The Transport Secretary has parachuted in Baroness Vere to lead the charge to save the Hammersmith Bridge, which makes us wonder (once again) why everyone is so keen on fighting over just about everything these days?
After all, the cracks in the Grade II* listed bridge don't hold a party membership card. Nor does the coronavirus. Nor, for that matter, do the majority of Londoners. But here we are again, summarising the latest party-political clashes in the war for control of the capital.
Transport and planning have emerged as major battlegrounds for the 2021 Mayoral and Assembly elections – whose competing campaigns are now definitively up and running again. Except perhaps for the Lib Dems', who charged forward with two aspiring candidates last week, only for one to go off piste within days.
Then there's a range of other battles over control of London's Town Halls and the approval of major development schemes, all covered below.
'TAKING BACK CONTROL?'
Not content with clawing back British sovereignty from the EU, the Government is now ‘taking back control’ of… wayward London. So said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week, when he announced a new taskforce to accelerate the reopening of the iconic Hammersmith Bridge, which was partially closed in April 2019 and has been fully shut since last month due to cracks in its ageing structure. Hopefully the initiative, led by Transport Minister Baroness Vere and involving Network Rail, will make more headway than Hammersmith & Fulham Council (which owns the bridge), neighbouring Richmond Council, TfL and the Mayor have achieved over the past year and a half. Then again, as the Mayor, local MPs and Council Leaders, the Evening Standard and others have observed, Shapps and Vere were quiet on whether the government will contribute towards the steep cost of refurbishment that, needless to say, has always been the real sticking point. As reported by City AM, the Government is reserving any commitment until it has interrogated cost estimates (of anywhere between £46m and £141m) more closely.
Relations are clearly tense between the Mayor and Government. See for example Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, who while speaking to the Chartered Institute for Housing conference last Thursday, portrayed City Hall’s £4bn allocation from the new Affordable Housing Programme as a generous helping hand, even though it is actually smaller than the previous programme’s offer. Certainly doesn’t bode well for Transport for London, as it awaits the results of KPMG’s review into its finances, supposedly due any day now, at which point negotiations on a second government bailout will begin in earnest.
TORIES IN ATTACK MODE
Indeed, the Conservatives’ efforts to clobber Khan seem well-coordinated these days - presumably with next May’s Mayoral election in mind – as Tory Ministers team up with local MPs, Assembly Members and councillors to attack the Mayor. Grant Shapps’ big Hammersmith Bridge taskforce announcement is a case-in-point, as it was used as an opportunity to create a new campaign video for Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey. That video was, in turn, re-Tweeted by GLA Conservative Group Leader Susan Hall AM, whose Twitter feed reads like case study in negative campaigning. It highlights how Conservative politicians across London are taking aim at Khan over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), clearly aiming to tap into a groundswell of opposition in many parts of the capital. Hall has notably supported Tory-led Wandsworth’s recent decision to roll back its own LTN programme, which is an especially instructive case. The local Conservative association and Borough Leader Ravi Govindia are seeking to pin the blame for the LTN programme’s failure and proposed changes to the A24 on the Mayor, TfL and even local Labour opposition Councillor and AM Leonie Cooper.
WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY?
It remains to be seen whether the Conservatives’ spirited campaigning pays off at the polls next May. If we are to believe ‘internal Tory polling’ that was recently ‘leaked’ to The Telegraph, Shaun Bailey is at least ‘beginning to close the gap.’ The poll reportedly found 35% of those surveyed would give Bailey their first preference vote, compared to 42% for Khan – Bailey’s best performance so far, but still well short of what he'd need to win. Furthermore, the poll’s results vary significantly from other recent Mayoral voting intention polls carried out by relatively new (but British Polling Council-accredited) consulting firm Redfield and Wilton Strategies. They put Bailey at 26% and 28% in August and September this year, against 49% and 48% for Khan. Separate polling by YouGov for Bailey’s campaign, carried out in July and published earlier this month, did not test voting intentions. However, YouGov's poll suggested that more Londoners think the Mayor is doing a ‘bad job’ than a ‘good job’ on a range of issues, including ‘reducing crime and making London safer.’
ON THE 'OTHER' CANDIDATES
Following Siobhan Benita’s decision to step down as the Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate in July, the party last week unveiled their shortlist of two candidates aspiring to stand in her place. Luisa Porritt, a Camden councillor and former MEP who has also just been appointed leader of Camden’s Lib Dems was to compete with Geeta Sidhu Robb, a businesswoman and former vice chair of the People’s Vote campaign. But following various reports in PoliticsHome about Sidhu Robb’s views on vaccines and statements on council housing, but especially anti-Semitic comments made in 1997, she was hastily suspended from the party and removed from the shortlist. It has since been alleged that Sidhu Robb may have not undergone proper vetting due to her connections and ability to bring in donations for the party. Over the weekend, Benita distanced herself from the campaign and the party, clarifying that she is in fact no longer a party member, and asserting that ‘there are serious issues that need fixing in the London region’.
The Green’s Mayoral candidate (also a sitting London Assembly Member and Camden councillor) Sian Berry, has fared better recently, having just been re-elected co-leader of the national Green Party. Berry will continue to share the role with Jonathan Bartley, who is a councillor in Lambeth.
ALL CHANGE AT LONDON COUNCILS
Following last week’s news that John O’Brien will be stepping down as CEO of London Councils in the Spring of 2021, leader of Camden Council Cllr Georgia Gould (Lab) has been elected as the organisation’s new Chair, succeeding Councillor Peter John. Cllr Gould’s current role of Deputy Chair will be filled by Barking & Dagenham Leader Cllr Darren Rodwell (Lab). Cllr John had announced his plans to step down earlier this year, but extended his stay to oversee the response to COVID-19. In recent months, Cllr Gould had already begun stepping up in Londonwide initiatives, including leading the key economic recovery workstream of the London Recovery Board. The changes will be confirmed at the Leaders’ Committee meeting scheduled for 13 October.
As reported last week, Southwark Labour Councillors have elected Cllr Kieron Williams as the new Council Leader and Cllr Jasmine Ali as the Deputy Leader. They and a full Cabinet lineup will be formally approved at this evening’s full Council Annual Meeting. The details have not yet been published, so more on this next week when it’s all official! Meanwhile, Merton Council is also holding its annual meeting this evening and judging by relevant documents, it looks like the current Cabinet headed up by Cllr Stephen Alambritis will remain, with only a few tweaks to portfolio titles and responsibilities. Looking ahead, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Islington’s Annual Council meeting, scheduled for Thursday 24 September.
COUNCIL LEADERSHIP WOBBLES
Ructions within Haringey Labour make for an uncertain situation in advance of the Council’s now-postponed AGM. A total of five Labour councillors elected in 2018 are now suspended from the party on various grounds and sitting as independents. One of these, Cllr Paul Berryman, was reportedly poised to mount a leadership challenge against Cllr Joe Ejiofor. With the postponed Haringey Labour AGM due tomorrow and the full council AGM now postponed to 1 October (it was scheduled for 24 September), the next few weeks promise to be eventful. Meanwhile, we are hearing rumours of another potential leadership challenge, in a borough south of the river… But elsewhere in North London, another embattled leader is sighing with relief this week; a Labour Party investigation has cleared the Redbridge Leader Cllr Jas Athwal of allegations which cost him the Ilford South candidacy at the 2019 General elections. Athwal is now calling for an independent investigation into the handling of the case by party officers and members of the National Executive Committee. OnLondon has the full story.
- Chris Grigg has announced that he will be stepping down as CEO of British Land on 18 November, after which he will leaving the Board and the company on 31 December. He will be succeeded as CEO by Simon Carter, currently CFO of British Land.
- Andrew Hynard has announced that he is to retire as Chief Executive of The Howard de Walden Estate next year. Current Chief Operating Officer Mark Kildea will take over in an interim capacity.
- Former Kensington & Chelsea councillor (and former advisor to then-Mayor Boris Johnson) Daniel Moylan has this week taken his seat in the Lords, among several other new life peers.
- Katherine Kerswell has been appointed as Croydon’s interim Chief Executive. Kerswell was formerly interim Chief Executive of Nottingham City Council.
GETTING ALONG (SOMETIMES)
There are, believe it or not, some things that the Communities Secretary and the Mayor do agree on. Robert Jenrick has approved L&Q’s called-in 441-home (50% affordable) scheme at the former Citroen car dealership site in Brentford, which had previously been called in and approved (following amendments) by the Mayor. Hounslow councillors had initially rejected the scheme on the grounds of impact on the nearby world heritage site Kew Gardens as well as other listed buildings and conservation areas in the vicinity, but Council Leader Steve Curran has now welcomed the scheme’s final approval. Meanwhile, another project supported by both Jenrick and Khan (but opposed by Westminster councillors) is wrapped up in a legal knot: a proposed Holocaust Memorial by Ron Arad and Adjaye Associates, to be located in the Grade II-listed Victoria Tower Gardens, is the subject of a judicial review now being heard by the High Court. The case was brought by the London Gardens Trust, which applied for a review of the Communities Secretary’s decision to delegate the case to Housing Minister Christopher Pincher. While the Ministry argues the decision was precisely intended to avoid conflicts of interest, by acknowledging that Jenrick should not decide on it as a sponsor of project backers UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the Trust contends that only an independent inspector could be considered truly impartial. The case continues.
LONDON TRANSPORT LATEST
We briefly referred to Hammersmith Bridge, LTNs, TfL’s financial reviews and bailout negotiations above, but that’s not all for transport in London this week! The controversial Silvertown Tunnel has been in the news again, with critics including Green AM Caroline Russell asserting that newly-published TfL accounts show it will ‘cost nearly £2bn over the next three decades’ in a potential sign that the cost of the project is growing. However, TfL is cited as stating that the cost of constructing the tunnel has not increased and remains steady at £1bn or so, with the additional costs referring to ‘ongoing operational costs … for 25 years as well as any maintenance and asset renewal required’. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has launched a petition calling on ‘the Tory Government to get their hand off public transport in London and give us the funding we need - without punishing Londoners for doing the right thing on Covid-19.’ As of writing, it had collected almost 4,000 signatures. Uber will meanwhile be hoping Khan will get his hands off them, as the Westminster Magistrates’ Court begins to hear their appeal against TfL’s refusal to renew their operating license in their capital. Separately, many West London boroughs and businesses will be gutted to hear that British Airways is planning up to 12,000 job cuts.
TO CALL IT IN, OR NOT TO CALL IT IN?
According to reports in the local press, the Mayor has called in CIT’s plans for a scheme in Southwark. The proposals, which include a 20 storey office block, were rejected by the borough’s planning committee in June, over concerns about the height and scale. The details of the decision and date for a public hearing have not yet been published by City Hall. In what is essentially a symbolic gesture, Westminster City Council’s Planning (Major Applications) Sub-Committee has meanwhile refused permission for British Land’s revised proposals for 5 Kingdom Street. The mixed-use scheme had previously been rejected by Westminster’s Planning Committee in January this year and had already been called-in by the Mayor, who will ultimately decide on it at a public hearing scheduled for 29 October.
GLA HOUSING LATEST
The London Assembly Housing Committee has this week published its 2020 Affordable Housing Monitor, which assesses how the Mayor of London has performed against his affordable homes commitments. It found that in 2019/20, 17,256 affordable homes of various tenures were started, a larger amount than any other year under Khan’s Mayoralty and the highest number of affordable starts ever recorded by the GLA. However, it also underlines that the GLA will have a hard time meeting its target of directly supporting 116,000 starts in total, even with the Government granting it an extended target date of 2023 (from 2022): with 57,040 of the 116,000 affordable homes not yet started, the Mayor will have to achieve an average of 19,013 starts per year, which is better than he’s ever done, in an extremely difficult economic environment. Separately, the Assembly Housing and Environment Committees have today written to the Business Secretary with comments on the Green Homes Grant and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund
The Mayor has only today called on the Government to give him the powers required to implement a freeze on private rents for the next two years. This is the latest of multiple calls by the Mayor over recent years for the devolution of powers over the private rental market to the GLA (and a major plank of his re-election platform before the pandemic hit). Citing concerns about private renters who may have fallen behind on rents as a result of Covid-19 and as both the furlough scheme and the extended ban on evictions come to an end this weekend, the Mayor again warns of an impending ‘tsunami of evictions’. Drawing on the example of Berlin, where a five year rent freeze was announced earlier this year, the proposed measures would allow rents to be lowered, but not increased, and would apply both between and within tenancies. Shortly before we went to print, the Government announced an extension of the eviction ban for commercial (but not residential) tenants.
LONDON RECOVERY LATEST
Efforts to better understand the particular challenges faced by London as it recovers from the pandemic and lockdown are beginning to gather steam. As per a long Mayoral announcement issued yesterday, City Hall has commissioned 'a major new piece of research into the future challenges and opportunities facing central London and the Canary Wharf area.' Highlighting the area’s huge economic output before the pandemic (an estimated £228bn in 2017, accounting for 'over half of London’s output and over a tenth of UK output') and its 'sudden and rapid reduction in footfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic,' the release argues that the 'economic case for focusing on central London is overwhelming.' An interim report is due early in the New Year, after which 'the focus will shift to exploring potential policy solutions to help the centre of London evolve and adapt to potential shifts and transitions.' The release also mentions that, following an extensive consultation and 'collective thinking' from a range of stakeholders, London Recovery Board members have agreed on eight ‘missions’ – which is to say broad priority areas – for tackling a range of economic and social issues. Finally, it notes that the Mayor will be co-chairing sessions of an international Recovery Summit taking place this week.
Lewisham Council has reportedly decided to extend changes made to its planning processes in June for a further six months. Due to the backlog of planning applications as a result of Covid-19, the Council had decided to increase the threshold of objections needed to automatically send a planning application to a public meeting of the Planning Committee, from three to five. Now, it appears the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee has unanimously approved an extension of this change, which will now be in place until at least March 2021. Local societies have however voiced their opposition to the extension, which they argue impacts transparency and engagement with local residents, alleging that it means an increased amount of planning decisions will continue to be ‘made behind closed doors.’ The changes do, however, bring the borough of Lewisham into line with other London boroughs, who tend to have higher thresholds.
ESTATE REGEN LATEST
The BBC Two’s four-part (all now available on iPlayer) series Manctopia: Billion Pound Property Boom and Channel 4s Council House Britain have again cast a spotlight on social housing and estate regeneration in England. It’s not always a happy picture, but both of these recently aired shows underline the importance of maintaining and expanding the country’s social housing stock. Councils here in London are set on pushing forward with estate regeneration plans. Harrow Council recently confirmed Wates Residential as its development partner for a regeneration programme that plans to deliver 1,500 new homes across several sites. Meanwhile, Hackney Council is proceeding with its own plans, with councillors recently (re)approving Phase 3 of Berkeley’s plans for 600 new homes, a new public park, 175 new trees and 29 tennis courts on the Woodberry Down Estate (though the ‘Happy Man Tree’ will not, as it appears, live to see the results), as well as waving through plans to build over 100 new council homes across two sites in Hoxton.
TOWN HALLS REVAMPED
Plans for the redevelopment of two old Town Halls in London have made the news this week. First, an application for the redevelopment of Ealing’s Perceval House has been submitted to the Council. The proposals, jointly supported by the Council and developer Vistry, entail the demolition of the current Council offices and the redevelopment of the site to provide seven new buildings, one which will be 26 storeys high. The development will be comprised of 477 new homes, a library, and office space, including new Council offices. There is concern amongst some local residents about the height of the proposed buildings. Meanwhile, plans for the future of Surrey County Hall and the Bittoms car park in Kingston have been unveiled. Following the County Council’s decision last year to move to Woking, part of the building will be demolished, alongside a car park, with plans for housing to be delivered in buildings of varied heights, including one 17-storey tower, on the site. Consultation is now underway, with a planning application to be submitted to Kingston Council in early 2021.
2021 ELECTIONS: TECHNICALITIES
According to Lib Dem Party President Mark Pack, the Government has this week written to Returning Officers about arrangements for next May’s local and regional elections. The Government’s letter confirms that it fully intends to push ahead with the elections as planned – and also clarifies that no by-elections in England and Wales will occur before May 2021.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the City of London’s Court of Common Council will next month make a final decision on whether or not to delay their elections scheduled for next year. There are reportedly concerns that there has not been sufficient time for the electoral register to be updated. With many people and businesses (yes, local businesses actually get a vote in City elections) yet to return to the Square Mile following lockdown, it is feared that some will not have replied to requests about updating their details on the electoral roll. The proposal is to move the elections from March 2021 to May 2022, so as to coincide with local elections in the rest of London.
LCA SUPPORTS LDF 2020
The LCA team has been been delighted to support the PR and social media for London Design Festival (12-20 September), promoting King’s Cross as a key London Design District. The neighbourhood is hosting the festival commission Unity by Marlene Huissoud, installations by architecture practice muf and much more. Don’t miss your chance to see what’s on show at King’s Cross, as big name brands open their doors to the public – both physically and digitally – presenting exhibitions, installations and talks. The festival is free to attend, and you can find out more here.