A PHASE TWO SUMMER
With everyone keen to see the pandemic consigned to the past, the economy restarted and the achievement of a ‘new normal’ that is better than the old one, this has been a week of contradictions (and much political point-scoring).
In today’s edition, we cover the ever-changing list of socially-distanced do’s and don’ts, the latest from City Hall and Transport for London, planning and development news, as well as sobering stories that shine a light on the injustices faced by many Londoners.
But first, a personal note from LCA Executive Chairman Robert Gordon Clark:
"On Saturday 23 May I spent two hours walking around central London between the peak hours of 11am and 1pm. It was my first, and so far only time in the capital since Thursday 12 March when my last meeting in town was a presentation to the London Boroughs’ Chief Executives at Lambeth Town Hall. I don’t think I have ever spent that long – 10 weeks – away since I started working on the London scene 30 years ago. Every street I walked down was deserted - I didn’t need to wait a second to photograph an empty Oxford Street or Regent Street or Piccadilly. A single man was standing on the steps of Eros, looking lost and lonely. I even heard the church bells chime in Soho – something you might catch on Christmas Day but no other. The most common sight was the endless, simple and rapidly produced signs in shop windows explaining that they were closed. It was all very moving and disturbing.
Ten days later and the signs of the old London life are starting to appear with the news below of places re-opening, sport about to start and more. Locked down in Wiltshire, I can only watch this from a distance for now, but like many others the desire to commune with colleagues, friends and family in London is growing.
So if ever there was a time when politicians of all views should come together at national, regional and local government level and work with the private and voluntary sectors, it is now. There are promising signs of that cooperation and co-ordination and we will be tracking the progress carefully in the weeks and months ahead."
KHAN COMES OUT SWINGING
Over the past week, the Mayor has issued a series of announcements on new City Hall initiatives as well as multiple calls-to-action to the Government. He broadcast £9m made available to enable skills providers to offer their courses online for those who have been unable to access required training. He also announced that vulnerable GLA staff, including Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees, will have access to risk COVID-19 assessments (more on this issue in Caught Our Eye, below). Additionally, the Mayor urged the Government to lift the benefit cap after research commissioned by City Hall showed that it is preventing low-income families from accessing Government support. Khan has also redoubled his calls for the Government to increase protections for private renters who are at risk of eviction, when court proceedings resume on 25 June.
Furthermore, Khan has requested that the Government soften some of the requirements of the Transport for London (TfL) bailout agreement, including calling on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to abandon plans to suspend free TfL travel for under 18s. On which point…
…the full terms of TfL’s £1.6bn bailout agreement with the Department for Transport, listed in a letter by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, have finally been published along with the papers and agenda for yesterday’s TfL Board meeting. According to a Mayoral spokesperson cited by City AM, the letter proves that the Government wants Londoners to shoulder a significant proportion of the bailout’s costs, through conditions including a demand that TfL ‘urgently bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of’ the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and congestion charge. Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey meanwhile continues to insist that it is the Mayor who is responsible for having ‘bankrupted’ TfL and for increasing the congestion charge specifically – even launching a petition to ‘Stop Sadiq Khan's Anti-Business Congestion Charge Hike’. Beyond the political blame game, there is much in the bailout terms worth considering. Take for example the imposition of so-called ‘Special Representatives’ on TfL’s Board, Finance Committee and Programmes & Investment Committee, and plans for an ‘immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL's future financial position and future financial structure’. For more on these bailout terms’ wider implications for TfL and London as a whole, see a new article by our Executive Chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, for OnLondon.
And then there’s TfL’s new Emergency Budget, which was the main item on the agenda for yesterday’s Board meeting. The session, as ever presided over by Khan as Chair of TfL – and the last to be attended by Commissioner Mike Brown – laid bare the huge challenges faced by London’s public transport system. While Khan’s critics may dismiss his expressions of outrage at the terms of the Government’s bailout as partisan, the session indicated that TfL officials and Board members are equally dismayed, at a financial support package that has come substantially later and with far more strings attached than those extended to other transport companies. Ultimately, if our review of the three-hour session told us anything, it is that that TfL remains very much in fire-fighting mode, with any questions about its long-term future still hanging in the balance.
ABOUT THOSE BOARDS...
The Transport Secretary’s letter also provided some more clues about another key element of TfL’s bailout, namely the ‘London Covid Transport Task Force’ (though its detailed terms of reference, briefly mentioned in the letter, do not appear to have been published). This joint body, staffed by TfL and Government representatives, is assigned a wide purview, spanning everything from signing off on plans for ‘traffic demand management’ and bringing service levels back to 100%, to assessing ‘absence rates for [TfL] staff’ and ‘the operational performance of the London transport system’. The letter also states that the Task Force will remain in place for the duration of the Support Period [i.e. 1 April to 17 October 2020] unless agreed otherwise by DfT and TfL.’ But this is only one of several new interagency bodies to have been announced recently by the Government and City Hall.
As reported in our last edition, plans for two more such committees, namely a ‘London Transition Board’ and a separate ‘London Recovery Board’, were launched on 22 May with no advance notice and with a total lack of fanfare. A full week-and-a-half later, we still know little more than the basics about their members and terms of responsibility. With the first steps towards easing the lockdown well underway and key sectors of the city’s partly shuttered economy already setting out their own plans for reopening (more on this below), one wonders when these Boards will acquire flesh and bones.
YES HE KHAN!
The Mayor has approved a sizeable loan facility for Mount Anvil, intended to help the London-focused housing developer ‘accelerate the purchase of new sites and deliver an increased number of new quality homes’. Mount Anvil is being extended the £50m commercial loan to help speed up the construction of the next 2,000 homes in its pipeline. The money will be ‘drawn down in stages starting in June 2020 and repaid on a project by project basis following sales completions’ and should be ‘fully repaid by 28 February 2030, unless otherwise agreed by GLA Land and Property.’ According to the Mayor’s press release, the decision ‘confirm[s] his commitment to helping the capital’s construction and housing sector bounce back from Coronavirus.’ It will be interesting to see if any more deals like this will be announced soon.
WHERE ARE WE ANYWAY?
- The Prime Minister announced a move to ‘phase 2’ of the current lockdown on 28 May. Changes include the ability to meet in groups of six outside while social distancing and the reopening of non-essential shops from 15 June.
- In London, TfL has released guidance for safe travel, while also announcing that bus passengers will now be able to board via the front doors.
- Schools reopened to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 students on 1 June and in London, the majority of schools appear to have reopened, with approximately 80% of schools reopening in boroughs such as Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Camden and Wandsworth. Those that remain closed will open next week at the earliest, with others aiming for 15 June. Social distancing measures are of course in place, with members of staff at many schools donning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and some schools even having temperature checks for students in place.
- With the new rules allowing the reopening of outdoor markets, Camden Market reopened on 1 June with social distancing measures in place including a one-way system and hand sanitiser stations.
- Brick Lane Market and Columbia Road Flower Market remain closed as Tower Hamlets Council is staggering the reopening of markets in the borough.
- The New West End Company (NWEC) has unveiled plans for the reopening of non-essential shops, including guidance regarding social distancing measures and the provision of PPE for staff. They have also worked with Westminster City Council (WCC), which has announced plans to increase space for pedestrians on both Oxford and Regent Street.
- Meanwhile, Soho Estates are seeking permission from WCC to approve the temporary pedestrianisation of parts of Soho so that restaurants are able to offer outdoor seating.
- As for sport, the Premier League has announced that matches will resume behind closed doors from 17 June, though the Mayor continues to oppose this over safety concerns. He has pointed specifically to worries about ‘fans congregating’ at the upcoming Tottenham v Arsenal match.
- In the arts and culture world, the London Palladium is being used to pilot a scheme to trial how social distancing will work in theatres.
- Camden, Hackney, Barnet and Newham Councils have meanwhile been asked by the Government to work on plans to control any new outbreaks of COVID-19 in the capital, as part of the Government’s ‘test and trace’ programme. The group, led by Camden, will work with the NHS and others to develop ‘tailored outbreak control plans’ and then share best practice with the rest of London’s boroughs.
- Emma Williamson has been appointed Director of Planning at the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC). She is currently Assistant Director of Planning, Building Standards and Sustainability at the London Borough of Haringey and will start her new role in early August.
- Meanwhile, the process for selecting the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President is underway. 1 July is the deadline for candidates to declare, with the election set from 14 July to 4 August. Simon Allford, co-founder of AHMM, is the latest to throw his hat into the ring.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has sparked outrage and protests across the world. Thousands joined protests in central London and outside the US Embassy over the weekend. While Floyd’s death has rekindled the concerns about discriminatory policing in Western countries more specifically, the pandemic has also served to highlight other ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities. As noted above, the Mayor has repeatedly spoken out on this issue, calling on the Government to investigate the apparently disproportionate impact of the virus on BAME communities, which comprise more than 40% of London’s population. And only this week, Public Health England (PHE) published a report reviewing the available data on disparities in the risks and impact of COVID-19, confirming that people from BAME backgrounds are among those most susceptible to the virus and its effects. Ethnicity aside, the PHE report points to a range of other socioeconomic and occupational factors that have a significant impact on the risks associated with COVID-19. Here in London, the Mayor has already commissioned UCL to conduct research investigating the risks faced by transport workers. LDN readers involved in the built environment sector should also be particularly concerned that the PHE report, as well as ONS statistics published earlier this month, have identified construction workers as among the hardest hit occupational groups.
Further details of Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick’s now-quashed decision to grant permission for the Westferry Printworks scheme have emerged. As explained in last week’s edition of LDN, the decision was challenged by Tower Hamlets Council, which claimed that it had been timed ‘to help the developer save money’ as the Council was set to change its Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charging schedule. The story first came to light a couple of weeks ago, but was initially overshadowed by the allegations that Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules. Now, several publications – from the Financial Times to The Guardian – have reported that the individual behind the proposals to redevelop the Printworks, Richard Desmond, is a Conservative Party donor and also allegedly lobbied Jenrick at the Carlton Club dinner in November. A spokesman has said that while Desmond did bring up the planning application at the dinner, Jenrick insisted that ‘it would not be appropriate for them to discuss the matter’ or for him to ‘pass comment on it’. The Labour Party has written to the Cabinet Office to call for an investigation into the matter, with Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning Mike Amesbury demanding that relevant documents regarding the decision be published. It has also now been reported that the Metropolitan Police have confirmed they are ‘assessing’ an allegation involving a potential breach of the law relating to Jenrick’s decision.
- London First has published a new report setting out options for securing TfL’s long-term future. The report, entitled ‘Squaring the Circle’ is supported by KPMG and argues that London should have access to greater control over existing taxes, as well as new revenue raising powers, in order to address the long-term funding challenges.
- Centre for London is set to launch a new report entitled City Skills at an online event on 11 June. The research investigates how further education can help London out of the recession and calls for new investment into London’s further education to support vulnerable Londoners.
STOP PRESS - HOMES ENGLAND IN TRIPLE LONDON DEAL
Just as we were about to go to press, news reached us of a £309m package of investment from Homes England, to accelerate three major housing-led developments in London. At Brent Cross in Barnet, a £148m funding facility will fund land and infrastructure works needed to unlock delivery of 6,700 homes with Argent Related and Barnet Council; at Silvertown Quays in Newham, a £105m debt facility will unlock a minimum of 3,000 homes with the Silvertown Partnership; and at Barking Riverside in Barking & Dagenham, a £56m funding package will deliver upfront infrastructure for the 10,000-home scheme with the Mayor of London and L&Q. In total this is 20,000 homes across three long standing projects - that have, it is fair to say, taken time to get to delivery - and the glorious Millennium Mills building on the Royal Docks will finally be regenerated.
DOUBLE JOY FOR HB REAVIS
International workspace provider and LCA client, HB Reavis, today made two major announcements: first, on the sale of its innovative 20 Farringdon Street development to a private investor and, second, on the confirmation of its purchase of Quick & Tower House - a prime development site in Shoreditch. This news further increases the company’s already significant development pipeline here in London, which includes the one million sq ft plus redevelopment of Elizabeth House in Waterloo, and further cements its commitment to the UK market. LCA is delighted to have helped support HB Reavis secure coverage of both announcements.
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