PROTESTS AMID A PANDEMIC
Last week I wrote about the shock of seeing London’s West End deserted on a sunny Saturday morning in late May.
Today, that shock has been replaced with deep thought and reflection at the Black Lives Matter protests on both sides of the Atlantic. I feel sadness that there is any need to protest of course, that it is happening now amid such heightened circumstances and that some of the action turned into violent confrontation.
The social and political impacts of these events has led to a great deal of soul-searching, discussion and intense debate. It would be remiss of us not to mark it but it would also be irresponsible of us to weigh in too heavily at this point. We are listening, will try to learn and as always, our primary brief is to focus on the capital’s future. We are sure that the best future for our city is one that is diverse and free from racism; beyond that, well, it’s hard to be sure of much else these days.
We do however very much welcome Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to establish a diversity commission to review London landmarks and hope it will be given time to assess, debate and decide on what goes and what stays.
We also hope that other action will be taken by organisations across the capital to make sure that ‘London is Open’ is more than just a slogan. We will be looking at ourselves and what we can do and the positive signs are there that so many others are also reflecting on what more they can and should do and how we simply cannot be complacent any longer.
As the private, public and third sectors struggle with Brexit and CV-19, London will only thrive again if we can convince the world that this is a safe, peaceful and positive place for everyone, a place where people’s aspirations are met with opportunity whether they are a property developer, a student, an immigrant or a key worker (or indeed, some or all of the above).
- Robert Gordon Clark, Chairman
BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS
The Black Lives Matter marches continued this weekend with thousands attending protests in central London. While largely peaceful, they were disrupted by what the Mayor has called a ‘tiny minority’ who resorted to violence, resulting in 12 arrests. Met Commissioner Cressida Dick condemned the violence as ‘disgraceful’ as did the Mayor, while expressing full support for the peaceful protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the marches and wider discussions about racism, Khan has asked City Hall to work on a new ‘urgent action plan’ to ‘tackle racism, discrimination and inequality’ in the capital. Following the removal by protestors of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol at the weekend, the Mayor also established a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to review London’s statues and street names with links to slavery, saying that some may be taken down. This work has already begun, with Tower Hamlets Council removing a statue of Robert Milligan from West India Quay on 9 June. Following calls from the Mayor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also announced that it will investigate the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people, while the Mayor has also discussed racism and inequality in a recent interview with Vogue.
As Khan seeks to meet the campaigners’ demands and address racism in the capital, he faces other potential problems. While the large majority of those participating in the marches are perpetuating London’s long and proud history of peaceful protest, the small group who turned to violence appears to be dominating headlines. How this will impact London’s reputation in the long term remains to be seen, but at a time when investment could be crucial to recovery after the lockdown, this may represent yet another challenge for the Mayor.
- In some positive news for London, we appear to – at least for now - have reached the bottom of the Covid-19 curve, with the London Ambulance Service (LAS) claiming to be receiving around 650 Covid-related calls a day, down from 3,000 two months ago. LAS Chief Executive Garrett Emmerson said that his expectation is that if there is a second spike in cases, it will be more controlled and one which ‘the NHS is more than able to cope with’.
- As the lockdown is being eased and public transport use is increasing, the Department for Transport announced last week that from 15 June, everyone will be required to wear face masks on public transport. The Mayor welcomed the news, saying that he is pleased his lobbying has paid off and that the Government had finally ‘seen sense’. Free face masks will be provided for passengers in London, distributed by volunteers from Transport for London (TfL) and the GLA.
- The London Recovery Board, co-chaired by the Mayor and Chair of London Councils Councillor Peter John, met virtually for the first time on 4 June. According to Khan, it ‘discussed the economic and social recovery for the capital, leading to a greener, more equal and better future’. The group comprises leaders from different sectors, the full list of which can be found here.
- The London Transition Board, jointly chaired by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Mayor of London also met for the first time, on 9 June. The Board is comprised of senior leaders from across London working with central Government and incorporates part of the London Resilience Panel’s Strategic Co-ordination Group. The Board will coordinate London’s transition from lockdown to recovery from Covid-19.
- The new quarantine rules for arrivals into the UK came into effect on Monday. Everyone travelling to the UK from abroad, with some exceptions for international key workers, will now be required to self-isolate for 14 days. The new rules have been met with much opposition: the UK’s three largest airlines have commenced legal proceedings against the Government in an attempt to have the rules overturned. Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport has warned of 25,000 job losses if the rules are not relaxed, while the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry has called for the introduction of safe travel corridors with other nations.
- Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said that he is in talks with the Treasury to secure funding for London’s arts and culture sector.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
- For those eager to understand how lockdown may change London, Centre for London has released the results of its survey on Londoners’ travel habits (produced by Savanta ComRes). The survey found that 49% of Londoners polled said that they will reduce their use of the Tube, with a third of respondents saying that they will cycle more. However, despite efforts to boost walking and cycling (more on this below), a third of respondents said that they will increase their car use.
- London’s boroughs have progressed work to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Brent, Camden, Newham, Ealing and Enfield are amongst the latest to have unveiled their plans, including the widening of pavements and the creation of new cycle lanes. The Mayor has also announced the addition of 1,700 bikes and 14 new docking stations to the Santander Cycles network.
- At the TfL Board meeting last week, Crossrail Chair Tony Meggs said that while still under review, the aim for the project is to ‘maintain or even improve upon summer 2021 opening of the central section of the line’, despite construction work having been interrupted by lockdown.
- TfL has said that there are no plans to resume the Night Tube ‘in the immediate future’, with transport unions saying that they have been told it will be 2021 before services resume.
- TfL has announced that it is set to resume work on projects including the Bank station upgrade and Northern Line extension, following weeks of inactivity.
- Thames Clippers are set to resume service from 15 June.
- London City Airport has announced that it will resume flights from the end of the month. Temperature checks will be in place and staff will be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
- Gatwick Airport is set to open its North Terminal also from 15 June. Passengers are being asked to wear face masks, with hand sanitiser stations, protective screens and social distancing measures also in place.
- A campaigner has lost a High Court challenge after contesting HS2’s plans for a ‘three tunnel’ on the approach to Euston over concerns that this could cause homes to collapse.
14 June will mark three years since the fire at Grenfell Tower. This year, to commemorate the victims of the disaster, over 80 of London’s churches will ring their bells 72 times and a vigil will be held on YouTube. Though the Inquiry into the fire had been put on hold due to current lockdown restrictions, it has now been confirmed that it will resume on 6 July. Attorney General Suella Braverman announced last week the extension of self-incrimination protection to ‘legal persons’ (such as ‘a limited liability partnership or an incorporated company’). This had previously only been applicable to individuals giving evidence to the Inquiry. Meanwhile, both the Prime Minister and Communities Secretary have provided updates regarding the progress made on the recommendations from the Phase 1 report: though the Government has made progress on some aspects, such as the £1bn fund for the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding and establishment of a Fire Protection Board, the Building Safety Bill has not yet been published and, according to the Government’s latest data, in England, there are still ‘307 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings with ACM cladding systems unlikely to meet Building Regulations yet to be remediated’.
PLANNING REFORMS ON THE WAY?
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick is reported to have established a panel of planning experts to advise the Government on potential ‘radical’ planning reforms as part of an economic stimulus package to be announced by the Prime Minister later this month. The panel is reportedly considering the prospect of creating a zonal planning system which will transfer decision making powers away from local authorities to development corporations with the overall aim of reducing the number of planning applications and speeding up decisions. According to the MJ, the proposals include dividing up areas, ‘in which some uses would be permitted and others forbidden’. It was also reported over the weekend that there are plans to change high street planning restrictions to allow units to easily change between shops, retail and residential use. Following the publication of ‘Planning Anew’, a report on the planning system by think tank Policy Exchange , Jenrick said that ‘the time has come to speed up and simplify this country’s overly bureaucratic planning process’.
JENRICK REFUSES GREENWICH SCHEMES
Meanwhile, Jenrick has refused planning permission for two schemes in the borough of Greenwich. Developer Rockwell had proposed to deliver a 771-home development at Charlton Riverside, including residential, business, community and leisure space. After Greenwich Council had resolved to refuse the scheme, it was rejected by the GLA, and despite offering a minimum of 40% affordable homes, the proposals were denied planning permission over concerns regarding the design, scale and massing of the scheme, which the Planning Inspector concluded would have harmed the character and appearance of the area. Meyer Homes’ proposals for a development of over 800 homes, 23% of which would have been affordable, as well as commercial space across five buildings, one of which would have been 27 storeys high, was also rejected. Proposed for a site in Woolwich, the scheme had faced opposition from local residents and was refused by the Council in 2019. The Planning Inspector recommended the scheme be thrown out due to the height of the tower as well as the impact of the development on the local area and on heritage assets.
Meanwhile, the fallout from Jenrick’s decision to grant permission for the Westferry Printworks development continues to rumble on. The Labour Party last week asked the Prime Minister whether he had any involvement in the decision, especially as he had granted permission for a smaller scheme on the same site during his time as Mayor of London. The Daily Mail has also reported that the developer behind the proposals, Richard Desmond, allegedly made a large donation to the Conservative Party a fortnight before Jenrick gave the green light to the Tower Hamlets scheme.
GROSVENOR COMMUNITY CHARTER
This week Grosvenor published ‘Positive Space’, their community charter for how they intend to work with communities as they take forward developments in the future. The charter has been designed to set a new standard for public engagement and is the next step in Grosvenor’s ongoing work to help rebuild public trust in the planning process and the management of neighbourhoods. For them it is one of the first practical attempts to deliver on the aspirations in Building Better for engagement to be 'wide, deep and early' and on some of the key requirements in the new (almost approved) London Plan. The ten-page charter focuses on four elements – listen first, open up, make it easier and be accountable. For each of these elements the developer has set out some important commitments they will make, totalling 25, and, in return, ask the communities to commit to some too, no less than 12. Much of the charter is relatively obvious, things which most developers should do as a matter of course, but listing out all the commitments provides a very useful check list. New to us is the idea of a 'Community Priority List' to be prepared early in the process and then reviewed as the proposals come forward.
- Lucinda Turner is set to replace the GLA's Director for the Built Environment Debbie Jackson as she rejoins Westminster City Council, where she started her career, as Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing.
- Tony Clements, until recently Executive Director of Place at the London Borough of Ealing, moves a little eastwards and starts on 29 June as the Strategic Director for Economy at the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.
- Haringey Council Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Zena Brabazon, has been sacked by leader Joseph Ejiofor for the second time in 18 months.
- Amy Fode has been selected as the London Labour region interim director, replacing Hazel Flynn.
- Surrey Docks Ward Councillor Nick Johnson has taken over as leader of Southwark Council’s Liberal Democrats after Councillor Anood Al Samerai stepped down after a decade in the role.
BYE BYE BAILEY?
It is being reported that senior Conservative figures and donors want to replace mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey with a more high profile figure, after the most recent polls prior to the postponing of the elections until 2021 showed that Bailey was behind incumbent Sadiq Khan by 25%. It is rumoured that former Chancellor and MP for Bromsgrove, Sajid Javid has been approached about replacing Bailey, though a spokesperson has denied this and expressed support for Bailey. Similarly, an official Conservative Party spokesperson has insisted that Bailey retains the party’s support. A campaign source also dismissed the rumours, saying that while a small number of people within the party ‘would have preferred someone more traditional’, there is no possibility of Bailey being replaced.
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