RAIL AGAINST THE MACHINE
Accusations and recriminations abound as the London Assembly blasts Transport for London over Crossrail, the Housing Secretary undercuts the Mayor, and environmental protesters and housing activists rage against a broken system.
Thankfully, there have been some attempts at progress and collaboration too. London Councils has launched an important series of pledges for joint action on key issues for all Londoners, from housing to economic development.
Meanwhile, both main parties are trying to win over renters, the Mayor has bought a site in Enfield and the Notre Dame fire continues to generate much debate and reflection from across the Channel.
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Last week, the BBC cited an unnamed ‘senior source associated with the project’ who said Crossrail should be delivered anytime between spring 2020 and spring 2021. Crossrail Ltd’s leadership has previously promised to provide a ‘window’ of opening dates sometime this month and it remains to be seen whether their official view matches that of the BBC’s source. Meanwhile, the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, chaired by Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, has published a fairly scathing report into the project’s delays, which focuses on Crossrail’s leadership and governance. It accuses TfL Commissioner Mike Brown of ‘watering down’ warnings about risks to Crossrail’s timetable and even questions whether he is ‘fit to continue to fulfil his role’. Brown is due for a showdown with the Committee tomorrow. Meanwhile, a TfL spokesperson has rejected the accusation as ‘entirely incorrect’, Brown has flatly refused to step down and the Mayor has jumped to his defence, asserting he has ‘every confidence’ in the Commissioner. Finger-pointing aside, the report has generated significant publicity, reinforcing the London Assembly’s primary function, as laid down in the GLA Act 1999, to be the body which scrutinises the Mayor of London’s activities.
CITROEN SITE CALL-IN
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has called in the application for the redevelopment of the Citroen Car Garage Site, in Hounslow. L&Q’s plans had been opposed by some residents and conservation groups and were rejected by the council on the grounds of excessive height and density, as well as impacts on heritage sites. The application was then called in by the Mayor and, following amendments, he subsequently approved it. The scheme aims to deliver 441 homes (50% affordable) as well as commercial space and a nursery, across buildings up to 18 storeys high. Brokenshire has not offered any explanation for this call-in (having, only last month, scrapped the need to do so). That said, a copy of his Department’s letter to City Hall points to housing delivery, local economic growth and impacts on the historic environment, as well as compliance with the area’s Local Plan, as ‘the matters which he particularly wishes to be informed about.’ Over the past few months, the Secretary of State has called in and rejected the 17 storey ‘Purley skyscraper’ in Croydon (though the decision was quashed and is being reconsidered), as well as two schemes in Kensington & Chelsea (decisions on these are pending).
MAYOR'S LAND FUND
The Mayor’s Land Fund has paid £12.8m to purchase a 1.4-hectare site at the North Middlesex University Hospital (NMUH) in Edmonton, Enfield. The site’s car park, offices, and hospital testing facilities will be relocated to make way for the development of at least 200 homes, with the expectation that at least 50% of these will be affordable. The Mayor’s announcement says that the construction of the new homes ‘will begin before March 2022’ and that the project will also ‘help deliver enhanced health facilities with increased capacity’ for the North Middlesex University Hospital (NMUH). It is not clear whether or when a development partner will be appointed, or whether planning permission has been sought for the homes. The site was previously owned by LocatED, the agency responsible for delivering the Department for Education’s Academy programme. This is the second purchase by the Mayor’s £250m Land Fund aimed at enabling the development of housing and subsidising new hospital facilities – the first was for part of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust’s St Ann’s Hospital site, in Haringey, a year ago.
NO, WE'RE THE RENTERS PARTY
Following the government’s announcement that Section 21 evictions are to be scrapped (covered in last week’s LDN), Labour has responded with more proposals of its own for improving the lot of renters. In London, the Mayor has called on the Government to introduce a new registration system for those offering short-term lets to help regulate the sector. Sadiq’s announcement was timed to coincide with the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Short Let sector, led by Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster North. Buck, LDN readers will recall, is currently working with Deputy Mayor James Murray to develop his long-trailed but still elusive rent control proposals. Meanwhile, the Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey has announced a Labour government would scrap permitted development (PD) rights, which enable office-to-residential conversions without planning permission.
- Dan Labbad, current CEO of Lendlease Europe, has been appointed as the Crown Estate’s new chief executive. Labbad will start his new role in January 2020.
- Lou Downe has been appointed Director of Service Design and Transformation at Homes England. Downe is currently the Head of Service Design and Standards for the UK Government at the Government Digital Service. No starting date has yet been confirmed.
- Robin Porter is to become Luton Council’s CEO. Porter is presently the local authority's Corporate Director for Customer and Commercial and Deputy Chief Executive. His appointment is expected to be confirmed on 6 May.
A MOST GENTEEL REBELLION
The Extinction Rebellion protests, which brought disruption to several parts of central London last week, continued over the Bank Holiday weekend. The group staged a ‘die in’ at the Natural History Museum on 22 April, while protesters were moved by police from the roads and junctions they had been occupying (including Oxford Street and Waterloo Bridge) to a designated protest area at Marble Arch. As MPs returned from recess on 23 April, protesters marched to Parliament Square. The Mayor, whose handling of the protests has been criticised by the Tories, as well as some frustrated commuters and businesses, has urged the group to ‘let London return to business as usual’. Over 1,000 protesters are reported to have been arrested – although all this is perhaps put into context by the 23rd consecutive weekend of rioting in Paris. Meanwhile, also over the Bank Holiday weekend, Britain broke its own record for the longest continuous period without using coal to generate electricity. Going over 90 hours without the use of coal marks significant progress towards the government’s target of phasing out the fuel by 2025; a gratifying reminder that the UK is making small steps in the right direction, even if not quite enough to appease Extinction Rebellion.
Donations totalling over €1bn were pledged for Notre Dame’s reconstruction within two days of the fire that gutted Paris’ historic cathedral. However, housing activists in neighbouring France have argued that the funds would be better directed towards helping the homeless. This has also triggered campaigners here to argue that there has been little action by the Government in the almost two years since the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people. Grenfell United claims that Theresa May’s administration has proven ‘indifferent and incompetent’ while an open letter from A Voice for Tenants (AV4T), calls for more action to foster ‘national tenant representation’. 433 high-rise residential tower blocks in England have been identified as having Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding ‘unlikely to meet Building Regulations’, of which only 89 have completed remediation works as of 31 March 2019. Meanwhile, confusion persists across several areas where the Government has committed to act since 2017, from implementing the Hackitt Review’s Building Regulation reform proposals, to finalising its Social Housing Green Paper.
Plans to shut 51 ticket offices at London Overground stations have been scrapped by the Mayor. This follows a consultation which saw significant push-back from transport watchdog London TravelWatch and, crucially, trade unions. The small print suggests that ticket offices at ‘quieter stations’ will not be staffed all day and that those stations which do not have functioning ticket offices at present, as well as any new stations, will likely remain without one. The move is being paid for with an additional £5m from business rates, of which £1m will be invested in new technologies enabling customers to seek help even where no staff is physically present, such as ‘remote-controlled ticket barriers’ and ‘video-link ticket machines’.
LONDON COUNCILS' PLEDGES
The umbrella organisation representing London’s 32 Boroughs and the City of London Corporation has rallied its members to set joint aspirations for the next three years. These Pledges to Londoners have been agreed by the Leaders and Directly Elected Mayors of the capital’s local authorities, who have committed to setting aside party affiliations in order to collectively focus on the following six issues: housebuilding, combatting knife crime, arguing for a sustainable financial settlement for local services, improving air quality, investing in preventative services and working effectively with business to boost their communities’ economic prosperity. At a time when British politics is increasingly becoming a tribal, polarised affair, it is remarkable that London Councils and its members have succeeded in agreeing a comprehensive set of shared, pan-London priorities.
GAME ON FOR HKS AND TEAM VITALITY
One of LCA’s newest clients, global architecture practice HKS, has announced a collaboration with leading eSports organisation Team Vitality. Competitive gaming (if you’re not sure, ask a teenager) is growing rapidly, with Goldman Sachs reporting $1.4bn investment into the industry in the first half of 2018 alone – a 90% year-on-year increase from 2017 – with over $3.3bn of venture capital investment within eSports-related startups since 2013. HKS is one of the world’s foremost sports and entertainment architects and is working with Team Vitality on strategy and innovation as well as design. HKS is applying its expertise in ‘revenue based design’ to Team Vitality’s new Paris headquarters which will open later this year. We’re thrilled to be working in this new and fast-growing area and to be supporting the architects’ London office on their communications strategy, media relations, and social media.
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