THE NUMBERS AREN'T GREAT
This week in LDN, the numbers aren’t looking too good for the Labour Party, for housing starts, for house prices or for London’s local authorities. We look at some of the stats in detail below, particularly assessing housing supply and the likely outcome of this year’s Spending Review.
Read on for the latest on the capital’s local politics and government, housing and development, health and cultural sectors, as well as public space. We also take a look at some key people moves and showcase LCA’s delegation to this year’s MIPIM Cannes conference.
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LONDON LABOUR LEAKING
The defection of eight Labour and three Tory MPs to The Independent Group last week has triggered a number of resignations from Labour across the country. In London, the first resignations of sitting Labour party councillors are those of Danny Hackett (Thamesmead East, Bexley) and Jessica Brayne (Underhill, Barnet). Both say they will continue to sit on their respective councils as Independents. Meanwhile, it appears local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) in the capital are also losing leading activists, such as former Barnet Labour Councillor Adam Langleben. All have cited alarm at the party’s handling of ‘bullying’ and antisemitism allegations as the core reason for their departure. The party’s leaders in London are also evidently concerned and are moving to prevent further defections: Redbridge Council Leader Jas Athwal has issued an announcement insisting Labour 'remains united' and from City Hall, Sadiq has called for unity (while lamenting that the past week was ‘the most distressing and depressing of my 33 years in the party’).
HOUSING DELIVERY TEST RESULTS
In the midst of all this party-political wrangling, the government has finally published the results of its first ‘housing delivery test’, which provides a birds-eye-view of patchy delivery rates across the capital. Announced as part of the National Planning Policy Framework revised last July (and again this February), the test is intended to measure ‘net additional dwellings provided in a local authority area against the homes required’. Crucially, the test’s results can trigger sanctions against authorities whose housing delivery is found to be below 95% of their estimated requirement, escalating in severity depending on the scale of the shortfall. The test uses a fairly complicated methodology and employs a variety of benchmarks for success. It also takes into account homes across all tenures, built by local authorities, but also the private and housing association sectors. Finally, this first test covers the 2015/16 to 2017/18 period, but many of these homes will have received planning permission before 2015 and therefore largely reflect planning decisions and policies (as well as market conditions) of previous years.
SO HOW DID LONDON DO?
Overall, 325 local planning authorities in England with a housing delivery requirement in the form of a Local Plan target or similar were examined by this first test. 34 areas in London (32 boroughs, the City of London and the LLDC) are included in this number.
- 217 (67%) areas across England, including 19 in London (56%), met or passed the 95% threshold; they can proceed with business as usual.
- But 108 (33%) areas, including 15 in London (44%) fell below the 95% threshold and will face some kind of sanction.
- 21 nationally, of which two in London, fell within the 85%-94% bracket and must now produce an ‘action plan’ outlining how they will boost home-building.
- A further 87 nationally, of which 13 in London (including the City and the LLDC), scored between 35% and 84%, and will have to identify a ‘buffer’ of 20% additional deliverable housing sites.
- None scored below the dreaded 25% threshold, which would effectively render their Local Plan out of date and force its revision – but this threshold rises to 45% in 208/19 and 75% in 2019/20.
- The three London boroughs found to have exceeded their requirements by the highest margin are Hammersmith & Fulham (189%), Hillingdon (182%) and Harrow (175%).
- The three London boroughs assessed as having most severely under-delivered were Barking & Dagenham (43%), the City (42%) and Redbridge (38%).
OH SADIQ, WHERE ART THOU?
The results of the housing delivery test will ratchet up the pressure on many Town Halls in London as well as on City Hall. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has already come knocking on Sadiq’s door to demand that he step up housing delivery and increase, in due course, his new London Plan’s targets. However, the Mayor’s powers are not all-encompassing and he faces an increasingly inauspicious (more on this below) housing market. The area most closely scrutinised as a measure of the Mayor’s effectiveness is his performance against a target for affordable homes started with his direct financial support. The Evening Standard reported last week that work has begun on only 6,000 of the 14,000 such homes he is charged with starting in the financial year to April 2019. A spokesman for the Mayor has offered assurances that ‘quarterly numbers increase towards the end of the financial period in all housing programmes’. Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray followed up with a letter to the Standard, also asserting that Sadiq is ‘on track’ to deliver on his pledges in this area.
H&F CPO THREAT
In the latest episode of the long-running drama surrounding Capco’s masterplan for the redevelopment of Earl’s Court, Hammersmith & Fulham Council is reported to be considering the use of a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to acquire land on the site. It would appear the council hopes that acquiring land (including the former Earls Court Exhibition Centre site as well as the TfL-owned Lillie Bridge depot site) in this way will allow it to break the deadlock stalling the project, accelerate the delivery of new homes and increase the proportion of affordable homes on the site. This follows demands by the Council's Leader (latterly backed by Sadiq) that Capco return two housing estates located on the site to council control. Capco is meanwhile reported to still be in talks with Hong Kong firm CK Asset Holdings for the possible sale of its interests in the scheme, including the aforementioned estates.
NEW TOWN HALL FOR TOWER HAMLETS
Bouygues UK Ltd has been appointed the main contractor for the redevelopment of the former Royal London Hospital site in Whitechapel. The scheme will provide a new town hall for Tower Hamlets Council, whilst retaining the original Georgian façade of the Grade II listed building. It will house the Council’s core functions, including office space and meeting rooms, the Council chamber and a café. Planning permission was granted last March, the refurbished building is expected to be complete in autumn 2021 and open the following year.
THE MILLION-POUND QUESTION
Recent research by Zoopla has found that the number of ‘property millionaires’ in London and the South East fell significantly in the past year. Zoopla found an 8.1% drop in the number of properties estimated to be worth £1m or more in the capital and its hinterland, compared to a 4.5% decline in the rest of the country. Meanwhile, the latest government figures on house prices and analysis by Knight Frank and Savills confirm that property prices fell by 0.6% across the capital over the past year, but by 4.6% in the wealthiest ‘prime London’ neighbourhoods.
GLA BUDGET: MORE, BUT LESS
The London Assembly held its last debate and vote on the Mayor’s Final Draft Budget for 2019/20 this Monday. While it was supported only by Labour’s 12 AMs, against an opposition of 13, it passed by virtue of rules securing its automatic approval if no amendments or alternatives are approved by a 2/3 majority. The GLA’s gross revenue and capital expenditure will consequently increase by about £1.9bn (from £16bn on 2018/19 to £18bn in 2019/20). However, this increase appears to mainly reflect the costs of Crossrail’s delay and crucial funds for policing. It will also be funded by (repayable) government loans and an uptick in (potentially non-recurring) business rates and council tax receipts. Defending his plans to the Assembly, Sadiq railed against a ‘failed austerity agenda’, warned against a no-deal Brexit and pointed to ‘huge uncertainty’ over the upcoming Spending Review.
Indeed, the 2019 Spending Review is a crucial milestone for the capital’s public services, as it will outline the government’s overall spending plans for 2020/21 and at least two years beyond. Departments are now doing the groundwork for the review, which will begin in earnest later this year. MHCLG only last week concluded its technical consultation on the method it will use to assess local authorities’ relative needs and resources, which brings us back to the question of funding key services in London. Analysis released by the Local Government Chronicle and the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the Government’s proposed new method for assessing councils’ funding needs could adversely impact inner city councils across England and leave London’s boroughs with 21% less annual central government funding (or about £500m). London Councils, which represents the capital’s local authorities, has highlighted that eight of the 20 most deprived local authority areas in England are in London.
IT'S NOT JUST COUNCILS
Meanwhile, London’s NHS Trusts are also waiting for the Spending Review with baited breath, as it will include a critical new capital settlement for their sector. The Health Service Journal last week published analysis of requests from NHS trusts for capital investment, which found that two out of three applications for funding by NHS trusts in England have so far been rejected under a regime launched in 2017. The refusals include £343m plans for the redevelopment of Whipps Cross Hospital in East London and £310m plans for works at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in South East London.
EMA TO PAY
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has lost a High Court bid to terminate its Canary Wharf office lease, after its decision to move its headquarters to Amsterdam. The agency had argued that Brexit had unexpectedly ‘frustrated’ its ability to fulfil the conditions of its lease, which lasts until 2039, as its headquarters are required to be located to an EU member state. Landlords across London will have breathed a sigh of relief, as many were concerned that a successful outcome for the EMA would create a precedent enabling other corporate tenants to prematurely break their leases. The EMA is expected to appeal the decision even though the High Court has confirmed that the agency could – with the consent of the landlord – sublet the office for the remainder of its lease.
Plans for a new museum and visitor centre in Southwark dedicated to Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, have been unveiled. Crowdfunded plans for the centre, soon to be submitted for planning permission, envision the construction of a new ticket hall, education facility and exhibition space alongside the existing replica of Drake’s flagship, the Golden Hinde. Golden Hinde Ltd, which runs the attraction, and architects SPPARC aim to open by 2020, in time to mark the 440th anniversary of Drake’s feat. They hope that the project will draw 200,000 visitors annually.
PUBLIC PRIVATE SPACE
The controversial issue of privately-owned, public space (also known as ‘POPS’) in London appears to be resurfacing. Over the weekend, the Guardian positively reviewed a newly opened, freely-accessible rooftop garden perched on Fen Court, a 15-storey office building in the City, which offers panoramic views of the city. Meanwhile, plans for the ‘Tulip’, a new tower also in the City, have been revised to provide more space for educational use after the GLA complained that provision in the original plans was ‘limited’. Earlier this month LCA also attended an excellent event by the NLA, where guests discussed the challenges of providing accessible POPS in an increasingly dense cityscape and complex planning environment. The wider sector is still awaiting a ‘Public London Charter’ laying out clearer guidelines for POPS, which Sadiq promised to publish in response to a September 2017 London Assembly motion. The Mayor more recently said, in his answer to a question by Green Party AM Sian Berry, that he aims to publish the Charter ‘alongside the new London Plan’, by which he presumably means this Autumn.
- Specialist regeneration developer and investor U+I has announced the appointment of Craig White as Director of Content. White joins U+I from Argent, where he led the business’ Retail division.
- Brett Leahy has been appointed as Head of Planning and Building Control at Redbridge Council. Leahy is joining the London Borough from Milton Keynes Council, where he was Chief Planner.
LCA AT MIPIM
This year’s LCA team at MIPIM in Cannes (12 to 15 March) consists of Jonny Popper, Managing Director; Jane Groom, Board Director; Gabriel Abulafia, Director; Duncan Hepburn, Director and Helena Carrie, Account Director.
We will once again be working for NLA, handling media activity and social media on the London Stand, as well as representing many of our clients. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to arrange a meet up at MIPIM and we look forward to seeing many of our LDN readers out there!
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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