A TENTATIVE RETURN
Today we have re-opened our office at Berkshire House. It’s a tentative start, with lots of safety measures in place. While it’s entirely voluntary, we know that many of the team are excited about being back at LCA Towers. Read more about this in today’s LDN and we hope to see many of you face to face in the weeks ahead.
Today also marks the opening of a free exhibition called 'The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters from Cyrene (1940-1947)' in Shoreditch, which we are delighted to be supporting as part of our rolling charitable work. It runs to the end of September and is one of many signs of London starting, gradually, to re-open. It does all feel a little tentative, a little strange but also for many, positive and exciting after almost four months in lockdown.
The Cyrene project came to us through our work for Mamma Mia! The Party and we are sad to say that the planning consultant who we worked with on that wonderful project, Iain Rhind of Lichfields, died a few weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. Our condolences to his family and many friends in the property world.
Meanwhile, read on for more news from the capital, on everything from the private rental sector, to major planning decisions, council AGMs, river transport, culture and sport.
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A 'TSUNAMI' OF EVICTIONS
Last Friday, the Mayor warned of an ‘impending tsunami of evictions’ if the Government doesn’t act to protect at-risk private renters. This is not the first time that the Mayor has called for more protections for tenants in the private rental sector: in July 2019, he launched a ‘London Model of renting’ whose sweeping proposals included, among other things, rent controls. Whether or not you agree with the Mayor’s wider vision for renting in the capital, his latest call does highlight an immediate concern; on 23 August, a ban on all evictions – announced by the Government in March as part of a range of protections for tenants – comes to an end. The Mayor is not alone in raising the alarm. Others, including London Councils, have long warned of a cliff-edge for indebted renters and polling published by Shelter last week suggests that the number of private sector tenants across England who have fallen behind on rent has doubled during the pandemic.
This is complex issue; the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has warned that even extending the evictions ban ‘is not without victims.’ But clearly, something needs to be done, especially in the capital, where according to the latest available English Housing Survey, 27% of households rent from the private sector, compared to 18% in the rest of England.
PURLEY TOWER GO
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has approved plans for a highly contested development in Croydon. The scheme, dubbed by critics as the ‘Purley skyscraper,’ was first granted planning permission by Labour-led Croydon Council in 2016, but has been vociferously opposed by some local residents as well as Croydon South’s Conservative MP (and former Minister for London) Chris Philp. Since then, the proposals were called in by one Communities Secretary (Sajid Javid) and examined by a public inquiry under another (James Brokenshire), in which planning permission was refused. The plans were then subjected to a High Court challenge and a second public inquiry. The scheme has been finally been granted planning permission by Robert Jenrick, the third Communities Secretary to consider it. Promoted by Thornsett Group on behalf of Purley Baptist Church, which currently occupies the site, the scheme comprises 220 homes (18% affordable) as well as retail, community and church space on two sites. It is the height and design of its proposed 17-storey tower that has proven particularly controversial.
CITY HALL HEARINGS TO RESUME
The GLA has now published a long-awaited list of provisional dates for ‘virtual’ public hearings – though a revised protocol for carrying these out remotely has yet to be released. Dates have been set between August and November for seven 'called-in' applications that are awaiting their public hearings, namely: Thameside West (Newham) on 5 August, Former Master Brewer Site (Hillingdon) on 27 August, Homebase Manor Road (Richmond) on 1 October, Kensington Forum Hotel (Kensington & Chelsea) on 22 October, 5 Kingdom Street (Westminster) on 29 October, Bishopsgate Goodsyard (Tower Hamlets/Hackney) on 12 November and Former Stag Brewery (Richmond) on 26 November. The timing of these hearings is interesting and suggests that the Mayor is perhaps keen to get major and in some cases contentious planning decisions ‘out of the way’ before his re-election campaign resumes in earnest (and perhaps while the Communities Secretary is still licking his wounds from the Westferry decision).
LONDON ASSEMBLY LATEST
This week and the next are very busy ones indeed for the London Assembly, which has taken to virtual meetings like a digital fish to webcast water. We tuned into yesterday’s session of the newly-merged Planning & Regeneration Committee, a two-part affair which discussed the impact of the pandemic on planning in London and an update on the London Plan. The first part of the meeting confirmed that local planning authorities in London have shown remarkable resilience and flexibility, shifting effectively to remote working and ‘virtual committees’ and carrying on with business more-or-less as usual. It also suggested that – despite some teething problems and early fears in some quarters – remote working arrangements have not curtailed community participation in the planning process. As for the second part of the session, Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe told AMs that City Hall has responded to the Communities Secretary’s 11 directed changes to the London Plan, with counter-proposals for amending an (unspecified) five. But, as per OnLondon’s handy writeup of the session, he also said that ‘it’s still an ongoing process’ and that his team are still ‘waiting for the secretary of state to agree the changes or not.’ Sadiq Khan is due before the Assembly tomorrow for a monthly Mayor’s Question Time session.
VIRTUAL COUNCILS LATEST
Like most of us, London’s local authorities continue to carry out much of their work ‘online’. Virtual planning committees continue apace, with the last meeting of Greenwich’s Planning Board only yesterday refusing planning permission for the next phase of the Kidbrooke Village development, over concerns about its density, impact on local transport and placing all of its affordable housing offer in a separate block. The main planning committees of the City of London, Lambeth, Newham and OPDC are also among those to have met since last week's edition of LDN. Several delayed Council Annual General Meetings (AGMs) are also taking place this week. Brent held its annual meeting on Monday where it approved a new ‘Black Community Action plan’. Lewisham and Wandsworth meet later today. Other authorities are still planning to postpone their AGMs until next year, though it would appear that in Haringey, 22 of the Council’s 41 Labour councillors recently voted to bring their AGM forward to September, despite Leader Joseph Ejiofor having previously postponed the meeting until May 2021.
SUMMER STATEMENT: THE VIEW FROM LONDON
We covered the headlines from the Chancellor’s Summer Statement in last week’s edition, but as it came shortly before we went to print, we only briefly touched upon the emerging response from London. We did mention the Mayor’s immediate response, but it is worth adding here that, beneath familiar protests about austerity and the insufficiency of central Government funding, Khan makes a more specific allegation: that London is being excluded from, or receiving a disproportionately small share of, multiple pots of funding, including the Stronger Towns Fund, support for local growth projects and brownfield funding. Last week, we also briefly noted London First’s broadly positive reaction, but hit send on our bulletin just before we captured the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (LCCI) similarly positive take. London Councils was also positive overall, but as with the Mayor warned that local government needs more support – and underlined that a ‘a far more comprehensive plan for green capital investment’ is overdue. The Centre for London’s verdict was similarly nuanced, welcoming many aspects of the statement, but warning that it does little to support renters with private landlords and self-employed people, groups which are ‘overrepresented in London.’
Critiques of the Chancellor’s statement from London have generally focused on the capital’s needs in relation to its structural weak points and most vulnerable residents. However this week, the Centre for London and the Evening Standard are among those raising the alarm about what we are used to thinking of as the capital’s greatest strength, the Central Activities Zone (CAZ). Centre for London’s research director Richard Brown argues in a recent article for OnLondon that the CAZ is ‘essential to the capital and the UK as a whole’ as it generates 10% of the national economic output, while covering just 2% of London’s area. But, Brown warns, the CAZ is currently exposed to ‘a unique and highly toxic cocktail of risks’ centred on the continuing absence of the office workers, shoppers and tourists who normally sustain its sandwich bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs, shops, hotels, galleries, museums and theatres. Meanwhile, an investigation by the Evening Standard has also found that Central London is facing ‘the biggest economic crisis in generations.’ Citing numerous local politicians, business associations and experts, the Standard’s investigation unpicks the city centre’s vulnerabilities and shines a light on the widespread uncertainty surrounding when and how its businesses and venues can reopen. It is of course hoped that the Government’s decision to make masks mandatory in stores from 24 July may encourage more economic activity in the CAZ and elsewhere.
- The Department for Transport has appointed three new non-executive directors to HS2’s board: Elaine Holt as a rail and infrastructure specialist, Ian King as government representative and Tom Harris as community engagement lead.
- Meanwhile, earlier this month Brent Council appointed Alan Lunt, the former Deputy Chief Executive of Dudley Council, to succeed Amar Dave as its Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment in August.
A NEW PAGE FOR TFL?
TfL’s new Commissioner, Andy Byford, started in his new role this month, and in interview with the Evening Standard said that his top priorities were to return passenger numbers to pre-COVID levels and to complete Crossrail. TfL is meanwhile reported to be trialling new safety measures as the city gradually returns to the ‘new normal’, including thermal imaging cameras to identify passengers with high temperatures on buses and using UV lights to clean surfaces such as handrails. However, the Mayor has pushed back on the PM’s suggestion that driverless trains could be introduced on the Underground. Speaking last week, Boris Johnson suggested that driverless trains could be ‘a condition of the [next] funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn’. The next meeting of the TfL Board, set to take place on 29 July, will be crucial – as it will further consider its revised Budget, hopefully providing more clarity on capital projects which have been scrapped or paused.
ROLLING ON THE RIVER
Thames Clippers has announced this week that they are to partner with Uber. The partnership, which will see the service rebranded as ‘Uber Boat by Thames Clippers’ is set to last for at least three years, aims to encourage the use of alternative forms of transport in London and will allow passengers to purchase tickets for their journeys through the existing Uber app while also remaining on the Oyster network. In the same vein, it has been announced that there are plans for a new pier at Barking Riverside which will allow for the extension of the existing Battersea to Barking route. The pier should be operational in winter 2021.
While we’re on the subject of the river, the Thames Festival Trust has unveiled its plans for this September, including its ‘festival highlight’ – Rivers of the World will see artists working remotely with over 2,000 13 and 14-year- old students from across the globe to create river-themed art.
COUNCILS STEPPING UP?
Previous editions of LDN have extensively covered the huge financial and operational challenges faced by London’s Town Halls. However, the city’s councils are clearly not letting these difficulties curb their ambition, or stymie their appetite for innovation. The breadth of the agenda covered by last week’s London Councils Leaders’ committee is testament to that, with relevant reports in the local government press highlighting how the boroughs are actively fighting for a louder voice in local healthcare provision. Meanwhile, Inside Housing has reported that Camden and Islington Councils are the latest in London to opt for bringing housing repairs and maintenance operations, currently commissioned through contractors or PFI deals, back in-house.
REVIVING CULTURE AND SPORT
Following last week’s announcement of a £1.57bn rescue package for the UK’s arts, culture and heritage industries, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that outdoor performances, outdoor swimming pools and some recreational sports could resume from last Sunday under certain conditions. Indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres will follow on 25 July. Meanwhile, the terms and timing of reopening indoor theatres and other performance venues, cinemas, galleries and museums remain… complicated, though Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced changes to the planning system with the aim of protecting theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues from closure and conversion. The Mayor meanwhile revealed last week that his £2.3m Culture at Risk Business Support Fund has already allocated £1.6m to help artists’ studios across London.
Separately, in the spirit of sporting collaboration in the midst of this pandemic, Harlequins (an LCA client) have agreed to host London Irish’s final five 2019/2020 Premiership matches at the Stoop in Twickenham. London Irish have played at the Madejski stadium in Reading for over 20 years, but are due to move back to London permanently from the start of the 2020/21 season, when they will play at the new Brentford FC community stadium, which will open next season a few miles north of the Stoop.
BACK AT BERKSHIRE HOUSE (SORT OF)
After three staff surveys, multiple all-team discussions and much hard work from our dedicated admin team, we are now ready for a gradual return to working in our offices in Covent Garden. On the basis of Government guidance and additional expert advice, we have: set up a rota for small groups of our staff to work in-house on alternating weeks; worked with our landlord to create a safe environment allowing for effective social distancing; procured ample sanitation products and personal protection equipment; and drawn up a strict but functional behavioural protocol for staff and visitors. Crucially, we have agreed as a team that returning to the office at this point will remain unequivocally optional, for everyone. So, to our clients, associates and friends: some, but not all of us, will be back in the office for a few days every other week, starting this week. Some of us will also resume in-person meetings, but only sparingly and carefully. We look forward to seeing you all again, in the flesh, as soon as practicable. But please bear with us as we gradually adapt to a still-evolving ‘new normal.’
LCA is managing the campaign for the launch of a major new free exhibition which opened in Shoreditch today: 'The Stars are Bright: Zimbabwe through the eyes of its young painters from Cyrene (1940-1947).' This extraordinary collection of early paintings from some of the precursors of modern Zimbabwean art – including Samuel Songo, Kingsley Sambo, Timothy Dhlodhlo - was preserved in the basement of a former church and has not been seen by the public for almost 70 years. After the exhibition, the artworks will tour Zimbabwe to be shown there for the first time since the 1940s. The Stars are Bright comes at a critical time to share the story of African artists and their work, and we’re very proud to be involved as part of our charitable commitments. More information and free booking at TheStarsAreBright.com – or check out the article in this Monday’s edition of The Times.
LCA Director and LDN Editor, Jenna Goldberg, is chairing an NLA webinar on Enfield Council’s £6bn Meridian Water project next Wednesday at 10am.The session offers an opportunity to hear from the Council and its partners about the exciting vision for a new, green neighbourhood for London and how you can get involved to help shape its future. It’s also free to tune in!
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LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
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