WHAT BOJO GETS UP TO IN HIS SPARE TIME
It’s been one of those weeks where everything seems to be happening all at once. A flurry of activity in City Hall has been matched by furious electioneering and a great deal of news from the wider planning and development sector.
Sadiq is taking one step forward and two steps back, but is evidently keen to maintain his profile in the lead-up to the 2020 Mayoral and London Assembly Elections. Meanwhile, Labour is busy selecting London Assembly candidates, as well as confirming its line-up for a potential snap election.
Elsewhere, a series of appointments, suspensions and by-elections are making things even more interesting. And London’s boroughs, are continuing to do their damnedest, against all odds, to keep things buzzing along.
Meanwhile, Boris has stated, very convincingly, that he relaxes by making models of buses out of old wooden wine crates.
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KHAN HANGS ON
Sadiq has had a busy week, including a public hearing on the Kensington Forum (more below), the announcement of ‘London’s biggest ever Car Free Day celebration’ to take place in September and a London summit of 12 European capitals’ Mayors, which took place only yesterday. But these activities have arguably been largely overshadowed by his struggle to deliver on manifesto pledges and other commitments across transport, housing and especially crime.
- On transport, Khan appears to have scrapped a manifesto pledge on the Rotherhithe crossing, (more below). Meanwhile, brewing industrial action on London’s Transportation network could derail his promises to reduce strike days on the TfL network and indeed, the GLA Conservatives claimed last month that Sadiq already has the ‘worst record of any Mayor to date’ in terms of average annual number of strike days.
- On housing, Sadiq’s Deputy Mayor for Housing last week told the London Assembly that while his affordable housing programme remains on track to deliver 116,000 starts by 2022, London as a whole is only adding half of the 66,000 new homes across all tenures it needs to its housing stock annually. This Tuesday, Sadiq released a study making the case for more government funding for affordable housing, in partnership with London’s G15 group of housing associations.
- Finally, critics including the GLA Conservatives, US President Donald Trump and even former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher have piled in to accuse Sadiq of overseeing an increase in crime. The Mayor continues to argue that London is not alone in seeing certain crimes’ incidence rates increase and to point at Tory cuts as the culprit (latterly also looping in the Lib Dems as being complicit in these). At the last Mayor’s Question Time session on 20 June, Sadiq insisted that London is safer under his watch, but did not contest Met statistics cited by Conservative AM Gareth Bacon, according to whom robberies rose 65%, knife crime 55%, and gun crimes 30% between 2015/16 and 2018/19.
KENSINGTON FORUM CHECKS OUT
The Mayor has approved Rockwell and Queensgate Investments’ application for their Kensington Forum development, centred on a hospitality complex comprising a 749-room hotel, 340 serviced apartments and various other facilities, as well as 62 flats, all for London Affordable Rent. The development foresees a part 30, part 22 and part seven storey building. The scheme had been rejected by the Conservative-led Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, mainly on the grounds of height and massing. Many local people and residents’ associations had expressed their opposition, reportedly submitting almost 800 objections with a few choice words about the proposed building’s design. Labour MP for North Kensington Emma Dent Coad also opposed the plans, arguing that their affordable housing offer does not override other local concerns. At the brief public hearing chaired by Sadiq last Friday, the Mayor gave short shrift to all these complaints, asserting that the borough can ill-afford to reject the affordable homes offered by the scheme. It should be noted that the applicants significantly upped their residential offer after their project was called in by the Mayor, from 46 homes (of which 43% would be affordable) in the initial application rejected by Kensington & Chelsea, to the present 62 homes (100% affordable).
It now remains to be seen whether the Mayor’s decision will stand, or whether the Communities Secretary will step in.
ROTHERHITHE BRIDGE FADES AWAY
Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander announced on 21 June that plans for a new bridge across the Thames connecting Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf have been ‘paused’ due to funding constraints. In a letter to Florence Eshalomi, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, Alexander pointed to the project’s unaffordability, ‘particularly in the context of TfL’s wider challenges’, and suggested that TfL will now commence work on the ‘more affordable’ alternative of a ferry. The Labour Leader of Southwark Council Peter John called the news ‘terrible’, and co-signed a letter alongside his Cabinet Member for Growth, Development and Planning Johnson Situ, Labour AM Florence Eshalomi, and local Labour MP Neil Coyle, calling on the GLA to ‘reconsider’ the decision. City Hall’s move is particularly significant given that Sadiq’s 2016 manifesto included ‘backing the Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf cycle and pedestrian bridge’. Even more so as City Hall continues to press on with work on the Silvertown Tunnel, which was not mentioned in Khan’s manifesto and which is being strenuously opposed by the Assembly Greens and Liberal Democrats, as well as campaigners – who all argue that it will encourage car use and lead to higher emissions, and could therefore be at odds with the Mayor’s ‘Healthy Streets’ and ‘Climate Emergency’ agendas.
LONDON LABOUR CANDIDATE SELECTIONS
In the last week, all of the incumbent Labour London Assembly members representing geographic ‘super-constituencies’ have been re-selected to fight for their seats at the 2020 London Assembly elections. However, the party has yet to select the rest of its candidates (including those running in seats held by the opposition, those replacing the five incumbents who have announced they are stepping down and those for its list of ‘top up’ candidates). The tally is currently as follows:
- AM Leonie Cooper will again run in Merton & Wandsworth.
- Labour Group Leader AM Len Duvall has been confirmed to stand for his Greenwich & Lewisham seat.
- AM Florence Eshalomi has been re-selected as the candidate for Lambeth & Southwark, after the Bermondsey and Old Southwark CLP cast the deciding vote in her favour.
- AM Joanne McCartney (also Statutory Deputy Mayor) was re-selected to run for Enfield & Haringey.
- AM Dr Onkar Sahota will contest the super-constituency of Ealing & Hillingdon.
Meanwhile, the Tory leadership race has triggered national Labour Party preparations for a potential snap General Election. The Party has asked all sitting Labour MPs to decide, by 8 July, whether they wish to stand again for parliament, prompting MP for Poplar & Limehouse Jim Fitzpatrick to announce that he will not seek to stand for re-election.
- The Cannon Hill ward by-election in Labour-held Merton, triggered by the resignation of Labour councillor Mark Kenny, saw the Lib Dems’ Jenifer Gould take the seat from Labour. According to Britain Elects, Gould took 35% of the vote, a 24 point swing to the party. Labour and the Conservatives both received 29% of the vote, with a mere eight votes between them (Labour on 875 votes, to the Conservatives’ 867). The election of Gould brings the total number of Lib Dem opposition councillors in Merton to seven.
- Labour candidate Graham Loveland meanwhile held the Furzedown ward for Labour in Conservative-held Wandsworth. The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour councillor Candida Jones. According to Britain Elects, Loveland took 49% of the vote, but with a 15 point swing away from her party. The Lib Dems came second, with 24% of the vote, but with an almost 19 point swing in their favour.
- London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton has announced she will be retiring in April 2020 after 32 years with the service. Cotton is the first woman to lead the London Fire Brigade and has been widely hailed for her service – in her announcement, Cotton notably referred directly to the “utter devastation” of the Grenfell Tower fire and the impact it has made on its victims, her colleagues and herself.
- Former Camden Labour Leader Sarah Hayward has been appointed as the director of Croydon’s newly-created Violence Reduction Network (VRN), a crime prevention initiative which closely mirrors the London-wide Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) launched by the Mayor and headed up by Lambeth’s former Labour Leader Lib Peck.
- Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster Mark Field has been suspended from his position as Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, after taking the law (and a Greenpeace protester) into his own hands at the Chancellor's annual address at Mansion House in the City. Field has since apologised ‘unreservedly’ to the protester and referred himself to the Cabinet Office.
Recently-published research illustrates how many Londoners suffer from poverty and deprivation, despite the wealth created in our great city. The Guardian has highlighted the latest Annual Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) report commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and managed by the St Mungo’s charity. The report’s disturbing headline finding was that a total of 8,855 people were seen rough sleeping in London during 2018/19, an 18% increase compared to the total of 7,484 recorded in the 2017/18 CHAIN report. Separately, OnLondon has featured the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ latest report on Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK. Despite being an engine of growth, London still ranks worse than the rest of the UK across all measures of poverty, defined in terms of income, expenditure and the ability to afford basic items. Indeed, London’s ‘headline poverty’ rate in is 31% higher than elsewhere in the country. Furthermore, the rates of more severe measures such as ‘income’ and ‘expenditure poverty’, as well as ‘material deprivation’, are even worse – at 37–47% higher than in the rest of the country.
It is local authorities – alongside NHS trusts, schools, the emergency services and charities – which represent the first port of call for individuals and families facing destitution. Successive rounds of funding cuts have seen the core funding received by London’s boroughs reduced by 63% over the past decade, as estimated by London Councils.
PRICEY PRE-APPLICATION FEES?
All of the above may in turn help explain the findings of Planning Resource’s recent survey [£] of pre-application advice fees levied on developers by many councils. The journal found ‘huge variations across England’ and indicates that average charges for every single residential and non-residential application type in London are significantly higher than those for any other English region. Individual London councils also dominate the ‘top 10’ lists of highest minimum charges for every single category. Developers may read these findings and frown, but the sad reality is that councils face a Catch-22: while they can ill-afford to overtax housebuilders, they must somehow prop up their faltering finances. More Government funding and greater fiscal devolution may or may not be forthcoming; council tax and business rates are everywhere inching upwards, but hiking these is fraught with complications; selling or otherwise exploiting council assets is often political dynamite. It is, alas, developers who are being called upon to pick up the slack.
WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS
The past week has seen a number of infrastructure announcements:
- More than 20 leaders of business associations from across England have signed an open letter in support of HS2, amid suggestions that the second phase of the project could be scrapped. The letter calls on the next Prime Minister to back the project's completion.
- The ‘YourHeathrowYourChoice’ campaign has been launched to agitate for more ‘competition and transparency’ in the competitive bidding process ‘to decide who gets to develop Heathrow’. The campaign is backed by a number of businesses, including Arora group, which is promoting competing plans to those recently launched for consultation by current airport operator Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL).
- Images of the proposals for the Waterloo Station upgrade have been released By LCR. The former Eurostar Terminal is set to be redeveloped to accommodate 40 new shops and restaurants by 2021. The facilities have been designed to appeal to the station’s passengers as well as to the millions of people who visit the nearby South Bank every year.
- Details of the plans for London City Airport have also been published this week by the airport’s operator. A new animation shows the new facilities that will be in place in 2022, including a new check-in area, security, departures and arrivals and baggage claim, as well as new retail and restaurant space.
THE TOWN PARISH THAT NEVER WAS?
A majority of local residents participating in Tower Hamlets' formal consultation on proposals for a Spitalfields and Banglatown Parish Council have stated their opposition to the plans. According to Council documents, of the 2,187 valid consultation responses received, only 27% of people were in favour of a new parish council, but 71% were against (and 1.8% did not express an opinion). While a final decision by the borough will be made on 17 July, it appears increasingly unlikely that the proposals will be implemented. The campaign to create the Parish Council was spearheaded by the Spitalfields Society and the Spitalfields Community Group, with proponents seeking more powers for the local community over areas such as public spaces, litter control and local events. However, the plans also had their critics, including Labour Councillor for Weavers Ward John Pierce and Labour AM Unmesh Desai, who as reported in previous editions of LDN have argued that the initiative is ‘insular’ and ‘elitist’ and would only benefit the neighbourhood’s wealthier quarters. If approved, the plans would have heralded the arrival of London’s second Parish Council in eight decades, the first and only one founded in that time currently being Queen’s Park Community Council in Westminster, created in 2014.
MIX MERIT AWARD FOR HKS’S PROTON BEAM THERAPY CENTRE
Congratulations to our client HKS for being awarded a special ‘Merit’ in the 2019 Mixology Awards for its work on the Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) Centre at the Christie in Salford. This is the first high energy NHS PBT centre in the UK and HKS was architect as well as interior designer for the scheme. The interior design – for which HKS won the award – was carefully considered to put patients at their ease before, during and after treatment whilst providing separate areas for children and young people. At the same time, the designers wanted to create spaces for staff that promote wellbeing, no mean feat when a concrete bunker housing the PBT equipment dominates much of the site. Nevertheless, HKS’s design, based on a concept of the intersection of Nature, Human and Science, has brought daylight into staff spaces and a calm, welcoming environment for patients and carers.
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