BACK TO BUSINESS (SORT OF)
The welcome news that London’s shops have re-opened (there was certainly a long queue at TK Maxx in Ealing at 10:30 this morning) has to be set against the backdrop of the Arcadia and Debenhams news, especially for the thousands of employees whose job prospects appear bleak.
One thing is for sure, the retail industry continues to change and change fast. And whilst the imminent introduction of a vaccine provides some cause for optimism, the impact of Brexit looms. We will be covering all of this in our usual way over the next few weeks before taking a well-deserved break, with no LDN on 23 or 30 December. And in 2021, our focus will start to turn in earnest to the London Mayoral and Assembly elections on 6 May 2021.
In the meantime, we would draw you attention to an inquiry into the death of a nine year old girl in Lewisham in 2013 and whether London’s air quality, in this case on the South Circular Road, was the key reason for her death. The decision when it comes, could have a big impact on future transport planning and management.
On a brighter note, London welcomed back London Irish RFU to the capital after a 20 year break. As a good example of making best use of a new stadium, they are ground sharing with their football landlord’s Brentford FC at their new stadium in Hounslow. The Irish won their first home game, beating Leicester – a great start.
Hundreds of London businesses and venues rattled up their shutters today as the darkness of full lockdown gave way to the… twilight zone of Tier 2 restrictions. For most, the loosening of restrictions has come none too soon, but for others it was simply too late. Over the past seven days alone, retail giant Arcadia Group has folded, Debenhams has announced it will be wound up, and Abercrombie & Fitch has said that it aims to close its flagship Savile Row store. These moves alone threaten more than 25,000 jobs, many of which are in London. And even as existing jobs are lost, fewer new ones are being created. As reported by The Guardian on Monday, ‘London has suffered the biggest fall in job opportunities among Europe’s biggest cities.’ London’s retail ‘survivors’ nevertheless reopened today, as did many pubs, restaurants, museums and galleries, as well as many performance venues. But all will operate under stringent ‘Covid-safe’ rules and face still-low levels of footfall by tourists and office workers. Indeed, for every concerned shopkeeper or publican, there is an apprehensive office developer (well, it may not quite be a 1:1 ratio…). Recent polling by Queen Mary University suggests that many (though not all) London office workers are quite happy with the experience of working from home, while Deloitte Real Estate’s latest London Office Crane Survey indicates that the construction of new offices in central London has fallen by 50% in six months. However, as highlighted by Bloomberg, demand and rents for high grade office space remain high.
These predicaments are reflected in recent calls for ‘a plan’ for reopening by London authorities and businesses. The City of London Corporation is calling for ‘clarity on when office workers can return to Covid-secure workplaces.’ The Mayor of London has meanwhile teamed up with London Councils, business associations, as well as individual business leaders and academic experts constituting yet another advisory group for the capital, this one called the ‘London Covid Business Forum,’ to send a ‘shared and evolving roadmap for recovery’ to the Prime Minister.
A functioning and safe public transport system is of course key to reopening London and there have been important developments on that front also. Following last week’s warnings from TfL Commissioner Andy Byford that Crossrail could be ‘mothballed’ without additional funding from the Government, it was confirmed yesterday that TfL and the Government had come to an agreement on further funding, for it’s (hopefully) final phase. The GLA will borrow up to £825m from the Department for Transport for the completion of what will become the Elizabeth Line, with the aim of opening in the first half of 2022. Meanwhile, TfL is also reported to be in the process of identifying ‘non-operational’ property assets for sale (in addition to redeveloping others over time) as part of efforts to increase revenues. LDN readers particularly interested in TfL’s development efforts may also be interested in our London Planning Latest story below – and in TfL’s Commercial Development Department podcast. CommsCast’s latest episode features speakers from Building Equality and Planning Out for a discussion on LGBT+ issues and the build environment.
CITY HALL AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAMME
The Mayor has released details of his new and updated £4bn Affordable Homes Programme for the period 2021-26. The programme will be open to housing associations, local authorities, for-profit developers, community-led organisations and others. It will, for a period, run in parallel with the current 2016-23 programme. The Mayor’s press release and funding guidance document says the funds will help ‘start 82,000 new affordable homes across both the new and current programmes.’ They do not clarify how many of those new homes overlap with the remaining 57,000 or so starts targeted by the current, £4.8bn programme, which is intended to help deliver 116,000 affordable home starts in total. However, a relevant Mayoral Decision specifies that the Mayor has committed to using the new programme to support the delivery ‘of at least 35,000 affordable housing starts in London between April 2021 and March 2026.’ In any event, while acknowledging that the new programme is smaller than what City Hall had hoped for, the Mayor’s press release is upbeat. It cites evidence that the current programme has ‘hit every single one’ of its delivery targets to date, highlights the fact that ‘more than half’ of the new programme will be used to fund social rented homes, as well as hold bidders to strict sustainability, building safety, design, equality, diversity and inclusion standards.
Separately, City Hall also announced a commitment to providing further funding to help Peabody ‘guarantee’ that 70% of the affordable homes on the former Holloway Prison site will be social housing. Somewhat confusingly, the announcement did not explicitly specify where the funds would be drawn from (the new Affordable Homes Programme was only launched a few days later).
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- The long-awaited GLA public hearing for Ballymore and Hammerson’s Bishopsgate Goodsyard scheme is set to take place tomorrow. The scheme, which was first called in by then-Mayor Boris Johnson in 2015, has been recommended for approval by GLA officers. There are, however still some concerns from both Hackney and Tower Hamlets, as well as from campaigners, over the plans for the site, which include the delivery of office space, a 25-storey hotel, up to 500 homes (50% affordable) and retail space.
- Brent Council has approved plans by TfL and Barratt for a residential development next to Wembley Park station. The scheme will consist of 454 homes (152 of which will be affordable), retail space and operational space for TfL.
- An appeal brought by campaigners against Delancey’s planned redevelopment of Elephant & Castle has been granted a hearing in March 2021. The appeal will focus on the number of affordable homes proposed for the scheme. Activists from the 35% Campaign, who want Southwark Council to uphold their affordable housing commitments, were unsuccessful in their first legal challenge against the regeneration.
A new inquest into the 2013 death of nine-year-old Lewisham resident Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has started this week. Ella died after suffering from breathing problems and seizures and was admitted to hospital nearly 30 times in just three years. An initial inquest ruled that Ella had died from acute respiratory failure, but her mother Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for the high levels of air pollution near their Lewisham home to be taken into consideration as a factor in her daughter’s death. In 2015, Sir Stephen Holgate concluded that there was a link between Ella’s death and the extremely high air pollutant levels near her home. The findings of the first inquest have now been quashed. On the first day of this latest inquest, Lewisham Council was accused of failing to make tackling air pollution a priority.
However, Lewisham Council’s draft Local Plan, approved this week for public consultation early next year does make a commitment to creating a healthier and ‘greener' borough. The draft document mentions 'air quality' 172 times and heavily emphasises the protection and enhancement of green spaces, the improvement of public access to these and the promotion of urban greening. Separately, the draft plan includes a target of 50% ‘genuinely affordable’ housing and the proposal that developers delivering fewer than 10 homes make a contribution to the Council’s affordable housing budget. The plan also says that the Council will ‘resist’ developments which only include studios and one-bed flats to address the need for more family-sized homes. It is hoped that the final version of the Local Plan will be adopted in 2022.
The Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) has announced that David Lunts will become its permanent Chief Executive after having held the role on an interim basis since since March 2019. He will therefore stand down from his role as the GLA’s Executive Director of Housing & Land. That post will be filled on an interim basis by the current Deputy Director, Rickardo Hyatt, until a permanent appointment is made.
Meanwhile, London will soon have a new Lord. The proprietor of the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers Evgeny Lebedev was nominated for a life peerage by the Prime Minister earlier this year. It was reported last week that he will be sworn in on 17 December, with the sesquipedalian title ‘Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation’ (rumour has it he wanted the last bit to be ‘of Moscow,’ but it didn’t pan out).
As Croydon Council continues to grapple with its financial crisis, its wholly-owned housing developer Brick By Brick is feeling the squeeze. A report from PwC commissioned by the Council to examine companies it owns or manages has found that that Brick By Brick ‘significantly underperformed’ against its 2019/20 business plan. The Council has now moved to replace two of its Board members, as the company’s future reportedly hangs in the balance. Of course, Croydon is not the only council whose property investments have caused concern. Last week, the Treasury confirmed that it was changing the Public Works Loan Board’s lending criteria, to prevent councils using it as a source of finance to fund high-risk investments in land and development. Yet, as underlined by the Financial Times, many councils were in the first place incentivised to invest in property only ‘as a way of trying to generate income without increasing council tax, after deep cuts to local budgets over the past decade.’ A Catch 22, if there ever was one.
LONDON MEDICAL ESTATES LATEST
While flagship NHS hospital building plans tend to grab the national headlines, recent news from across London reminds us that developing smaller healthcare facilities can be just as critical (and sometimes, every bit as controversial). See for example plans by the London Ambulance Service (LAS) Trust to upgrade and streamline its estate, which form part of a wider Estates Vision and that have now caused ructions in North London. The LAS’ decision to relocate services from a station in Wembley, Brent to Kenton, Harrow, have recently raised concerns and a petition against the move – though the LAS itself has defended it as necessary and causing no harm to services. Further to the East, Hackney’s Mayor is set on pushing forward with plans developed jointly by the Council and the City and Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to relocate two local surgeries from outdated facilities to new purpose-built facilities on Council-owned land.
LOW TRAFFIC NEIGHBOURHOODS LATEST
- Kensington & Chelsea’s decision to scrap its seven-week-old cycle lanes on Kensington High Street has had quite the reaction. Funded with over £300,000 of Government money (which must now be refunded), the Council has said that the lanes are being removed after ‘businesses and residents expressed concerns that the experimental scheme was not working’. In response to the news, local cyclists staged a ‘festive joyride’ on 1 December in support of the cycle lane.
- Meanwhile, in East London, Hackney Council has defended its introduction of LTNs. It recently asked the Met Police for help in protecting equipment that has in some cases been vandalised and destroyed by opponents of the road measures' - and has also published evidence that the introduction of LTNs has not caused an increase in traffic on surrounding roads.
- Writing in The Telegraph, Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has said that if elected Mayor of London in May 2021, he would ‘suspend LTNs, only introducing one if a majority of residents support it’. Bailey referred to LTNs as a single ‘scheme’ and did not clarify whether he was talking about projects implemented directly by TfL (which he’d control), projects run by boroughs (which he wouldn't control unless on TfL designated roads), or all of them. And we assume he meant there would need to be some form of ballot to demonstrate if there is the support. How this would be run and who would pay for it, remains to be seen.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Annual General Meeting took place last week, producing few major changes to report. All Cabinet Members remain in place and Cllr PJ Murphy was elected as the borough’s new Mayor, while there was just the one change on the Council’s Planning Committee, with Cllr Rebecca Harvey (Lab, Avonmore & Brook Green) joining as vice chair and Cllr Matt Uberoi (Lab, Sands End) leaving the Committee. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the borough, the Hammersmith Bridge saga continues. The Council is now considering plans drawn up by Foster + Partners and COWI for a possible temporary double-decker crossing introduced within the existing bridge, to allow both pedestrians and some vehicles to cross the river while the 133-year-old bridge undergoes crucial repairs.
LONDON IRISH COMEBACK
Amongst much gloom, Sunday 29 November 2020 marked a bright spot - the welcome and long expected return of London Irish Rugby Football Club to the capital after a 20 year break. The club’s home for some years had been a ground share at Reading FC’s Madjeski stadium. In 2017, LCA advised Brentford FC on the successful planning application to allow London Irish to play their home games at the club’s new 17,500 Brentford Community Stadium in the London Borough of Hounslow. The stadium was completed in the summer of 2020 and hosted Brentford’s first league match on 1 September. London Irish re-join Saracens and Harlequins as one of three Premier League rugby clubs in the capital and we all at LCA are thrilled that they are back!
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