“It’s not that I’m wishing my life away but I’ll be pleased to get to 6 May.
From that point the local elections will be over and perhaps we’ll get some decisions for London that don’t reek of cynical politicking. Or is that a bit naïve?
It’s not surprising really that in our latest polling only 12% of Londoners say the trust the Government to deliver on their local priorities. What we’ve learnt from the last few months is that car parks (and votes) are more important than homes, political point-scoring (and votes anywhere but here) are more important than a viable public transport system and that Daily Mail-bait headlines (i.e. votes) are more important than say a sensible process for choosing the next Met Police Commissioner. Sigh.
So, is there a scenario in which the Government does better by London post-election? If the Tories do better than expected, maybe, as that would send a message that the capital is not a lost cause to the party. Or indeed, if they do a lot worse, and perhaps realise there are consequences to starving the quarterback – London generates around 22% of the UK’s economic output after all - when the team really needs a win…”
LCA Board Director and LDN Editor Jenna Goldberg
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EVEN MORE POLLING
On Monday, we released a second tranche of polling results, offering further insight into what Londoners think about the big issues – and of the powers that be. Our findings, the second and final part of a Deltapoll survey of 1,028 Londoners for us ahead of the 5 May local elections, found three quarters of respondents are basically indifferent to “levelling up”, the Government’s flagship domestic policy. Asked what effect they think it will have on London, 77% either said it would make little difference, that it did not have enough meaning to be able to say, or that they did not know. Only 9% said they thought it would benefit the capital while 14% thought it would hurt London.
Furthermore, when asked who they trust to deliver on their local priorities, only 12% of Londoners pointed to the Government, an only slightly higher 16% the Mayor and 42% their local council. Also, in a reminder that the interlocking layers of government in the capital remain a mystery to many a Londoner, a full 30% said they just don’t know.
Read in conjunction with the first tranche of our poll findings on voting intention released the week before last, this would suggest that Londoners – including, clearly, a large proportion of Conservative voters – are not buying ministers’ repeated assurances that ‘levelling up’ the regions does not amount to ‘levelling down’ London. No wonder then that most Tory campaigners in London – whether incumbents or challengers in their respective boroughs – are fixating on local municipal issues, rather than national political issues.
Finally, our poll also asked respondents to express a view on the best way to select the Met Police Commissioner’s successor (more on this below). In what we at least read as a gentle rebuke to our squabbling Home Secretary and Mayor, the single-biggest group (32%) seemed to think that the two just need to learn to work together.
...AND OTHER ELECTIONS NEWS
On the ground, the parties are continuing to battle it out against each other – and occasionally amongst themselves – in the leadup to polling day on 5 May.
- In Haringey, Labour has finally announced its candidates. As reported by OnLondon, Momentum-backed candidates have failed to be selected in the borough’s safest wards, with the party angling to regain wards in the borough lost to the Lib Dems in 2018.
- In Camden, the Conservatives have reportedly hit a bump in the road as one of their candidates has resigned from the party to join Labour, saying that it would be a ‘disaster’ if the Tories gained the borough.
- In Newham, the Conservatives have selected Attic Rahman as their candidate for Mayor.
- Minister for Building Safety and Fire Lord Stephen Greenhalgh has urged the London Conservatives to ‘revive the spirit’ of Sir Horace Cutler (the Conservative leader of the Greater London Council until 1981) and provides 10 ‘commandments’ for Tory candidates standing in May. He does not mention that it was a Conservative prime minister that abolished the GLC altogether…
- Meanwhile, Levelling Up Minister Kemi Badenoch has written to the Met Police and the Electoral Commission voicing her concerns about potential electoral fraud, “on May 5 in areas where it has occurred before, places such as Tower Hamlets where there is a particular history.”
THE CITY SPEAKS
Meanwhile, the first of this year’s crop of local elections has already been harvested, in the methuselah of London’s local authorities. The ancient City of London Corporation held its elections for all 100 Common Council seats across its 25 wards, on 24 March. Our analysis of the results shows that 78 of the total was held or won by Independents, 10 were held by Temple and Farringdon Together (in Farringdon Without), seven were won by the new Castle Baynard Independents Party (in Castle Baynard), and five won or held by Labour (spread across Aldersgate and Cripplegate). Labour technically failed to make any significant gains, though we know of two nominally Independent candidates who may yet (re)join the party’s group. It is however notable that about 50% of the Council are fresh faces, which could create a new political dynamic. We’ll be keeping an especially close eye on how that dynamic evolves and whether it enables or hinders former Deputy Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee Chris Hayward (who was re-elected in Broad Street) in his bid to succeed Catherine McGuinness as the de factor Leader of the City. Meetings during the next few weeks, including a full Court of Common Council session on 21 April, will prove critical.
Recent developments suggest that the rifts between Whitehall and City Hall are only getting wider. One of these fault lines is of course policing. This week we not only learned that Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick is stepping down earlier than expected, but also that Home Secretary Priti Patel is launching a review ‘into the circumstances’ of Dick’s departure, including ‘whether due process was followed’. The Mayor’s response is notably muted and this review will presumably do little to improve relations between national and regional government. On another front, Khan himself has escalated a disagreement with the Transport Secretary over a TfL housing scheme in Cockfosters, which Grant Shapps recently blocked using an obscure clause of the 1999 GLA Act. The Mayor has reportedly “urged” Shapps to rescind his decision, while also instructing TfL to “explore all options” up to and including seeking a judicial review.
FUND ME, FUND ME NOT
With central and regional Government duking it out through the newspapers, London’s local authorities are being left to fend for themselves. That is plain to see in their expression of collective disappointment last week, that the Chancellor’s Spring Statement did not provide any details on Government plans for the long-promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), which as the boroughs say is “crucial for economic development, skills and employment support in the capital”. The DfT has though approved an additional £3m to help stabilise Hammersmith Bridge, but the timing of the decision, just before the local election (witness also its enthusiastic leveraging by local Conservative MPs and Ministers for campaigning purposes) makes the gesture seem slightly less-than-altruistic. London’s boroughs – of all political persuasions – are looking for more than piecemeal handouts from government.
LONDON PLANNING LATEST
- The GLA has granted approval at Stage 2 for the redevelopment of Whipps Cross hospital – a scheme for which LCA led the pre-application consultation – and separately, a scheme that if completed will deliver of 555 homes in Wembley. However, Labour MP Sam Tarry has criticised the Mayor’s previous decision not to refuse plans for the delivery of 1,280 homes in Goodmayes.
- In Southwark, councillors have granted planning permission for the demolition of ITV’s headquarters on the South Bank to deliver a mixed-use scheme on the site. Southwark Council has also approved plans for the delivery of three new office buildings at Canada Water.
- Greenwich Council has granted permission to Hyde Group for 1,200 homes while Wandsworth Council has approved plans for 201 new homes in Nine Elms. Hounslow Council has granted planning permission for 209 new homes as part of the redevelopment of Charlton House, Albany House and Osier Court in Brentford. Councillors in Barnet have approved plans for a school for pupils with special educational needs.
- A planning inspector has refused planning permission for Meadow Partners’ proposals for 151 homes in Tower Hamlets, while another planning inspector has overturned Enfield Council’s decision to refuse permission for TfL’s plans to delivery homes on the car park of Arnos Grove station.
- Just outside London, in Kent, plans for the London Resort theme park have been withdrawn due to transport and environmental issues. The developer behind the project has said that a new application will be submitted ‘within this calendar year’.
- David Montague, former chief executive of L&Q, is set to join the Abri group board in May.
- Future of London has announced that Rachel Bagenal, Head of the Housing Supply Programme at Hackney Council, Bek Seeley, Managing Director, Development Europe at Lendlease, and Anthony Were, Development Manager at Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing, have joined its Board.
- Chief Executive of New London Architecture Nick McKeogh has been named by RIBA as one of 23 Honorary Fellows for 2022.
- Labour MP for Vauxhall Florence Eshalomi has been elected Co-Chair of the APPG for London.
Geeking out over housing delivery statistics is in our DNA and boy oh boy do we have material this week. The Mayor recently “hailed the resurgence in council homebuilding”, saying that 11,000 new “City Hall-funded council homes” have been started since 2018, exceeding his election manifesto’s pledges. There’s one little issue: “council homes” does not describe any specific tenure. While the Mayor’s press release includes a table of headline figures for starts per year and mentions the programmes which funded these homes, it does not actually name the homes’ tenures (e.g. social rent, London Affordable Rent or something else). The press release’s figures also do not seem to tally with City Hall’s own latest publicly available Affordable Housing Statistics. This is from a Mayor who has long boasted of having “ditched dodgy definitions of affordable homes”. City Hall isn’t the only culprit on this front of late. Just the other day, we noticed Lewisham Council announcing it has “delivered” over 1,200 “social homes” since 2018, exceeding their “original target of 1,000" also without offering much detail on the tenure of these homes and (critically) what they mean by "delivered". Some local housing activists went as far as claiming that Lewisham was actually tallying up homes across multiple tenures to reach that figure, so we asked the council's press office for clarification. They kindly explained to us that the "tenure provision for these homes is a mix of traditional social rent and new London Affordable Rent, both defined as genuinely affordable" but also that, by "delivered" they "refer to social homes completed and currently under construction" - with the total number of social homes completed in Lewisham between 2018/19 to 2020/21 actually totalling 626.
HOUSING ASSOCIATION ROUNDUP
The Government has this week published draft clauses for the upcoming Social Housing Regulation Bill, including proposals to ‘name and shame’ social housing providers which fail to meet standards. There are a few more bits of news from London’s social housing sector which have also caught our eye:
- Members of the G15 group of housing associations have raised their concerns about the impact of the increase in gas and electricity on their budgets. The group estimates that the cost of gas contracts is set to increase by a staggering 207% next year and the cost of electricity by 33%.
- The G15 landlords have also announced that they are all set to draft a ‘living will’, also known as a contingency plan, to ‘ensure limited interruption and cost if an organisation faces a catastrophic shock’ – essentially a framework to help avoid them falling into major financial difficulty, as well as to help them deal with one if they do.
- The Optivo and Southern Housing Group housing associations have reportedly begun talks about a potential merger to be completed by the end of the year. Southern Housing Group has meanwhile acquired 803 homes from L&Q in Surrey and West Sussex.
- Shepherds Bush Housing Group is being investigated by the Regulator of Social Housing regarding ‘an issue that may impact its financial viability grading’.
What is now being referred to as the biggest ever sporting sale anywhere in the world, the process to find a new owner for Chelsea Football Club is becoming clearer. Over the weekend four bidders went through to the next round which is a very rapid due diligence process. By 11 April final bids need to be submitted before a recommendation is made to the government and then to the Premier League with the aim of announcing a new owner by the end of next month. Commentators are suggesting the price will land somewhere between £2.5 and £3bn. Much discussion and, no doubt, due diligence surrounds the stadium itself and the rights of the Chelsea Pitch Owners (which confusingly for us in the development world are known as the CPO). Whilst planning permission was granted for a Herzog de Meuron 60,000 seat stadium in 2017 (up from the current 41,000), this was never implemented and so a whole new planning process will be needed. And then the club will have to find an alternative home during construction which many estimate could take 4-5 years given the complexity of the site and its boundaries. So realistically speaking fans may have to wait until around the end of the decade to enjoy a new Stamford Bridge. Until then Chelsea will continue to fall behind its major competitors who generate many millions more per annum at their stadia. So all in all “patient capital” will be needed.
BACK TO SCHOOL
LCA is delighted to be participating in not one but two programmes helping to introduce secondary school students to the world of PR and communications. Both involve schools and students from the communities we work in, as part of our commitments to making our workplace and industry more inclusive. In collaboration with School 21, based in Newham, we have five Year 10 students coming in every Tuesday afternoon for 16 weeks, to work with us on a youth engagement project. Separately, we will soon have two Year 12 students from Haverstock School in Camden – our home borough – spending the week with us to experience the huge range of skills in the LCA office and get a taster for being a communications wizz.
LCA ON AIR
If you’d like a five minute primer on the Local Elections you could do worse that listen to LCA Board Director Jenna Goldberg on BBC Radio London – you can listen on BBC Sounds from 3hr24mins – to hear her talk about the issues and boroughs to watch on 5 May.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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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