As communications experts, we're not sure we would have advised the Prime Minster to brief the nation a full news cycle before setting out the background detail, but it has meant that, like most of you, we have spent the first half of the week getting to grips with the ‘roadmap’ and the latest guidance.
The extension of the furlough scheme and today’s housing market guidance have been particularly notable and in this edition, we focus on the MHCLG intervention plus the latest from the capital’s beleaguered transport sector.
Along with the latest and upcoming virtual planning committees, we also take a look at the councils pressing ahead with their Annual General Meetings, with many set to take place this week.
In the midst of all this, we also pause to reflect on what is not happening as planned: The London Mayoral and Assembly elections would have taken place last week – and yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Assembly’s first rambunctious meeting. We are pleased to be supporting a new research project led by Centre for London and the LSE’s Professor Tony Travers, which seeks to explore the past, present and future of City Hall, even as we all look forward to a postponed election in a year’s time.
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- This week, the Government published its long-awaited ‘road map’ for gradually lifting the coronavirus lockdown in three phases. Those who are not able to work from home, including those working in sectors such as construction, are advised to go to work – assuming their work-places can be made ‘coronavirus-safe’. The Government has also published guidelines on making workplaces ‘covid secure’.
- In a notably measured response to the new guidance, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has reiterated to Londoners that social distancing guidelines are still in place and that the lockdown has not been lifted as such. He also urged the Government to ‘continue to work with employers, employees and trades unions to design a proper plan for how we can keep everyone safe as they return to work.’
- The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has responded to the publication of the new guidance by advising businesses to carefully examine it in order to ‘adequately prepare’ and not to reopen workplaces until they ‘feel totally ready and with their employees as assured as possible about the plans for that return to work’.
- While many restrictions on spending time outdoors have been lifted, bodies responsible for maintaining London’s key open spaces, including The Royal Parks, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, have published an open letter warning that parks could close if people do not maintain social distancing rules.
- The New West End Company has meanwhile announced that it is preparing for reopening and has set out rules for its 600 shops to ensure social distancing can be observed, including cutting opening hours and abandoning in-store promotions.
- Ahead of the publication of the government advice, Heathrow Airport announced that it will be trialling temperature screening technology to monitor people moving through the airport for symptoms of coronavirus. UK airlines have now been toldthat – probably from the end of the month - anyone arriving in the UK from any country apart from the Republic of Ireland will likely have to self-isolate for 14 days.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps yesterday unveiled new safe travel guidance for those who cannot work from home. Recommendations for passengers include wearing a face covering and avoiding peak times where possible.
- Following the PM’s announcement on Sunday, Transport for London (TfL) said that it is ‘working to safely and gradually build up service levels to where they were before the pandemic’, but highlighted that there will need to be ‘significant changes’ to travel in London, as services’ capacity will have to be reduced by over 85% in order to adhere to social distancing rules.
- According to the latest figures, there has already been a 9% increase in passengers on the Tube compared to last week.
- It was reported this week that TfL expects to lose £4bn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the network awaits agreement on a bailout from the Government. It is expected that any agreement between TfL and the Government would be accompanied by ‘strict conditions’ which may affect planned capital projects such as the Bakerloo line extension. The Government has already allocated £30m to light rail systems in the North and Midlands.
- Crossrail published its April update at the end of last week in which it said that it had handed over Custom House station to TfL. Following the PM’s announcement on Sunday, Crossrail Ltd said that it is developing plans to resume work on its building sites.
- At the weekend, Shapps announced a £2bn national package to support walking and cycling, including the creation of bike lanes and wider pavements. With London authorities already undertaking work in this area, they will surely welcome this support.
- A YouGov poll commissioned by London First has found that 22% of Londoners plan to work from home more often after the current lockdown is lifted, while 16% said that they would not use public transport ‘for the foreseeable future’.
NATIONAL PLANNING UPDATE
Following the more high-profile Government announcements on easing lockdown regulations gradually, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced a series of new measures intended to 're-start the housing market' in a manner which still adheres to social distancing rules. The press release from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) suggests that these new plans will affect almost every stage of the housing pipeline, from planning through to sales and moving into new properties. MHCLG has followed this up with a series of more detailed updates and guidance documents, which will have a profound effect on how planning and development is carried out across England. See for example a wide-ranging planning update, which heralds – among other things – new guidelines for greater flexibility on planning consultation and publicity requirements, as well as on Community Infrastructure Levy payments (more detail on the latter here). This update also underlines that the Government has no intention to change some things: it still expects planning authorities to push forward with any draft Local Plans and will not be changing the determination timescales for planning applications (meaning that applicants will still have the option to appeal to the Secretary of State on the grounds of non-determination).
REMOTE PLANNING LATEST
Remote planning committee sessions are meanwhile becoming the norm across London and at least 25 such sessions have been held in the capital since last month, by more than half of London’s boroughs. Since our last edition alone, ‘virtual’ planning committees have been convened by Croydon, Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster (all three of which had previously held remote committees) and Lambeth (its first). Today, planning committees are being convened remotely by Barnet (its first) and Richmond-upon-Thames (its second). Looking ahead, at least 17 more such sessions will have been held in London by our next edition on 20 May. It’s worth highlighting that the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) will be considering several applications linked to HS2’s proposed Old Oak Common Station in its first ‘virtual’ session, to be held on 19 May. The remote planning process followed by both the OPDC and the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) differs from that of London’s boroughs, as the Statutory Instrument allowing councils to hold full committee sessions remotely does not cover Mayoral Development Corporations, meaning that they had to develop alternative approaches centred on delegated decision-making (see details here and here).
LONDON BOROUGH AGMs
It’s not just planning committees being held remotely these days: London’s boroughs are holding a variety of meetings ‘virtually’, including plenary meetings of their full council. In fact, London finds itself smack in the middle of what is traditionally Annual General Meeting (AGM) season. This is a major milestone of the local government calendar, as it tends to be the time when councils (and in the capital specifically, the regional London Assembly) approve any major changes to their leadership, cabinet, committees, and constitution. The pandemic has this year thrown a spanner in the works, with most boroughs initially cancelling AGMs scheduled for April or May. Meanwhile the London Mayoral and Assembly elections set for 7 May were postponed for a year, playing havoc with the Assembly’s calendar in more ways than one. However, many boroughs and the Assembly have since bounced back and by our count, slightly less than half of the total are currently planning to hold their AGM over the next couple of months.
As previously reported by LDN, Lambeth was ahead of its peers, with a session held over MS Teams back on 22 April. You can watch a recording of that meeting here. This week sees the rest of London starting to catch up, with three AGMs due today alone, in Barking & Dagenham, Bromley, and Greenwich. Tomorrow sees one more in Hillingdon and Friday will also see the London Assembly hold the AGM for its unexpectedly extended term. Another six council AGMs are scheduled for next week, with a handful of others also scheduled between the last week of May and July. As all councils are squarely focused on tackling the pandemic, we can expect most of these AGMs to be relatively sedate affairs, with relatively few changes announced – but then again, you never know! Even so, almost two thirds of the boroughs’ have postponed their AGMs even further. While some are likely to hold their AGMs in a few months’ time, others have simply opted to defer theirs by a full year – such as Hounslow, where cross party agreement has been reached to postpone their AGM to May 2021.
KHAN BAGS STAG WHILE TULIP SLIPS
The Mayor has called-in proposals for a development on the Stag Brewery site in Richmond. The plans, for 633 homes, were granted permission by the Council in January, though just 17% of the proposed homes will be affordable and despite concerns by some councillors and others regarding the density of the proposed development and its impact on nearby roads. A date for the public hearing has not yet been set. Meanwhile, the public inquiry into the Mayor’s decision to overturn the approval of the controversial Tulip tower has been delayed. The Mayor overturned the City of London’s decision in July last year over concerns regarding the design of the proposed tower, as well as its impact on London’s skyline and nearby heritage buildings. Developer J Safra Group launched an appeal against the decision, noting the public benefits of the proposals, but the inquiry, originally scheduled for June, will now take place in November. The final decision will be made by the Communities Secretary.
LANDSEC ANNOUNCE ITS ANNUAL RESULTS
On Tuesday, LCA’s client Landsec announced its annual results for the financial year ended 31 March 2020, in a pre-recorded presentation and live Q&A session chaired by new Chief Executive Mark Allan. Having only joined the business in April 2020, Allan reflected on the extraordinary circumstances facing both Landsec and the real estate sector generally, noting that the effects of Covid-19 are ‘accelerating ongoing structural trends’ in the industry. One of these trends is certainly the future of London’s retail space, something the company has championed previously, as part of its ‘Reimagining empty retail space: transforming UK towns and cities for future communities’ report (published February 2020) and will be engaging London stakeholders further on in the coming months. In the immediate term, the business also reaffirmed some of the measures it has taken in response to Covid-19 and to support its retail occupiers, including an £80m rent relief fund alongside broader options of rent deferrals and monthly payments. Looking to the future and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, Allan also stated that the business would ‘continue to lead the sector on major issues such as climate change’ and despite the challenges ‘remain committed to acting as a force for good in the communities in which we operate.’
- We were pleased to support our clients Quintain announce this week that they will be joined by Philip Slavin as their new Chief Financial Officer. Philip comes from Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and will oversee Quintain’s treasury and financial functions, which in turn support the company’s operating divisions, including Build to Rent, retail, development and estate management.
- Paul Massara is now the Chair of Sovereign Housing Association, replacing Gordon Holdcroft who stepped down after 10 years.
- Richard Smith has been appointed managing director for new homes (London) at Catalyst.
- Westminster City Council’s Director of Policy, Performance and Communications Julia Corkey will be leaving the borough after 20 years service. Corkey will be returning to her native Northern Ireland where, starting in July, she will be the new chief executive of Belfast's International Convention Centre (ICC) Belfast, Waterfront Hall and Ulster Hall.
CITY ELECTION CONFUSION
The election of 100 councillors to the City of London Corporation’s Common Council, planned for March 2021, may be moved as a result of the ‘uncertainty’ caused by COVID-19. A report prepared for the City’s Policy and Resources Committee explains that the elections can either be moved to coincide with the rescheduled Assembly and Mayoral elections in May or to July. The report states that there would be a ‘number of complications’ if they were moved to May, as residents of the City would be required to vote twice in two different locations. It also explains that this would be ‘difficult for the Elections Team to administer’ and ‘there would be additional cost’. The report therefore recommends that the Common Council elections either take place in March as planned, or are rescheduled to July. While the full minutes and recording of the meeting have yet to be published, we understand that the Committee agreed that the elections should not be held on the same day as the London Mayoral and Assembly elections, but deferred a final decision until a later meeting.
Residents have approved plans by Tower Hamlets Council – designed by PRP – to redevelop the Clichy Estate in Stepney in London’s latest estate regeneration ballot (they are now a prerequisite for Mayoral funding). The plans will replace three existing council blocks, Harriot, Apsley and Pattison Houses with 450 units, 79 of which will be replacement homes for existing tenants and resident leaseholders. A minimum of 35% of the additional homes will be affordable in order to contribute to the council’s target of 50% affordable homes. The designs by PRP are for a series of mid-rise blocks and landscaped spaces including trees, grassed areas and children’s play areas. 132 residents were eligible to vote and the ballot saw a turnout of more than 90%, with more than 98% voting in favour.
FROM KEN TO KHAN (AND BEYOND)
Last Thursday, Londoners would normally have cast their ballots in the sixth Mayoral and Assembly elections held since the establishment of the Greater London Authority (GLA) in 1999. While the poll has been postponed to next May due to you-know-what, Centre for London has launched a new research project to celebrate the occasion. As a geographically-focused PR agency founded in the same year as City Hall, LCA is truly delighted to be sponsoring this effort, alongside several of our long-standing clients and associates. The project will look back at how the GLA has performed under three Mayors over the past 20 years, but also ahead, to the future of the mayoralty in an increasingly uncertain environment. In collaboration with LSE's Professor Tony Travers, Centre for London will be publishing this project's findings in a new book, featuring contributions by several academic experts and veterans of London politics. For more details, visit Centre for London's website.
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