SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT
The Cabinet has been duly reshuffled and we have a new Minister for London, a new Minister for Housing and of course a new Chancellor to get to know.
Now that’s done, the next big political transfer of power is the Labour leadership race – it’s down to a shortlist of three – and soon after that, we have the Mayoral and London Assembly Elections.
Which is to say that this edition is really all about political manoeuvring and campaigning and if we’re honest, not a great deal of actual governing or delivering. Something to look forward to in May we hope. The London Plan looks like the latest victim of this tumultuous time, more on that below, along with one of Tower Hamlet’s two opposition Conservative councillors.
Down in South London, there’s tram talk as well as complications for the proposed Bakerloo Line extension and further challenges for the long-awaited regeneration of Croydon’s town centre.
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THE WHITEHALL (RE)SHUFFLE
The new Cabinet line-up is official. There weren’t many big surprises, barring Sajid Javid’s decision not to return to the Treasury. He was one of six Secretaries of State to be sacked (or to resign) and a further 11 junior Ministers also left Government. The root-and-branch restructuring of Whitehall hinted at earlier this year did not materialise, with only the Department for Exiting the EU scrapped. So what does it all mean for London?
- After Grant Shapps was seemingly set the task of softening expectations, the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, offered assurances that the Budget will go ahead as planned on 11 March – so London’s local authority financial planners can relax a bit.
- Londoners should be keeping a particularly close eye on three of the new Secretaries of State, Alok Sharma (Business), Oliver Dowden (Culture) and George Eustice (Environment), whose briefs are central to economic growth, the creative industries and tackling climate change.
- Aside from the above, the new Cabinet looks remarkably like the last (though women now take less than a quarter of Cabinet seats), with all the Great Offices of State (barring the Treasury) staying in the same hands, as do the Departments for Health, Education, and Defence. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, the highest planning authority in England and responsible for all things local government, also remains in place.
- Looking at the new intake of junior Ministers, anyone involved in housing, planning, or development will already be aware that we now have our 10th housing Minister in a decade, after Esther McVey was replaced by Christopher Pincher. The new Minister appears to have little experience relevant to his brief, which does not bode well for the Government’s housebuilding drive, but worry not: he’s getting up to speed.
- The new Minister for London is now Paul Scully, the MP for Sutton & Cheam, succeeding Chris Philp. If you’re wondering what the role entails, join the club. His responsibilities are officially listed as involving [sic] ‘London’, which isn’t very enlightening.
Aside from the Mayor suggesting that the Chancellor’s resignation only weeks before the Budget shows the ‘government is in chaos’, the response from London has been rather muted. It may be worth noting that the number of London MPs attending Cabinet has shrunk from three to one (the last one standing being… Boris Johnson himself).
EVER SO BUSY…
London has been eagerly awaiting the Communities Secretary’s final comments on (and potential directions to amend) the new London Plan for weeks. While initially expected to respond by 20 January, Robert Jenrick has availed himself not once, but twice, of powers allowing him more time to ponder the Plan’s merits. In the first of his two relevant letters to the Mayor, issued on 23 December, Jenrick quite understandably cited the 12 December General Election and the Christmas break as his reasons for the delay. However, in his second letter, issued on 14 February, he rather more cryptically suggested that the Mayor ‘will appreciate that this has been a very busy period for the Government’ and committed to responding ‘on or before Monday 16 March 2020’. This puts the Mayor in a bit of pickle, as the restrictions of the ‘pre-election period of sensitivity’ in the leadup to the 7 May London Mayoral and Assembly Elections kick in on 23 March. But Jenrick surely can’t be using the London Plan as a political football? He is, after all, far too busy for that.
MIXED FORTUNES FOR CROYDON
Only a week after the success of being named as the London Borough of Culture for 2023, Croydon Council’s Labour administration is facing challenges elsewhere. Retail developers Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, who have long touted plans to invest £1.5bn into Croydon Town Centre, have indicated in their most recent annual report that they will be scaling back their development pipeline after disappointing annual trading figures across Westfield shopping malls in London and the UK. They have confirmed this includes Croydon, and suggested that any future development would be mixed-use rather than retail-led – and as only one half of The Croydon Partnership (the other joint venture partner being beleaguered retail developers Hammerson) it will take time to see these new plans drafted, agree and realised.
TRANSPORT DOWN SOUTH
Transport for London (TfL) has revealed its preferred option for the long awaited new transport connection between Sutton and Merton, the ‘Sutton Link’. Following the consultation on several different options which took place between October 2018 and January 2019, receiving over 6,000 responses, the preferred option is… drum roll… a tram link between Sutton and Colliers Wood. Expected to cost £425m, TfL has said that ‘sources of funding need to be confirmed if the project is to move forward’.
Meanwhile, in South East London, a new planning application may have thrown a spanner in the works for the proposed Bakerloo line extension. The application seeks to redevelop a site located next to New Cross Gate station which has been identified by TfL has a potential ‘primary worksite’ for the project. Sainsbury’s, A2Dominion and Mount Anvil have submitted the application for the demolition of existing buildings and the delivery of 1,161 homes (35% affordable) and a new store.
- Dame Melanie Dawes, Permanent Secretary at MHCLG since 2015, has stepped down from her role to become Chief Executive of communications regulator Ofcom (starting in March).
- The Board of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has approved changes to the membership of its Planning Decisions Committee. Philip Lewis, who has chaired the committee since its inception in 2012, has been succeeded by Pam Alexander. See all the details here.
- Former GLA Head of London Plan and Growth Strategies Jennifer Peters has joined Tower Hamlets Council as its Divisional Director for Planning and Building Control.
- Financial Times property correspondent Judith Evans is moving over to the consumer industries desk.
- Women’s Equality Party (WEP) leader Mandu Reid will replace Sue Black as Mayoral candidate, following the latter’s withdrawal for health reasons.
A KHAN-DO ATTITUDE
Last month, LDN reported Sadiq Khan’s announcement of plans for a Green New Deal, pledging to make London carbon neutral by 2030. He has now said that to support this agenda, he will set up a £50m fund for various green energy projects. It is still not clear when the fund will launch, what precisely it will be bankrolling, where the money will come from (aside from vague references to council tax), how it will be allocated or over what timeframe. Khan unabashedly used this latest announcement to appeal to Green Party voters, but we suspect that they are unlikely to be enormously impressed (incensed, as they are, at his support for the Silvertown road tunnel). Meanwhile, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey accused the Mayor of ‘making more promises he will never keep’ and said he should instead focus on tackling ‘soaring crime’ in London.
Separately, the Mayor has urged Whitehall and Brussels to allow Londoners to retain a form of ‘Associate’ EU citizenship. He has sought to drum up support for the idea (which is very reminiscent of a pledge made by Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita several months ago) during a trip to Belgium, where he met a number of senior European Commission and Parliament figures.
While riding the wave of publicity unleashed by his #ComeKipWithMe initiative, Independent Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has also launched his flagship housing policy. ‘Just Build It’ relies on a new ‘Mayor’s Building Company’ (MBC) to drive forward housebuilding, primarily on public land. Stewart would also introduce a ‘Use It or Lose It’ policy, imposing time limits for developers to start work on sites for which they have secured planning permissions. It is notable that much of what he is suggesting seems to be distinctly left-of-centre; public sector-led, interventionist and setting up big developers as the bad guy. But if you read the small print, his plans also foresee a not-insignificant role for private developers as partners for the MBC. And for all his bluster about stopping the ‘selling off the family silver’ under Sadiq Khan, public land sales have been backed by Governments of which he was a part. Away from housing, Stewart has also said that as Mayor he would support the setting up of City of London ‘embassies’ in EU countries to help secure access to European markets in the wake of Brexit. It would be interesting to know what the fiercely independent City thinks of that kind of Mayoral intervention…
BENITA CAMPAIGN LAUNCH
The Liberal Democrat candidate’s official campaign launch last week demonstrated that Siobhan Benita faces a real struggle to avoid being overshadowed by her opponents. The event was held in a rather small venue (the ‘First Dates’ restaurant close to St. Paul’s) and on the day of the Cabinet reshuffle. If anyone was paying attention, they would have learnt that Benita did commit to a range of policy pledges. These included matching Khan’s zero carbon by 2030 ambitions, banning single use plastics by 2024, a renewed focus to bringing empty homes back into use, and lobbying for a cannabis legalisation pilot programme in London. You can read her full speech here and useful writeups by the BBC and OnLondon.
AND MORE FROM BERRY
Speaking of scheduling snafus, you may recall that last week LDN reported Green Party candidate Sian Berry had launched her campaign. Now we’re not quite sure. City AM has reported that she is launching her campaign today. Meanwhile, Berry has written an extensive article in the Metro, in which she expounds on her already-known policies regarding affordable housing and renters’ rights. Whether you agree with them or not – and regardless of Berry’s chances of getting elected in May – Green Party policies do have a habit of ending up in Labour Party manifestos, so watch this space.
LCCI SPEAKS UP
The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) partnered with the London School of Economics (LSE) to host Mayoral Hustings on 13 February. However, only three out of the five most prominent mayoral candidates attended. Khan used a video to apologise for his absence and set out his priorities. Bailey also dropped out, ‘at the last minute’. Both were represented by ‘surrogates’; Khan by Leader of Waltham Forest, Councillor Clare Coghill, and Bailey by former Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Stephen Greenhalgh. Some highlights from the event include Benita correcting Bailey’s stand-in on the candidate’s transport policy, opposition candidates piling into Khan for being a ‘mascot mayor’, and Stewart pledging to reduce the number of deputy mayors from 12 to 3, arguing that City Hall is ‘inundated with bureaucrats.’ More detailed summaries of the event have been published here and here. The LCCI has meanwhile unveiled its Mayoral Manifesto which sets out recommendations on behalf of its members for how the Mayor and Assembly can deal with Brexit and population growth, reduce London’s carbon footprint and capitalise on technological advancement.
KHAN ON THE OTHER RACE
Emily Thornberry was eliminated from the Labour leadership contest at the weekend after failing to secure support from the 33 CLPs required. That leaves three contenders, Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey. While he has not yet publicly disclosed who he will be supporting, the Mayor of London has this week asked the remaining candidates to commit to a series of pledges for London. These include a commitment to tackling antisemitism, as well as promises that the next leader of the Labour Party will ‘support’ the Mayor and his aims, such as pledges that a Labour Government would devolve further powers to the GLA and guarantee further funding for London public services and infrastructure projects. Eligible members and affiliates will be able to place their votes between 21 February and 2 April, with the final result announced on 4 April.
Meanwhile, the Mayor has triumphantly hailed ‘record-breaking GLA housing statistics showing he is on track to deliver his 2019/20 housing target of starting 17,000 new genuinely affordable homes.’ The relevant press release goes on to clarify that the figures do not (yet) show he has actually met that target, but that he has achieved 74% of it by starting 12,546 homes in a range of low- and intermediate-cost affordable tenures between March and December 2019. While this may indeed be ‘an improvement on the 42% that had been started by this stage of 2018/19’, the ‘record-breaking’ aspect is unclear. The release also does not explicitly state that the targets and starts in question refer specifically to the Mayor’s Affordable Homes Programme, which is only expected to deliver a fraction of the starts London needs. And ONS figures on permanent dwellings started and completed by region, released only last week, suggest a mixed picture for London – at best.
FASHION WEEK FURORE (AND OTHER DISRUPTION)
After a period of relative quiet, Extinction Rebellion seem to have made a comeback, this time during London Fashion Week (14-18 February). The environmental activists blocked traffic on the Strand in protest against the fashion industry’s ‘obsolescence, exploitation and overproduction’. They have also written to the British Fashion Council to ask that they cancel September’s London Fashion Week, planned for 18 to 22 September. The group have also recently staged protests at Gatwick Airport in an attempt to raise awareness of the emissions caused by the aviation industry.
And then there's this weekend's planned Tube strikes and closures (see also here). Good luck everyone.
TOWER HAMLETS LATEST
The Leader of the (two-member) Conservative group on the Tower Hamlets Council, Andrew Wood, has resigned from the party, but intends to remain on the council as an Independent in order to ensure that a formal opposition remains. In a blog post outlining the reasons for his resignation, he cites various disagreements with government decisions and policies, including its stance on Brexit. He notably says that the ‘final nail in the coffin’ was the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick’s decision to approve Westferry Printworks against the advice of his own planning inspector. Wood writes ‘the decision was so shocking I knew immediately that I had to resign.’ Wood will continue to sit on the Council as an ‘Independent Member of the Conservative Group’ for the time being, though he has asked residents to share their views on whether he should resign from the council also, triggering a by-election.
LCA is already preparing for a packed events schedule this Spring.
- First and foremost, we are busy making preparations for this year’s MIPIM Cannes event. Between 10 and 13 March, five members of our team including LDN editor Jenna Goldberg will be in the (hopefully) sunny south of France, networking, hosting events and as ever, supporting the NLA’s London Stand. This year, LCA Board Director Chris Madel even plans to join the 1,500km Knight Frank Cycle to MIPIM – a second time for him! For more information on LCA’s programme in Cannes or if you’d like to organise a meet up, please email Florence Lake.
- Closer to home, our Research Team is excited to be attending a very different kind of event: On 20 March, Nesta’s FutureFest will host talks, debates and interactive experiences seeking to answer the big questions faced by London (and the world) in the 2020s and beyond. We will definitely be at David Lammy MP’s talk on 21st century ‘tribal identities’, as well as at a debate on solving the housing crisis, featuring architects Pooja Agrawal (Co-founder of Public Practice) and Zohra Chiheb (Chair of the GLA’s London Community Led Housing Hub). We are pleased to note that our readers can get tickets to FutureFest with a £15 discount using the promo code LDN.
- And lastly, our Chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, will be at the launch of the PR Week UK Powerbook 2020, which lists him as one the top 500 practitioners in the industry.
CLUB GOLF OPENS AT COAL DROP YARD
This week we launched Club Golf – a brand-new nine-hole crazy golf course, in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross. The visually striking, bespoke outdoor course, is open from today for six weeks, so get your tickets here and begin ‘putting’ your skills to the test. Navigate stairs and obstacles, all in pursuit of that elusive hole in one. Check out our exclusive with Time Out to read more!
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LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
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