That’s the message, even if the reality is still not quite as simple. September marks a broad, if fragmented, effort to reopen workplaces and schools – as well as the return of Parliament and the London Assembly.
Disagreements between the Government and Mayor over how to revive inner London, planning reform and other issues have made headlines this week. Meanwhile, a number of protests have been staged in London, with anti-racism and environmental campaigners vying for attention with anti-vaxxers and COVID-sceptics.
Aside from the above, we cover the latest on the impact of the pandemic on London’s airports, infrastructure and local media, as well as news from the boroughs, the Lib Dems and Brentford FC.
SO... EVERYONE'S AGREED?
National and regional government are singing from different hymn sheets when it comes to enabling a safe return to workplaces this month, creating an almighty cacophony – arguably at its most discordant in London. The Government has launched a national ‘back to work’ campaign (as if most of us haven’t been working over the past few months) and the Mayor has been calling for a return to London’s business districts and high streets since mid-August. Yet it seems Whitehall and City Hall simply cannot harmonise: see for example recent interventions by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Deputy Mayor for Culture Justine Simons on the recovery of London’s arts, culture and heritage sectors. Early evidence from Tuesday’s post-Bank Holiday commuting patterns suggests that all this mixed messaging is falling well short of generating the confidence businesses need to pull workers and visitors back into the city. As reported by yesterday’s Evening Standard, London’s private sector is literally begging for clearer guidance. Last Friday, the London Property Alliance (LPA) also joined the chorus, writing to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps with a number of concerns and proposals, focused on public transport as a critical enabler of the city’s economic recovery.
Meanwhile, businesses are getting on however they can. Some are simply cutting their loses, such as outsourcing giant Capita, which has said it will shut down 100 offices across the UK. Most, including LCA, are doing their best to at least offer employees the option of returning to workplaces, where they can be made safe. Thankfully, a handful are going just that extra step further, such as Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, which recently announced it will single-handedly fund an extension of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme for its café, bar and restaurant tenants in the West End.
PLANNING REFORM LATEST
While the Government’s planning reform White Paper offers much food for thought, London is having a hard time digesting it. In a recent Q&A organised by the London Labour Party, the Mayor branded the proposals a ‘pig’s ear’ and in a subsequent interview with the BBC Local Democracy Service, Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley similarly attacked the White Paper as 'massively disruptive’ (Copley also urged the Communities Secretary to ‘get on and give [the new London Plan] his approval as soon as possible’). No surprises there. Then again, reports in The Spectator and elsewhere indicate that a rebellion over the proposals may be brewing within the Conservative Party itself. Indeed, The Times reports that ‘all the London Tory MPs and councillors intend to submit a response to the government’s consultation on the reforms, raising their concerns.’ In any event, the big challenge for London lies in what the White Paper does not say. In a recent Comment for Inside Housing, London First’s Jonathan Seager soothingly suggests we should not ‘read too much into the lack of detail’ before stating, unambiguously, that ‘clarification … is required about how the mayor’s unique combination of plan-making and decision-taking powers focused on the London Plan will work under this new planning regime.’ The consultation on Planning for the Future is ongoing and concludes on 29 October.
OTHER NEWS FROM CITY HALL
- The Mayor has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, urging the Government to extend the furlough scheme, which is currently set to close at the end of October. Warning that the end of the scheme could mean ‘a spike in unemployment affecting some of London’s poorest areas’, the Mayor called on the Chancellor to follow the example of both France and Germany by extending the scheme well into 2021.
- The Mayor has meanwhile confirmed that there will be a judicial review into the granting of permission for a new incinerator at Belvedere. The review will take place in October and will focus on the speed at which permission was granted for the scheme as well as the alleged failure to address its impact on the environment. Local Labour MPs Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) and Jon Cruddas (Dagenham and Rainham) have both welcomed the news.
- After a brief pause, the London Assembly is back in action this week with a Plenary meeting, albeit one which appears to be focused on mainly administrative issues. The rest of the month, however, is packed with meetings of the Assembly’s various committees and we will be sure to include the highlights of those in future editions.
LONDON BOROUGHS LATEST
Looking to the boroughs, this September sees at least six holding Annual General Meetings that were initially postponed due to the lockdown. First up is Camden Council, whose annual meeting is scheduled for next Monday. Despite early speculation in the local media about a potential Cabinet reshuffle, it would appear the only change to Camden’s top team will be Cllr Anna Wright replacing Cllr Jonathan Simpson as Cabinet Member for culture (Simpson had already announced he would stepping down from his Cabinet role). AGMs are also scheduled this month in Barnet, Merton, Southwark, Bexley and Islington.
There’s also news from elsewhere in North London, with Enfield Council bounding ahead in its work on the Meridian Water scheme, having named the five finalists in a design competition for BAME-led SME practices centred on an intergenerational housing scheme and appointed Turner & Townsend to deliver project and cost management services for its infrastructure works. Two more Enfield Labour councillors have meanwhile defected to the opposition ‘Community First’ group this month, though this does little to affect Labour’s overwhelming majority on the council. We are also sad to report that Redbridge Labour Councillor Cllr Stuart Bellwood, who represented Seven Kings, died on 20 August after 18 years’ service as a councillor.
Having hit the halfway mark in February 2020, completing 12.5km of tunnelling, Tideway has found itself amongst London’s projects that have been impacted by COVID-19. Following a temporary pause of all but essential works at the start of the lockdown, construction work restarted on most of its worksites in May, albeit at a lower level of activity to comply with social distancing requirements. As a result, the project is now forecast to be completed in the first half of 2025, adding nine months to its current schedule, with the estimated cost forecast at £4.133bn.
With the travel industry having been hit hard by COVID-19, it is no surprise that Gatwick Airport has announced that 600 jobs will be cut, representing almost a quarter of its workforce. As is the case with most airports, Gatwick is currently experiencing an 80% drop in the number of passengers and saw a loss of over £300m between January and June. 75% of the airport’s employees are currently on the Government’s furlough scheme, which comes to an end next month. The Airport has said that it will take four or five years for it to recover and return to its pre-pandemic levels.
- Croydon has announced that Chief Executive Jo Negrini is to leave the council shortly. Executive Director of Place Shifa Mustafa will be covering her role on an interim basis.
- Simon Case has been confirmed as the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, replacing Sir Mark Sedwill wo announced he was standing down in June.
- Chief Executive of L&Q David Montague has announced that he will step down by the end of the year.
- Centre for London is on the lookout both for a new Researcher to join the team, as well as up to four new Trustees.
DAVEY IT IS THEN
Sir Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, has decisively won the Lib Dems’ leadership contest with 42,756 votes to Layla Moran’s 24,564. In his victory speech, he urged his party to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ and pledged to ‘start listening’ to voters nationwide. The wider reaction to Davey’s election has been, arguably, one of relative indifference. Still, as underlined by the New Statesman’s Ailbhe Rea, if Davey ‘plays his cards right’ he could still ‘deny the Tories a majority’ at the next election. But how will he play his London card? The capital remains one of the Lib Dems’ strongholds: it gave them three of their 11 seats (including Davey’s) and their second-best regional voteshare (14.9%) at the 2019 General Election. The last European Parliament elections, in May 2019, saw that regional voteshare (briefly) soar to 27%. Just as importantly, the Lib Dems control three London Boroughs and Sir Ed’s partner, Councillor Emily Davey, is Kingston Council’s Portfolio Holder for Housing and Public Health. The question is therefore whether he will buck the trend, by leveraging and investing in the Lib Dems’ London brand, or whether he will just jump on the ‘levelling up’ bandwagon. His party is, meanwhile, still short of a Mayoral candidate for 2021…
NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL
Very much in 2020 style, Notting Hill Carnival went digital this year, marking the first time in its 54 years that the Carnival has not taken place in its usual rambunctious fashion, as an almighty street party and parade. While a handful of loyal carnival-goers did walk the usual route in full regalia, the main event took place online. Sunday also saw the carnival supplanted by the UK’s first ‘Million People March’, in which considerably less than a million (more like 400) people walked through West London on a march against racism. Meanwhile, Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has said that if elected mayor next May he would introduce ‘scan and search’ technology for large events such as the Notting Hill Carnival to aid in the tackling of knife crime, on the back of his suggestion that large companies should carry out drug testing among their staff. However, it is Adele who has really been dominating carnival-related headlines, after she posted a photo to mark the carnival, which led to accusations of cultural appropriation from some (though others jumped to her defence).
...AND OTHER PROTESTS
The Million People March was by no means the only street action London has seen over the past week:
- Over the weekend, protesters took to Trafalgar Square as part of a ‘Unite for Freedom’ protest against lockdown, mandatory face coverings and vaccines. Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers was issued with a £10,000 fine for organising the event, which was attended by hundreds (under new regulations, attending a gathering of 30 or more people may be a criminal offence).
- Extinction Rebellion has meanwhile returned to streets across the country this week, to stage protests over a 10-day period. Starting on Tuesday, protestors blocked central London’s roads and planned to target Parliament, the Treasury and the Bank of England, all in an effort to convince MPs to support a Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. As of writing, dozens of arrests have already taken place, particularly in cities like Manchester, where local lockdown restrictions remain in place.
- Measures put in place to encourage walking and cycling continue to generate controversy in some areas. Indicatively, in Ealing and elsewhere, Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) street furniture and signs have been vandalised. Businesses in Lewisham’s Lee Green LTN have called the measures the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for them. And some councils, like Lambeth, have been forced to make changes following reactions from residents. While it seems that many – especially cyclists – have welcome the push for LTNs, they have proved unpopular in many neighbourhoods, among drivers and perhaps most worryingly, the emergency services.
London and its institutions meanwhile continue to grapple with their history and particularly their associations with colonialism and the slave trade. Most recently, the City of London Corporation announced the launch of a review of its landmarks and street names which have ‘historic links to slavery and racism’. Promoted by the Corporation’s Tackling Racism Taskforce, the review will consist of a three-month consultation asking people which landmarks should be addressed and what sort of action should be taken, including whether these landmarks should be ‘resited, reinterpreted or retained’. Meanwhile, the Telegraph has also reported that British Library staff have set up a ‘Decolonising Working Group’ which has called for changes to be made to the library’s collections and displays, including the removal of some pieces due to their ties to colonialism and slavery.
LONDON MEDIA LATEST
Publisher Archant is the latest to stumble under the combined weight of COVID-19 and digital technologies that have long been squeezing out traditional media, but there is yet hope for the UK’s ‘fourth biggest local newspaper publisher’. As reported in The Times, Press Gazette and elsewhere, negotiations are underway to strike a complex Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) that could prevent the company’s collapse, save its many titles, and protect its 1,000 employees – at least for now. The deal reportedly entails private equity group Rcapital acquiring 90% of Archant’s operating business, with the Archant private pension fund retaining a 10% stake. Additionally, the deal would see two of Archant’s holding companies going into administration, the value of current shareholders’ equity wiped out and Archant’s creditors (including HMRC and HSBC) agreeing to a debt haircut. With 14 of London’s local newspapers published by Archant, including the historic Ham & High, we sincerely hope that a way forward is found.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF...
We were delighted to welcome Town Legal’s Michael Gallimore, one of the best-known planning lawyers in the country, to run a virtual session for the LCA team last week. He outlined how the role of a planning lawyer has changed since the 1980s, when twin tracking applications and taking one to appeal as fast as possible was very much the norm. He took the team through the process which led to the planning permission for LCA’s long-standing client Argent at King’s Cross and the team discussed with him the implications of the Government's planning reform White Paper. Our sincere thanks to Mike and a donation has been made to London charity XLP as a thank you.
BRENTFORD KICKS OFF
We’re thrilled to confirm that our client Brentford Football Club is ready to write a new chapter in their story as their new stadium is now complete and ready for use. In the last few days, a safety certificate has been granted to host games at the stadium in Brentford, next to Kew Bridge, behind closed doors. The stadium was completed last month and their first competitive match, against Wycombe Wanderers in the first round of the Carabao Cup, will be played on the pitch this Sunday. Work on the 17,250-seat stadium began in early 2018 and with the COVID-19 outbreak, development partner EcoWorld London and their stadium principal contractor Buckingham Construction Group Limited have been working safely to get the stadium ready over the past five months. The Club will need to secure an updated safety certificate in order for fans to be allowed inside the new stadium and meet social distance protocols. The stadium, together with more than 900 new homes, a new purpose-built location for Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, and a public square with shops and cafes, is part of the wider regeneration of the area. It will also be the new home to London Irish RFC, who also have a licence to play at the ground. Their season will start in November, making a welcome return to the capital from Reading.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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