WHERE TO START?
This edition is jam-packed with stories covering planning, development, transport, by-elections, people moves and an exciting week for the LCA team.
As regards London’s built environment, we cover the City of London’s new draft City Plan, as well as planning and regeneration stories from Haringey, Lambeth and Southwark. We also provide outline the most recent misadventures of the capital's troubled transport sector. In politics, we look at the latest news from London Labour, as well as the launch of the government’s new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
Meanwhile, this edition provides some great insight into LCA’s work and our busy diary of events – and we celebrate the inclusion of our co-founder and chairman Robert Gordon Clark in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ 70 at 70 list.
As always, we’d love to hear your feedback and do follow us on Twitter @LDNComms if you don’t already.
CITY OF LONDON PLAN 2036
Last Wednesday, the City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation committee announced the approval of a new draft local plan (see also here) for further consultation. The new City Plan will define the Corporation's vision, strategy and objectives for planning in the Square Mile up to 2036. The City’s leadership is keen to emphasise elements of the Plan which will level new requirements on developers – and other industries – to actively provide green spaces and reduce air and noise pollution. In combination with a draft Transport Strategy also up for consultation this month, the Plan will also seek to make the Square Mile friendlier for pedestrians. It identifies seven ‘Key Areas of Change’ where particular policies and objectives will be at play – from riverside wards, where the City aspires to better infrastructure for passenger services and building material transportation, to the Eastern City Cluster, which will ‘grow to close the gap between the isolated Walkie-Talkie and the rest of the cluster of towers’. The consultation will be launched on 12 November, after which the Plan be submitted for independent examination and should be adopted in 2020, replacing the current City of London Local Plan, which was adopted back in January 2015.
As per officers’ recommendation – but pending the final approval of the Mayor and Communities Secretary – Southwark Council’s planning committee has granted permission for developer Avanton’s 1,150-home scheme on the Old Kent Road. The project will see a church and several small business units demolished and replaced by four buildings ranging from 17 to 48 storeys. 39.1% of the homes will be affordable, of which 277 will be social rented and 173 intermediate. Commentators have underlined the potential significance of the decision, considering the status of the land as a Strategic Industrial Location (SIL). Both the Local Plan and the new draft London Plan place significant restrictions on residential development on SIL and the latter would normally require a 50% affordable housing offer. However the development has been approved by the council on the grounds that it contributes to the wider aims of the Old Kent Road Opportunity Area. Southwark planners and councillors alike have argued that the wider benefits of the scheme would outweigh any harm caused by the loss of SIL. It remains to be seen whether higher authorities will concur.
Meanwhile, the South London borough has also authorised the refurbishment of the Ledbury estate’s towers, which were found to have a number of structural defects in a post-Grenfell inspection. Independent experts brought in by tenants had previously called for the demolition for the towers after finding gaps and cracks in the buildings. But following a consultation with residents and further work, the Council has decided that a refurbishment is both feasible and preferable, with additional housing (providing at least 50% council rented homes) built on adjacent land to provide additional affordable housing help fund the project. The refurbishment of the towers will include new lifts, windows, and lighting as well as overall strengthening work.
TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE WOES
It’s hard to avoid the impression that this week – indeed, this year – really hasn’t been a good one for the capital’s transport infrastructure.
- It has been announced that Crossrail CEO Steven Wright is to step down and it is hard to ignore the fact that he has only been in the job for eight months, in which time it was announced that the Elizabeth Line’s full rollout will be delayed by a year and will require a hefty injection of new funds from the Department for Transport (DfT) to ensure its delivery in that time. Several press reports have underlined that, at the time of Wright’s appointment earlier this year, he was expected to remain in post ‘as it completes its remaining work’ – but upon starting his new role on 19 November, his successor Mark Wild will be Crossrail’s third chief executive (albeit it an interim one and he will return to his post as London Underground MD once the project is complete) in six months.
- In other rail-related news, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling seemed to admit at the weekend that HS2 could be heavily scaled back. Addressing a rail industry conference, he said that the second phase of the project, which would connect Birmingham and Leeds, needed more support if construction is to go ahead – though the government later called the interpretation of his remarks by the media ‘absolute nonsense’.
- Meanwhile, Heathrow’s third runway saga continues, with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) voicing concerns regarding the cost and schedule of the project. The authority has threatened to take action which would force the airport to release evidence regarding the funding of the £14 billion expansion, in order to determine how costs, for both airlines and passengers, will be maintained in what is already the most expensive airport in the world.
…AND MORE TRANSPORT TROUBLES
If the above wasn’t enough, commuters have faced major disruption over the past few days. At the weekend, South Western Railway (SWR) workers staged yet another strike as a dispute surrounding the removal of guards on trains drags on, affecting a huge number of services to and from London Waterloo. Meanwhile, a 24-hour strike on the Central and Waterloo & City lines caused disruption to many commuters yesterday and earlier today after members of the RMT and ASLEF unions demanded that two drivers fired for alleged breaches of safety measures be rehired. A planned strike on the Piccadilly line was called off, ‘after sufficient progress was made in talks’. This latest round of industrial action will pile up the pressure on Sadiq, who ambitiously pledged in his 2016 mayoral campaign that there would be ‘zero days of strikes’ under his tenure. According to tallies by the GLA Conservatives and the City AM newspaper, today’s strike marks the 15th day of industrial action on TfL’s networks since Sadiq became Mayor in 2016 – they compare this with estimates that Ken saw 16 days of strikes in the same period, while Boris saw 35 days of strikes across his entire eight-year tenure.
Moniba Khan has held a seat for Labour in Newham’s Boleyn in a by-election on Thursday 1 November, following the resignation of Veronica Oakeshott. Khan took the seat with a significant majority of almost 1,400 votes and an estimated swing of 4.3% in favour of Labour since the May 2018 local elections – though turnout was at a low 23.5%.
Lambeth Council has appointed the board for its arms-length housing company Homes for Lambeth (HfL), as well as its development and housing association subsidiaries. The full line-up can be found here, but it is worth noting that Richard Reynolds, previously a Managing Director for London and the South East at Barratt Homes Group, has been appointed HfL Chair.
In Whitehall, Tracey Crouch (the Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford) has resigned as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society, to protest the Government’s decision to delay implementation of a reduced cap on the stakes of fixed odds betting terminals.
IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER?
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has launched the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission to ‘tackle the challenge of poor quality design and build of homes and places’ and thus help secure ‘popular consent’ for the construction of new homes across the country. The Commission will gather evidence to develop ‘practical policy solutions’ for promoting improved quality, securing greater community consent, renewing high streets, and unlocking land for housing and infrastructure development. But the Commission’s parallel task, of ‘advocat[ing] for beauty in the built environment’, is likely to ruffle more than a few feathers. Even more so as both Minister for Housing Kit Malthouse and the Commission’s Chair, the traditionalist (and controversial) philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton, have very particular ideas about what constitutes ‘beauty’ – and what does not. A relevant Tweet by Malthouse, which unfavourably compared the modernist Park House shopping centre on London’s Oxford Street to a Neoclassical Courthouse in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has already raised a collective ‘harrumph’ from many British architects, including RIBA President Ben Derbyshire. The Commission draws on – and is supported by – a relevant report and ongoing campaigning by think tank Policy Exchange.
LABOUR ASSEMBLY MEMBERS FACING MANDATORY RESELECTION?
The Guardian has reported the contents of a leaked email from acting London Labour regional director Andy Smith, according to which Labour London Assembly members (AMs) could face mandatory reselection by party members before the next London Mayor and Assembly elections on 7 May 2020. The proposals have not yet been confirmed by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), but the party’s Assembly group leader, Len Duvall, is cited by the newspaper as expressing ‘serious concerns about the proposals’. The Guardian further notes that if the measures are implemented, ‘moderate’ London-wide AMs such as Fiona Twycross, Tom Copley and Nicky Gavron could see their chances of being elected reduced. Even though they would still be automatically featured on the ballot under the proposals – as incumbents – support for rival Londonwide candidates by the party’s left could bump them down from the top of the list. The Assembly has a total of 25 AMs, of whom 14 represent specific constituencies, while 11 represent the whole of London. There are currently 12 Labour AMs, including the three London-wide AMs listed above.
Councillor Charles Adje, Haringey’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Regeneration, has been cited by the local press as saying that following representations by residents of the Sky City and Page High estates in Wood Green, the council is looking to abandon plans for their demolition and redevelopment, instead opting for their refurbishment. Simultaneously, blogs and social media activity indicate that campaigners from the local Residents’ Association in Haringey’s Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham have raised concerns that the council is ‘trying to avoid a [residents’] ballot’ on whether two blocks of housing found to be unsafe are demolished and rebuilt using Mayoral funding. The relevant Mayoral guidance does allow for exemptions from the obligation to ballot residents, including where demolition is necessitated by ‘resident safety issues that cannot reasonably be resolved through other means’ – but a possible decision to refuse a ballot could prove to be politically challenging for councillors elected on a commitment to give residents more power over regeneration decisions.
MISSING THE (CENTRE) POINT?
Last week, certain media outlets pounced on an announcement by Almacantar, the (re)developer of Centre Point. The Guardian in particular rushed to interpret it as a sign that the firm has ‘given up trying to sell the flats’ in the iconic central London tower, contributing to a ‘glut of unsold ultra-luxury property’ in the midst of a housing crisis. We would argue that this misrepresents Almacantar’s announcement and the redevelopment as a whole. London is undoubtedly facing a shortage of affordable housing - and the luxury apartments segment is indeed seeing a slowdown in the lead-up to Brexit. But Almacantar have not decided to stop selling flats. What they are doing, is standing down their residential agents until jittery markets have stabilised – which simply means they have prudently decided to spend less on actively flogging the flats, for the time being. CEO Mike Hussey has also clarified that 50% of Centre Point’s flats have already been sold, all its retail space has been fully leased and its construction debts have been cleared. Furthermore, Almacantar remains faithful to the requirements set by Labour-led Camden Council. The company secured the council’s approval to redevelop the tower in 2013, agreeing to provide 13 socially rented flats in an adjacent building (all finished and fully occupied well before anybody moved into the private Centre Point residences) and contribute £6m to public realm and transport improvements. Oh, and if you were wondering how many unsold flats the Guardian got so excited about? 38, of which 36 are still being refurbished.
LCA CHAIRMAN HONOURED BY CIPR
LCA’s co-founder and chairman Robert Gordon Clark has been featured in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ 70 at 70 list, celebrating 70 CIPR members who are considered to have made an ‘outstanding contribution’ to the Institute and the PR industry overall. Robert was included on the list first and foremost for ‘putting ethical practice at the heart of the business.’ CIPR has also noted his ‘strong commitment to research and intelligence-led activity,’ which has ‘played a key role in improving professional standards of practice.’ For regular insight from Robert you can follow him on Twitter at @rgclondoncomms.
The LCA team was present at today’s London Conference, hosted for the eighth year running by the Centre for London think tank. Sadiq himself addressed the event, hailing the Greater London Authority (GLA) at 18 as proof that devolution can work – though he couldn’t resist a swipe at his predecessor Boris, whose tenure he described as a stage of ‘adolescence’ before City Hall’s current ‘maturity’. As he is wont to, Sadiq also took a stab at the government and austerity, though it was encouraging to hear him make a strong case for resolving local government’s funding shortfall through further devolution of council tax and business rates. Other fascinating speakers we had the pleasure of hearing included Deputy Mayor of London James Murray, Camden’s Labour Leader Georgia Gould, the Centre for London’s Director Ben Rogers and head of research Richard Brown, the LSE’s Professor Tony Travers and Mile End Institute researcher Mercy Muroki. Their presentations provided both a birds-eye-vie of the state-of-London, as well as valuable insight into more specific areas, from planning and perceptions of development, to the capital’s evolving demographics, public administration, transport infrastructure and democratic representation. See our Twitter handle @LDNcomms for more on our impressions of the conference.
LCA SUPPORTS MAJOR MUSEUM OF LONDON ANNOUNCEMENT
Last week LCA was delighted to work with the Museum of London as it announced major support from the Linbury Trust in the form of a £10m donation and initial support of £5m in National Lottery funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards its move to West Smithfield. Check out page 3 of The Times’ Wednesday edition (which you can find online here), along with further coverage in the Daily Mail and others.
LCA AT THE WEST LONDON PROPERTY LUNCH
We will be attending West London Business’ third – and last for 2018 – Property Lunch on Friday 16 November, which will focus on modern methods of constructions, particularly modular construction. The panel of speakers, chaired by LCA Director Anna Whitton, will give guests an overview of progress in the UK, as well as insights on the recent application of modular construction, based on case studies illustrating the advantages and challenges posed by off-site fabrication. Speakers will include Ilke Homes’ Head of Business Development (London South East) Tom Oliver, as well as Biohm founder Ehab Sayed and Mace Group Director Shaun Tate. The West London Property Lunches bring together 70+ key influencers from West London’s property, construction and planning sector for a three-course lunch, providing a great networking platform, as well as a space where ideas are developed and partnerships forged. See here more information and to book.
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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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