‘TIS THE SEASON
No, not that season – the other one. Conference season is well and truly upon us, as Labour presented its vision as a government-in-waiting at the ACC Liverpool.
This weekend a crack LCA team travelled up to Merseyside, attending the headline speeches and scouring fringe events. The mood of the conference overall was fairly calm compared to previous years – with some moments of excitement and controversy here and there. We report back on key takeaways for development and local government in a dedicated Party Conference Special section running this week and next.
In London, the boroughs are brimming with action, as Westminster provides a broad update on progress on key planning documents, Lewisham gets to work on enshrining a Residents’ Charter on all estate regeneration in the borough, Wandsworth approves a significant build-to-rent scheme and the City of London cools off on its social housing targets.
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WESTMINSTER PLANNING LATEST
Last Monday, Westminster City Council’s Cabinet Member for Place Shaping and Public Realm, Richard Beddoe, updated members on the council’s latest developments on planning policy – the documents and meeting agenda can be found here. Beddoe highlighted that the draft City Plan will be launched in late autumn and will be followed by six weeks of consultation. The Plan will focus on intermediate housing in Westminster and will create a new ‘West End’ designation that will strengthen the high streets policy to accommodate a better mix of uses and uplift in office floorspace. It will also incorporate bespoke policy ‘to protect Soho’s unique character and function’ in recognition of ‘the important contribution Soho makes to Westminster’. This in turn, Beddoe suggests, will be informed by planning policy requiring future applications coming forward to be sensitive to the area’s historical setting and in support of its current function.
An update was also given on the concept design of the Strand/Aldwych area, which is scheduled to be released consultation sometime this autumn. Beddoe also told members that Westminster is continuing to pursue ‘other pro-active enforcement action’ to remove telephone kiosks that solely aim to drive advertising following a pilot campaign to remove seven of these kiosks that have been built through permitted development. In other news, the council has brought its Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO,) CityWest Homes, back under direct management following ‘concerns about CWH’s performance highlighted by residents and ward councillors’.
CHART-ER-ING NEW TERRITORY?
Lewisham Council is in the process of strengthening the role of residents balloted on regeneration schemes that replace existing homes in the borough. Last Tuesday, the council’s Housing Select Committee discussed proposals for a Residents’ Charter containing seven principles which are: offering residents ballots before any estate regeneration project takes place; building more social rent homes; regularly communicating with residents; involving residents in shaping plans; guaranteeing council tenants affected by regeneration new homes with the same rent levels and terms; guaranteeing tenants’ right to remain; and striving to create and strengthen inclusive and sustainable communities. This, the committee papers state, ‘will form a fundamental part of the offer presented to residents […] giving a guarantee that any redevelopment proposals will benefit them and their community’. Lewisham’s estate regeneration policy is therefore going above and beyond GLA guidelines, particularly by applying to regeneration schemes of any size that replace existing homes – and by committing to implementing ballots ‘at a very early stage.’ The charter will go out to consultation later in the autumn with the draft principles being presented to the Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan, and his Cabinet on 31 October.
CITY OF LONDON CANS COUNCIL HOMES TARGET
The City of London Corporation’s target to build 3,700 council homes across their property portfolio by 2025 has been scrapped. Simon Cribbens, Assistant Director of Community and Children’s Services, wrote that ‘the complexity, and subsequent timeline of bringing some significant sites forward for development is such that this target will not be completed within the time scale set’. The Corporation’s budget has also reportedly come under strain and, as a result, a total of 900 homes will now be delivered by 2025 instead - less than a quarter of the number originally targeted. The City of London’s decision perhaps reflects the difficulties faced by London boroughs in meeting their housing delivery targets, and is said to have led to concerns from other councils, especially those with tighter budgets, regarding their ability to fund planned housing developments.
WANDSWORTH GOES BIG ON BUILD-TO-RENT
Developer Greystar has been granted permission by Wandsworth Council’s planning committee to begin the construction of build-to-rent properties on the former Royal Mail site in Nine Elms. The development is for 894 new housing units for rent, including 161 (or 20%) for ‘a range of affordability bands’ – which do not appear to be clearly defined in the council papers. The council argues that the proportion of affordable housing planned for is ‘a significant achievement’ as ‘government and Greater London Authority guidelines expect lower affordable housing delivery on build-to-rent schemes.' The scheme will also provide space for commercial and retail properties to be developed at ground level, as well as a new school. The site was bought in 2017 by Greystar for £101 million and will contribute the majority of the 1,000+ build-to-rent units that will be developed in the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area. In the wake of recent news that, for the first time, there are more build-to-rent homes in the rest of the UK than there are in London, the granting of permission for this development could be considered a vote of confidence for build-to-rent developments in the capital.
THE GHOST OF GOLDSMITH PAST
Shortlisted Conservative candidate for London Mayor, London Assembly Member Andrew Boff has ‘broken ranks’ by reiterating his criticism of Zac Goldsmith’s 2016 mayoral campaign and reportedly saying that its attacks on Sadiq were a ‘mistaken tactic’. Boff’s latest condemnation of that campaign follows a prompt from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which welcomed Boff’s response, as well as his suggestion that there should be an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party. The Tories' 2016 campaign has long been criticized for its use of messaging with ‘racial overtones’, including the suggestion that Sadiq had associated with extremists in the past. The Guardian’s relevant report notes that fellow candidates Councillor Joy Morrissey and Assembly Member Shaun Bailey did not condemn the tactics in the same way, instead choosing to provide a joint statement which avoided directly addressing the topic. We should find out if these interventions have swayed the minds of any voters very soon, with polls for the selection of the Conservative’s mayoral candidate closing on 26 September at 5pm.
TOO FEW… BUT TOO MANY?
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that the number of homes in London will need to rise by 24% (equating to an extra 844,000) within 25 years to cope with the rising population. The projections, say the ONS, have been modelled on likely trends in migration and the increasing number of births and deaths in the capital. Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham and Hackney are expected to require the most homes, with the number of households increasing by 47%, 37% and 35% respectively. Meanwhile, research commissioned by Property Vision on new-build housing supply in Central London has suggested that more new homes than ever are being proposed, in planning or in construction this year. In total 57,691 units are in the pipeline – 7% more than in 2016, when the same research was last commissioned. While the figure for potential homes in Central London has risen, the market for prime residential development has weakened. All of which appears to signal an imbalance between the types of homes developers want to build, versus those that London residents will need in the years to come. Meanwhile, we’ve been keeping an eye out for clues as to the party’s ‘intentions’ for the 2020 London elections. Liberal Democrat campaigner and pollster Mark Pack has revealed in his blog that the party’s selections for Mayoral and Assembly candidates will ’kick off shortly’. For its part, the Evening Standard reports that former civil servant Siobhan Benita, who ran in 2012 as an independent Mayoral candidate, is hoping to stand again, but this time under the Liberal Democrats’ banner.
TAKING THE HIGHLINE
Open House London, held over the weekend, gave the public the opportunity to tour a section of disused railway that has been proposed for the ambitious Camden Highline project. The plan consists of transforming 1.2km of railway line into a park which will link Camden Town and King’s Cross. The section of railway has been disused for over 30 years but if complete ‘could become a tourist destination in its own right’ as well as ‘a handy cycle route for the morning commute’. Despite support from both the public and figures such as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and local MP for Holborn & St Pancras Sir Keir Starmer, there are concerns regarding the project’s funding. Feasibility studies were completed in February, while Studio Weave and Architecture 100 have been chosen to design the trail. The project is now awaiting permission to raise funds for construction and start building.
As reported in a previous issue of LDN, Councillor Veronica Oakeshott, who represents Boleyn ward in Newham, has announced her resignation, triggering a by-election in the process. In a tweet, Oakeshott said her reason for stepping down was to move closer to her family in Oxfordshire. A by-election date has now been set, for Thursday 1 November. The most likely outcome is a Labour win – the borough has a 100% record of returning Labour councillors since 2010. We were also saddened to hear of the passing of Tej Bagha, Ealing Labour Councillor for Dormers Wells. A by-election date has not yet been scheduled.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, which came to a close today, may have not made quite as much of a splash as previous years, but did provide at least some fodder for the press – as several big-ticket policy proposals and organisational reforms did gain traction. In his keynote speech today, party leader Jeremy Corbyn confidently asserted that that the party is on a war footing and is pushing for a general election within the next few months. Perhaps the single biggest item approved by a majority of members was a commitment to consider a second referendum on the Brexit deal achieved by the government as one among other ‘options’. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also presented some ambitious proposals for the economy, perhaps most eye-catching of which was a pledge to force larger companies to give workers shares and representation on their boards. While they succeeded in generating headlines, reactions to the above – from outside and within the party – have been mixed. Tempers flared in relation to the party’s Democracy Review, as changes approved by the conference now make it easier for local party members to trigger a ballot on their MPs’ reselection - though not quite as easy as the party’s left wing would have liked - while proposals in a similar vein relating to local councillors have been ’deferred‘ to a future date (more on this below). A motion to elect a second – female – deputy party leader was also ditched.
HOMES FOR THE MANY?
LCA was particularly keen to hear the Labour leadership’s proposals and aspirations for housing and planning.
- In his big conference speech, Shadow Secretary for Housing John Healey covered a number of pledges, including an independent Department of Housing and ‘end[ing] rough sleeping within a parliament’.
- The conference also saw the launch of several ambitious proposals by Labour, including a hefty tax on holiday homes, the redefinition of affordable housing, such that it is linked to local average incomes, as well as backing new protections for tenants in both the social and private rented sectors.
- Meanwhile, Healey and his Shadow Ministers, Sarah Jones MP and Melanie Onn MP, were seemingly everywhere at a conference fringe programme packed with relevant events – as were a number of senior London Labour politicians, including Sadiq's Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray, Barking & Dagenham Leader Councillor Darren Rodwell and Southwark Leader Councillor Peter John.
- Another notable development was the launch of Labour’s Planning Commission, led by Shadow Planning Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, which aims to carry out a consultation across England to help inform a comprehensive set of Labour proposals for reforming the planning system. The Commission itself is composed of members representing a wide range of stakeholders, from residents, to local councillors, housing and planning sector membership organisations, housing associations and even private sector developers – with British Land an example of the last.
- At conference fringe events, MPs as well as delegates from Labour Party branches and local authorities were all agreed that a future Labour government should provide funding and structural reforms that will enable councils and housing associations to build social housing at scale. Right to Buy (RTB) and the current government’s definition of affordable housing (80% of market rates) were widely derided, as was permitted development and the current viability assessment system – but interestingly, Help to Buy did not appear to come under quite as much criticism.
LGA LABOUR BITES BACK
The conference also highlighted the divisions within Labour – especially the headline-grabbing debates over Brexit and the Party’s approach to tackling ant-Semitism, as well as the party’s Democracy Review. Aside from changes to the way in which parliamentary candidates are selected, mentioned above, discussions on the local government aspects of its democracy review been ‘deferred’ to next year. The proposals submitted thus far generated harsh language on the conference fringe. These mooted changes include having local Labour party members – and not just councillors – elect their local council’s Labour group leaders, as well as assigning responsibility for drawing up local manifestos and selecting local election candidates to ‘local government committees’ which would exclude councillors. Many Labour councillors at the conference were evidently incensed at what they saw as an unwelcome and counterproductive intervention in their affairs. At the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour Group’s rally, Group leader Councillor Nick Forbes (who is also Leader of Newcastle City Council) vigorously criticised the proposals, describing their deferral as ‘winning a battle but not the war’ and suggesting that Labour councils and their leaders are being vilified as enemies of the party. Forbes also notably dismissed nostalgia for the hard left-led councils of the 1980s, asserting – to loud applause – that ‘no it bloody well wasn’t better when Militant ran things’.
Last year’s conference saw much controversy surrounding the initial exclusion of Sadiq from the main conference’s programme, so much so that he was eventually put on stage at the very last moment. This year, any speculation about whether he would be given a speaking slot ultimately proved little more than that, as he was not. Sadiq was at conference however, and we saw him speak briefly at a fringe event sponsored by London First, focusing largely on how investing in London actually benefits the entire country and does not detract from other regions’ growth. He also addressed an event organised by the LabourList blog, where he also talked up London as ‘the greatest city in the world.’
CONSENT FOR ARK SOANE ACADEMY
LCA is proud to have supported LocatED’s (the Department for Education’s property company) scheme to deliver a new, modern secondary school and sixth form college in Acton – known as Ark Soane Academy – with the second phase of a two stage planning application granted unanimous approval by the London Borough of Ealing’s planning committee last week. The resolution to grant planning consent will allow LocatED, in partnership with Ark, to build new school facilities catering for around 1,200 students for a September 2020 opening, as well as much-needed affordable homes for Ealing, and purpose-built sports and community facilities.
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