IT’S BUSINESS TIME
This week’s edition of LDN verifies that at the halfway point between the Summer and Christmas holidays – and with the Party Conference season now behind us – London is definitely back in business.
We cover the long-awaited freeing of Tower Hamlets from government supervision, as well as planning and development-related news across the city - from Kensington and Chelsea, to Haringey, Lewisham, and Lambeth.
We also take a look at a recent spree of industrial action focused on the transport sector, the political contortions of the Conservatives, the appointment of a new Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner, as well as a number of new research reports angling to influence the Autumn Budget, due on 29 October.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and do follow us on Twitter @LDNComms if you don’t already.
TOWER HAMLETS UNCHAINED
The government has formally ended its special measures regime in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets after ‘significant improvements’ were recorded in a Local Government Association (LGA) Peer Review. The intervention began after the 2014 mayoral election was declared void and then-mayor, Luftur Rahman, was subsequently found to have committed electoral fraud. An independent investigation by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) identified further issues with the council’s management and governance, informing the government’s decision to remove powers from the council, particularly as regards grant making, procurement and the sale of property. The appointment of four government commissioners and the election of Labour Mayor John Biggs, who in turn appointed Will Tuckley as his new chief executive, have led to significant improvements in council governance, accountability and transparency. The government initially marked this progress by removing its commissioners from the council in March 2017, though Tower Hamlets has continued to be subject to quarterly reporting requirements since then. According to Tower Hamlets Annual Residents’ Survey 2018, resident trust with the council is at 74%, which according to the council is well above the national average of 57%.
RBKC CRACKDOWN ON EMPTY HOMES?
Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) Deputy Leader Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith has written to Housing Minister Kit Malthouse requesting a re-examination of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO). EDMOs empower councils to temporarily requisition properties and offer them to social tenants. But changes implemented in 2012 by then-Communities Secretary Eric Pickles restricted these powers to cases where vacancies could be linked to visible problems such as vandalism or squatting. Extensive coverage in the London and national press cites Taylor-Smith as describing EDMOs as ‘cumbersome, slow and expensive’ as they stand and saying that 621 properties in RBKC have lain vacant for more than two years. Taylor-Smith outlined the request as part of efforts to find ‘new and innovative’ ways to boost social housing stock. But he also sought to reassure property owners that there is a carrot to go with this stick. Those affected would be offered a ‘favourable tax scheme’ for any rental income they receive. In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, many RBKC residents will welcome the move as a sign that the borough is listening to their concerns We expect further details of the proposals to be included in the council’s new housing strategy which will be presented at a full council meeting next Wednesday, 17 October.
Last month, Haringey council notified residents that it intends to hold a ballot next spring, on whether Love Lane estate’s 297 homes are demolished as part of the High Road West Regeneration scheme. Current plans foresee the construction of 2,500 homes in their place. ‘At least 750’ would be affordable, including 191 replacement homes for council tenants and resident leaseholders, 155 offered for London Affordable Rent, and 405 for shared ownership. Haringey Council, which owns the site, is now consulting on its Landlord Offer, which covers everything from the scheme’s plans, to issues such as temporary accommodation and rights of return. The council’s official website for regeneration plans in the wider Tottenham area offers a good deal of information on the scheme and its development process – and conspicuously clarifies that while Lendlease is the council’s development partner in High Road West, this particular scheme ‘is not part of the Haringey Development Vehicle’. It remains to be seen whether their offer to residents, the consultation process and ultimately the ballot – one of the first planned in London since new GLA guidelines came into force this July – will succeed where the HDV failed.
LEWISHAM’S CLT SPREE
Lewisham’s Mayor Damien Egan – first elected this May – has pledged to enable the building of at least 200 homes by Community Land Trusts (CLTs) during his first term in office and has got off to a good start. This week, the Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS), a Lewisham-based CLT, received a boost after it was awarded nearly £1m in grant funding via the Mayor of London’s Innovation Fund. The £988,000 will support RUSS to deliver 33 homes, five of which will be allocated by Lewisham Council, while the remainder will be held in perpetuity by RUSS, which will retain at least 20% equity in the remaining 28. The homes on offer range from one-bed to four-bed homes, each tailored to the needs of occupants selected on the basis of their affordability needs, local connections and membership of RUSS (costing £1). The site itself was gifted to RUSS by Lewisham Council in 2016, during the tenure of Egan’s predecessor, Sir Steve Bullock. This is the first CLT project in the borough to have been granted planning permission while another project for 11 homes, led Lewisham Citizens, was submitted for planning in June.
STRIKE, STRIKE, STRIKE
The ‘summer of strikes’ promised by transport workers’ unions has spilled well into the autumn, with four of London’s urban and commuter rail lines grinding to a halt over the past two weeks alone. ASLEF union drivers on the Tube’s Central and Waterloo & City lines staged a 24-hour strike on 5-6 October, citing unsafe working practices and unfair dismissals. ASLEF is planning a further walkout on 7 November. The RMT union previously staged a 48-hour strike on 27-28 September, freezing the Piccadilly line in an ongoing row over pay and working conditions. The RMT also led a 48-hour walkout of South Western Railway (SWR) workers protesting over the role of guards on trains – the union is demanding guarantees that all trains are staffed by a guard, in addition to the driver, for safety, security and accessibility reasons – and is also staging strikes on Northern services. With transport emerging as a key battleground for the 2020 Mayoral campaign – alongside housing and crime – Team Sadiq will likely be unsettled by these and potential future strikes. Relevant press coverage and social media activity is replete with questions about Sadiq’s pledge to reduce strikes on public transport. According to a tally by the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce, Sadiq has seen 15 rail strikes so far, roughly two years in, compared to 35 strikes during Boris’ eight year tenure..
THERE’S A NEW (DEPUTY) SHERIFF IN TOWN
Current Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Stephen House, has been appointed as the service’s next Deputy Commissioner. Starting in January, he will replace Sir Craig Mackey, who announced his retirement in July. Sir Stephen brings with him forty years’ experience in policing, having served as the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police from 2007 before becoming the first Chief Constable of Police Scotland in 2012 and overseeing Scotland’s eight forces merge into one. It was during this period that Scotland’s much-discussed Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was established and implemented. With Sadiq Khan having recently announced that the Scottish model for fighting violent crime will be replicated in London, and Borough Command Unit mergers ongoing, Sir Stephen’s selection is perhaps no surprise.
ITV SCRAPS SOUTH BANK PLANS
Television broadcaster ITV has announced a decision to sell its South Bank headquarters of more than 40 years. The decision means it will be scrapping plans for the site’s redevelopment, which have already seen ITV decant to offices in Holborn and the shift of its recording to BBC studios in White City last year – with an initial view to returning to South Bank in five years’ time. The decision appears to be part of a wider strategic review and cost-cutting drive initiated by ITV’s new chief executive, Carolyn McCall, who joined the company earlier this year. It remains unclear whether prospective buyers will be interested in carrying forward ITV’s original plans for a new 14-storey office building, including studio space, and a 31-storey block of flats, which were granted approval by Lambeth Council this past February and subsequently accepted by the Mayor in April. ITV bought the site’s freehold in 2013 for £56m, and has hired Knight Frank to oversee its sale.
- Argent has announced the appointment of Mark Shirburne-Davies as its head of construction. He will oversee both Argent’s projects and those of Argent Related – a partnership between the developer and US-based Related Companies – including major projects at Brent Cross South, Tottenham Hale, and King’s Cross’ final phases. Shirburne-Davies joins Argent from PegasusLife, where he was Chief Operating Officer. He was also previously Development and Design Director at Laing O’Rourke.
- Leading London journalist Pippa Crerar has announced that she will be moving from The Guardian to The Daily Mirror, where she will be taking up the position of Political Editor. Crerar has been a Deputy Political Editor (alongside Anne Perkins) at The Guardian since April, and prior to this spent many years at the Evening Standard as City Hall Editor.
- Meanwhile, The Times’ Economics and Property correspondent Tom Knowles has revealed that he will be covering technology for the newspaper from San Francisco, starting next week. Watch this space for further news on his replacement!
MAY TAKES FIGHT TO LABOUR
Theresa May danced onto the stage in Birmingham last week and has kept on dancing since. Her latest escapade has seen her waltzing straight into Labour’s natural territory:
- On the one hand, the Sunday Times has run a story suggesting the government is working on a new ‘Help To Buy for renters’ likely to be announced in the Autumn Budget Statement on 29 October. Tory think tank Onward has, meanwhile, also published a relevant policy paper which suggests extending tax relief to landlords if they sell their home to the people renting it, as well as the renter buying the property. This would presumably gratify both landlords (more likely to be Tory voters) and renters (among whom Labour tends to lead).
- On the other hand, May made a direct appeal to disgruntled ‘moderate’ Labour voters in a piece for the Observer, on the back of persistent (though as of yet unsubstantiated) rumours that disaffected groups of Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs are considering a new centrist party. In her article, the Prime Minister urges ‘voters who may previously have thought of themselves as Labour supporters’ to look to the Conservatives for ‘a decent, moderate and patriotic programme that is worthy of their support’.
Conservative think tank Onward – mentioned above – is not the only campaigning organisation aiming to concentrate the minds of the Treasury in the leadup to this month’s Budget.
- A ‘pre-release’ chapter of the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) Green Budget (available in full next Tuesday) on ‘Barriers to homeownership for young adults’, has found that ‘even the cheapest local homes are out of reach for at least 40% of young adults’ aged 25-34-years old. Unsurprisingly, barriers to homeownership are particularly high in London, where even with a 10% deposit, only one-in-three young adults can borrow enough to purchase one of the cheapest homes in their local area.
- Meanwhile, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has issued a press release saying its State of the Green Belt 2018 report’s findings are corroborated by the government’s latest figures, which suggest nearly 10,000 hectares of Green Belt land have been released by local councils since 2012. CPRE attributes this ‘erosion’ of Green Belt to ‘unrealistic housing targets set by the Government, [the] capacity of the housebuilding industry and slow build out rates on land already granted planning permission’. Regarding the CPRE’s analysis, it is worth reading Planning Resource’s (£) critique.
Straying beyond the purview of the Budget, the Centre for London (CfL) has produced a report on the potential of meanwhile use and explores how 6,700 acres of commercial space across London could be maximised by developers, housebuilders and London’s local authorities to stimulate local growth.
The V&A has announced that the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is to undergo a £13.5 million refurbishment in an attempt to create the ‘world’s most joyful museum’. The plans, designed by architectural practice De Matos Ryan, which has previously worked on buildings such as the British Library, are set to make the museum more immersive and interactive and have been developed with the aid of local schoolchildren. They include features such as the ‘Kaleidoscope’, an interactive exhibition inspired by the museum’s collection of optical toys, four new galleries, a re-landscaped outdoor area and a new lower ground entrance to improve accessibility. The original Victorian features of the building will also be restored. V&A Director Tristram Hunt says the Museum hopes that the changes would be complete by 2022, in time for the museum’s 150th anniversary, which is also coincidentally the year that Theresa May’s ‘Festival of Britain’ is set to launch.
LCA AT MIPIM UK
The LCA team will be at MIPIM UK again this year, at Olympia London, on 17-18 October. We will be chairing a number of panel discussions hosted by the London Stand, which is curated by New London Architecture, and supported by the Mayor of London, London & Partners and the Estates Gazette. On 17 October, our Managing Director Jonny Popper will lead a discussion on residential investment. On 18 October, Board Director Jane Groom will be overseeing a discussion on development opportunities in East London, while Director Anna Whitton will be moderating a session on capturing value uplifts from major transport and infrastructure projects in the capital. See the full London Stand’s programme here.
LCA CONFERENCE SEASON BLOG
In the event you missed our two last issues’ Labour and Conservative Party Conference Specials, do not fret, there is more! With the benefit of hindsight and of some much-needed sleep, our delegates have written the latest LCA blog, in which they reflect further on this year’s conference season. They more specifically take a critical look at how the ‘London brand’ fared in Liverpool and Birmingham. For more on how London’s Labour and Tory parties banged the drum for the capital at their respective conferences, read on here.
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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