POLLS, PORK PIES AND PLAN B
“As I write, the national political picture looks to be in significant flux – to put it diplomatically – and so a sensible approach would be to focus on what we know, as of around 6pm on Wednesday 19 Jan 2022.
In a week’s time, Plan B restrictions will be lifted and ‘work from home’ guidance will end. Whether this is a cynical political move or a sensible course of action, both or neither, would make for a lively debate but whether it’s good news for London’s economy is fairly inarguable.
Google’ll be pleased, having just invested significant capital into its central London homes, and it also bodes well for another major milestone this year, the long (long long long) awaited opening of Crossrail. The central section, between Paddington and Abbey Wood should be up and running by June with the rest following in phases to a full run by May 2023.
So, 26 days late, London’s commercial property, retail hospitality and culture sectors will get the start to 2022 that they wanted and if the labour market is anything to go by – it’ll be a boom year. Indeed, the latest ONS figures show that the North East has overtaken London to hold the unenviable position of having the highest unemployment rate in the country.
And on that note, if you or anyone you know is out there looking for a new role, a few interesting vacancies have crossed the LDN desk recently. Long-time LCA associate Centre for London is searching for a new Chair of Trustees while The Wave, the UK’s biggest inland surf destination, needs a new PR executive.”
LDN Editor and LCA Board Director Jenna Goldberg
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LONDON POLLING LATEST
Earlier today YouGov’s latest London-focused Westminster voting intention poll was published. It puts Labour in the lead in the capital with 55%, followed by the Tories at 23%, the Lib Dems at nine, Greens at seven and Reform UK at three. That is double the gap between the two main parties, compared to the last General Election in 2019, when Labour won a Londonwide voteshare of 48.1% and 49 seats, against the Conservatives’ 32% and 21 seats. Of course, this poll does not tell us exactly how those votes would be distributed at the constituency level but, it does seem plausible that if these findings were to be realised at the ballot box, the Conservatives would suffer losses at any forthcoming General Election, with YouGov speculating that they could lose eight seats, leaving them with as few as 13 of London’s 73 MPs. Meanwhile, Electoral Calculus' own analysis of the figures suggests the Tories could actually lose as many as 13 seats, with the Prime Minister's own Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency among those at risk. While a poll on Westminster voting intention is not a completely accurate gauge of voters’ preferences and possible results for May’s local elections it is a useful measure – and one which will greatly concern CCHQ.
ELECTED, RE-ELECTED, REPEAT?
Sadiq Khan perhaps had an inkling on those polling numbers, as he has finally broken cover to state that he intends to run for re-election as Mayor of London in May 2024. Speaking to James O’Brien on LBC, Khan insisted that he’s got the ‘best job in politics’ and is ‘looking forward’ to a third term. Of course, the next election isn’t until 2024 and first he must secure the approval of the Labour Party’s London region through a ‘trigger’ process, which could take place within months. Securing the blessing of his party and subsequently winning a third election is by no means guaranteed, but Khan would be a strong candidate – particularly if one considers the latest national and (as above) local polls.
So what does this mean for London? Well, on the one hand the Mayor is more likely to take the long view on issues – he may now have six years to play with rather than just over two – but on the other, he has an election to win, so might veer back towards the risk aversion we saw in his first term. We suspect part of the temptation to go for Term #3 is the prospect of working with a Labour Government – he’ll be liking the look of that YouGov poll – or at least a Government that doesn’t explicitly work against him. This all chimes with the Mayor’s current focus on ‘delivery’ and his inner team’s renewed emphasis on building bridges across levels of government and between sectors. Khan’s separate call for a new ‘Construction Worker Temporary Visa scheme’ illustrates how he has – arguably – already become more receptive to backing industry’s priorities.
BEATING BACK THE SMOG
Third term or not, it is clear that Sadiq Khan has identified air quality as a legacy issue for his Mayoral reign. Earlier this week, he announced new, ‘bold plans to secure a green, clean and healthy future for London’, triggering alarm in some quarters – with some newspapers especially making an almighty ruckus about motorists ‘paying per MILE to drive through London’. What the Mayor has actually done is respond to a City Hall-commissioned report examining ‘the possible pathways’ to London going net zero carbon by 2030. The Mayor identifies his preferred option - the ‘Accelerated Green pathway’ – but that entails hitting a range of ambitious targets, including a 27% reduction in car vehicle km travelled and a nearly 40% reduction in the total heat demand of London’s buildings by 2030. It also raises a series of ifs and buts, when it comes to policies for realising these targets. For the moment, he has only committed to ‘considering a number of policies that could be ready within the next few years’, including further changes to the ULEZ, a new road user charging system and a long-mooted ‘Greater London boundary charge’ for non-London registered vehicles entering the city. Unavoidably, these proposed measures are also linked to TfL’s urgent need for more funding. And ultimately, in a week when the Government had to advise Londoners to avoid ‘physical exertion’ outdoors due to air pollution levels, all options should be under consideration.
Meanwhile, with May’s local elections only a few months away, progress on candidate selections is patchy across the capital - especially for the Labour Party, which seems distinctly troubled on this front. Labour candidates have been announced for wards in Tower Hamlets and Camden, though in the latter there is an ongoing row about the ‘deselection’ of some sitting councillors, which reportedly prompted a walk-out from a number of members at a recent meeting. LabourList has meanwhile reported that selection processes have also been delayed in Lewisham, Barking & Dagenham, Waltham Forest, Brent and Southwark, with many blaming ‘poor communication’ from the party’s regional office and a ‘cyber incident’ affecting ‘party data’. Meanwhile, OnLondon’s “Extra” newsletter has reported that in Newham no fewer than seven people have applied to be Labour’s candidate for the directly-elected Mayor of the borough (including incumbent Rokhsana Fiaz), though the official selection process hasn’t started. An email to Haringey Labour party members meanwhile says that the selection process there ‘is now in jeopardy’ after it was taken over by the London Regional office, as shortlisting or selection meetings for candidates have not yet taken place. Separately, two resignations and one death leaves seats vacant three boroughs, in the runup to the election (see People News below).
LONDON PLANNING ROUNDUP
Three planning decisions stand out from this week’s crop. Ballymore withdrew plans for a 52-storey residential building in Canary Wharf just before it was due to be determined by Tower Hamlets’ planning committee. The proposals, recommended for approved by officers, were criticised by the London Fire Brigade and campaigners as they included just one staircase for residents to use to evacuate the building in an emergency. The developer has said that it will provide clarification to the LFB regarding the fire safety measures in place and revise them if needed. Meanwhile, Inland Homes’ plans for the Master Brewer site in Hillingdon are set to go ahead as the Council’s bid for a judicial review has been quashed. The borough, which rejected the plans for 514 homes (35% affordable) back in February 2020, was seeking to challenge the Mayor of London’s September 2020 decision to grant approval. Separately, the Planning Inspectorate has only today published a decision refusing Pocket Living’s appeal against the rejection (by Brent Council) of its plans for the redevelopment of a TfL-owned car park next to Sudbury Town Station, in Wembley. The scheme would have delivered 52 one-bedroom flats and while these would all be for “discounted market sale”, the inspector found that they would not meet requirements for affordable homes' unit size and tenure type.
- The Mayor has made four new appointments to the London Legacy Development Corporation’s (LLDC) board: Gabrielle Appiah, a former member of the Legacy Youth Board from 2014-19 and currently a Project Coordinator at Soundings; Gurpreet Dehal, a non-executive director at multiple public, private and educational organisations; Phil Mead, Chair of the 2022 NEC Commonwealth Games Delivery Unit; and Helene Raynsford, Chair of the British Paralympic Association’s Athletes’ Commission and the first ever Paralympic Rowing Gold Medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games.
- Just as we were going to print, reports began to emerge of a huge reshuffle of TfL’s top team in the works – we will cover this in more detail in next week’s edition.
- Professional services firm JLL has announced several leadership changes in “key client facing roles”, including James Finnis succeeding Neil Prime as its new Head of UK Agency – while Prime himself will next month start a new board role as Head of Clients for JLL’s UK business.
- Long-serving Bexley Conservative Councillor Linda Bailey, a former Cabinet Member, has announced she is stepping down due to ill health.
- In Lambeth, Labour Councillor Philip Normal, a former Mayor, has resigned after a series of offensive Tweets dating back to 2011 and 2015 were brought to light.
- Sadly, Bromley Conservative Councillor Mary Cooke, who chaired the council’s Adult Care and Health PDS Committee as well as its Health Overview Scrutiny Committee, has passed away, aged 73.
GIVE A DOG A BONE?
As of writing, the press and Twittersphere are flush with sordid accounts of mutiny and rebellion at the heart of the Conservative party. These include reports of a so-called ‘pork pie plot’ brewing among 2019 intake Tory MPs to challenge Boris Johnson’s leadership, while one such MP (Bury South’s Christian Wakeford) has just defected to Labour and former Brexit Secretary David Davis MP today openly called on the PM to, ‘for the love of God, go’ in Parliament – and of course, there’s that poll too. The Prime Minister himself is working on plans to, in The Times’ words, ‘save his own skin’. These comprise ‘Operation Save Big Dog’, focused on identifying scapegoats for the ‘partygate’ scandal within No 10 and ‘Operation Red Meat’, aimed at assembling a care package of policies to appease restive MPs and an angry public including an end to all ‘Plan B’ restrictions on 26 January, also just confirmed. One small detail of ‘Operation Red Meat’ you might have missed is that, according to The Times and other outlets, it will include publishing the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper in the first week of February. Spun as an acceleration, this is actually a delay as it was previously expected in January. So how is a further week’s delay ‘red meat’, rather than a ‘red flag’? One possible explanation is that Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove might be making a last-ditch effort to secure additional funding for its priorities, something that the Treasury has to date resisted.
Of course, the White Paper’s delay might also be due to Michael Gove’s ‘super department’ having a super-loaded agenda. Our last edition covered his major intervention on the cladding crisis, which hinges on successfully herding major housebuilders into a roundtable and then milking them to secure £4bn for covering the costs or cladding remediation on buildings of between 11 and 18 metres. That process is ongoing, but a week later we are aware of only two firms (Vistry and Taylor Wimpey) having publicly expressed support and then only in principle, without pledging any money. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has also launched a new consultation, on proposals for reforming the ‘enfranchisement’ for leaseholders; announced new structures for intergovernmental collaboration between Whitehall and the devolved administrations; heralded changes to the tax system such that those renting out second homes as holiday lets will face a higher threshold to qualify for business rates; launched the Social Housing White Paper Professionalisation Review; and allocated funding to 11 councils (of up to £50,000 apiece), including Tower Hamlets, to pilot new approaches to improving engagement and participation in neighbourhood planning.
GOOGLE GETS PHYSICAL
The lifting of ‘Plan B’ COVID restrictions on 26 January and particularly the end of the work from home guidance is critical for parts of London’s economy. Happily, even with the measures in place, the appetite for investment in office space has really picked up – and according to data from Savills, the Greater London and South East office markets rebounded last year, with a 46% increase in take-up compared with 2020 to 3.53m sq ft. Over the past week alone, Google has announced that it will purchase the Central St Giles development (where it is currently a tenant), even as the construction of its major new office complex at King’s Cross is also underway; Goldman Sachs has bought a 75% stake in a new office development planned for a site near London Bridge; law firm McDermott Will & Emery has signed a 15-year lease at 22 Bishopsgate, for its new London headquarters; and a former WeWork senior executive has launched InfinitSpace, a new coworking and flexible working startup, in London.
We are proud to share that for the first time LCA is taking part in mental health charity Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index. Designed to celebrate the good work employers are doing to promote and support positive mental health, the Index will help us understand what we are doing well and where we can improve our approach to mental health in the workplace. Our team’s mental wellbeing is a serious priority for us – we know it helps to create a productive, creative and happy place to work – and the results of the Index will enable us to make improvements to our current mental health policies and procedures as well as demonstrate the long-term commitment we are making to supporting the mental wellbeing of the entire LCA team.
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