There’s some big ‘stuff’ in this edition – tax reform and public sector finance, NHS restructuring, the latest on the Grenfell inquiry - and keeping track of how it all relates to life in the capital is no easy thing.
We try our best in these missives each week, but it’s vital that brains bigger and more dedicated than ours are on the case too. We work closely with and take seriously our support for organisations like the NLA (free event alert – see below), Future of London and London Councils for this very reason and we were pleased to see that London’s only dedicated think tank, Centre for London, has made what appears to be a very smart hire.
"Around 11 years ago I remember Professor Tony Travers of the LSE calling me and saying ‘give me a direct, immediate answer to this question – does London need its own think tank, yes or no?’ My answer was a rapid ‘yes’. To which he then said – ‘well a chap called Ben Rogers would like to meet you’.
Over a decade later, Centre for London has become firmly established as the capital’s research company and Ben is now off to pastures new.
The announcement of Nick Bowes’ appointment yesterday as his replacement is good news. A long-time adviser to the Mayor of London, Nick’s understanding of the policy issues in our capital is arguably second to none. Over the last five years he has been at the heart of many of the critical issues – from the recently adopted London Plan to the Mayor’s stance on Brexit, from the handling of the pandemic to the funding of Transport for London.
And he joins Centre for London at a critical moment. Despite there being no less than seven politicians and key advisers at the heart of the current government who once ran City Hall, the capital lacks many friends at court. The phrase ‘levelling up’ is loaded with sub-text. So how Centre for London frames the case for the capital over the coming few years will be critical, especially if the current Mayor is re-elected for a second, albeit shorter three year term. In tandem, Nick has the never ending challenge of raising money for the organisation to do this work at a time when budgets are tight.
We therefore wish him well and look forward to working with him and the Centre for London team in the years ahead."
LCA Chairman Robert Gordon Clark
TAXING LONDON LATEST
Local government finance may not be sexy, but it is important to how London runs and there has been a lot of movement in the last few days:
- Even we neglected to report that the Mayor’s draft budget did not technically pass muster in the London Assembly in a first vote on 27 January. But in the absence of a two thirds majority favouring any particular amendments, it was ultimately approved, with a second and final vote due on 25 February.
- The Government has submitted a Statutory Instrument which will extend the right of City Hall and TfL to use Community Infrastructure Levy receipts to cover the costs of borrowing to support the completion of Crossrail - by 10 years. The end date now becomes 31 March 2043 (a previous amendment to the relevant regulations, passed in 2019, had set that date at 31 March 2033).
- The Government has published its final local government finance settlement for England, for 2020-21, confirming that councils’ core spending power could rise by 4.6% in cash terms, a little more than the 4.5% originally floated. The final level depends though on what each authority chooses to do with their Council Tax rates from April.
- Speaking of, according to our latest tally, 24 of London’s 33 local authorities have at least tentatively indicated their intentions for 2021/22. Of these, 20 look set to increase total Council Tax (i.e. the main Council Tax charge and social care precept combined) by the maximum 4.99% allowed before requiring a referendum. The remaining four are planning smaller increases - Hillingdon 4.8%, Sutton 4.5%, Westminster 3.5%, and Wandsworth 3%.
- The Government has also published its Police Grant Report setting out the Home Office’s grant funding for police forces in England and Wales in 2021/22. It suggests that London is receiving around £140m more than last year, bringing the Met’s total direct resource and capital funding to above £3bn for the year.
- The Treasury has meanwhile urged councils to wait until after the 3 March Budget before issuing their annual business rates bills – hinting at potentially significant announcements in that arena but probably causing some frustration for local authorities by creating further uncertainty in the midst of their ‘budget season.’
- And as the Department for Transport and Transport for London negotiate the next round of Government support before the current bailout expires in March, the Mayor has teamed up with the leaders of all of the London Assembly’s political groups to ask that London retains a ‘fair share’ of the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) it raises every year.
Would you like an easy-read snapshot of key development opportunities and regeneration areas across London? Then have we got a treat for you! New London Architecture (NLA) has collaborated with the Mayor of London, City of London Corporation, London Councils and London & Partners to produce Opportunity London, quite literally ‘the definitive guide to development and investment opportunities across the capital.’ It provides an update on NLA’s annual London Boroughs report, offering a unique overview of development strategies and areas of opportunity. The richly-illustrated report includes an outline of London’s key strengths, a summary of the GLA-led London Recovery Programme and an Area Index of profiles for each borough, replete with case studies. The report also provides several ‘industry viewpoints’ from the likes of LSE’s Professor Tony Travers, BeFirst’s Pat Hayes, Levitt Bernstein’s Claire Murray, and Vu.City’s Jason Hawthorne.
KENSINGTON FORUM RETURNS
Plans for the redevelopment of the Kensington Forum hotel have been called in by the Government. The scheme, by Queensgate Investments and Rockwell, has had a troubled planning history. The proposals, which consist of the demolition of the existing hotel and delivery of a new 30-storey, 749-room hotel, 340 serviced flats and 62 affordable homes, as well as restaurants, conferencing facilities and leisure space, were first refused by Kensington and Chelsea Council in 2018. The planning application was then called in by the Mayor, who granted permission in 2019, before his decision was overturned by the High Court in early 2020 following a legal challenge from the Council. Deputy Mayor Jules Pipe then re-considered and granted approval for the plans in October 2020, but they are now set to be considered by a Planning Inspector, with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to make the final decision. While on the subject of call-ins, City Hall has yet to announce public hearing dates for the proposed Former Stag Brewery development in Richmond and the St Thomas Street office scheme in Southwark.
- The Mayor’s Director of Policy Nick Bowes has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of Centre for London, succeeding Ben Rogers. He is expected to begin in his new role this June.
- Montagu Evans has appointed Guy Bransbury, formerly of JLL, as Head of Central London Planning.
- The Mayor has announced the members of his Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.
- The MJ and LGC have reported that major changes to the senior officer teams at Tower Hamlets and Croydon councils respectively are in the works – watch this space for more.
ANOTHER NHS SHAKEUP
‘The biggest health reform for a decade’ blared the Times, ‘a power grab on the NHS’ shrieked The Independent. As per the BBC’s cooler take, a leaked policy paper indicates that the Government is looking to reverse the 2012 reforms to the health system, with a White Paper due later this month. In a nutshell, in seems that the changes amount to greater central Government control over some parts of the NHS, while rejigging the complicated web of regional and local bodies and partnerships that directly deliver or commission its services. Some analyses of the proposals suggest they would – in a surprising ‘plot twist’ for a Conservative government – scale back NHS outsourcing to the private sector, though it is not completely clear. Many have questioned whether the NHS needs more ‘reforms’ in the midst of a pandemic (echoing similar concerns about the scrapping of Public Health England earlier this year). We’ve seen interesting pieces making this case from contributors to the LSE’s blog and the BMJ. However others, including former Health Secretary and current Chair of the Commons’ Health Select Committee Jeremy Hunt, have argued that the leaked proposals could turn out to be helpful – you can listen to Hunt’s BBC4 Today Programme interview here (from 51:30). It’s probably a bit too early to tell either way, but one does wonder whether yet another shakeup is what the NHS needs right now…
The Grenfell Inquiry resumed on 8 February. It was paused in early December and is now temporarily taking place remotely, to the dissatisfaction of campaigners from Grenfell United. Key witnesses from insulation company Kingspan and Arconic, producer of ACM cladding, are appearing this week and so far, the Inquiry has heard that Kingspan kept the results of fire tests on their products ‘secret’, while a witness from Arconic said that the firm sold polyethylene cladding, which is flammable, ‘by default’ to UK customers.
Separately, the Government has today announced an additional £3.5bn for the removal of dangerous cladding on residential buildings. Removal from buildings over 18m will be fully funded while work on lower-rise buildings will be paid for by ‘a long-term, low interest, government-backed financing arrangement’. This new funding brings the total spent by the Government on cladding remediation to £5bn, but the announcement has been met with a backlash from both the Opposition and from Conservative backbenchers, with at least 40 MPs reported prepared to rebel against the Government over the plans. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also announced plans to cover the costs of these grants through a ‘Gateway 2’ levy on developers, which will ‘apply when developers seek permission to develop certain high-rise buildings’, while an additional new tax (details TBC) on residential property development will also be introduced.
ROLLING ON THE RIVER
We’ve picked up a good deal of news from the riverside over the past few days, both up- and down-stream. The consortium behind the Thames Freeport have made the biggest splash, lodging their bid with the Government. The joint venture between London Gateway and Tilbury, and in partnership with Ford Dagenham, is supported by the Port of London Authority, as well as the City Corporation of London, Essex Chamber of Commerce, London First, Thames Estuary Growth Board, Thurrock Council and the South East LEP. The bid makes the case that their partnership could create 25,000 jobs, spur the redevelopment of 1,700 acres and ‘help to level-up some of the UK’s most deprived areas’. A decision on successful freeport bidders is expected in the spring. Meanwhile, developer Lendlease has announced the five shortlisted design teams for the Thamesmead Waterfront scheme. Their joint venture with housing association Peabody will see the development of a new town centre with 11,500 new homes. On the other side of London, The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce met on 4 February, notably confirming that the three shortlisted bidders for a temporary ferry service are expected to be announced in the next few weeks
Having worked on a range of major projects delivering new sports facilities across London over the past two decades, we are delighted to be supporting the NLA’s next webinar. Our Chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, will be chairing a session entitled ‘Sporting-led regeneration: the role of sport facilities in London today’ which forms part of the NLA’s wider The Changing Face of London programme. Robert will be joined by representatives of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, Quintain, Brentford Football Club, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority along with Cllr Stephen Alambritis MBE, the former Leader of Merton Council, and Tom Jones from architects Populous. The discussion will cover both the explosive growth of new stadia and other major sports facilities over the past 15 years – in large part due to the 2012 Olympics – but also ponder what the future will bring for London. Click here to find out more and register to attend the free event, taking place tomorrow morning between 10:00 and 11:10am.
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