ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
The ramifications of delaying May's Mayoral and London Assembly elections by a full year have once again made headlines, after Lib Dem Mayoral candidate Siobhan Benita stepped down for personal reasons.
This is sad news, as Benita – the second candidate to withdraw thus far – had proven to be an enthusiastic, imaginative and collegiate campaigner in an increasingly polarised race. Indeed, her decision stands as a reminder that running for office is an expensive and labour-intensive endeavour - so much so that politics remains beyond the reach of far too many people. As for whether Benita's withdrawal will make any difference to the race? Read on for more.
TfL’s finances and indeed its survival more broadly are shaping up to be the focus of the still-distant Mayoral race and we’ve got the latest in that saga below, along with allegations of gerrymandering out east and the latest mixed views on London’s economic recovery.
LDN will be running a slightly sparser schedule of editions next month, as our editorial team winds down a little for a summer break - but you can still expect to hear from us on 12 and 26 August!
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BENITA BOWS OUT
Siobhan Benita, the Liberal Democrat candidate for London’s Mayoralty, has announced she is stepping down, saying that she is ‘simply not able to commit to another full year of campaigning.’ Independent Rory Stewart stepped down in May on similar grounds: both he and Benita are parents and neither holds a full-time job or elected position, so who can blame them? Benita, a former civil servant, also stood as an Independent in the 2012 London Mayoral election, coming fifth behind Brian Paddick, the Lib Dems’ then-candidate. She only joined the party after the 2016 EU referendum, successfully seeking selection as their Mayoral candidate in 2018. In this race, Benita made a mark with unconventional policies – such as support for legalising marijuana to help tackle crime – and an uncommonly convivial campaigning style. But while Interim Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey MP has claimed that Benita’s campaign helped the party ‘double its vote in London in the last election,’ the available evidence suggests that Benita actually struggled to make headway with most Londoners: the last Mayoral voting intention poll held by Queen Mary University of London in March saw her rank fifth, with just 4%.
The jury is still out on whether Benita’s withdrawal will favour any of her erstwhile opponents – and whether her eventual successor can do more to close the ever-widening gap with Labour and the Tories (or, for that matter, the Greens). BBC reports that the process of finding her replacement is underway and that ‘details on the selection of a new candidate will be announced in due course’. But with the Lib Dems now squarely focused on electing a new national leader and with barely nine months to go until May 2021, they might want to giddy-up. Sadiq Khan’s mantra that this Mayoral election is a ‘two horse race’ never sounded more accurate.
BAILEY STILL SWINGING
Khan’s main opponent is certainly champing at the bit these days. This week, Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey happily hitched himself onto the Telegraph’s anti-Khan war-wagon, arguing from the newspaper’s pages that the Mayor is ‘failing Londoners’ on tackling crime, financial management of City Hall and his stewardship of the city’s public transport. Bailey is clearly trying to make a compelling case for a Mayoralty that ‘works with the Government, rather than attacking it’ and points to a number of spending choices made during Khan’s tenure that were potentially excessive or unnecessary. However, many of his claims, especially on the issue of transport, are somewhat misleading. For example, Bailey flatly asserts that TfL is ‘bankrupt’ – echoing, but not quite repeating, his previous claim that TfL’s bankruptcy was ‘inevitable,’ even before the advent of the pandemic. Both claims reflect an understanding of TfL’s finances that is either flawed or skewed. His repeated allegation that the Mayor has independently hiked the congestion charge also appears questionable, considering it is a condition of the Government’s TfL bailout package. Then again, Bailey has recently pointed out that Khan himself has been somewhat misleading over the number of TfL staff on six-digits salaries.
Today’s TfL Board meeting provided rather more insight into the future of the city’s public transport system. The session examined a draft revised budget, which was published in advance of the meeting and widely covered in the press. Assuming continued pressure on passenger revenues, the budget estimates that TfL will need ‘up to £2bn’ in additional funding from Government for the second half of 2020/21 and ‘a further £2.9bn’ for 2021/22. The budget document also provided further detail on which TfL capital projects can proceed – and those that are necessarily being paused for lack of funding. While there are too many to list here, projects including the Northern Line Extension and Bank station upgrade are set to be completed, while the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf ferry has been paused and early-stage projects including Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line Extension still hang in the balance. Meanwhile, last week’s meeting of the Crossrail Board confirmed that the Elizabeth Line will not open next summer, though the exact length of this latest delay (and the specifics of its financial impact) remain to be seen.
Meanwhile, London’s cabbies have voiced their concerns in the latest broadside against the Mayor’s walking and cycling strategy. They say that the introduction of widened pavements and cycle lanes have led to congested roads and impacted their ability to pick up or drop off passengers, affecting their income at a time when there has been a huge drop in visitors to London.
Many of London’s boroughs are currently undergoing a review of ward boundaries, in theory a technical, a-political process which rarely attracts much attention in the press. However, Havering Council’s leadership finds itself mired in allegations of gerrymandering in connection with its boundary review. In an audio recording of a Conservative Group meeting leaked to the local press, Leader of Havering Council Councillor Damian White can be heard telling his Conservative Group – among other things – of ‘a set of proposals that I think are really politically advantageous for us’. Councillor White and the council insist there has been no foul play and it appears that the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England (LGBCE) has said that it will not act on the recording. Nevertheless, following an outcry by the council opposition and a formal request by local Labour MP Jon Cruddas, Havering’s own monitoring officer has launched a review to examine the allegations. But now the review itself has proven controversial and has prompted further outrage, after it emerged that the person appointed to lead it has multiple ties to Havering Council. We suspect we haven’t heard the last of this story quite yet.
- Network Rail’s Managing Director for Property David Biggs will be leaving the company in mid-August, amid a reorganisation of its property team. The process of recruiting a new Group Property Director is underway.
- In the world of arts and culture, August also sees Arts Council England’s (ACE) Area Director for London Joyce Wilson retiring - to be succeeded by former ACE arts, technology and innovation lead Tonya Nelson.
A RUN FOR THE SUBURBS?
There’s been much talk about a ‘hollowing out’ of the capital. According to the prevailing theory, the cooped-up burghers of inner London are fed up with their flats and desperately want out, even as commuters in the suburbs are finding home working not-so-bad-after-all. Over the weekend, the Financial Times ran a feature on Croydon, which suggests that ‘some middle-class escape to the suburbs may be inevitable,’ while the Telegraph cited estate agents speculating that the ‘traditional commuter belt’ looks likely to be ‘expanded or repositioned’. The pandemic will surely leave its mark on London, but many of the forces at play are nothing new: population growth, technological change and new public transport corridors have for many years created new clusters of growth across Outer London. Meanwhile, the capital’s demographic and economic catchment area long spilled beyond the Home Counties, into the ‘Wider South East.’ Indeed, central London’s days seem far from numbered. Look at Kings Cross, where Google recently reaffirmed its commitment to completing a new HQ and where developer Argent just secured a new £69m green loan facility for an all-new 163-home development. Separately, a recent poll of 506 global investors ‘with combined assets under management of $1 trillion’ found overwhelming appetite for sustained investment in the Square Mile.
The above is not to say that the road to London's recovery is a given. Last week’s Plenary session of the London Assembly highlighted the breath-taking range of challenges faced by London’s economy. The discussion saw AMs put questions to several guests, representing City Hall, London’s boroughs and multiple business associations. They covered a number of issues, but if one stood out, it was the vulnerability of central London’s retail, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries, which have been especially hard-hit by the absence of commuters, tourists and other visitors. Recent days’ media spotlight on musical theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Webber is a case in point: his London Palladium Theatre hosted the West End’s first pilot of a ‘socially distanced’ show last Thursday. Beverley Knight's performance was positively received, but reviews underlined how extensive safety measures made for a sparse audience and ‘subdue[d] atmosphere’. In relevant interviews and an on-stage speech, Lloyd Webber himself warned that the wider live performance industry and London’s theatre district as we know them today remain at risk. As if on cue, it was announced that the West End production of Phantom of the Opera is to end after more than 30 years, ‘due to the financial impact of the pandemic.’
KEEPING LONDON SAFE
Pending a vaccine or cure, restricting and managing the spread of the virus remains key to limiting its ill effects on both public health and the economy. A partnership led by London Councils – and involving City Hall, the 32 boroughs, the City of London Corporation and NHS England – has just launched the #KeepLondonSafe campaign precisely for this reason. This city-wide effort focuses on increasing Londoners’ awareness of COVID-19 testing as a key tool for keeping the infection rate low in the capital. A big publicity and advertising push, coupled with a social media drive supported by influencers and community leaders, aim to make sure that Londoners know how to get a test if they are showing COVID-19 symptoms. Follow #KeepLondonSafe on Twitter and Instagram for further information – and if you find yourself downtown, all you need to do is look up: the BT Tower will be projecting the campaign’s ‘Keep London Safe’ message.
The resumed Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase is well underway, focusing on the process and choices that went into the installation of what turned out to be dangerous flammable cladding on the tower. Most recently, the Inquiry has heard about an internal email from the builders responsible for the refurbishment, in which they dubbed residents who had voiced concerns about the works as ‘rebels’ and ‘aggressive’. However, records recently seen by the Inquiry also show that while the manager responsible for the project received an email from Grenfell’s Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) specifically asking whether the cladding installed would resist a fire, there is no evidence that they ever received a response to their query. Meanwhile, the Grenfell Next of Kin group have written to the Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Blick to ask for a separate investigation into how ‘race and class’ played a part in the tragedy (in a move backed yesterday by the Mayor of London). The group say that they want to know whether the same series of events would have occurred ‘if the tower block was in an affluent part of the city for an affluent white population’.
Separately, last week saw another major fire in London – this time in Park Royal. While it badly damaged a bakery and restaurant, there were thankfully no injuries reported and no residential properties affected.
LAMBETH HOSPITAL WARD MOVE PROGRESSES
After considering feedback from a 12-week NHS public service change consultation – which LCA helped to deliver – NHS South East London Clinical Commissioning Group (SEL CCG) have approved plans to transform adult acute inpatient mental health services in Lambeth. The plans centre on relocating these services from Lambeth Hospital’s out-of-date facilities to a new, fit-for-purpose building at the Maudsley Hospital. Having carried out the consultation during the height of lockdown, from March to May, we are especially pleased that the CCG’s Governing Body found the process to be ‘robust.’ With our help, this extensive engagement process employed a variety of methods including a survey, online discussions, focus groups and other meetings with key groups, service users, carers and the public, to secure 235 responses – and found broad support for relocating the inpatient mental health facilities. The consultation’s feedback helped inform the CCG’s decision and yesterday the Board at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust agreed to implement the plans and will now develop a full business case and an action plan to deliver the recommendations from the consultation.
We are delighted to be supporting London-based practice Twelve Architects with the launch of a new branded residence concept at Silverstone. The campaign, timed to coincide with the British Grand Prix at the circuit, promotes Twelve’s design for the 60 residences and a clubhouse that includes a driver-focused gym, track briefing rooms and a state of the art simulator. Owners and visitors will be able to bring their own vehicles to race around the world famous circuit. Twelve’s design for the distinctive form of the buildings is inspired by ‘slipstreaming’. More information can be found in Dezeen's write up of the project.
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