"WE WILL MEET AGAIN"
With spirits lifted ever so slightly by a sunny weekend and the Queen’s address to the nation, the capital is soldiering on.
It’s nevertheless hard not to worry, with the number of those infected and killed by the coronavirus still on the rise in the UK as a whole and especially London. All the more so, as news of the Prime Minister himself being hospitalised has created concerns about the country’s political leadership.
We duly continue to cover the latest news from the frontline in London, including some encouraging examples of how organisations across sectors are pulling together to deal with the pandemic.
But to break the grim catalogue of COVID-19 coverage, we lead today’s edition with the result of the Labour Party’s leadership contest, which heralds a significant junction for the Opposition’s ideological and political direction – and perhaps, in time, its electoral fortunes.
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NB: The title of today's edition references the Queen's speech on the coronavirus, which is worth watching if you haven't already - so don't worry, we're not going anywhere!
The Labour leadership contest concluded this weekend, with London MP Keir Starmer (Holborn & St. Pancras) elected as the leader of the party in the first round, having won 56.2% of first preference votes and the majority of votes across MPs, affiliates and party members. Rebecca Long-Bailey came second (27.6%), and Lisa Nandy third (16.2%). Meanwhile, Angela Rayner was elected Deputy Leader in the third round (52.6%). Rosena Allin-Khan came second (26.1%) and Richard Burgon third (21.3%).
Starmer’s first moves and particularly his Shadow Cabinet appointments have, naturally, been closely scrutinised – see for example Laura Kuenssberg’s early take for the BBC, Paul Waugh’s long read for HuffPost, and Sienna Rogers’ editorial comment in LabourList yesterday. While it looks very much like a deep clean, the inclusion of several ‘Corbynites’ suggests he is not (yet) plunging into the ‘purge’ that some had predicted:
- Perhaps the biggest headline is that former Party Leader Ed Miliband has returned to the front bench as Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Secretary.
- Aside from Starmer himself, several other London MPs are part of Labour’s new front bench, specifically former leadership contender Emily Thornberry (MP for Islington South and Finsbury), who is now Shadow International Trade Secretary, David Lammy (Tottenham) as Shadow Justice Secretary, Steve Reed (Croydon North) as Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) as Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Marsha de Cordova (Battersea) as Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary.
- Starmer’s two main opponents in the final stage of the leadership race were also given positions in his shadow cabinet. Lisa Nandy has replaced Thornberry as Shadow Foreign Secretary and Rebecca Long-Bailey has been moved from Business, Energy and Industry to Education.
- Other notable appointments include Thangam Debonnaire as Shadow Housing Secretary, Jim McMahon as Shadow Transport Secretary and Anneliese Dodds as in the key post of Shadow Chancellor, replacing John McDonnell who had already stood down.
'VIRTUAL' PLANNING GO
New regulations enabling ‘virtual’ meetings by local authorities, the Greater London Authority and other public bodies were released last week by the Communities Secretary and are now in force. They are significant primarily in that they allow key decision-making and scrutiny bodies, which are required by law to meet in public, to resume work under the Government's social distancing restrictions. For London’s boroughs specifically, it means that Full Council sessions and the meetings of licensing, planning and other committees can take place 100% remotely, with all participants attending through tele- or video-conferencing platforms. Individual authorities are now expected to make their own arrangements for implementing the regulations, covering everything from the particular platform used, to speaking and voting protocols. It will take time – in some cases weeks – before many public authorities are ready, from a technological and procedural standpoint, to carry out their meetings on a wholly remote basis. However, we know of multiple cases of London boroughs already scheduling their first ‘virtual’ meetings very soon indeed, including RBKC’s Planning Applications Committee (in session tomorrow) and Westminster’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee 1 (meeting next week).
Before the new regulations were in place some authorities had still managed to find ways for their committees to continue their work. Committees in Waltham Forest, Luton and elsewhere met with a minimum quorum of committee members physically present, but with applicants and the wider public attending through platforms such as MS Teams or Skype.
While the new regulations allowing for ‘virtual’ planning committees helps unlock one stage of the development process, others remain uncertain. Public consultation is one (read on for more on this) and construction is another. We reported two weeks ago that the Government’s advice on building sites and whether they can continue to operate had caused widespread confusion. The guidance initially issued by the Communities Secretary has been backed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Business Secretary, and the Construction Minister. The Construction Leadership Council has meanwhile published a first and then an updated version of Site Operating Procedures (SOP) to help clarify what sites can and cannot stay open. However, the updated SOP was hastily withdrawn amidst significant concerns that it failed to offer construction companies sufficient clarity on how to protect both their workers’ health and their business. Reports in the trade press over the past couple of weeks further underline the varying approaches taken even among industry big-hitters, from Balfour Beatty, Kier and Interserve, to Mace. Ultimately, as laid out succinctly by the Financial Times, the industry remains – unhappily – split on how to proceed.
In other news relevant to COVID-19 in London, which remains one of the epicentres of the pandemic:
- Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has only this morning warned that London is ‘nowhere near’ lifting current restrictions, saying that the capital is about ‘a week and a half’ away from the peak of the virus.
- Khan has also told Sky News that he is continuing to lobby the government to make sure that only critical construction workers are continuing to travel to work.
- Khan has also been active in calling for more support for the vulnerable and the NHS. Since our last edition, he has indicatively written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak requesting help for London’s charities and civil society organisations, written an article for the Evening Standard urging Londoners to help those at risk of food poverty, as well as encouraged people to use the #LondonTogether hashtag to highlight ‘inspiring examples of courage, kindness and generosity’ being shown amid the crisis.
- Meanwhile, in his first public statement in the role, Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley has written a comment piece for Inside Housing, outlining his immediate priorities (supporting the homeless, other vulnerable people and renters secure housing), as well as promising that City Hall is developing plans to support housebuilders overcome the financial and other hurdles created by the pandemic.
- City Hall has meanwhile committed to providing daily updates on behalf of the NHS and London Strategic Coordinating Group on the impact of COVID-19 across London. The first was published on 7 April, and the second earlier today, disclosing that the total number of reported deaths in London hospitals of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 is now 1,907 - though figures for daily deaths fell slightly from 224 on Monday to 201 on Tuesday.
- A London NHS Trust became the first to record 100 deaths from Covid-19 last week. London North West University Healthcare Trust reported that a total of 113 patients had died at its Central Middlesex Hospital, Ealing Hospital, Northwick Park Hospital and St Mark’s Hospital by 1 April. That number has now risen to 183. The next worst-hit London trusts are King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust which has recorded 163 deaths, and Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust with 151.
- Meanwhile, London’s NHS Nightingale hospital in the ExCeL exhibition centre admitted its first patients yesterday and has already recorded one death. A spokeswoman said that while critically ill people are now being treated at the Nightingale Hospital, there is still treatment capacity available in other London hospitals.
- As expected, London's health infrastructure is being pushed to the limit. The latest challenge to emerge is the increasing number of coronavirus patients needing oxygen. Hospitals have been told to have portable oxygen cylinders on standby in case piped oxygen is cut off and to consider how they would move patients out of hospital if they run out of capacity. This follows the closure of Watford General Hospital on Saturday after its oxygen supply was cut off, and the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust revealing that ventilator treatment for coronavirus patients is now limited to those ‘reasonably certain’ to survive.
- The London Ambulance Service and the London Fire Brigade have announced a new partnership to boost the emergency response to Covid-19, with a new agreement that will see 300 LFB staff driving ambulances and assist paramedics.
- More than 300 former officers have volunteered to return to active Metropolitan Police Service to help boost its numbers. Some are already in training and expected to be on the beat within days.
- The Local Government Association announced that it and other local government membership bodies - including London Councils - have teamed up with Arts Council England to support cultural organisations throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
- The sunny weekend saw Londoners flock to parks and other green spaces – with many seen to be flouting social distancing rules. Lambeth Council announced the closure of Brockwell Park on 4 April following police advice, after an estimated 3,000+ people spent the day at that the park, though it was reopened on Monday. Police officers also said they were ‘disappointed’ after over 100 people were seen picnicking and sunbathing on Primrose Hill in Camden.
- Cases such as the above have led Health Secretary Matt Hancock to warn the public this week that outdoor exercise could be banned if lockdown rules continue to be flouted, also reiterating that sunbathing in public places is against government guidance.
- Despite challenging circumstances, several major London housing associations have seen their Fitch credit ratings hold fairly steady, though some have had their outlooks shifted to negative.
- The media sector continues to suffer as a result of the pandemic, with the London-based Jewish Chronicle sadly announcing today that it is going into liquidation, as ‘it has become clear that [it] will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form.’
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on London’s public transport system, as well as its status as a hub for international travel:
- The latest Transport for London (TfL) figures have reportedly shown that daily Tube journeys are down by 94% compared to last year (though bus journeys are down by only 80%).
- The same reports suggest that Eurostar journeys are down by 99%. The company is currently only operating two return services per day and has asked ‘up to 80%’ of its employees to be placed on furlough for 12 weeks.
- Reports that as many as 14 TfL staff members have died after contracting the virus have galvanised TfL into further action, including a trial of middle-door only boarding on buses this week, among other safety measures to protect bus drivers.
- And last week, Heathrow was the latest of London’s airports to announce a major scaling back of operations as global air travel slows to a trickle, with a decision to keep only one runway in use.
Meanwhile, in news unrelated to the pandemic, conservationist and TV presenter Chris Packham has had his attempted judicial review against HS2 rejected after he sought to challenge on environmental grounds, such as its impact on woodland in Warwickshire.
- Specialist planning law firm Town Legal has announced that the government’s former chief planner, Steve Quartermain will be joining as a part-time consultant. Quartermain stepped down from his government position at the end of last month after 11 years in the job. He will commence his role at Town Legal in June.
- The London Borough of Barking & Dagenham’s Chief Operating Officer Claire Symonds is to step up to take up the Chief Executive position on interim basis, to fill in for Chris Naylor (who is being seconded to Birmingham City Council as interim CEO from June).
BUILDING SAFETY LATEST
In the midst of the pandemic (and almost three years after the Grenfell fire), the Government has revealed plans for a substantial rehaul of England’s building safety regime. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) last week published its response to the Building a Safer Future consultation and announced several new pledges and measures. Campaigners and others – including the London Fire Brigade – will have been gratified to hear that that all new residential buildings over 11 metres in height must now have sprinkler systems and ‘consistent wayfinding signage’. In its response to the consultation, as well as the recommendations previously made in the Hackitt Review, the Government has further revealed that work to establish a Building Safety Regulator has begun and that the new regulatory system will place ‘much greater responsibility on those responsible for the design, construction, occupation and refurbishment of buildings’. Developers will, for example, be required to submit a Fire Statement as part of planning applications. The Government has also heralded the establishment of a ‘new national Construction Products regulatory role’ as well as a Construction Products Standards Committee. As regards ongoing efforts to remove unsafe cladding from existing buildings, the Government has offered assurances that this remains a ‘top priority’ and announced that it has appointed independent expert Dr David Hancock to review its programme.
The National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) have now merged to form the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA). The newly-minted business association’s Chair is Jodi Berg CBE and its CEO is Ben Beadle. The NRLA’s first order of business has been to call on the Government to provide better guidance regarding the payment of rent throughout the coronavirus outbreak, after campaigners suggested that landlords should waive payments during this period. The NRLA says that ‘rent should continue to be paid where possible’. Measures to help both residential landlords and tenants alike is a particularly sensitive issue in London, given that (according to figures from Knight Frank), private renters account for 29% of all tenures in London, 10% more than in the rest of the country.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
As reported in previous editions of LDN, the LCA team is working flat out to enable our clients' public engagement programmes to continue, in compliance with social distancing rules. Through the work of our Research Team, close collaboration with our planning consultant and legal associates, as well as direct engagement with local government officials and councillors, we are mapping out the twists and turns of a shifting regulatory landscape. Meanwhile, a dedicated task force of client-facing staff, supported by our in-house Design Team, is developing and refining a range of tools allowing meaningful public engagement to continue via digital and other means. We have already deployed many of these methods on our projects, including but not limited to our work for the South East London CCG (showcased in LDN 119). We are committed to devising and delivering engagement strategies and programmes that are tailored for each of our clients as well as the boroughs and communities in which they are working. For more information on our work in this area, feel free to contact Board Director Chris Madel.
HKS ON HOSPITAL DESIGN
With COVID-19 dominating headlines, LCA has been working with the health team at HKS Architects to share their advice on how hospitals can adapt their facilities to help address it. Last week we placed an opinion piece in Building Design on how the better design of hospitals can help reduce the spread of infection. The piece, from HKS Principal and Director of Health in the firm’s London office Jane Ho, advocates the segregation of patients, independent circulation areas for medical staff and the testing of patients for Coronavirus before entering the hospitals. HKS is also investigating topics such as whether design can help overcome loneliness and how community spaces can be used to improve access to Coronavirus testing.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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