DELAYS AND CANCELLATIONS AND WE'RE NOT TALKING TRAINS...
Brexit is delayed, a major hospital reconfiguration is cancelled and people are apparently walking away from a major London development. The theme this week seems to be that patience is generally wearing a bit thin…
We hope though that you’ll stick with us as we look at the biggest stories from the week just gone, including a major planning refusal in Lewisham, a push on estate regeneration from the City of London and some interesting people moves in the world of local government.
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LONDON MARCHES AGAINST BREXIT
The ‘Put It To The People March’ in favour of a second referendum on Brexit took over much of central London on Saturday afternoon, with organisers asserting that 1m people took part – though other estimates put the number at closer to 400,000. Sadiq, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson and Liberal Democrat Leader (and MP for Twickenham) Vince Cable joined the march and addressed the crowd. A number of London MPs also joined the proceedings, including Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Labour, Tooting), David Lammy (Labour, Tottenham), Justine Greening (Conservative, Putney) and Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton & Wallington). Meanwhile, the Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn spent the day touring Lancashire. On a related note, a petition launched last week in support of the revocation of Article 50 and calling for the UK to remain in the EU has amassed just under 5,900,000 signatures – with London unsurprisingly a major contributor – and will be debated in Westminster Hall on 1 April. While the government says it ‘acknowledges the considerable number’ of signatures received, it has reiterated that it is determined to ‘honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum’.
WEST LONDON A&E U-TURN
Proposals that would have changed the way emergency health services were provided at both Charing Cross and Ealing Hospitals, in line with the NHS’s Shaping a Healthier Future programme, have generated a long-running controversy in West London. However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday announced that the plans are being scrapped. Local campaign groups, MPs and the Labour council administrations of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) and Ealing have campaigned passionately against the programme, asserting that it would amount to the two A&Es being closed. It is widely believed that these campaigns have cost the Conservatives dearly, contributing to Labour taking control of H&F in the 2014 local elections and winning even more votes and seats in both H&F and Ealing in 2018. The Health Secretary’s announcement is unusual in several respects: it was a rare case of a hard policy statement in the midst of the ongoing Brexit saga; it was not leaked beforehand; and it was made in the Commons in response to a question from Conservative MP for Fulham, Greg Hands (see transcript here). Indeed, at the time of LDN going to press, we have yet to see a press release from the Department of Health, though further details will hopefully be disclosed soon.
HANDS FOR MAYOR?
Meanwhile Greg Hands MP has also been busy locally on another subject, suggesting that H&F Council moves to a directly elected Mayoral model. At present only four boroughs in London, all Labour-controlled, have this model – Hackney (Phil Glanville), Lewisham (Damian Egan), Newham (Rokhsana Fiaz) and Tower Hamlets (John Biggs). One of these, Newham, is now preparing a referendum on whether to revert back to a Leader and Cabinet model. Whilst H&F is currently strongly Labour (35 Labour councillors to only 11 Conservatives), it was Tory-run as recently as 2006-2014. This suggests that, were H&F to move towards this model, it could perhaps herald the first really competitive borough Mayoral election since they were introduced in 2000.
PIPE SAYS NO
Meanwhile Jules Pipe, the former directly elected Mayor of Hackney and now London’s Deputy Mayor for Planning, has directed Lewisham Council to reject Meyer Homes’ proposals for the development of a 365-home scheme. The plans, granted permission by the local authority in December, would have seen the homes delivered in three towers of eight, 14 and 34 storeys. The scheme’s affordable homes offer was the given reason for Pipe’s decision. The applicant had initially proposed 20%, offering to increase this to 24% if the scheme were granted planning consent before the end of March. GLA officers also raised concerns about the funding of the project as the developer’s own reports found that the scheme would have incurred ‘a significant financial deficit’. It must also be noted that a previous, very similar application for the same development by Meyer Homes was rejected by the Council in April last year, with one of the changes in the December application being the addition of a ‘Skydeck’ Rooftop Viewing Gallery in one of the proposed towers. It remains to be seen whether the developer will come back with yet another revised proposal.
There was a TfL board meeting this morning, but the most interesting discussion in relation to London's transport authority this week seems to have taken place during yesterday afternoon’s session of the London Assembly Housing Committee. AMs and guests discussed TfL’s ambitious plans for the delivery of homes on its sizeable property portfolio. The Committee’s papers note that TfL had committed in May 2016 to starting the construction of 10,000 new homes during Sadiq’s current term (i.e. by the Spring of 2020). However, TfL Commercial Development Director Graeme Craig explained that this initial ‘aspiration’ was, by the end of 2016, pushed back to March 2021 and that TfL will have started ‘maybe 1,000 homes’ by March 2020. On the plus side, Craig also underlined that TfL has clinched deals with development partners to build 7,000 homes and will announce, by the end of this week, the appointment of a partner to help deliver a portfolio of 3,000 build to rent homes. Also on TfL property, last week the transport authority announced that it had sold the building above Holborn Tube station for around £40m to property investor Aprirose, while its Finance Committee approved a proposal to sell its interest in the office buildings complex at 55 Broadway, its former HQ above St James’s Park Tube station.
Kingston Council has released further details on its plans for the Cambridge Road Estate’s regeneration, which aspire to deliver 2,000 new homes over the 10-12 years. The council has disclosed that the Electoral Reform Service has been commissioned to implement a residents’ ballot ‘in Autumn this year’. This could potentially make it the fourth such ballot to take place in London, unless other planned ballots in Ealing, Enfield and elsewhere beat it to the finishing line. Kingston switched from Conservative to Liberal Democrat control last May, and its new leaders had committed to holding a ballot on any plans for the estate in their election manifesto. This latest announcement follows a session of the Kingston Strategic Housing and Planning Committee, which discussed specific arrangements for the ballot. The council says the vote will be preceded by a ‘wide-ranging and extensive programme of engagement’ and, assuming a ‘Yes’ result, a planning application will be submitted in 2020. Countryside Properties was selected as the preferred development partner back in October though that is pending approval by the Full Council.
SQUARE MILE MASTERPLAN
The Evening Standard has reported that the City of London Corporation is apparently ‘in talks’ with six boroughs in connection with plans for the delivery of new homes on its portfolio of post-war social housing estates beyond the Square Mile itself. While these plans have been in the pipeline for a number of years, it is clear that the City wishes to step up the pace of delivery of new homes, while balancing residential and commercial development with new cultural and transport infrastructure. Meanwhile, City of London planning officers have recommended plans for the controversial Tulip tower, submitted by site owner J. Safra Group and designed by Foster + Partners, be granted approval by councillors. A final decision will be made at a meeting of the Planning and Transportation Committee on 2 April.
According to a recent Financial Times article, an unspecified number of prospective buyers of new homes at Battersea Power Station have reclaimed their deposits and ended their commitment to the scheme, citing the delays to two phases of the redevelopment. The first phase is complete, albeit later than planned, with a reported 1,000 people already living there. The FT further reported that homes at the development could now be sold at discounted rates of up to 40%, a claim which has been denied by the Battersea Power Station Development Company. This news comes as recent research by Savills finds that prices at the prime end of the London market properties have decreased by 20% since 2014.
THE GUARDIAN, ON LONDON
The Guardian seems to have taken a particular interest in housing and planning issues in London this month. This last week alone, we were interested to see a number of reports relevant to the sector. One article featured Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which found that in 2017-18, London boroughs paid private landlords more than £14m in ‘incentives’ payments simply to persuade them to house homeless people – attributing the problem to ‘the fall in social housebuilding’ and ‘a widening gap between housing benefit and market rents’. Another article highlighted a Campaign to Protect Rural England report, which has identified 2,600 additional brownfield sites across England added to local planning authorities’ brownfield registers over the past year. The CPRE argues that these sites could potentially be used for the development of thousands of homes – of which 18,000 could be in Barnet alone. Finally, a series of Guardian articles took aim at a particular developer, citing evidence that children living in the affordable part of a housing scheme in Lambeth were barred from using a communal play area following last-minute changes to the scheme’s planning permission – a claim which the developer has denied, asserting that it has “never had” any objections to the play area being accessible to all.
The same newspaper reported this week that ‘more than a dozen’ Conservative councillors who have been suspended for Islamophobic remarks or other racist content online have had their membership reinstated. Though there were no cases reported in London, it is clear that the capital’s Tories are very much intent on repairing the damage caused by allegations of ‘dog-whistle’ politics by Zac Goldsmith’s 2016 Mayoral campaign. Indeed the Conservative Mayoral Candidate for 2020, London Assembly Member Shaun Bailey, wrote an article only last Friday, in which he called on his own party to ‘root out Islamophobia for good’. On the same day, Sadiq announced that City Hall has adopted the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims' definition of Islamophobia and called on the government and other public bodies to do the same – citing fears sparked by last week’s terrorist attacks in New Zealand as a key motivator.
- London’s network for the built environment, Future of London (FoL), will see current Head of Leadership Nicola Mathers move into its top role. Meanwhile, Lisa Taylor, CEO since 2013, is shifting to part-time Executive Director as she launches Coherent Cities, a new facilitation and project consultancy with associates including LCA, Commonplace and Municipal.
- Rob Krzyszowski has been appointed head of planning policy, transport and infrastructure at the London Borough of Haringey. He was previously a Spatial Planning Manager at Brent Council.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING LATEST
Last week, LCA attended the Neighbourhood Planning in London conference, hosted by the ‘Neighbourhood Planners.London’ initiative with the support of Trust for London. The event highlighted the progress of grassroots planning initiatives across London, with 77 Neighbourhood Forums now having been formally designated and 12 Neighbourhood Plans completed and approved by local referenda (albeit only across three boroughs). Dozens of other neighbourhood groups are awaiting designation as Forums or preparing to hold referendums on their Plans. However, the event also saw many vent frustration with the availability of public funding, the challenges of encouraging communities to actively participate in neighbourhood planning and the sheer time it takes to see a plan through to completion. Speakers called for more interest and involvement from the GLA and local authorities alike, to enable more communities to become active participants in local planning.
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