. Each of the two boroughs will be awarded £1.35m of funding to deliver a year-long programme of activities. However other boroughs, namely Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey and Sutton, will also receive up to £200,000 each as winners of the Mayor's Cultural Impact Award for grassroots schemes and projects. The Borough of Culture programme was one of Khan’s manifesto commitments in 2016 and was launched in June 2017. It is broadly modelled on schemes such as the UK City and European Capital of Culture and aims to leverage culture and the arts as an engine for local economic and social regeneration.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER BALLOT
Kingston Council has announced plans to ballot the residents of the Cambridge Road Estate on major redevelopment plans at the end of the month. Estate regeneration ballots have been a prerequisite for Mayoral grant funding since 2018 and nine successful ballots have taken place to date under the rules set out in the GLA’s Affordable Housing Capital Funding Guide – all administered by Electoral Reform Services (now rebranded as Civica Election Services). This is Kingston’s first ballot and, if the result is positive, will be the fourth to have been carried through successfully by a London council, the rest having been being led by housing associations. The Landlord Offer, on which eligible residents will be voting, outlines the plans in some detail. The Council and partners Countryside would see the 865 homes on the estate demolished and redeveloped in five phases. In their place, they propose 2,170 homes in total, of which 767 will be council rent (114 more council homes than previously, according to the Landlord Offer), 100 shared equity/ownership, and 1,303 for private sale, all to be completed sometime between 2031 and 2036.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING LATEST
The latest Neighbourhood Plan to have been approved by local referendum in London – the 16th in the capital – passed muster on 6 February. Camden Council itself has not disclosed much about the outcome of the referendum quite yet, but according to the Dartmouth Park Neighbourhood Forum, over 1,000 people turned out to vote and approved the Plan with 88% in favour. The hefty Neighbourhood Plan covers an area bounded by Parliament Hill to the West, Dartmouth Park Hill to the east, and the Gospel Oak area to the south. It now constitutes a substantive part of the local statutory development plan and, once fully adopted by the Council, will be used in determining decisions on planning applications within its area.
- Reports suggest that Jack Airey, Head of Housing at think tank Policy Exchange, is set to join No10 as Special Advisor for Housing and Planning. Airey’s work on numerous PX reports on planning and development issues is credited with being a substantial influencer of Government policy in recent years.
- Amanda Reid, currently Director of Planning & Development at Newham Council, has been appointed as Director of Planning & Place at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. She is expected to start in her new role at the end of March.
- Workspace Group has announced that former Whitbread Group Financial Controller and Corporate Finance Director David Benson is to become its new Chief Financial Officer.
- Modular homes experts Modomo are to be joined by Lorna Walker, previously of CBRE, as Chief Operating Officer and Head of ESG
- Leonie Oliva has joined Gerald Eve as a Partner.
- Claire Barber has joined Cadogan as Asset Management Director.
POLICIES (VERY) SLOWLY DEVELOPING
As we await the formal publication of manifestos, the parties’ candidates continue to jockey for position::
- Sadiq reportedly told Labour’s London Policy Forum on Saturday that his activists will be carrying out a vigorous postal voting registration campaign.
- Tory candidate Shaun Bailey was the subject of a lengthy Telegraph interview and has also backed a campaign against the proposed development of High Barnet Underground Station by TfL and Taylor Wimpey, and headlined a town hall meeting on crime in Hammersmith.
- Bailey and Lib Dem candidate Siobhan Benita have meanwhile both backed the Standard's campaign for on-site ‘inclusion units’ at mainstream schools instead of pupil referral units. Benita has recently launched a series of videos highlighting everything from her profile as a female candidate with mixed heritage ‘typical’ of Londoners and humble beginnings, to her plans for tackling crime.
- As for the Green Party candidate, Sian Berry has formally launched her campaign with the support of veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell; she has also spoken against the use of facial recognition technology by the police, and for Wimbledon AFC’s plans to “keep the club in the hands of supporters”
- Independent candidate Rory Stewart spoke on ITV’s late debate, has continued his tour of small-scale talks, and has asked Londoners to invite him for a sleepover, promising to bring his own sleeping bag and ‘a box of chocolates’. Perhaps most importantly, Stewart has only today launched his first flagship housebuilding policy, centred on a new ‘Mayor’s Building Company’ – more on this from LDN next week.
The next candidate hustings, co-hosted by the LCCI and LSE, is tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the mud slinging has started in the Mayoral race. Bailey’s campaign has accused Sadiq of presiding over a ‘culture of cronyism’ at City Hall after LBC ‘revealed’ his Night Czar, Amy Lamé, failed to declare she ‘was paid an extra £1,000 for her part in hosting a drag act’ as part of Waltham Forest’s Borough of Culture programme. Lamé has since reportedly ‘agreed to make a donation to an LGBTQ charity of £1,000, less the tax she paid’. Earlier this month, Bailey himself came under fire for telling the Evening Standard he pays for his travel fares, even though he has received almost £10,000 in travelcards as a taxable benefit over the past four years.
LABOUR ASSEMBLY SELECTIONS
Of course, the Assembly’s 25 seats are also up for grabs this May and at least 10 of the 25 AMs (probably more) elected this year will be new to the Assembly. 11 London-wide AMs are elected through the devilishly complex D’Hondt method (anyone who would like a lesson in this, do let us know!), while 14 are directly elected to represent ‘super-constituencies’ in a first-past-the-post system. While most of the parties had settled their candidate rosters over the course of 2019, the December General Election and subsequent events have thrown some wide open again. Indeed, most of Labour’s selections remain in limbo. Party members have until 19 February to select their London-wide list as well as nine super-constituency candidacies (LDN has previously covered the controversy surrounding the Lambeth and Southwark shortlist). LabourList has the lowdown on all shortlists, as well as the ‘slates’ supported by pro- and anti-Corbyn groups Momentum and Labour First. The party-affiliated website has also been hosting mini-manifestos by aspiring candidates, most recently by Hackney Labour Councillor Sem Moema (running for the North East seat candidacy) and Brent Labour Councillor Faduma Hassan (angling for the Barnet and Camden seat).
LOOKING GOOD 2020
Knight Frank has released the latest edition of its London Report, which broadly confirms that the capital’s office market remains remarkably resilient. It places the capital among ‘one of a small number of truly global cities’, being ‘central to the financial universe, able to draw in businesses, investors and talent from around the world, and as a consequence, almost uniquely placed to offer investors both stability and performance.’ The report suggests that 2020 ‘looks set to be a bumper year’ with an estimated £48.4bn ‘waiting in the wings around the world for deployment into London’s office market’ – marking a 21% increase on recorded 2019 levels. The majority of this projected investment (upwards of £25bn) has been identified as coming from China and the wider Asia Pacific.
STARTER HOMES REDUX?
The Government has finally revealed more details of its ‘First Homes’ scheme, for which the consultation was launched last week. Promised in the Queen’s Speech – and amidst uncertainty about the long-term future of Help to Buy – it is intended as yet another means of helping first-time buyers onto the ladder. The scheme centres on a new category of low-cost homes for sale – to be delivered by developers, local authorities, housing associations or community groups. These would be sold at a minimum 30% discount, with locals offered first refusal and the discount attached to the homes ‘in perpetuity’ (meaning that any buyers must apply the same discount to any future valuation of their home if they wish to sell it on). As highlighted in a comprehensive early report on the scheme by The Times, First Homes has been received coolly by organisations including Shelter and the Local Government Association, which would rather the Government support the sustainable provision of social rent homes. For its part, Labour has naturally sought to frame this new scheme as a potential repeat of the abortive Starter Homes programme. But it’s early days yet. The scheme remains in its infancy and is still some way from being finalised and launched in earnest.
- RMT has called a double-tap strike on the Bakerloo Line, on 21-22 February and 23-24 February, from midday to midday in each case. The strike is part of an ongoing dispute over timetables and working hours.
- Meanwhile, Unite has announced that ‘sick and tired’ London bus drivers have voted ‘overwhelmingly in favour of strike action’ in a ‘consultative ballot’ over long working hours and a lack of facilities. A full postal ballot will now be held, potentially heralding strike action in the Spring.
- Beyond the transport industry, security guards at luxury department store Harrods are reportedly poised to launch a five-day strike later this month in a dispute over pay.
The already-contentious Labour Party leadership race really got heated this week, after reports that the Party referred members of Sir Keir Starmer's leadership campaign team to the Information Commissioner, accusing them of ‘hacking into the party's membership database.’ But Sir Keir’s campaign machine instantly went into reactive mode, asserting that they were merely ‘investigating a means of penetrating the database […] with no intention to use it’. His allies have meanwhile decried what they have framed as foul play and a smear campaign by his opponents. As for said opponents, Rebecca Long-Bailey’s campaign has itself subsequently ‘sought to draw a line under the row’ after it too faced accusations of tapping into the same database. All very curious indeed.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir remains firmly ahead of the competition in terms of formal endorsements by party affiliates and Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). Recent wins for the Holborn & St Pancras MP include the left-leaning London CLPs Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn’s patch) and Hornsey & Wood Green (another Momentum stronghold). It is also notable that he has won the endorsement of 35% of Labour Council leaders in England, Wales and Scotland, including the leaders of 12 London Boroughs. The 12 Labour Leaders in London to have endorsed him represent: Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Greenwich, Hammersmith & Fulham, Hounslow, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets.
LAUNCH OF NEW £65M MENTAL HEALTH CENTRE FOR CHILDREN
This week, LCA supported the launch of ground-breaking plans for the Pears Maudsley Centre for Children and Young People. The new £65m mental health centre, located at the Maudsley Hospital site in Denmark Hill, will bring together leading experts in clinical care from South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust alongside researchers and scientists from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). The centre has been designed to enable the clinicians and researchers from the Trust and the University to collaborate, share ideas and identify treatments that will make a real difference to the mental health of children, young people and their families. To date over £18m of philanthropic gifts have been committed in principle including an initial £10m grant from the Maudsley Charity. This film provides more detail about the vision for the new centre and the new website for the programme, created by LCA’s design team, also launched this week. Three public exhibition events are taking place this week to engage with local people on the plans.
SOLDIER OF ORANGE LANDS AT ROYAL DOCKS
Last night, LCA was at Newham Council’s Strategic Development Committee to see our client, Soldier of Orange Ltd, gain unanimous planning consent to bring its musical production to the Royal Docks. The proposals are for a specially created temporary theatre with a 360-degree rotating auditorium with front-of-house facilities, including a new restaurant, bar and museum. Soldier of Orange has been a highly successful musical for 9 years in The Netherlands, breaking all Dutch theatre records. The story is based on the autobiography of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, a renowned Dutch resistance fighter and British RAF war pilot who chronicled his remarkable WWII experiences. The new theatre will create approximately 160 new jobs to the area, as well as construction jobs and internships for local residents. Now that the application has been approved, the ambition is for the Soldier of Orange musical to open in autumn this year and to play for up to 5 years. To find out more information and sign up to get updates about tickets, visit their website.
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