ONE STEP AT A TIME
In an alternate universe the team at LCA would have been getting inordinately excited about tomorrow’s Mayoral and London Assembly election, while preparing briefings and blogs to analyse the results and wondering if it was going to be Sadiq’s day as expected.
In that universe, presumably, Rory Stewart would be a nervous wreck, wondering if his walks around town and handshakes with the hoi polloi were enough. But in this universe, the one where the phrases ‘unprecedented times’ and ‘virtual glass of wine’ are well-worn clichés, Rory can relax. Following his decision to cancel his candidacy, there are no more handshakes for him and no way to know what they were worth to the voters.
At some point, we hope, the two universes shall meet. As the tragic death toll plateaus and the lockdown’s restrictions are gradually lifted, COVID-19 will start to seem like part of the journey rather than a grand aberration from it. We are beginning to see some early signs, as construction sites re-open, local authorities wrap their heads around new planning-from-home processes and organisations across all sectors start to set out how we make good from this when it comes to tackling climate change, saving our high streets and town centres and figuring out how to keep a roof over everyone’s head. All of which is covered below.
Finally, we were saddened to hear that Councillor Christine Grice, the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, passed away last week, following her battle with cancer.
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RORY WALKS... OFF STAGE
Just a day before the London Mayoral and Assembly elections were originally meant to take place, Independent Mayoral candidate Rory Stewart has announced that he will no longer be running in 2021, citing the difficulties of sustaining a campaign for an unexpectedly extended period of time. The Evening Standard has the exclusive. When Stewart swept into the race last October, his lively canvassing, including trademark ‘walks’ around London and the ‘Come Kip with Me’ initiative, won him reams of press coverage and reinvigorated a race that had been shaping up to be a shoo-in for incumbent Sadiq Khan. Despite the late entry, early polls showed Stewart in third place, after Khan and the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey. Of course, many speculated that Stewart was more of a threat to Bailey, the Lib Dems and even the Greens, all of whom had already been languishing in the polls. The question now is where Stewart’s prospective voters will go (and whether we will see any more entrants to the race by next May).
- This year’s Mayoral elections would have come a day before the Victory in Europe Day Bank Holiday this Friday. Scheduled VE day events in London such as a procession down The Mall and a service at Westminster Abbey have of course been cancelled, though the Queen will give a televised speech, the Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will fly over Buckingham Palace and Katherine Jenkins is set to perform a concert behind closed doors at the Royal Albert Hall, to be streamed online, to mark the occasion.
- The NFL has decided this week that the four games scheduled to take place in London this year will be moved back to the US as a result of the pandemic. Executive Vice President Christopher Halpin said governmental and stadium partners in the UK are in agreement with the decision.
- It was reported this week that the coronavirus death toll in London has now surpassed that of the Blitz, with the worst-hit boroughs being Newham, Brent and Hackney.
- However, it appears that as of Sunday, the North West of England overtook London for the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals – with 2,191 hospitalised in the North West, against 2,033 people in London.
- Indeed, with the number of daily fatalities in London falling since mid-April and the infection rate apparently decreasing, London's Nightingale Hospital located in the ExCeL Centre is reportedly being ‘placed on standby’.
- It is therefore no surprise that attention is increasingly turning to when and how the lockdown will be lifted in London, with both Sadiq Khan and Policy Chief at the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuinness among those calling for a gradual easing of the social distancing measures, including staggering workers’ shifts to ensure there is no ‘rush hour’.
- Some members of the public are getting rather (and rather dangerously) impatient. The Met had to break up a small crowd of around 20 people gathered in front of Scotland Yard for a ‘group hug’ to protest the lockdown this weekend.
- Sadiq Khan has meanwhile launched a new £2.3m emergency fund to support culture and creative industries at risk due to the impact of coronavirus and has also invested a further £1.5m in safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse.
- Inside Housing reports that, according to a letter from Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley to Green AM and Mayoral candidate Sian Berry, the GLA is in talks with developers “to explore what scope exists” for converting any unsold new builds to affordable tenures or diverting them for use by key workers.
- The government meanwhile appears to have acknowledged that Khan may have had a point in the debate over whether the wider public should wear face coverings when out and about, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirming that masks are being stockpiled for the general public and Boris Johnson’s comments last week, to the effect that people should wear face masks when they return to work.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
Indeed, the future of public transport – and the practicalities to ensure that people can commute safely to work post-lockdown – continues to be a central issue in wider discussions about easing social distancing in the weeks ahead:
- A leaked TfL report has concluded that Tube passenger numbers will have to be ‘severely reduced’ in order to adhere to social distancing rules. TfL has insisted that, in order to cope, those who are able to work from home may have to continue to do so ‘for some time yet’. Writing in City A.M., the Mayor has said that ‘no one should expect to see a swift return to how it was before the crisis’.
- The GLA has meanwhile announced a new ‘Streetspace Plan’ to create temporary cycle paths and widen pavements in order to offer Londoners alternatives to public transport as well as allow for better social distancing. Such measures have already been implemented in other cities such Berlin and Paris, while closer to home, Lambeth, Hackney and Croydon Councils are among boroughs that have already started on their own projects to encourage walking and cycling.
- As for London’s airports, British Airways has this week said that its operations out of Gatwick may never resume, while Virgin Atlantic has announced that it will end its operation at the airport. Gatwick has said, however, that it still intends to push forward with its plans for a second runway as part of its ‘long term recovery from the crisis’.
- Demonstrators have meanwhile blocked access to several HS2 building sites, arguing that the work is non-essential. The project continues to slowly but surely press on with The Times reporting that HS2 Ltd has put several contracts out to tender for the laying of tracks. In other relevant news, the project’s CEO has suggested that HS2’s stations may have to be redesigned in order to adjust to social distancing requirements.
- And finally, for any Londoners who are missing their pre-pandemic commute, TfL have come up with a series of backgrounds for your now frequent video calls to (almost) recreate the experience, much to Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley’s delight.
BUILDING SITES LATEST
The protests taking place at HS2 sites come as more and more construction sites in London and the rest of the country are reopened. Trade body Build UK last week revealed that major contractors are now working on nearly 70% of their sites. This week, housing associations and housebuilders across England, including in London have reportedly begun reopening construction sites with new safety measures implemented, in response to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick urging them to do so.
KHAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
The Mayor has quietly published a letter to the Communities Secretary, formally acknowledging Robert Jenrick’s response to his Intend to Publish draft of the London Plan. In March, Jenrick had delivered a scathing critique, not only of the draft Plan, but of Khan’s record as Mayor. Khan’s responding letter suggests he refuses to be baited and is markedly (and perhaps untypically) deferential in the interest of ‘work[ing] together constructively to publish the London Plan as quickly as possible.’ Turning the other cheek, Khan by-passes Jenrick’s criticisms to focus on taking up the Secretary of State’s offer to discuss ‘alternative changes to policy’ (i.e. negotiate the finer points of the changes Jenrick has directed). Of course, the Mayor may yet put up a fight but clearly there are things (well, money) he desperately needs from Government as he considers London’s economic recovery from the pandemic. The letter tells us little about when the long-awaited new London Plan will actually be adopted, but it does signal that the process is back on the move.
CAMBERWELL UNION NO
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Jenrick has once again struck in London, dismissing Peachtree Services’ appeal against the refusal of the Camberwell Union scheme by Southwark Council, on the grounds of non-compliance with minimum space standards and an insufficiency of amenity space. The plans foresaw 499 new homes (35% affordable) and a ‘creative hub’ providing workspace for a variety of businesses, across 13 blocks ranging from two to 12 storeys high, at Burgess Business Park.
GRAHAME PARK GO
It has been reported that the GLA has approved plans for the redevelopment of Grahame Park Estate in Barnet. Applicants Choices for Grahame Park and Notting Hill Genesis said that they have now been granted the green light by City Hall after Barnet Council approved the proposals in March, though as clarified by Inside Housing, City Hall has more specifically confirmed that it ‘will not intervene’ in the local authority’s decision to approve the scheme. The plans include more than 2,000 homes, 1,000 of which will be affordable, including 346 for social rent. Almost 6,000 sq m of non-residential floorspace, as well as community facilities, green spaces and play areas. In 2017 the Mayor rejected different plans for the estate due to a loss of social rented housing.
THE ASSEMBLY RETURNS
After more than a month of relative inactivity, the first virtual meeting of the London Assembly has been scheduled for tomorrow (7 May). The GLA Oversight Committee, the first Assembly meeting since March, is set to focus on the Mayor’s response to COVID-19, though much to the frustration of some AMs, the Mayor himself will not be present, a matter which the Conservative group’s leader, AM Susan Hall, called ‘completely outrageous’. Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidgeon and Green AM Sian Berry have also called for the Mayor to appear in front of the Assembly. Khan will instead be represented by Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience Fiona Twycross, who is currently a member of the pan-London Strategic Coordination Group (SCG). A spokesman for the Mayor said that he cannot attend given that he is ‘exceptionally busy’ but said that he will appear at a Mayor’s Question Time session later in the month (though, judging by the Assembly’s calendar, this has not yet been formally scheduled).
VIRTUAL PLANNING COMMITTEES
Despite all the talk of easing Britain out of lockdown, we are still many weeks – indeed, probably months – away from the planning process returning to normal. London’s local planning authorities are starting to get the hang of holding planning committees remotely using videoconferencing platforms. According to our count, of London’s 35 local planning authorities (i.e. 32 boroughs, the City of London Corporation and the two Mayoral Development Corporations) 16 have held at least one to date, a further 17 have formally scheduled one to take place in the coming weeks and only two remain TBC (Bexley and the OPDC). Boroughs that have held a ‘virtual’ planning committee since our last edition include Camden, which held its first last Thursday; Southwark, which held its second on Monday; Greenwich and Waltham Forest, which held their first and second respectively yesterday; and Brent, which only today held its first. It is notable that while some of London’s first virtual planning committee sessions have focused on smaller, non-contentious schemes, others have tackled some literally ground-breaking stuff: see for example last week’s session of Westminster’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee 2, which approved Reef Group’s plans for the redevelopment of the underground car park under Cavendish Square into a £150m subterranean healthcare and entertainment complex.
Upcoming planning committees in London include (tomorrow) Croydon’s second remote session, and (next week) Barnet and the City of London’s first. However, planning committees remain but one part of a long and complicated process. Read on for other news on the less visible but equally important work carried out by the ‘back office’ of London’s local planning authorities.
- The Government's Ministerial lineup has seen a few changes over recent days, with Conor Burns MP resigning as Minister of State for International Trade (to be replaced by Ranil Jayawardena MP) and Nadine Dorries MP being promoted within the Department for Health to full Minister of State.
- Nickie Aiken, MP for Cities of London & Westminster and former leader of Westminster City Council, has been appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
- Labour party General Secretary Jennie Formby, a close ally of former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, has announced her resignation, citing a change in leadership as the reason for her departure. The news comes as new Leader and London MP Keir Starmer continues to build his top team.
- Tom Watson, former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, became Chair of UK Music in March. Last week he lent his support to a campaign to protect music venues in the capital, though many seem less than elated with his new role as a spokesperson for their sector.
- Quintain has appointed Richard Poyser, formerly of Legal & General Investment Management Real Assets and Argent, as Head of Retail Leasing and Asset Management.
OTHER PLANNING NEWS
London’s planning authorities are striving to continue to deliver a host of functions besides committee meetings, as illustrated by a recent video update from Alastair Moss, Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Planning & Transportation Committee and a WPA podcast featuring Councillor Matthew Green, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Business & Planning. One area of particular interest to us and our clients has been how to deliver meaningful and genuine public consultation during the lockdown's restrictions. Ealing Council, to cite one example in London, has opted to extend schemes’ formal consultation period from the statutory minimum of 21 days to 42, among a range of other measures listed in a dedicated Planning Position Statement. Further afield – specifically across the Irish Sea – Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Department has released guidance temporarily removing the requirement to hold public events for major planning applications, provided alternative forms of ‘active pre-application public engagement’ are put in place. For more on LCA’s own approach to reaching people at home during the lockdown, see our latest blog here, or get in touch with Account Director Sam Cranston.
TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER
We reported last week on a Future of London conference focusing on climate change and its impact on the built environment (which can now be viewed online) and have observed with interest how environmental sustainability is beginning to return to the headlines. The London Assembly has published a report outlining what current and future Mayors need to do to combat the climate emergency in the capital. They make a number of recommendations, including establishing a dedicated workstream within Skills for Londoners to focus on building skills and workforce capacity in the retrofit and energy efficiency sector. Meanwhile, the Committee on Climate Change has written to Boris Johnson on how climate policy can play a core part in rebuilding Britain’s economy as a whole after the COVID-19 crisis, arguing that actions towards net-zero emissions and to limit the damages from climate change will ‘help rebuild the UK with a stronger economy and increased resilience’.
HIGH STREETS FIGHT BACK
The challenges faced by retail and high streets in a time of shifting consumer behaviours have only been compounded by the pandemic. Last week, representatives of the British Property Federation (BPF) and other sector associations warned the Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that high streets are urgently in need of more Government support. Meanwhile, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has published a report arguing that planning rules for use change should be eased to allow high streets to adapt. Fortunately, we have seen some positive developments on this front, including reports that the Government is mulling a proposed ‘furloughed space grant scheme’, the announcement of a top-up for existing local business grant funding schemes for SMEs totalling up to £617m, plus a relatively paltry (if still welcome) £6.1m boost for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across England.
We have been particularly impressed with how BIDs have pivoted to digital programmes even while facing huge challenges, as demonstrated by a range of efforts launched by the sector in London: see for example Camden Town Unlimited's support hub and blog series, Croydon BIDs' #Raisethebar campaign, the New West End Company’s regular updates and webinars and the South Westminster group of BIDs’ online events programme. We also highly recommend listening to NLA’s latest podcast featuring Ruth Dunston, Managing Director of Primera, which runs a dozen BIDs across London.
HAYES DAVIDSON 5K RUN
On Thursday 14 May LCA client Hayes Davidson would have been hosting and running the HD5K in Hyde Park to raise awareness for (MND) Motor Neurone Disease. In its place they have decided to ask their supporters to run a 5K during the month of May to raise awareness. The LCA team is taking up the mantle and so far a third of our team has agreed to take part. If you would like to join us please share a photo of you on your run / walk on social media using @HayesDavidson and @MNDAssoc along with #HD5KVirtual so that we can all be in it together! And if you would like to support through donations you can do so here HD5K Virtual - Just Giving Campaign.
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.