If you scroll down to our fourth story, beyond the mire of epidemiology and austerity, you will find a truly positive piece.
Pollution in London is down, way down, and not just for the period that we were all locked indoors this Spring but over a much longer term. It’s nice to know that change can happen and progress can be made, especially as there is still a way to go.
With the party conferences not exactly providing their usual Autumnal diversion, the political calendar is a little shapeless and the moving parts around the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and public sector budgets must be making life difficult for those trying to balance the books. Transport for London (TfL) in particular could do with some clarity.
With less of the political gossip and cheap wine to propel us through the season, we turn instead to some cool new tech from VU.CITY and some exciting news for North Londoners who have long-awaited movement on a major regeneration scheme.
The Mayor has continued to insist that rising infection rates in the capital warrant additional restrictions, such as those implemented in other parts of the country – though he has also contested the effectiveness of the 10pm hospitality industry curfew. Recently, Khan has bluntly suggested to HuffPost that the government has rejected his recommendations because of party politics and it is true that Khan has faced criticism (see also here) from some Conservative MPs for suggesting that any new restrictions should cover the whole city, even if infection rates vary between boroughs. Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets Council’s directly-elected Labour Mayor John Biggs has gone as far as strongly advising his residents to avoid mixing with other households ‘unless absolutely necessary.’ Separately, a new ‘manifesto’ by the Central London Alliance of business groups highlights, perhaps unsurprisingly, the lack of ‘clear London-specific Covid messaging’ as a major obstacle to economic recovery.
The Mayor meanwhile issued a press release outlining his submission to the Government’s CSR, arguing that a failure to provide adequate support to both public authorities and key economic sectors in the capital risks ‘hamper[ing] the entire UK’s recovery.’ He underlined that London’s economy accounts for a quarter of the UK’s total economic output and contributes a net £38.7bn in tax revenues to the Treasury every year – and directly accused the Government of ‘excluding London from many of their recent spending announcements.’ Separately, Khan’s Chief of Staff David Bellamy warned that City Hall itself already faces some tough choices as it prepares next year’s budget. For his part, the Communities Secretary has reportedly told local government leaders that he expects the CSR to be published in November, but did not clarify whether it offers another one-year settlement, or will cover several years. On a related note, the Financial Times reports that a promised White Paper on English Devolution, expected this autumn, has been delayed until 2021. While widely expected to focus on creating new combined authorities and mayors elsewhere in England, the White Paper may well additionally herald changes to the funding, structure and powers of London’s local and regional government – for the better, or for the worse.
In another sign that relations between national and London authorities remain challenging to say the least, Transport Commissioner Andy Byford has revealed to the London Assembly that while he was provided a draft of the keenly awaited report on TfL’s finances from a Government-commissioned review, two thirds of it had been redacted. Byford suggested that both this review and a separate review commissioned by the Mayor should be finalised later this month (with Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander confirming that the aim is for the latter to be made public). In linked news, TfL’s submission to the CSR was published last week, ahead of a meeting of TfL’s Finance Committee. The document lays out ‘a long-term vision of what [TfL] could deliver with secure, committed funding’ – even as negotiations with the Government on funding arrangements covering the next 18 months are ongoing. In the submission, TfL makes the case for projects including the extension of the DLR to Thamesmead, as well as for the delivery of housing on TfL land, but suggests little hope is being held out for funding projects such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line Extension – at least in the immediate future.
CLEAN AIR AND CLOGGED STREETS
The GLA has released a report indicating substantial improvements in London’s air quality, achieved between 2016 and 2020. The report has found a 94% reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide and 97% fewer schools in these areas. However, it also found that the city has a long way to go, with 99% of the capital having particle pollution levels above the World Health Organisation’s strict limits. While these findings will be welcome news for the Mayor, the backlash against his Londonwide Streetspace scheme and the implementation of local Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) is ongoing, with protests in Hackney and Ealing, and a legal challenge launched against Islington Council over the plans to remove cars from local streets.
CITY HALL PLANNING
Meanwhile, the Mayor confirmed last week that he has abandoned his application for a judicial review of plans for an incinerator in Belvedere. The plans by Cory Riverside Energy have been opposed by local councillors and MPs, but were approved by the Secretary of State in 2019. The Mayor’s office is cited as saying that it chose to abandon the legal challenge due to its high costs. An interesting justification considering he approved, earlier this month, ‘additional expenditure of up to £250,000 exclusive of VAT on top of the £350,000 already approved’ to cover the costs of defending his own decision to refuse plans for ‘The Tulip.’ Meanwhile, The Times published an article this week asserting that Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has ‘blocked’ plans to a housing development in the Prime Minister’s constituency. Inland Homes’ application for 514 homes (35% affordable) on the Master Brewer site in Hillingdon were refused by the Council, only to be called in and approved by the Mayor. In fact Jenrick has not actually rejected the plans quite yet and indeed, has not even called them in. He has, however, issued a holding order on the scheme and he reportedly wrote to Khan in August, urging him to ‘not to grant permission on these applications without specific authorisation’.
OTHER PLANNING NEWS
- A proposed 20-storey tower with 133 flats (100% affordable) on the Clement Attlee Estate, promoted by a joint venture between LBHF and Stanhope, has been approved by Hammersmith & Fulham’s planning committee.
- BlackRock and NEAT Developments received full planning permission for plans to build 444 homes (35% affordable) in four blocks of between six and 29 storeys and outline planning permission for up to 1,356 more at Colosseum Retail Park in Southbury, Enfield.
- A delayed public inquiry into plans for a proposed Holocaust Memorial next to the Palace of Westminster began this week, with a recent Judicial Review clearing the way for the process to move forward – though the scheme continues to generate controversy, to the point that the Communities Secretary was reportedly put under police protection.
- Meanwhile, this week also sees the beginning of Heathrow Airport’s Supreme Court appeal against a previous court decision to block its third runway plans (on the grounds that it did not take into account the UK’s climate pledges).
PARTY CONFERENCES LATEST
Along with the pandemic and sheer Zoom-fatigue, the remoteness of a General Election in the distant future of AD 2024 has taken the heat out of all the parties’ annual meets. The Liberal Democrats’ conference concluded last week, attracting cursory press coverage of an agenda that was largely inward-looking (as was Party Leader Sir Ed Davey MP’s speech). As for this week’s Conservative Conference, a packed programme of ministers’ speeches and fringe events told us little more than to expect hard times ahead and more ‘levelling up’. Sadly, we saw no London-focused events in the Lib Dems’ programme, and only one on the Tories’. As for the two parties’ Mayoral candidates: the Lib Dems have yet to officially appoint their new candidate (even though only one, Luisa Porritt, is in the running), while the Tories’ Shaun Bailey was consigned to a fringe event on social housing and a ‘discussion’ with Grant Shapps (whereas he had a prominent speaking slot on the conference’s main stage in 2018 and 2019). At least the speech by Green Party co-Leaders (and London councillors) Sian Berry and Jon Bartley did bring London’s Broadgate Cinema to life, during their still-ongoing conference.
PLANNING REFORM GRIPES
The Mayor has weighed in on the Government’s proposed changes to the standard method of assessing local areas’ housing needs (a consultation on which ended last week), pronouncing them ‘not fit for purpose’ for London and ‘undeliverable.’ Early estimates have found that the method, as proposed, would essentially allocate a 93,500 annual target for new homes in London (up from about 56,000 homes at present). Sadiq is not alone in expressing concerns: most recently, Conservative MPs and Councillors from outside London have opposed the proposals, as have 64 firms from across the housing and development sectors. This policy is separate to those mooted in the Planning for the Future White Paper, whose consultation is ongoing, and which also continues to generate reactions. As part of a campaign by the News Media Association (and backed by the National Union of Journalists), local media across London – from the Camden New Journal to the Times Series – have recently criticised proposals in the White Paper which could remove the requirement to issue ‘public notices’ on new development plans in local newspapers. They argue that the proposals would leave local communities in the dark about development in their area – as well as ‘weaken the viability of many local titles.’
Two of Outer London’s most prominent Labour Council Leaders have been in the news of late, both having recently marked political wins, but at what cost? For Redbridge’s Cllr Jas Athwal, clearing his name has been a relief. But as prominently featured in The Observer this past Sunday, rebutting sexual harassment allegations was an almost year-long ‘ordeal,’ during which time he was suspended from the Labour Party, disqualified from running for election in the Ilford South seat and perhaps most importantly suffered a significant psychological toll. Meanwhile in South London, Croydon Council’s Labour Leader Tony Newman (and his Cabinet member for Finance Cllr Simon Hall) both survived a vote of no confidence moved by the Conservative Opposition. While they won comfortably, with 40 votes in their favour and 28 against, Newman and Hall have bigger worries: they still need to address the borough’s serious financial crisis. While the Council’s finances are undoubtedly affected by a decade of austerity and the pandemic, the Conservative group has also pointed to costly property investment decisions made under Newman’s administration as a sign of ‘mismanagement.’
NEW HOSPITALS FOR LONDON?
In the lead up to 2019’s General Election the government promised ‘40 new hospitals’ – they have now, almost a year on, released more details. The announcement of the £3.7bn package for 40 new hospitals includes a list of planned facilities and the stage they are currently at. Four are currently under construction, a further four ‘pending final approval’, with the remaining projects to be delivered at a later date (some by 2025 and others by 2030). While there is some doubt about how ‘new’ all these hospitals will actually be – with most seemingly involving the refurbishment or expansion of existing ones – it is encouraging to see that a number of London’s NHS Trusts have been granted a sizeable share of the funding. These include two projects LCA is currently supporting – a new eye care, research and education centre for Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, currently at the ‘final approval stage,’ as well as plans for a new Whipps Cross University Hospital. Also named in the list is a new major hospital for Epsom General Hospital and St Helier Hospital, as well as rebuilds of Hillingdon Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital. More details can be found in the Department for Health and Social Care’s new Health Infrastructure Plan, published at the end of last month.
BRENT CROSS TOWN
A joint venture between developers Argent Related and Barnet Council has unveiled their vision for an entirely new neighbourhood in North London, which may well be – as described by the Evening Standard – the ‘most ambitious regeneration project’ to be announced in the capital since the pandemic. The Brent Cross Town scheme will comprise 6,700 homes, 3m sq ft of office space to accommodate 25,000 workers, 150,000 sq ft of indoor sport and leisure facilities, 50 acres of parks, the refurbishment of three local schools, as well as new student accommodation, restaurants, retail space and various other local amenities. It spans a 180-acre site, with excellent transport links to the rest of the city and in close proximity to other ongoing regeneration schemes in the wider Brent Cross Cricklewood area. Argent Related and Barnet Council’s plans play heavily on prioritising environmental sustainability, residents’ wellbeing and rapidly evolving attitudes towards work and commuting – and seek to build on partnerships they have developed with local community groups, sports organisations, expert researchers and a range of private sector partners. The project was recently awarded by a £148m Homes England loan to fund local infrastructure and some enabling works for the £6bn scheme are already underway. It is hoped that a first phase of homes and offices will be completed by 2024.
Next week, LCA clients VU.CITY, the City of London Corporation and New London Architecture (NLA) will be launching a new virtual reality model of the Square Mile. Working with Innovate UK, the three organisations have produced an astonishingly detailed digital twin of a major city area, which captures every building, lamp post, window and traffic light to 2cm accuracy across its 2.9 sq km geographical spread – a first in accuracy and detail for a virtual model covering such a large area. To hear more about this project from VU.CITY’s Jason Hawthorne and Joanne McCarter, alongside Gwyn Richards of the City of London Corporation, you can register to attend the online event taking place next Wednesday. Separately, next Tuesday’s NLA event ‘Breaking Down Bias will include a presentation from Rachel Bell, Board Director of yet another LCA client, Stride Treglown. Rachel is rapidly becoming one of the most well-known faces in the industry and her #standtall campaign on Twitter has resonated with – and inspired – women in architecture and beyond. Sign up to hear her views on diversity, how things have improved and how the industry can still do better.
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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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