RISHI MAKES IT RAIN
This week’s edition comes 15 years and two days after the enormous high of London winning the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and then the massive low, one day later, when 52 people lost their lives as a result of terrorist bombings on the transport system on 7/7.
That day was also supposed to mark the opening of New London Architecture (NLA) at the Building Centre on Store Street – an event that was rightly postponed to later that summer. LCA were a founding sponsor of NLA and remain active members 15 years later. London has changed hugely in that time. NLA's first exhibition, 'Changing Face of London,' highlighted 31 important projects in the capital and later this summer they will revisit it, looking both at how those 31 projects have progressed and at what others have emerged since.
We are delighted to be a headline partner for this event and hope that at some stage, before the end of 2020 and COVID-19 permitting, we can all gather at NLA to review progress and look ahead with confidence at how our resilient city will fare in the next 15 years.
Read on for more on the above – and much besides.
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JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
We've barely had a chance to wrap our heads around the Chancellor's statement earlier today, but the two main aims of Rishi Sunak's 'mini-budget' seem pretty much as trailed: to curtail the contraction of the economy and prevent mass unemployment.
The first prong of his plan includes measures such as a stamp duty holiday (on the first £500,000 of property sales, effective immediately and until next March) and a temporary cut in the VAT rate for food, hospitality and attractions (from 20% to 5%, from 15 July until 12 January), on top of a 50% ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount (for diners who eat out Monday to Wednesday this August).
The second prong includes a list of measures to boost employment, including: a £1,000 ‘jobs retention bonus’ for businesses to retain furloughed staff (though the furlough scheme itself will be wound down by October) which could cost up to £9bn; a ‘Kickstart’ job creation scheme with initial funding of £2bn, which will see the government help pay the wages of new young employees for their first six months; boosts for Jobcentres and apprenticeship schemes; and a number of ‘green investments’ to enable the retrofitting of homes and public buildings to higher energy standards.
While it remains unclear how much of this ‘£160bn plan’ represents new spending commitments, this administration has proven improbably willing – for a Tory Government – to be seen loosening the public purse strings. Indeed, we noticed that the initial response of Labour’s Shadow Chancellor seemed to focus more on criticising the Government’s public health approach than the substance of Sunak’s statement. We will be unpicking it all from a London angle in more detail next week, but it is worth noting that the Mayor has already issued a damning assessment, branding the measures announced today as ‘insufficient’. London First’s reaction has been far more positive.
For the bravest of LDN readers, the full detail of the Treasury’s plans can be found here.
BAILING OUT LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Aside from the above, the Government last week announced a further £500m package of ‘unringfenced’ funding for local authorities across England, plus a scheme to compensate councils for the loss of income from car parks, museums and other assets, and a proposal for a ‘phased repayment’ of council tax and business rates deficits over three years. According to the relevant press release from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), this brings additional funding for councils over the course of the pandemic to £4.3bn. It remains unclear how much of the latest £500m pot of funding will be allocated to the capital, but London Councils, the umbrella organisation representing the 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation, was unimpressed. Cllr Peter John, Chair of London Councils and Labour Leader of Southwark Council, branded the funding ‘wholly inadequate’ and ‘another short-term stopgap solution’ as London’s local government alone is facing a potential gap of £1.4bn for this year. The Conservative-led national Local Government Association has similarly expressed its disappointment with the Government’s latest salve.
BAILING OUT CULTURE
Also before the Chancellor’s statement and amid widespread concerns about the impact of lockdown on culture and the arts, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a £1.57bn fund to support cultural, arts and heritage institutions. This funding comprises £1.15bn of grants and loans for cultural organisations in England, £100m for national museums and heritage bodies and £120m of capital investment for heritage and cultural infrastructure projects in England which have been paused due to the lockdown, plus £188m for the devolved administrations. While all of this funding is more than welcome, even the most positive of commentators have aired concerns that it may be too little, too late. Indeed, all the evidence we have seen suggests the fund will barely make a dent. Last month, research commissioned by the Creative Industries Federation suggested that across the UK the sector is projected to lose £1.4bn a week in revenue over the course of this year. Meanwhile, a ‘technical note’ on the pandemic’s impact on London’s creative industries and their supply chains suggests that the capital alone is ‘projected to account for more than half of this contraction in output.’ Nevertheless, the Mayor’s reaction to Dowden’s support package was remarkably positive, though he did argue it does not go far enough – especially in regards to supporting freelancers in the arts sector.
LONDON’S RECOVERY AND TRANSITION (BOARDS)
The allocation of Whitehall funding (and figuring out what to do wherever it might prove insufficient) are central to the deliberations of the London Transition Board and London Recovery Board. Having tracked the activities of these bodies since they were launched back in May, we keenly tuned in to last week’s London Assembly Plenary session, which interrogated several directly involved officials. The meeting confirmed that the two Boards are primarily intended to ‘convene’ and ‘coordinate’ actions by a host of organisations and do not have any executive powers of their own. City Hall is closely involved in their work, with the Mayor co-chairing both Boards. However, the discussion strongly suggested that it is not the Mayor, but London’s Town Halls that are running the show on the front line of the capital’s emergency response, as well as shorter-term transition efforts (something also suggested by a recent meeting of the London Health Board and the release of local outbreak control plans by councils’ Public Health Directors). The Transition and Recovery Boards may yet prove vital catalysts for joined-up action in London, especially when it comes to longer-term recovery, but the jury is still out.
KHAN DEMANDS CASH FOR HOMES
Only yesterday, the Mayor issued what he described as a ‘demand’ to the Chancellor for an emergency £5bn, plus £4.9bn annually thereafter, to support the provision of affordable housing in London. The relevant proposals, drawn up by the Housing Recovery Taskforce – which is now leading relevant work for the London Recovery Board – have also been outlined by Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley in a piece for City AM and will be published in more detail later this month. The Mayor would use the funds for (a) a ‘buyer of last resort’ scheme enabling councils and housing associations to buy unsold private homes at ‘cost price’ and turn them into social housing, (b) a ’tenure conversions programme’ to convert housing currently planned for low-cost ownership and sale into homes for social and low-cost rent and (c) the next iteration of the Affordable Homes Programme. The £4.9bn annual figure is drawn from analysis undertaken by City Hall in partnership with the G15 group last year, which concluded this is the amount required annually to meet the need for new affordable housing development in London between 2022 and 2032. While the Chancellor has – unsurprisingly – not jumped at the Mayor’s demand, the plans have won the backing of London Councils, London First and the G15.
The Mayor’s proposals followed the Communities Secretary’s announcement that the current Affordable Homes Programme will be extended until March 2023, giving housing associations a year longer to begin building funded homes (though no additional funding per se).
VIRTUAL COUNCILS LATEST
The LCA team continues to keep an eye on key ‘virtual’ public meetings across London's boroughs. One planning committee session this week definitely caught our eye, as Barking & Dagenham approved ambitious plans for a film studio complex by council-owned development company BeFirst. The proposals will now be considered by the Mayor. Beyond planning, it is worth noting that just as we went to print last Wednesday, Enfield Council was holding its ‘virtual’ Annual General Meeting (AGM). The AGM saw few changes to the council’s Cabinet, with the exception of Cllr Ergin Erbil being appointed as an additional, ‘Non-Geographic’ Associate Cabinet Member. The AGM also approved a revised Council Plan for 2020-22, as well as amendments to the council’s scrutiny structures and various other organisational changes. LDN readers may be particularly interested to hear that that former Vice Chair Cllr Sinan Boztas has succeeded Cllr Mahmut Aksanoglu as Chair of Enfield’s Planning Committee.
Argent has appointed Nick Searl and Robert Evans as joint Managing Partners of Argent (Property Development) Services LLP, the team responsible for development and asset management at King’s Cross. Nick and Robert will replace Anna Strongman, who leaves the business in September 2020, to become CEO of Oxford University Development. Morwenna Hall, Chief Operating Officer, and Tom Goodall, Head of Argent Related Residential, have also been made Partners.
In other people moves:
- Mike Hood has been appointed by U+I as their new Director of Development. He joins from Capital & Counties.
- Claire Harding has been appointed as Centre for London’s new Research Director.
- Cllr Matt White has been appointed as Haringey’s Cabinet Member for Corporate and Civic Services, replacing Cllr Zena Brabazon.
- Also in Haringey, Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison has been elected leader of the opposition Lib Dem group on the Council, replacing Cllr Liz Morris.
- Conservative opposition Cllr Aron Klein has resigned from Hackney Council for health reasons.
LONDON ‘SECOND WAVE’?
Following the announcement of a local lockdown in Leicester last week, rumours were rife that the same could happen elsewhere and particularly in London, where some boroughs have seen an uptick in recorded cases of COVID-19. A number of boroughs – mostly in West London and including Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing – were amongst those mentioned, but the councils were quick to insist that no such local lockdowns are imminent. We do know that local authorities are seeking guidance from the Government about how local lockdowns would be imposed if required, with the Mayor also having written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock for further clarity. Indeed, as underlined in an ‘explainer’ by the Institute for Government, the process of deciding on and implementing local lockdowns is fraught with uncertainty. While a second lockdown in parts of London may not be imminent, it is clearly something for which all local authorities, and all of us, should be prepared.
The Grenfell Inquiry resumed this week, following a pause during lockdown. Over the next few weeks, hearings will focus on the refurbishment of the tower, during which the flammable ACM panels were installed. Due to social distancing requirements, only the Inquiry’s Chair, the council, witnesses and lawyers will be able to attend (after having their temperatures checked upon arrival). While the hearings will be broadcast online, some survivors and families of the victims have expressed anger at not being able to attend in person, amidst allegations that a £50m community recovery fund has been mismanaged. Meanwhile, the issue of unsafe cladding continues – and rightly so – to generate significant attention. The National Fire Chiefs Council last week called for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to ‘get to the truth’ about the building’s cladding, while the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee held a session on the wider issue of dangerous cladding remediation earlier this week.
MEDIA NEWS LATEST
Times Radio made a splash last week by launching with the Prime Minister himself as its first guest, followed by other members of the Cabinet in the following days (who are all, it is important to note, currently refusing to appear on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme). The new station’s impressive line up includes everyone from veteran broadcaster John Pienaar to former Home Secretary Amber Rudd as well as stalwarts from The Times’ staff, such as Matt Chorley and Rachel Sylvester. It is too early to say whether this new station (broadcast online and on digital radio) will prove a commercial success or a real competitor to established radio outfits, most particularly the BBC. It is nevertheless interesting to see long-established media organisations experimenting with new approaches and channels, not least because they have to. Print media especially – though not exclusively – have been facing a slow-burning existential crisis over recent years and the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. Only this weekend, it was reported that the Evening Standard sustained £11.36m in losses for the year to September 2019, while Reach, which runs The Mirror, The Express as well as a host of regional titles, recently announced plans to cut 550 staff. Last week, the BBC also confirmed it will be cutting 450 jobs in English regional TV news and current affairs, as well as local radio and online news.
NLA AT 15
Yesterday marked New London Architecture’s 15th anniversary. The organisation’s launch event on 7 July 2005 was sadly but understandably postponed following the 7/7 attacks that morning and it’s anniversary this year has also been somewhat marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are extremely gratified to have worked closely with the NLA as it has grown and made its mark on London’s built environment sector during the intervening years. NLA founders Peter Murray and Nick McKeogh celebrated the occasion with a webinar chaired by NLA Director Tamsie Thomson this morning - and we gather congratulations are in order for Tamsie, who has just been appointed as Joint Managing Director of NLA. Looking ahead, other NLA team members and associates will be reflecting on their experiences in blogs and videos to be released online over the following 15 days (so keep an eye on their website and social media). As London plans its recovery from the pandemic, we fully expect NLA to be at the forefront of the debate about how the city should continue to evolve. LCA is pleased to be supporting NLA’s ‘Changing Face of London’ exhibition this autumn, which harks back to its very first exhibition back in 2005.
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