We watched with great sadness as the 856 year old Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burned on Monday evening. It certainly puts into perspective short-termist rows about the proper care of London’s own landmarks and infrastructure.
Just because something has always been there doesn’t mean it always will be. Closer to home, that is very much the case for the 132 year old Hammersmith Bridge, which is currently closed to vehicles pending maintenance. It is also the case for the very air that we breathe – the point that the Extinction Rebellion activists are trying to make (whether you agree with their means or not) this week.
We’ve also got news of new housing panels and commissions, by-elections in two South London boroughs, the latest national polling, and more.
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PROTESTS, STRIKES AND OTHER AMBIENT NUISANCES
Environmental campaigners Extinction Rebellion kicked off a week-long series of disruptive protests on Monday, blocking off parts of central London in an attempt to raise awareness of climate change, urge the government to declare a climate emergency and implement radical measures to curb emissions. The protesters have occupied key junctions including Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Parliament Square. The group has also targeted the public transport network, prompting a City Hall statement warning protesters against this particular form of protest. At the time of writing, activists have glued themselves to a DLR train at Canary Wharf but so far no other disruption has been reported. The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that over 300 protesters have been arrested since Monday. One other bit of news that is worth considering, in light of these protests, relates to a new development comprising 56 homes, which recently won planning permission in Lewisham. The homes are located on the A2, in an area where nitrogen dioxide pollution levels regularly exceed legal limits. As widely reported in the newspapers, the application’s air quality assessment concluded that 'with opening windows the developer should advise the future occupants that their health could be at risk due to relatively high levels of air pollution in the area.' Imagine that.
Meanwhile, the RMT union also appears set on slowing London down in the coming months, confirming that it is preparing another ballot on industrial action. The row between London Underground and employees originally centred on pay but has now expanded to include fears that TfL’s restructuring programme will lead to job losses. If you’ve plans to fly away from the disruption, be aware that baggage handlers at Heathrow are also set to strike on 26 April, in a dispute over pay.
Transport for London’s (TfL) property development team is evidently working on overdrive these days. Only weeks after announcing it has selected Grainger as its preferred bidder for the delivery of 3,000 build to rent homes (40% affordable) on its land, the transport authority has confirmed that housing association Catalyst has been selected as the preferred bidder to deliver 450 homes on three car parks in Harrow. These sites are intended to provide ‘100% affordable’ housing, as well as transport infrastructure and public realm improvements. Catalyst is set to start detailed design and local consultations before submitting a planning application ‘in 2019/20’. TfL aims to start the construction of 10,000 homes across 320 acres of its land by 2021. It has pledged to ensure that 50% of the 10,000 total will be affordable.
Elsewhere, TfL has triggered controversy by announcing changes to a number of bus routes in central London. As explained by website MayorWatch, TfL will proceed with shortening the routes of the 3, 4, 40, 45, 59, 67, 134 and 172 services, entirely cancelling routes 48 and RV1 and reducing the frequencies of other services. Following numerous complaints by commuters, Assembly Members, MPs and others about the initial draft plans, TfL will not be cancelling the 271 night service and will not alter routes 11, 19, and 22 as initially proposed. TfL says the changes, which come into effect in June, follow a 12% drop in demand for bus services in central London over the past three years and allow for increased services in outer London. Meanwhile, this week has seen ‘power supply issues’ affect the entire length of the Jubilee Line on Monday, while various parts of the Overground network have also been affected by signalling issues over the past few days.
The 132-year-old Hammersmith Bridge was suddenly closed to vehicles on 11 April, following the discovery of ‘critical faults’ during a routine check. A statement released by Hammersmith & Fulham Council suggests that TfL should take responsibility for the bridge as part of its ‘strategic road network’. The message from City Hall, however, is that the Council owns the bridge and therefore is responsible for it. Both, as well as local MPs, are calling on the Department for Transport to help pay the estimated £40m repair bill. Meanwhile, the bridge remains open to pedestrians and cyclists. Bridges across the Thames really are becoming a sore point for the capital. Only this Monday, the London Assembly Garden Bridge Working Group interrogated TfL Head of Corporate Affairs Andy Brown about the transport authority’s oversight of the failed project. Representatives of the Garden Bridge Trust had also been invited to the hearing but refused to attend given concerns regarding the Working Group’s objectivity (NB: no Conservative AMs sit on the committee).
NEW 'LONDON HOUSING PANEL'
City Hall and the Trust for London charitable foundation have launched the recruitment process for a new committee which is intended to help ‘shape the capital’s housing policy’. The London Housing Panel will consist of representatives from up to 15 voluntary and community sector organisations, ‘representing a wide range of perspectives’, from social housing and private rental tenants, to leaseholders and students, as well as homeless households, disabled people, Gypsies and travellers. The Panel will fulfil an essentially advisory role. It is however notable that the Mayor’s announcement underlines that the Panel will ‘set its own agenda’ and that its Chair will join the Mayor’s Homes for Londoners Board. More details on the panel, including the application process, the criteria for applicants, and the roles, responsibilities and remuneration of members, can be found here.
- Steven Boyd has been appointed Chief Executive of the Government Property Agency (GPA), which sits within the Cabinet Office. Boyd was previously HMRC’s Estates Director and will begin in his new role on 10 June. Mike Parsons, the GPA’s current Interim Chief Executive, will continue in the role of Director General for Government Property at the Cabinet Office.
- Brian McIntyre has been appointed Chief Digital and Technology Officer at Homes England. This entirely new role is charged with designing and implementing a digitalisation strategy for the national housing agency.
- Dame Judith Hackitt and Stephen Hughes have been appointed to the HS2 Ltd board as non-executive directors. Dame Judith notably previously Chaired the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, while Hughes has served as Chief Executive of Birmingham City Council for almost a decade.
- LCA understands that Sue Foster, formerly Strategic Director of Neighbourhoods and Growth at Lambeth Council, will be taking over as interim Director of Planning and Borough Development at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, following Graham Stallwood’s appointment to the Planning Inspectorate. Foster is expected to be in post for about 6 months, starting shortly after Easter.
- Catalyst has appointed Philip Jenkins as its new Executive Director for Development. Jenkins will leave his post as Managing Director of Taylor Wimpey Central London to join the housing association this July.
- Mace has appointed John Hilton to lead its Stratford Waterfront works for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). Hilton is currently Aecom’s Head of Construction
- Deirdre Hipwell, Retail and Mergers & Acquisitions editor at The Times, has announced that she has left the paper to take up a role at Bloomberg.
- It is finally worth highlighting the sacking of Sir Roger Scruton as Chair of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission by Housing Secretary James Brokenshire. His dismissal follows controversial comments he made in an interview with the New Statesman – though many commentators have pointed out that these echoed views and positions Sir Roger has long espoused (and expanded on in public).
The Thornton ward by-election in Lambeth, triggered by the resignation of former Council Leader Lib Peck, took place on 11 April. Nanda Manley-Browne held the seat for Labour, albeit with a tiny majority of just 19 votes. The Liberal Democrat candidate Mathew Bryant came a close second, with an estimated 3.3% swing away from the Labour Party, and an 8% swing to the Lib Dems. Two by-elections are set to take place in neighbouring Lewisham on 2 May for the Evelyn and Whitefoot wards coinciding with local elections elsewhere in England.
TOWARDS A SPITALFIELDS TOWN COUNCIL
The campaign to create a Spitalfields & Banglatown Town (or ‘Parish’) Council within Tower Hamlets has passed a key milestone. The area’s residents have been polled on whether they support the creation of a local body and 61% of those who participated reportedly voted in favour. However, the consultation process is part of an ongoing, borough-led Community Governance Review. Furthermore, the power to decide on the town council’s creation still rests with Tower Hamlets. The campaign is supported by the Spitalfields Society and the Spitalfields Community Group, among others. They argue that the powers afforded by Town Council status would give residents more control over public spaces, litter and traffic control, festivals and other local events, local tourism and markets. The idea has been strenuously opposed by others, including Labour Councillor for Weavers Ward John Pierce and Labour London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai, who argue that the ‘insular’ and ‘elitist’ initiative will only benefit the neighbourhood’s wealthier quarters.
While they are common in the shires, parish councils have been almost unheard of in London for almost 80 years. Queen’s Park Community Council in Westminster, created in 2014, is currently the capital’s only example. It should be noted that these bodies do not replace Borough Councils and do not have any planning powers. They are also entirely distinct from the neighbourhood planning framework heralded by the 2011 Localism Act.
NO FAULT NO MORE
The Government has announced plans to consult on new legislation to replace Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, which allows landlords to carry out ‘no-fault evictions’ at short notice after fixed-term contracts come to an end. The announcement comes amid growing calls – from landlords and tenants – for reforming regulation of the ever-expanding private rental sector. It closely follows a consultation on ’Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector’ (to which the Government has just responded), as well as a Call for evidence on the potential for a specialist Housing Court (a Government response is pending). It also follows the adoption of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, which came into force in March, as well as the Tenant Fees Act, which comes into effect on 1 June. The announcement has been welcomed by housing charities and tenants’ organisations and in the capital, the Mayor, London Assembly, and London Councils have joined the chorus. Predictably, landlords’ associations have greeted the announcement with alarm, even though the Government has also pledged to ensure that rental property owners will still be able to end tenancies ‘where they have legitimate reason to do so’.
THE HOUSE(S) OF GOD
The Church of England has announced a new Commission on ‘Housing, Church and Community’. The Commission was launched last week by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace, his official London residence. The Commission will be Chaired by Charlie Arbuthnot, an expert in social housing financing, and the Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin, who has been prominent in efforts to support the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster. The group will examine the use of Church land as well as explore wider issues such as housing affordability, quality, and over-crowding.
TIG A PARTY?
The Independent Group has successfully registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission, under the somewhat clunky moniker ‘Change UK – The Independent Group’, just in time to field candidates in the European elections on 23 May. The party is claiming that it has been inundated with no less than 3,000 applications from people who wish to stand as candidates at the elections including two former Conservative MEPs. Centrist party Renew, formed last year, has announced that it will fold in order to support Change UK and, it has also been reported that Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has been disappointed by the rejection of his suggestion that his party, Change UK and the Greens should field candidates jointly.
The latest polling released over the weekend marks a distinctive shift. No less than four polls have predicted a victory for Labour, in what many have interpreted as broad public discontent over the government’s handling of Brexit – especially following the EU’s extension of the final UK exit date to 31 October.
- A poll of polls between 2 and 11 April, commissioned by the Sunday Telegraph and conducted by Electoral Calculus, found that a snap general election would result in 296 seats for Labour and 259 for the Conservative Party.
- According to Opinium’s latest poll (9 April) the Labour Party would gain 36% of the vote, to the Conservatives’ 29%.
- Similarly, a YouGov survey (10-11 April) also found that Labour would win a general election, albeit by a smaller margin, managing 32% of the vote to the Tories’ 28%.
- Meanwhile, BMG’s poll (2-5 April) suggested that there would be a mere 2 points between the parties, with 31% for Labour and 29% for the Conservative Party. Interestingly, this last poll included Change UK and The Brexit Party in their study, scoring 8% and 6% respectively.
LCA’s client HB Reavis, the renowned international workspace provider, have been shortlisted for two categories in this year’s OAS Development Awards: Developer of the Year and, for their recently launched 20 Farringdon Street project, the City New Build of the Year! We are delighted for them, and to have helped support their entries.
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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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