23 DAYS AND COUNTING
London’s boroughs embrace new technology! Mayor works seamlessly with Government! London’s homeless all given beds for the night!
Alas, as always, context is king and while all the above is good news, it is of course in the shadow of the driving force behind it – the global pandemic which is diverting our lives, our work and our resources in ways that a few months ago would have seemed utterly inconceivable.
As London’s public and private sectors scramble to meet the challenge, there is also a palpable sense of responsibility to keep things moving as much as possible. Below we cover a couple of South London boroughs which have done just that on important housing programmes, as well as a significant decision from the Communities Secretary to green light a major development scheme.
And some things even a pandemic can’t change. HS2 still splits opinions – an instruction to restart construction has been issued today, rekindling the debate surrounding building sites – and the Labour Party’s in-fighting rumbles on. Both stories, and much more, are covered below.
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- The Mayor's work with local councils and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to help rough sleepers self-isolate is beginning to pay off as a scheme launched three weeks ago has ensured that more than 1,000 homeless Londoners are now housed in hotels and other safe locations across the capital.
- Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan has also written to the Chancellor demanding more financial help for London’s self-employed workers, asserting that the government’s economic support package is insufficient. His letter claims that up to 290,000 Londoners, or 12% of the capital’s total workforce, are not eligible to receive any support from the scheme.
- According to City Hall’s latest update, deaths linked to the virus in London’s hospitals have reached a total of 3,224 as of yesterday afternoon – with 153 patients dying on 14 April alone.
- However, London’s new NHS Nightingale Hospital, which last week admitted its first patients, was reportedly largely empty over the Easter weekend. The 4,000-bed hospital treated only 19 patients as – encouragingly – intensive care capacity at other London hospitals did not exceed 80%.
- Public Health England has appointed Professor Kevin Fenton, previously of Southwark Council, as Regional Director for London. His local government experience will come in handy, as his role will involve helping to coordinate the efforts of City Hall and 33 Town Halls as they work to tackle the pandemic.
- As laid bare by the Chancellor at yesterday’s press conference, the economy is in for a rough ride in this quarter and beyond – and in London, we are seeing ever more reports of major employers facing real difficulties, including iconic retailers Fortnum & Mason and Debenhams, which have furloughed hundreds of staff and gone into administration respectively.
- Leading London architects are also turning to the Government’s furlough scheme, including Zaha Hadid Architects, Grimshaw, BDP and others.
- However, businesses continue to pitch in: Airbnb restricted all UK bookings to essential workers ahead of the Easter weekend. The restrictions will remain in place until at least 18 April.
- And in North London, Tottenham Hotspur F.C. has become the first Premier League club in the UK to set up a testing centre, transforming its new ground and installing equipment to ‘operate drive-through Covid-19 testing and swabbing for NHS staff, families and their dependents.’ As part of this latest initiative, the stadium will also host North Middlesex Hospital’s women’s outpatient services.
- The Guardian was meanwhile given permission by TfL to document its reduced tube service over two days, and has published an evocative photo essay, displaying eerie, near-empty London Underground stations.
'VIRTUAL' PLANNING FIRST
- The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) is believed to be the first local planning authority in London to hold a 100% virtual planning committee session. Last Thursday, its Planning Applications Committee was convened remotely, using MS Teams, to decide on several relatively minor applications involving building extensions and similar. You can view a recording here.
- A second such session was held only yesterday in neighbouring Westminster, where Planning Sub-Committee 1 met remotely to discuss a number of schemes, including some more substantial applications for all-new multi-story buildings (a recording is, unfortunately, not yet available).
- Several other remote planning committee meetings are already scheduled to take place elsewhere in London over the next couple of weeks, including sessions of Hackney’s Planning Sub-Committee, Wandsworth’s Planning Applications Committee and (again) RBKC’s Planning Applications Committee, all on Thursday 23 April, as well as Richmond’s Planning Committee on Wednesday 29 April.
- However, many local planning authorities are still weeks away from being ready to host their first ‘virtual’ meetings. While some might think arranging a meeting over videocall isn’t all that big a deal, committee meetings must also be open for the public to follow and in some cases, participate, creating a host of procedural and technical challenges. See for example how South Somerset Council’s first virtual planning committee session was last week rudely interrupted by some rather unsavoury interference.
RUMBLINGS IN THE RENTAL SECTOR
Private renters are emerging as one of the groups hardest hit by the pandemic. A recent report by the Resolution Foundation has found that they are much more vulnerable to the economic shock resulting from the Covid-19 crisis than homeowners. A poll carried out for the Guardian by Opinium meanwhile found that six in 10 renters have suffered financially as a result of the UK-wide lockdown and that one in five had been forced to ‘choose between food and bills or paying rent’. Reports are beginning to emerge of campaigning organisations calling on the government for more support and even calling for the suspension of rents for the duration of the crisis, with one online petition having already reached 100,000 signatures. Tenants and landlords alike are finding themselves under increasing strain and the issue is far from black-and-white. While many tenants in a precarious financial position are understandably distraught, many small landlords own only one or two properties, on which they depend to make a living. Meanwhile other, larger landlords are often registered housing providers who depend on market-rent homes to subsidise social rent properties. All of which forms a Catch-22 for everyone involved - one whose resolution is far from obvious.
CONSTRUCTION KERFUFFLE CONTINUED
The debate over whether building sites should remain open rages on, causing continued consternation to employers and workers alike. Last week, over 50 MPs weighed in by signing a letter written by Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, which demands further restrictions to construction activities. The letter, which was reportedly signed by MPs on a cross-party basis (including Conservatives), argues that building work ‘should be restricted to construction firms involved in supporting health, emergency services, essential post-Grenfell safety work and works essential to the public.’ According to Farron, construction work is ‘jeopardising the ability of people to follow the guidance in place to stop the spread of coronavirus’. This position is supported by the Mayor of London, who has continued to lobby the government to restrict construction activities, as well as others, including Construction News editor Lem Bingley. The Government continues to insist that its guidance offers sufficient clarity and only today gave the green light for major works to begin again for HS2. The Construction Leadership Council has meanwhile issued a third version of its Site Operating Procedures.
LONDON PROPERTY FIGHTBACK
National, regional and local authorities are primarily focused on curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and caring for those most severely affected. However, efforts are already underway, at multiple levels, to ensure that the built environment sector can play its part in getting the economy back on track once the worst of the pandemic has passed. To cite but two examples: The London Property Alliance – the joint campaigning arm of the Westminster Property Association (WPA) and City Property Association (CPA) – has over the past few weeks written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, as well as to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick with a list of recommendations on how to support both private property companies and local planning authorities as they face the pandemic’s disruption. Meanwhile, the British Property Federation (BPF) has also been coordinating efforts to understand the challenges faced by the wider sector, represent its concerns to Government, and champion its role in the UK’s economic and social recovery.
MEANWHILE, SOUTH OF THE RIVER
All the above aside, there is still plenty going on out there. In Southwark, a virtual meeting of the Council’s Cabinet has approved a list of critical items, including a public consultation on the Council’s ‘Great Estates Guarantee’, a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) in support of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre’s regeneration, and a new Council Homes Strategy to deliver on its pledge of building 11,000 new council homes for social rent between 2015 and 2043. The meeting can be watched here and full agenda and papers are here. In nearby Lambeth, Council leader Jack Hopkins has ‘signed off’ on Homes for Lambeth’s £375m three-year plan. The ambitious Business Plan provides for delivering 1,196 new homes (54% affordable) across sites large and small, as well as a £2m ‘social investment programme’ on six priority estates.
JENRICK'S LONG ARM
While we’re south of the Thames, it’s also worth noting that the Communities Secretary has approved plans for a ‘giant pair of towers’ in Lambeth, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. The plans had also been approved by the local council, but called in by then-Secretary of State James Brokenshire following objections about their scale. It appears that both the Planning Inspector appointed to examine the scheme and Robert Jenrick were less concerned about the scheme’s two towers, standing at 53 and 42 storeys and providing 257 homes (slightly less than 10% affordable on-site but more off-site), as well as new shops, offices, a hotel and a new public square.
And while on the subject of call-ins by the Communities Secretary in London, Tower Hamlets has reportedly launched an application for a judicial review against Jenrick’s consent for the 1,524-home Westferry Printworks scheme on the Isle of Dogs.
RUSKIN SQUARE GO
Schroder UK Real Estate Fund and its development manager Stanhope Plc have secured a deal with a government department to pre-let the entire 330,000 sq ft at Two Ruskin Square on a 25-year lease. Two Ruskin Square will be the second Grade A office building to be completed at the nine-acre Ruskin Square scheme, located adjacent to East Croydon station, which is already home to dining and leisure destination Boxpark, a further 100,000 sq ft of retail and restaurant space and attractive public realm. Within the pipeline, a further 550,000 sq ft of office and educational accommodation is planned across two further commercial plots. The AHMM-designed Two Ruskin Square will provide 10 floors of flexible office space with sustainability and wellbeing central to the design. Work is anticipated to start on site in the summer, subject to planning, with a practical completion target of late 2023. The deal follows the letting of One Ruskin Square, a 183,000 sq ft Grade A office, to HM Revenue & Customs in 2017.
LABOUR'S LABOURS CONTINUED
New Labour (pun intended) Leader Sir Keir Starmer MP has made further appointments to his Shadow Cabinet this week, including Mike Amesbury (MP for Weaver Vale) as Housing and Planning Minister and Kate Hollern (MP for Blackburn) as Local Government Minister. However, Starmer’s attempts to give the party a fresh start were frustrated over the weekend, after the leak of an internal report, which alleges – among other things – that senior party officials disparaged members of the party’s left wing, actively conspired to oppose then-party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and even prioritised campaign spending in seats held by MPs on the right wing of the party. While the ‘dossier’ also concludes that the party’s disciplinary cases in general had been ‘mishandled’, it is its more lurid accounts of factional strife which have drawn the most attention. Some have criticised the leaked report as ‘selective’ and have said that it was written to ‘shield’ Corbyn ‘from any blame’. Starmer and new Deputy Leader Angela Rayner have said that they would commission an independent investigation into the report.
2021 CANDIDATES LATEST
The LCA team is still keeping an eye on the major opposition candidates for the Mayoral elections now scheduled for May 2021.
- Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey wrote an article for City AM last week praising all those who have stepped forward to help during the pandemic. Bailey rather imperiously stated that ‘If you did right by Londoners during this time of crisis, I will view you favourably when I become Mayor. And my administration will also remember those who turned away in our time of need.’
- Liberal Democrat candidate Siobhan Benita has launched an online petition for supermarket workers to be paid at the London Living Wage, claiming that they are not being paid what they deserve despite putting themselves at risk daily. Additionally, the Big Issue has published an article about her new initiative, Calling with Kindness.
- Meanwhile, Independent candidate Rory Stewart has waded into the complex debate surrounding access to women-only spaces such as public toilets by transgender men who identify as women. In comments to the media, he claimed that when he was Prisons Minister, there were instances of ‘male prisoners self-identifying as females’ assaulting female staff. According to the Telegraph, a Prison Service spokesperson has said that there is no record of this happening.
STRIDES IN THE NEWS
We were delighted to help our clients Stride Treglown publicise the efforts of Associate and Architect Richard Croydon who – as reported in the AJ – took the 3D printer home from his Cardiff office and is now producing 10 masks per day for NHS staff.
Elsewhere, Business Development Director and the latest addition to Stride Treglown's Board Rachel Bell shared with readers of BD her thoughts on some of the challenges and possible positive outcomes of working from home
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