Today marks the launch of New London Architecture’s (NLA) 15th anniversary exhibition, The Changing Face of London.
Back in 2005, the NLA opened its doors for the first time with an exhibition of the same name, which looked at 30 projects that they considered would change the face of London. 15 years on, those 30 projects are reviewed, alongside a further 20 which have come to the fore in recent years. Bringing together these fifty projects in one place provides a unique and powerful summary of London’s advancement and potential. Apart from the exhibition, a major report is published online today and the NLA will be running a series of events and discussions through to next February. We encourage all our LDN readers to visit the exhibition at the Building Centre in Store Street – read on for more details in the Our Week section!
Meanwhile in another packed edition, we report on strife and in-fighting at local, regional and national level in both the Labour and Conservative parties, more money (sort of) for affordable housing, more progress (sort of) on HS2 and a double header changing of the guard at London Councils.
RED ON RED FIRE?
The Mayor seems to be facing ‘friendly fire’ from within London Labour, on at least two fronts. First, as reported by OnLondon, a letter by Labour AM for Brent and Harrow Navin Shah, in his capacity as Chair of the London Assembly, sets out a strongly-worded ‘formal objection’ to Khan’s plans for moving City Hall to the Royal Docks. Shah characterises the plans as financially unsound, ‘detrimental to the standing of the Greater London Authority’ and risking a ‘fundamental, potentially irrevocable division’ between the Mayor and the Assembly. Second, Labour MPs in East London are making their voices heard over the controversial Silvertown Tunnel project. Matthew Pennycook MP (Greenwich & Woolwich, also Shadow Minister for Climate Change) and Lynn Brown MP (West Ham) have co-signed an open letter asking the Mayor to reconsider the scheme as part of the ongoing review of TfL’s finances.
Meanwhile, the Mayor’s war with the Conservative Government continues unabated, with Sadiq Khan recently taking aim at Whitehall on issues ranging from track and trace data sharing, to the national ‘back to work’ campaign (more on the latter below). Separately, in a joint intervention the Mayor and London Councils have urged the Communities Minister to back preparations for supporting homeless people, in view of the winter and a potential second wave.
BLUE ON BLUE BASHUP?
The in-fighting is not exclusive to Labour though, as several reports from The Times suggest that a group of Conservative politicians representing the capital have been pushing back on the Government’s planning reform proposals. In late August, the newspaper reported on plans by ‘all the London Tory MPs and councillors […] to make a joint response to the consultation raising their concerns.’ It also revealed that 17 London MPs participated in a Zoom call with Boris Johnson (himself a London MP), Chief Whip Mark Spencer and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, during which they expressed ‘unanimous’ concern about the potential reforms. They have particularly taken issue with the extension of permitted development rights and a new method for calculating local housing targets, which looks likely to significantly increase the capital’s annual quota (based on estimates by Lichfields). These policies, they fear, may lead to a building spree that would compromise the character of the suburbs, create overcrowding and – critically – enrage local Conservative voters. The latest reports have even hinted at a tentative offer from the PM of a ‘partial exemption’ or ‘carve-out’ for London from some of the measures – and also cited Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey’s own concerns.
It’s been another rollercoaster week for Transport for London (TfL):
- Speaking to the Evening Standard, TfL Commissioner Andy Byford insisted that the TfL network is safe to use, though he said that more people would be encouraged to use public transport if it were a focus of clear and consistent messaging from ‘elected leaders’.
- Byford’s comments echo calls made by many of London’s business leaders for a major campaign to encourage the return of passengers to public transport.
- To facilitate the reopening of schools last week, TfL announced that dozens of additional buses will be rolled out in London, half of which will be reserved for use by school pupils.
- TfL has also announced that from 13 September, cars will be completely banned from using around 50 miles of the capital’s bus lanes, to discourage a car-led recovery in central London.
- A group of Conservative London MPs and Assembly members have called on TfL to reopen the Waterloo and City Line, to encourage the return of workers to the City.
- TfL has struck a ‘six figure’ deal with Dettol, which covers the installation of over 800 branded hand sanitiser units across the Tube (though the accompanying posters have received rather mixed reactions on social media).
Meanwhile, both independent reviews of TfL’s finances (separately commissioned by the Government and Mayor) are now overdue, as they were scheduled to report back at the end of August.
TRANSITION AND RECOVERY LATEST
Transport is clearly central to – but not the only component of – efforts to ‘reopen’ London’s workplaces and attractions. In an exclusive interview with City A.M., the Mayor has said central London cannot return to its pre-lockdown levels of footfall until a COVID-19 vaccine is found. Khan has forcefully responded to the Government’s ‘back to work’ campaign by asserting that it needs to be ‘honest with the public about the ongoing deadly health and economic crisis’ and warning that ‘there are no easy answers’ – also underlining City Hall’s own efforts to encourage a return to workplaces and addressing obstacles to this.
Centre for London has meanwhile published a new report, ‘A recovery plan for the West End’, which sets out a number of recommendations to facilitate a faster bounce back for the area whose visitor attractions, theatres, restaurants, bars and hospitality businesses have been disproportionately affected.
We’ve been keeping a close eye on several London councils with Annual General Meeting (AGM) scheduled for this month and there’s already much change (and some drama) to report:
- Barnet Council’s AGM was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening but postponed and subsequently cancelled altogether. As confirmed by the local press, the borough will now be holding its AGM next May, with its current ceremonial Mayor, as well as appointments to committees and outside bodies all carrying forward until that time.
- Camden Council’s AGM was held on Monday evening. As trailed in the local media, Cllr Anna Wright replaced Cllr Jonathan Simpson on the Cabinet. Wright only inherited part of Simpson’s portfolio, as she was made ‘Cabinet Member for Promoting Neighbourhoods and Communities.’ Simpson’s culture brief has been given to Cllr Danny Beales, whose ever-expanding title is now ‘Cabinet Member for Investing in Communities, Culture and an Inclusive Economy.’
- Haringey Council’s AGM is scheduled for 24 September, but we understand the preceding Labour Group annual meeting, which was supposed to take place this Monday, was cancelled amid bitter infighting. At least three Labour councillors, namely Noah Tucker, Dana Carlin, and Pat Berryman, are reported to have been suspended by their party over the last couple of weeks, pending the outcomes of internal investigations into allegations of (variously) islamophobia and antisemitism. Berryman, as it has been reported, was also seeking to challenge Joe Ejiofor for the Leadership.
- Southwark Council’s AGM is set for 16 September but the big news has already been announced. Monday evening’s Labour Group AGM confirmed Cllr Kieron Williams as the successor to the longstanding Cllr Peter John as Council Leader. Cllr Jasmine Ali was meanwhile confirmed as Deputy Leader. They will be formally installed at the full council AGM.
Other Councils set to hold AGMs this month include Merton (16 September), and Islington (24 September) [NB: last week, we mistakenly reported that Bexley’s AGM was due this month and we would like to clarify it was actually held in May – our apologies].
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- The public hearing for Inland Homes’ called-in proposals for over 500 homes (35% affordable) on the former Master Brewer site took place last week, with the Mayor granting permission for the scheme. Hillingdon Council had previously rejected the plans, mainly over concerns about its design. Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has however issued a holding direction for the scheme, meaning he wants to consider whether he has the final say.
- In Barnet, however, councillors unanimously rejected Fairview New Homes and One Housing’s proposals for the Victoria Quarter 652-home (35% affordable) development on Albert Road, New Barnet, against officers’ recommendations. Despite planning permission having been granted in 2017, the addition of hundreds of new homes to the proposals saw opposition from both residents and councillors, who voiced concerns about the scale and character of the development.
- Elsewhere in North London, Enfield councillors unanimously approved plans for a new school for up to 70 children with special educational needs and plans for a new education centre in Chingford were also granted planning permission last week by Waltham Forest’s Planning Committee.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING BOOST
Only yesterday, the Government confirmed a new nationwide £11.5bn Affordable Homes Programme for England, to be delivered over the 2021-26 period. First announced at the Budget, as part of a wider £12.2bn affordable housing funding package, the new Affordable Homes Programme aims to deliver up to 180,000 homes, half of which will be made available for ‘for ownership and [a] revamped Shared Ownership scheme’. The Government press release highlights that ‘nearly £7.5bn will be delivered outside London by Homes England, […] over £2bn more than the amount given under the previous Affordable Homes Programme, underlining [wait for it] the government’s commitment to levelling up the whole country.’ It goes on to say that the GLA has been ‘offered’ £4bn, but that ‘negotiations about what they will deliver with this funding are in progress’ – without any reference to whether other regional authorities will be subject to similar scrutiny. It also does not mention that this amount represents an apparent cut in funding for the capital, as London had been allocated £4.8bn by the previous programme, which covered 2016-21. The GLA and other partners have previously said that the capital needs £4.9bn per year to meet demand for social and affordable housing. London Councils has said that the funding ‘won’t do nearly enough’ to address the capital’s housing crisis.
CHANGE OF GUARD
Last week John O’Brien, the CEO of London Councils, announced that he will be stepping down in the Spring of 2021. John has been CEO for the last 14 years and has worked with all three Mayors of London through many ups, such as the Olympics, and some downs, such as austerity and now COVID-19. During that time he has led the umbrella body with a calm assurance, working with all the main political parties effectively. The process to select his successor will be announced in due course – and we also await news of when London Councils will elect a new Chair, to succeed Cllr Peter John when he steps down later this month.
…and in other people moves of note:
- Simon Clarke MP (Con, Teesside) has resigned from his post as Local Government Minister at the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), for unspecified personal reasons (though he will stay on as an MP).
- Clarke will be replaced by a promoted Luke Hall MP (Con, Thornbury and Yate), who in turn will be succeeded by Kelly Tolhurst MP (Con, Rochester and Strood) in his role as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at MHCLG.
- Michael Lowndes has joined Lichfields as a Senior Director to its London-based Major Projects Team.
- As initially announced in May, Mel Barrett – who between 1998 and 2015 held a series of senior roles in London councils and development agencies – has this month formally begun a new role as CEO of Nottingham City Council.
Yet more cracks have appeared in England’s leasehold system of late, already under scrutiny for its somewhat archaic and opaque practices. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched enforcement action against several housing developers ‘it believes may have broken consumer protection law in relation to leasehold homes,’ focused on ‘potentially unfair terms concerning ground rents in leasehold contracts and potential mis-selling.’ Meanwhile, in London, the Mayor has also lashed out at 51 building owners (47 private landlords and four social landlords) for not removing dangerous cladding after the latest Government statistics showed more than 100 residential towers in the capital that have still not begun remediation works. The Government has repeatedly stated its intention to reform the leasehold market and has already committed to banning the sale of new leasehold homes and reducing ground rents for new leases to zero, but progress towards implementing these and other changes has been slow. A more comprehensive rehaul of the system is still in the works and last July saw the Law Commission, which advises the Government on legal matters, publish a series of relevant recommendations for shifting towards a new ‘commonhold’ system.
HS2 KICKS OFF (SORT OF)
A flurry of press coverage trumpeted the ‘official’ beginning of the HS2 railway’s construction last week – or at any rate, as clarified by the relevant HS2 Ltd announcement, its progress ‘from enabling works to full construction’. A big PR push saw the company and Government promoting the project’s estimated contributions to the economy, complete with a hard-hatted Prime Minister (himself a former HS2-sceptic) visiting a building site near Solihull at the weekend. This re-launch of sorts was somewhat marred by protests outside the Department for Transport’s offices, at Euston and elsewhere – though project managers will be relieved that The High Court has granted an injunction extension to keep protesters away from an HS2 construction site in Colne Valley, Hillingdon. The project could indeed prove crucial, as a major employer, ‘green’ transport link, and contributor to opening up new areas for housing development. Yet continued protests against it underline that its path to completion will not be an easy one. Furthermore, ever-more questions are being raised about the costly project’s viability, in the context of a potentially enduring shift towards remote working after the pandemic – with a recent episode of Newsnight asking whether ‘a lasting shift towards home-working make it obsolete?’.
There is an activist spirit in the air as Extinction Rebellion’s protests continued across the UK at the weekend targeting printing presses early on Saturday morning and delaying the delivery of publications of News Corp’s papers, which include The Times and The Sun. XR sought to highlight the perceived threat to a free press and the climate emergency agenda posed by large parts of the UK’s media being ‘amassed in the hands of five people with powerful vested interests.’ However, the action itself met with criticism from both the Conservative Government and the Labour Party (bar a few of its MPs), who criticised XR’s action as an attack on the freedom of the press. Meanwhile, following street actions by BLM and other anti-racist campaigners in London coinciding with the Notting Hill Carnival, Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has claimed, on The Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast, that the ‘The Left don't want [black people] to achieve’ and that ‘the black community has been the chosen victims for the Left so they can always say they're going to help us and do things.’
The second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry is now in full swing. This week, the contractors responsible for the tower’s refurbishment were brought in for further questioning. The director of Harley Facades, the firm that oversaw the installation of new cladding on the tower, accused its producers of being ‘misleading’ regarding the safety of their materials. Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Labour Party proposed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, which if passed would have required that the Government implement the recommendations of the first phase of the Inquiry. The amendment was rejected, with 318 votes against, to 188 in favour. While Labour has accused the Government of a ‘dereliction of duty’ in blocking the amendment, the Communities Secretary insists that he remains committed to implementing the inquiry’s recommendations, following the completion of an ongoing consultation on fire safety launched in July (which concludes in October). Many, including former Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad, are not convinced of the need to wait until then. Meanwhile, organisations representing the fire’s survivors and relatives of the victims have spoken out against plans to install a memorial at the site of the tower, saying they feel sidelined by the process and criticising an alleged the lack of engagement from the Government.
- Research from homelessness charity Shelter suggests that as many as 380,000 homes granted planning permission nationally between 2011 and 2019 remain unbuilt, equating to about ‘40% of all homes with planning consent in England’. On the basis of these findings, the organisation argues that ‘planning reform is no replacement for government investment’ in social homes.
- Centre-right think-tank Onward has published a new report, which looks into ways that the Government can ‘measure progress on its efforts to ‘level up’ – coinciding with the launch of The Levelling Up Taskforce, ‘a group of 40 MPs representing seats all around the country’ [except London of course].
- A new CBI Economics report commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, which seeks to ‘quantify the economic benefits of cleaner air’ and explores the links between public health and economic outcomes.
A MAYOR FOR CROYDON?
It’s been a long time since London saw residents given a choice on whether they want a directly-elected Mayor to lead their local council. Currently, only Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets residents elect their own Mayor (all other boroughs have a Leader and a mostly ceremonial Mayor, both elected by the ruling party’s councillors). Newham’s current Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has since 2018 been promoting plans to scrap her own role, following a relevant manifesto commitment and review of democracy and civil participation in the borough. However, there are campaigns in favour of new directly-elected borough Mayors elsewhere in London and one, in Croydon, appears to be making some headway. The campaign for a democratically elected mayor of Croydon (DEMOC), was officially launched in February and delivered a petition signed by 20,000 people to the Council last week. DEMOC is demanding that residents vote on their proposal in a referendum coinciding with the London Mayor and Assembly elections next May. It is understood that the Council Leadership – which is sceptical about the idea – now has a month to assess the petition before formally responding. By contrast, a similar campaign in Hammersmith & Fulham, launched last year by the local Conservative party, does not appear to have made quite as much headway.
CHANGING FACE OF LONDON LAUNCH
To mark its 15th anniversary, New London Architecture (NLA) today launched The Changing Face of London, with a live virtual tour of a new exhibition and panel discussion featuring our Chairman Robert Gordon Clark, as well as a new report, to be followed by a series of events. This wider project revisits the NLA’s very first exhibition in 2005, which identified the areas of London that were expected, at the time, to see the most transformative change. Fifteen years on, The Changing Face of London looks back at those projects, from King’s Cross to Stratford and Canary Wharf – but also looks ahead at more areas likely to see significant change, from Canada Water and Earl’s Court, to smaller developments in places like Sutton, Harrow, Kingston. Having supported the NLA from its inception, as one of its ten founding sponsors, LCA is delighted to be one of the headline sponsors for this year’s exhibition and programme of events. If you missed today’s launch event, fear not: you can still visit the exhibition at The Building Centre until next February (or at The City Centre between 23 September - 18 December), as well as attend any one of several related upcoming tours and events. You can also help spread the word about the project using the information and materials here.