LONDON BOROUGH BINGO
We’re well on our way to a full house in this issue, which covers news from Barnet, the City of London, Ealing, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Westminster.
It also examines a couple of stories relating to transport at Gatwick and Crossrail and as ever, some regional and national politics too.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and do follow us on Twitter @LDNComms if you don’t already.
THE NEWS FROM NEWHAM
The newly-elected (as of May this year) Mayor of Newham has heralded a new era in the borough’s history, announcing that she will be relinquishing the majority of her executive powers and delegating these to the council’s cabinet. At a Mayoral proceedings meeting earlier this week, Rokhsana Fiaz decreed that most significant decisions will from now on have to be ratified by a majority vote of the cabinet as a whole (though she will retain a second and casting vote as chair). This change, which will fundamentally influence decision-making processes in place since the elected Mayoralty’s creation in 2002, is one of Fiaz’s core manifesto pledges. It should be only the beginning of a wider process, considering she has promised to ‘hold a referendum on having a Directly Elected Mayor by 2021’.
Meanwhile, in other news from Newham council:
- An internal investigation has found that almost 2,000 votes for 14 candidates across three wards (Stratford & New Town, Beckton and Green Street West) were wrongly counted due to ‘procedural errors’ during the 4 May local election. While one candidate's vote tally rose by 800 and another's fell by more than 500 after the votes were re-counted, the investigation found that the election’s outcome was ultimately unaffected.
- Separately, council finance workers represented by UNITE are preparing for a four-day strike over how their pay is evaluated. The walkouts will reportedly take place on 26 and 29 October 2 and 5 November.
- Finally, council documents suggest that the council's Cabinet is preparing to consider increasing its core council tax each year at or below inflation (an average annual increase of 2%), thawing a 10-year freeze overseen by Fiaz’s predecessor, Sir Robin Wales.
LONDON PLAN ANNUAL MONITORING REPORT
The latest London Plan Annual Monitoring Report (AMR), covering the period 2016/17, was slipped out towards the end of the September with little publicity or fanfare. The AMR is, like it says on the tin, intended to assess the effectiveness of the London Plan and its policies against 24 Key Performance Indicators. The report shows mixed results, but it should be underlined that its timing makes the attribution of responsibility for any successes (or failures) difficult. While it mostly covers Sadiq’s first year in office, it assesses City Hall’s performance in hitting the targets of the existing, adopted London Plan, set while Boris Johnson was in charge, and on the back of projects and initiatives launched under his tenure. The AMR’s mixed results extend to housing delivery figures. On the one hand, over 45,500 completions were achieved during 2016/17, a full 3,500 above the London Plan annual target for net additional homes. At the same time, only 7,300 affordable homes were completed in the same period, against a target of 17,000. The current London Plan (on which the AMR is based) considers social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing as falling within a broad definition of ‘affordable housing.’ Watch this space for the next AMR, which is expected to be published early next year in time for the new draft London Plan’s Examination in Public.
The City of London Corporation has launched a new transport strategy, which includes a number of ambitious measures designed to ease congestion and improve safety in the financial district. Central to these is the creation of ‘pedestrian priority’ zones on about half of the Square Mile’s roads, banning all vehicles (apart from for access) and giving priority to pedestrians over cyclists. The proposals would also see the creation of a ‘core cycle network’, comprised of either a series of 2m-wide cycle lanes along streets or a limit of 150 vehicles per hour on certain streets, which would prioritise cyclists over other road users. The Corporation has already banned all traffic apart from cyclists and buses around Bank between 7am and 7pm on weekdays. The collapse of the Mayor’s plans for the gradual pedestrianisation of Oxford Street earlier this year acts as a cautionary tale, demonstrating that the execution of such proposals requires securing extensive buy-in from affected residents and businesses, so it will be interesting to see how the Corporation will proceed. A decision on the City proposals is set to be made on 30 October.
NEW EALING AFFORDABLE HOUSING DELIVERY STRATEGY
Labour-led Ealing Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning & Transformation Peter Mason has heralded, with an extensive Twitter thread, ‘the first part’ of plans to build 2,500 affordable homes over the next four years. More specifically, the council’s Cabinet last night approved the borough’s new ‘Delivery Strategy for 2,500 Genuinely Affordable Homes.’ This outlines a wide spectrum of measures from ‘less interventionist, such as attracting investment’ to ‘more interventionist measures which seek to shape the market.’ The Strategy calls for stepping up Housing Revenue Account (HRA) borrowing, bids for City Hall funding, as well as direct acquisitions and development by Broadway Living, the council’s housing company. It also mandates a brace of interventions aiming to elicit higher levels of affordable housing from private sector developers. These include a number of ‘carrots’ to incentivise development such as providing competent council services, awarding grant funding and wielding land assembly powers. These are bolstered by an armoury of ‘sticks’ enshrined in a new Affordable Housing Statement (AHS), which provides a stricter definition of ‘genuine affordability’, bars schemes that do not meet minimum affordability requirements from receiving grant funding and decrees that viability assessments must be published.
Separately, the Cabinet also committed to balloting residents on estate regeneration schemes as per Mayoral policy – with relevant documents noting that ‘there are four regeneration schemes that may be subject to ballot’ - South Acton, Havelock, High Lane and Golf Links.
NEW BARNET HOUSING STRATEGY
Meanwhile, a bit further north, on 10 October, Barnet Council’s Housing Committee provisionally approved a new draft Housing Strategy for 2019-2024, pending further consultation. The draft Strategy identified five key themes - raising standards in the private rented sector; delivering more homes that people can afford; safe and secure homes; promoting independence for vulnerable adults in general; and finally tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. The draft Strategy conspicuously points to discrepancies between different Strategic Housing Market Assessments’ (SHMA) projections of local housing need, potentially heralding conflict with City Hall further down the line. It also notes that while the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) SHMA found Barnet needs 76,500 new homes in the period 2016-41 (c. 3,060 new homes per annum), an ‘alternative scenario’ using different methodology suggests a lower 25-year requirement of 50,000, or 2,000 per annum. The draft Strategy and a relevant report outline the next steps namely a public consultation on the aims of the draft strategy, followed by a review of responses by the Committee and a further draft to be considered for adoption at its meeting in April 2019. Meanwhile, Barnet is working on a new Local Plan - expected to be adopted in 2020 – while its Assets, Regeneration and Growth Committee is working to prepare a Regeneration Strategy
ROBERT DAVIS RESIGNATION
Long-serving Westminster City councillor Robert Davis announced his resignation last Wednesday with ‘immediate effect’ following an internal investigation into his conduct during his 17-year tenure as Chair of the Planning Committee. While the investigation found that the ‘acceptance of a large number of gifts and hospitality was not unlawful’, it noted that in some instances Davis had received gifts from developers involved in the planning process ‘too close to the planning application or decision’. Moreover, it concluded that ‘[Davis’] conduct has attracted media and public attention which has an impact on the council as a whole’. In a statement, Davis said that he had ‘acted with the utmost transparency and probity at all times’, but noted that his actions ‘created a perception that was negative to the Council’. In so doing, he added ‘I wish to draw a line under the matter’ by stepping down. Following the news, Leader of Westminster City Council Nickie Aiken also released a statement, in which she stated that ‘Robert Davis has made this right decision to step down’, stressing the importance of an impartial planning process in Westminster. Davis’ resignation leaves his Lancaster Gate seat vacant with immediate effect and could be a stern test for the Conservatives to retain having swung from CON to LAB by 8.5% at this year’s local elections. Reports have suggested a by-election is expected to take place in November.
…AND OTHER LONDON BY-ELECTIONS
The by-election for Robert Davis’ seat will likely be closely watched and hotly contested. There are a number of other by-elections recently completed and coming up in the rest of London:
- Labour’s Natasha Lloyd-Owen, a junior criminal barrister, has won a Common Council seat in the City of London’s Castle Baynard ward by-election, held on 9 October. This brings the number of Labour Councillors on the 100-strong Council to six.
- Following the resignation of Hackney Labour Councillor Alex Kuye for health reasons, there will be a by-election in the Victoria ward tomorrow, 18 October.
- A by-election for Ealing Council’s Dormers Wells ward will take place on 8 November, following the death of Labour Councillor Tej Ram Bagha last month.
- In Enfield, the resignation of Conservative Bush Hill Park Councillor Jon Daniels due to conflicting family and work commitments has triggered a by-election, whose date has yet to be announced.
Conservative 2020 London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has finally bounced off the ropes and back into the fray after a couple of weeks of sustained negative publicity surrounding remarks he made in 2005-2006, which many sought to interpret as racist and islamophobic. After a guarded initial reaction to the allegations against him, Bailey last week went on the offensive through his Twitter and Facebook channels, as well as a Telegraph op-ed (£). Bailey’s counterattack is two-pronged. First, he is taking ownership of his statements, admitting his ‘is not a perfect life’ and that his words have often been those ‘of a man trying – and not always succeeding – to make sense of his world’. Second, he is attempting to redirect the debate to areas that ‘matter to Londoners,’ – like transport, housing, and violent crime. Whether this counterattack succeeds in the months to come is anyone’s guess.
Housing minister James Brokenshire has launched a consultation on planned reforms to the leasehold system, with the stated aim of contributing to the government’s wider efforts to make the housing market fairer. The proposals include capping ground rent on new leasehold properties at a maximum of £10 per year, a significant reduction considering that average leaseholders currently pay an average of £300 a year. Also amongst the proposals is a ban on the sale of new houses as leasehold properties, with exemptions where appropriate - something which is expected to be further clarified throughout the consultation process. In addition to this, the plans aim to empower residents by softening the rules around the formal recognition of tenant associations, by lowering the minimum proportion of tenants required – from 60% to 50%. The consultation formally opened on 15 October and will run for 6 weeks.
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE (MARSH) WALL
The Planning Inspectorate has approved plans for a 48-storey, 332-home tower in Tower Hamlets following an appeal. Last November, Tower Hamlets’ planning committee had voted against officer recommendation for the approval of 225 Marsh Wall, on grounds that it represented overdevelopment, inadequately transitioning between the high-rise Canary Wharf district and low-rise residential areas to the south and east. As part of the appeal process inspector Chris Ball visited the site, using virtual reality goggles to visualise the building’s height in the context of other approved buildings not yet under construction. Taking this information, Ball concluded that the building’s height represented a ‘clear and substantial step down in height’ from One Canada Square which dictates tall building planning policy nearby, while acknowledging its potential contribution to the significant regeneration within, and outlined by the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar opportunity area (OA).
As we reported six weeks’ ago, the inspector’s decision is the first in a pipeline of significant appeals against Tower Hamlets planning decisions. An appeal from Sainsbury’s has since been withdrawn, but another major appeal remains set to go ahead. Tower Hamlets planning officers will again be explaining the actions of its planning committee’s decision to refuse a building in Millharbour on grounds of excessive scale in the council chamber from next Tuesday, and will last six days over the course of two weeks.
C2E: AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
A coalition of business leaders and politicians united under the C2E campaign’s banner are calling for the extension of Crossrail beyond South London, to terminate at Ebbsfleet in Kent. The proposals, outlined in a letter to transport minister Jo Johnson co-signed by MPs, council leaders and CEOs from across the area, suggest that the extension would unlock 55,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs and asked Johnson to ensure that £25 million be siphoned from the Budget to make the case for the expansion. The proposed extension would add 10 miles to the line and would serve an additional eight stations, connecting to HS1 and Eurostar. London City Airport has also pledged to fund a station as part of its redevelopment. The current Crossrail project, without the proposed extension, is delayed by nine months and is reportedly £590 million over budget. If the proposed extension is given the go-ahead, it could be a considerable amount of time and money before the so-called ‘missing link’ is fully operational.
GATWICK SECOND RUNWAY
Extensive press coverage over the last few days has reported that Gatwick Airport is set to publish plans for putting its emergency runway into use as an alternative means of increasing its capacity. This runway is normally only used as a taxiway or in the case of an emergency or when the main runway is undergoing maintenance work – but could increase Gatwick’s capacity by 20-30%, accommodating more than 80,000 extra flights per year according to various reported estimates. But the press has cited a Gatwick spokesperson stating that a draft plan setting out the new proposals in full will be released for public consultation tomorrow (Thursday). The spokesperson also clarified that the emergency runway plans, if ultimately approved, ‘would be used for smaller aircraft departures’ – and only form part of wider growth plans, which include several other proposals, such as ‘using the existing runway ‘more intensely’, aided by the use of modern technology.’ The airport reported its busiest-ever September, with 4.5 million passengers passing through the airport last month (0.3% up compared to September last year). Gatwick’s expansion was frustrated in 2015, when the government rejected plans for a second runway and opted instead to support the construction of a third runway at Heathrow
PLACE LAB AT LCA
Last week LCA hosted the third in the series of PlaceLab events, which bought together more than 40 professionals from across sectors involved in the built environment. The event centred on three presentations, whose common theme was the importance of trust. In their presentation, our Managing Director Jonny Popper and Account Director Helena Carrie took attendees though the challenges and achievements of working on some of London’s most exciting placemaking projects. The event encouraged everyone in the group to share their experiences in an open discussion, which you can read more about here.
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