“I am, as ever, indebted to Professor Tony Travers of the LSE who re-drew my attention to the wonderful world of TfL’s tap-in data at Underground stations. Why, you might ask? Well, it is one of the few relatively immediate, accurate bits of data we all have to seek to make sense of the ongoing impact of the pandemic. I won’t bore you with numbers but if you take more or less any central London “business” station and compare the most recent tap in data (a week or so ago) to pre-pandemic levels, they show a pretty consistent pattern of only around 25-30% of what they used to be. Says a lot, doesn’t it? Also interesting to compare and contrast this to many outer London stations where the tap-in comparison is in some cases nearer or higher than 50% of pre pandemic levels.
Reading and analysing this data was a pleasant contrast to reading and trying to make sense of the Prime Minister’s extraordinary speech on levelling up. Extraordinary in its grammar, its structure, its delivery and most of all its (lack of) content. A flagship speech? More like a flagging speech. We all await the infamous White Paper on devolution... in 2022? Meanwhile if you have an idea for what to call a Mayor of a county, do email the PM... He’d love to hear from you.
On a more positive note, I could not help but notice how relatively clean central London’s air tasted as I walked through town today. It is great to see the clean air campaigns at City Hall and many London boroughs continue – read on to find out more.
But bringing you down again (sorry), strikes are happening and looming for August. A summer of discontent? We shall see.”
Robert Gordon Clark, LCA Executive Chairman
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FREEDOM DAY FRACAS?
The big reopening has come and gone but depending on what one does with your days (and nights), experiences of 19 July will vary. Anecdotal evidence suggests that office workers are not flooding back into Central London – but let’s see what this week’s travel demand data from TfL tells us when published. Even London’s pubs, which have long prayed for punters, greeted Monday with caution and it was the same for most museums, which continue to require masks and operate at reduced capacity. Perhaps everyone is just taking the Prime Minister’s exhortations to ‘please, please be cautious’ quite seriously. Or maybe they don’t have a choice as increasing infection rates, leading to more ‘pings’ by the NHS Covid app and calls by NHS track and trace, are in turn forcing more and more people into self-isolation. Calling it a ‘pingdemic’ makes it all sound a bit silly, but the confusion over Government guidance is real, as is the disruption. Even in the week before 19 July, sectors affected by the sheer number of isolating workers already included transport, the post, hospitality – and the list goes on. The PM and Chancellor have themselves been pinged after the Health Secretary tested positive. No wonder business associations from the CBI to the FSB are calling on the Government to get a grip.
LEVELLING UP, LOL?
We would also all appreciate a grip on the ‘levelling up’ agenda and were hoping for one last week as the Prime Minister delivered a ‘flagship’ speech on the subject. For once, we were gratified to hear him explicitly stating that ‘there is much more to do in London’ and acknowledging that ‘there are still huge inequalities’ here. He even offered assurances that levelling up is not contingent on doing down the capital. But in terms of hard policy? Promises of more powers for local government (outside London) aside, commentary from across the political spectrum – see pieces in The Guardian, the Financial Times and The Telegraph – suggests that the speech was thin on substance. London Councils and Centre for London both welcomed the ‘shift in tone’ but called for real detail on devolution plans. London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) bluntly said the Prime Minister ‘will be judged on action, which we await to see.’ London First teamed up with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership to issue a supremely non-committal joint comment. As for our normally garrulous Mayor, we had to root around for quite a while to find his reaction, a rather anodyne Tweet, which is perhaps the biggest news here – might City Hall and Whitehall both be angling for some sort of reconciliation?
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
- Lewisham Council has approved the Catford Town Centre Framework Plan, outlining its vision for the area over the next couple of decades, including the delivery of 2,700 new homes (and an aspiration for 1,000 of these to be social homes), as well as measures to facilitate walking and cycling in the area.
- Havering Council is consulting on the latest version of its Local Plan until 26 August. Modifications include changes to site allocations and parking, as well as bringing the Plan in line with the London Plan, which was approved earlier this year.
- Urban & Provincial’s planning application for a new recycling centre in Lambeth has been deferred after councillors spent almost four hours debating the scheme. Over 5,500 local residents have signed a petition against the plans.
- Barnet’s Strategic Planning Committee has deferred a decision on the Markaz El Tathgheef el-Eslami group’s planning application for an Islamic Centre in Golders Green. The existing planning permission states that the building can be used as a church and the planning application seeks to change the use to a ‘place of worship’.
- Proposals for the site of the former Holloway Prison in Islington have been unveiled by Peabody. The plans would see 980 homes delivered on the site, 60% of which would be affordable (including hundreds of social homes), as well as a new park and Women’s Building, providing support services.
- Developer LEOS have said that they will challenge Croydon Council’s decision to reject plans for a new 29-storey tower in Croydon town centre. Councillors rejected the proposals for 121 new flats over concerns about the height of the tower and its impact on neighbouring buildings.
- Tower Hamlets Council has announced the by-election for the Weavers ward will be held on Thursday 12 August, after the passing of Cllr John Pierce last month.
- Former Redditch MP and first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been appointed as “chair in common” for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) and Barts Health Group. She will start her new role on 1 October.
- Louise Cheeseman, currently Managing Director of Hull Trains, will start her new role as TfL’s Director of Buses on 2 August.
- Nicholas Cecil is succeeding Joe Murphy as the Evening Standard’s Political Editor after being promoted from his role as Deputy Political Editor.
- RIBA president, Alan Jones, has resigned as a board member and trustee due to his dissatisfaction with the board’s decision to renew the contract of the institute’s chief executive, Alan Vallance.
- Sadly, journalist and author Dawn Foster, who wrote extensively for the Guardian and other media outlets on housing and social issues, has passed away at the age of 34 after suffering from chronic illness.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was at the centre of a great fanfare yesterday – but what were all the fireworks actually about? Jenrick’s big day included a feature in The Times’ Red Box entitled ‘Vision of planning policy that puts communities in the driving seat’, a speech at an event hosted by Policy Exchange and branded ‘Building Beautiful Places’, as well as a Departmental press release and Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament. He waxed poetic about new policies for ‘a planning system that puts beautiful, environmentally sustainable, and life-enhancing places at its heart’ and ‘putting communities – not developers – in the driving seat.’ You’d think he was finally unveiling the Government’s response to its consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper and its long-awaited Planning Bill. And yet, those key documents are not likely to emerge until autumn. Yesterday’s announcement related specifically to the publication of a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and a similarly modified National Model Design Code (NMDC), alongside the Government’s response to the consultation on both. As explained in trade titles from Planning Resource to Architects’ Journal, these are also significant policies in their own right and will influence the work of planning authorities, architects and developers alike.
CLEAN AIR CRUSADE
The path to net zero is a winding one, but it’s great to see London walking the walk. At City Hall, the Mayor has announced a further £5m for a vehicle scrappage scheme aimed at enabling compliance with the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). This brings the Mayor’s total investment in this programme, which has helped to replace or retrofit more than 10,000 vehicles since 2019, to £61m. The Mayor’s mandate for the expansion of the ULEZ this October has meanwhile received a boost as research carried out by Asthma UK showed that over 130,000 people who suffer from asthma will benefit from its expansion to the North and South Circulars. For their part, London’s Town Halls are also pressing ahead. London Councils has been banging the drum (more here) for the boroughs to be given the tools they need to fight the good fight against climate change. Southwark has published its roadmap to carbon neutrality. Tower Hamlets has completed the first stage of works on Liveable Streets improvements in Bethnal Green. And Wandsworth councillors have agreed a new Air Quality Action Plan and announced a Together on Climate Change Festival, set to take place in November.
THE BRIDGE IS BACK(ISH)
Hammersmith Bridge has finally re-opened to cyclists and pedestrians. Having been out of action for almost a year for safety reasons, pedestrians and cyclists are now able to use it (and boats can sail beneath it). However, the chances of anyone driving over it anytime soon are slim, as the Government, TfL and Hammersmith & Fulham Council continue to clash over who is responsible for funding repairs. Last month the Department for Transport announced they would pay no more than a third of costs, which are estimated to exceed £100m. Finding the funds to repair Hammersmith Bridge is only one of the many challenges for London’s ailing – and arguably insufficient – river crossings. This very topic was the subject of a London Assembly Transport Committee session this Monday, where AMs were told by TfL officials and other guests that the Rotherhithe Tunnel alone faces a repair bill of £120m.
HOSPITAL BUILDING BONANZA
The Government has announced the launch of a selection process for eight new hospitals, as part of efforts to deliver on a manifesto commitment for 40 new hospitals across England by 2030. Having already named 32 in October 2020, the Government is now inviting expressions of interest from mental health, community and acute NHS trusts who wish to be considered for the final spots. A more detailed second stage process for long-listed schemes will take place later this year, with a final decision expected in spring 2022. Alongside this announcement, the Government has launched a new ‘Our NHS Buildings’ website that will provide regular updates for patients and staff on the progress of major NHS infrastructure projects. NHS Providers, the hospital trusts’ umbrella association, has welcomed the ‘emphasis on mental health and community trusts, which have so far not been prioritised as part of the New Hospital Programme’. However, they believe there is still much more to be done and have called on the Government to commit to an ‘appropriate’ multi-year capital settlement for the NHS.
A discernible uptick in industrial action means that the ‘pingdemic’ is not the only disruption we’ll need to contend with this summer. At London Underground, RMT has called four days of strikes on 3, 5, 24 and 26 August in protest over plans to axe the separate pay grade for Night Tube drivers. The Woolwich Ferry is also set to be periodically disrupted by strike action over several employment issues through July and August. Elsewhere in the capital, contract workers at the Royal Parks are threatening to strike on 30 July, demanding their hourly rate is brought in line with directly-employed staff. Employees of three London colleges have voted to strike in September if their employers do not reconsider a 1% pay rise offer. At Tower Hamlets Council, staff who form a part of the initial assessment team for pensioners and disabled people have gone on strike over their jobs being contracted out to Age UK East London. At Bexley Council, 140 refuse staff began two weeks of strike action over pay and working conditions last week. Meanwhile, maintenance workers at St Mungo’s homelessness charity have gone on strike, alleging a ‘bullying culture’ amid claims that staff grievances against senior management have been ignored.
LCA is pleased to have helped two clients achieve a positive result at Planning Committee this month. In Camden, Groveworld secured a resolution to grant planning permission from the local council, to create 72 new homes (over 50% affordable), workspace and a lifestyle hotel at 330 Gray’s Inn Road – the former home of the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, in five buildings ranging in heights of up to 15 storeys. The scheme also has a public courtyard, a residents’ courtyard, and two public routes through the site. And in Tower Hamlets, Hadley Property Group have had proposals for 898 homes at Blackwall Yard approved unanimously by councillors. The homes, 35% of which will be affordable, will be delivered in five buildings, ranging from five to 39 storeys in height. The development is one of London’s last great riverside opportunities and will also include a new primary school, flexible community and affordable work space, a riverfront pub, shops and an outdoor swimming area created from the historic graving dock.
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