PRIDE AND PROGRESS
The spirit of London as a thriving, diverse world city was at its peak over the weekend as 1.5m people turned out to celebrate Pride and mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York.
It was perhaps a welcome break from relentless political campaigning, as the Tory leadership contest approaches its final stretch, the chances of a snap General Election increase by the day and the May 2020 GLA Elections beckon.
Meanwhile, though there is evidence of a slowdown in housing construction across the capital, there are deals in play and progress being made on some fairly major projects.
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LONDON CONSTRUCTION CONCERNS
Quarterly housing figures for London and the rest of England have been released by the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The numbers (see table 253a here) are grim. The Times analysed the figures and found that in the first quarter of 2019, construction started on 2,940 new homes in London, which is 32% less than the previous quarter and 50% less than the first quarter of 2018. According to the newspaper, this marks ‘the lowest level of home construction starts recorded for the capital since the second quarter of 2009’. England’s numbers as a whole were up 8% from the previous quarter but down 7% from the same period last year. The Times asserts that the figures represent ‘a blow to Sadiq Khan’ and suggest he is struggling to meet his housing targets. The article also cites a defiant Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray as asserting that City Hall is on track to deliver its affordable housing targets for the year.
EBURY BRIDGE RETURNS
Westminster City Council has formally launched the process of finding a development partner for the first phase of the Ebury Bridge estate’s regeneration. The £350m project as a whole aims to demolish 300 homes, both council- and privately-owned, and replace them with 750 new homes (50% affordable). The first phase – expected to cost £97m – comprises 216 new homes (about 80% affordable). As many LDN readers will be aware, this regeneration scheme has a long history and the original scheme went to planning in 2014 before being scrapped. It is worth noting that Westminster has resolved to entirely ‘self-fund’ its latest plans – possibly, or at least partially, through its new Westminster Housing Investing Ltd development company and without seeking Mayoral support. While this decision technically allows the Council to avoid a residents’ ballot under requirements implemented by Sadiq in 2018, some residents continue to call for one to be held, supported by Westminster Labour, the London Assembly Greens and the GMB union. With less than a year to go until the 2020 Mayoral elections and on a backdrop of strained relations between Westminster City Council and City Hall, a potential intervention by Sadiq cannot be ruled out.
EARLS COURT HEATS UP
Speaking of Mayoral interventions, Sadiq has attempted to ratchet up the pressure on Capco, the developer at the centre of long-stalled plans for the redevelopment of Earl’s Court. The Mayor had previously backed calls by Hammersmith & Fulham Council for Capco to return two housing estates included in the scheme to public ownership. Over the weekend, it was reported by The Times that Transport for London (TfL) has made an unsuccessful bid to enlarge its stake in the site. TfL, which is chaired by Sadiq and already owns 37% of the scheme in a Joint Venture with Capco, has confirmed this is the case. The details of TfL’s offer remain unknown, but The Times reports that it contained a condition that ‘Capco hand back the estates’. A TfL spokesperson has stated that the proposal would have accelerated the pace of development and facilitated the construction of more affordable homes, while offering ‘good value for Capco’s shareholders’.’ In any event, Capco declined. The Times notes the significant challenges faced by both sides; on the one hand, TfL is under ‘huge financial pressure’ while Capco has seen both the value of its stake in the development and its share price halved since 2015.
CBRE BUYS TELFORD HOMES
Though the TfL/Capco deal has flopped, another promises a major shake-up in the Build to Rent (BTR) sector. The Tramwell Crow Company, a subsidiary of US-based real estate services giant CBRE, is poised to snap up London-listed developer Telford Homes for £267m. Over the past few years, Telford has shifted its focus to London’s BTR sector, backed by large institutional investors. The developer has more than 300 staff and a development pipeline worth an estimated £1.6bn. CBRE has confirmed that Telford CEO Jon Di-Stefano, who has overseen this shift , will continue to lead the business. Telford has also announced that David Campbell will step down from its Board and his role as Group Sales and Marketing Director with effect from 31 August (see more people moves below). CBRE’s offer is still to be approved by Telford’s own shareholders.
RELIEF ALL 'ROUND
Another major London developer has celebrated a big win this week. Canary Wharf Group (CWG) has settled a long-running legal dispute with the European Medicines Agency (EMA). LDN has previously covered the landmark case, which was brought by CWG following an attempt by its tenant to wriggle out of a lease on a 285,000 sq ft office at 30 Churchill Place. EMA’s lease was due to expire in 2039 but it had argued that Brexit had ‘frustrated’ its ability to fulfil its contract as it would need to relocate to an EU member state. Landowners up and down the country feared that a win for the EMA would create a legal precedent for other overseas-based organisations with contracts in the UK to cut and run. The High Court had already sided with CWG and the EMA has now withdrawn its subsequent appeal, instead opting to sublease the property to shared office group WeWork, who apparently aim to open in the space in December.
LONDON TORIES LATEST
Former Conservative MP for Kensington Victoria Borwick, who was displaced by Labour’s Emma Dent Coad in 2017 with a majority of only 20 votes, has failed to secure her selection to try to win back her seat. According to the Standard’s Joe Murphy, the local Conservative Association rejected her bid ‘because her Brexiteer views were out of step with the Remain-voting Constituency’. The shortlisted candidates for the seat, who will go head-to-head at a hustings scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday), are local party treasurer Felicity Buchan, London Assembly Member Tony Devenish, and Wiltshire County Councillor Darren Henry. Meanwhile, the Tories’ Mayoral candidate for 2020, Assembly Member Shaun Bailey, has said on Twitter that Khan is ‘getting ready to announce his disastrous rent control policy next week’ – despite having previously told the Standard he would himself ‘look at’ the policy.
LONDON LABOUR LATEST
Two more veteran London Labour MPs have announced they will not seek to run again in the next General Election; pro-Brexit MP for Vauxhaul Kate Hoey and Ealing North MP Stephen Pound. The selection process for their successors will be hotly contested, as both are considered safe seats for the party. It has also been reported that several London Labour regional board members, alongside Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and London Assembly Labour Group leader Len Duvall, have written to Labour’s general secretary to demand the suspension of the party’s West Ham branch, pending an investigation into complaints of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, homophobia, ‘harassment and bullying’ and ‘membership irregularities’. OnLondon has the lowdown on what appears to be a very messy affair indeed.
ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS LATEST
Meanwhile, this past week has seen Labour’s internal contest for the selection of Londonwide list candidates (and candidates for super-constituency seats where Labour incumbents are stepping down) for the 2020 London Assembly Elections kick off in earnest:
- Incumbent Londonwide Assembly member Tom Copley announced that he has again applied to be on Labour’s list.
- Hackney Councillor and Mayoral Advisor Sem Moema has applied to run for the Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest seat, which will be vacated by Jennette Arnold when she steps down.
- Calum Anderson, a Labour activist in Ealing, is applying to run as a list candidate for Labour.
- Helen Evans, Chief Executive of Network Homes, has succeeded Optivo’s Paul Hackett as Chair of the G15 group of London’s biggest housing associations. Metropolitan Thames Valley’s Geeta Nanda has been appointed Vice-Chair and will succeed Evans as Chair in July 2021.
- Simon Dudley, the Conservative Leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, has been appointed Senior Independent Director and Acting Chairman at Homes England ‘with immediate effect’. He will be deputising for Chairman Sir Edward Lister who is on a ‘short leave of absence while he carries out specific work related to the Conservative Party leadership contest’.
- Also in Whitehall, Deputy Chief Executive of Homes England Tom Walker has been appointed Acting Director General for Decentralisation and Growth at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
- Richard Blakeway, the Government’s nominee for the new role of Housing Ombudsman, has now secured the endorsement of the Commons' Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. It is understood that Blakeway, a former Deputy Mayor for Housing under Boris Johnson, will now have to step down from his current roles at Homes England and BexleyCo Ltd, as well as suspend his activities as an independent consultant.
- Jillian Moore, the Global Head of the Digital Transformation Practice at Atos, has been appointed Chair of London Sport, succeeding Kate Hoey MP. Meanwhile, Nationwide Building Society Director of Campaigns and Public Policy and former Sport England Director of Business Partnerships, Tanya Joseph, and former Lloyds Banking Group executive, Mark Jopling, have been appointed trustees of London Sport.
STRANGE STIRRINGS FROM THE STANDARD
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has instructed the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Ofcom to investigate the sale of a one-third stake in the Evening Standard and the Independent to Saudi businessman Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel, by Russian owner Evgeny Lebedev. In a relevant Written Ministerial Statement issued on 27 June, Wright suggested that ‘public interest considerations of freedom of expression and accurate news reporting’ are at stake. One wonders whether these investigations and the Standard’s poor financial performance (it reported a loss of almost £12m in the year to the end of September 2018) are in any way linked with persistent rumours that its Editor George Osborne is on the lookout for a new job. Apparently, he was at one point ‘toying’ with the idea of contesting the Conservative candidacy for the Kensington seat at the next General Election. Those rumours have recently been supplanted by speculation that he is seeking to become head of the International Monetary Fund, after current Managing Director Christine Lagarde is confirmed as president of the European Central Bank. Even more recent news, of an opening for a new UK Ambassador to the USA, may next inspire Osborne to consider a move to Washington DC…
LONDON TRANSPORT: WHAT DO THE CANDIDATES SAY?
In a wide-ranging interview with the Standard this week, TfL’s Commissioner Mike Brown warned against ‘truncating the route of HS2’ and argued that ‘suboptimal options create suboptimal cities’. His concerns about HS2's future are in no small way influenced by the fact that Boris Johnson, the likely next Prime Minster, has repeatedly expressed doubts about the project in its current form. Indeed, Boris appears somewhat ambivalent towards other crucial transport infrastructure schemes for London and the wider South East. Asked recently by the Uxbridge Gazette whether he will ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ to block Heathrow’s expansion as he had previously said he would, Boris would only say that ‘the bulldozers are a long way off’ and that he ‘will be watching, very, very carefully the legal proceedings which are under way’. Boris also recently told the Surrey Advertiser that Crossrail 2 ‘which the current inert Mayor of London is not advancing’ is key to ‘liberat[ing] brownfield sites’ for residential development. But Boris did not care to tell the Advertiser whether he would help fund it as Prime Minister.
HOME COUNTIES HOUSING
Both Boris and his opponent Jeremy Hunt have been touring the Tories’ leafy heartlands in the South East of England, where local newspapers have been probing their views on sensitive issues such as housing and of course, development on the Green Belt. Boris told the Surrey Advertiser that the Government is ‘being too tough’ in imposing housing delivery targets on councils, suggesting that ‘they are finding [these] impossible to meet without building on the Green Belt’. Barely a week later, Jeremy Hunt offered the very same newspaper assurances that he ‘would not loosen Green Belt legislation’ and promised to ‘giv[e] local communities more autonomy to decide where they want houses to be built’. Both candidates know well that in Surrey, they are preaching to the choir. Not too far away, in neighbouring Berkshire, Conservative-run Wokingham Borough Council has launched a consultation on the Government’s annual housing delivery target for its area, in which it meaningfully asks residents to ‘tell us if you think the Government target is too high’.
THE VIEW FROM MARSHAM STREET
As if on cue, the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission launched by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has published its interim report. The Commission aims to ‘recommend practical measures’ helping ensure housing developments ‘meet the needs and expectations of communities, making them more likely to be welcomed, rather than resisted’. Its early recommendations unsurprisingly encourage early engagement with communities to secure their input on planning policies, as well as individual planning decisions. The report also calls for retail parks and large supermarkets to be redeveloped into ‘mixed, finely-grained developments of homes, retail and commercial uses’. The Commission is expected to complete its final report by December. Separately, High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP has launched a new High Streets Task Force, whose mission is to ‘provide tailored guidance and advice to local authorities seeking to breathe new life into their local high streets and town centres’. The Task Force was originally announced at the last Autumn Budget as part of a package of measures currently being developed by the Government, comprising everything from a £675m Future High Streets Fund to a brace of proposed planning and business rates reforms.
SLOANE STREET REVAMPED
Last week, LCA supported our client Cadogan as they announced the go-ahead for a £40m investment in Sloane Street’s future, delivered in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. We are proud to be part of this major public realm masterplanning and transformation project. Backed by an all-star project team including London Architects John McAslan + Partners and Chelsea Flower Show award winner Andy Sturgeon, the scheme will deliver a host of changes that will make the street safer and more pedestrian-friendly. It also involves extensive new planting. Work will begin in Autumn 2019, with completion expected by 2022.
FUTURE OF LONDON
LCA is very pleased to announce that as of 1 August we will be members of Future of London (FoL). While long-time supporters of FoL, we will now officially be part of the capital’s independent network for regeneration, housing, infrastructure and economic development practitioners. We look forward to seeing you at their excellent events and training programmes over the next 12 months!
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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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