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Party conference season is officially underway as the spectre of an imminent General Election casts a strange shadow over all the usual political shenanigans.
We are forced to ask mind-bending questions, like will a former Labour MP be a competitive Lib Dem candidate in a seat currently held by a Conservative?
Speaking of looming spectres, it seems the urgent need to address London’s air quality is starting to sink in. The Mayor has announced a new renewable energy company for the capital, homebuyers are being empowered by air quality data and some of the credit must go to Extinction Rebellion who are out there, raising awareness, whether you agree with their methods or not.
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BIG SPLASH IN BOURNEMOUTH?
The Liberal Democrats’ Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, which ended yesterday, was probably their most closely-watched annual meet in years. A bold new pledge to scrap Brexit outright if the party wins the next General Election generated a lot of press coverage, as did the party’s success in reeling in six MPs from other parties over the Summer. From the Tories, they have drawn in Sam Gyimah (one of 21 rebel MPs recently expelled from the party), Philip Lee (who crossed the floor right under Boris Johnson’s nose), and Sarah Wollaston (via Change UK); and from Labour, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger and Angela Smith (all three via Change UK). The party now has 18 MPs, comprising 11 elected in 2017, one voted in at the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election last month, and now six defectors from other parties. The Conference’s proceedings radiated a brash optimism, buoyed by the party’s strong performance at this year’s local and European Parliament elections, which bodes well for them at the next General Election, whenever that might be. Having said that, the party is still polling behind the Tories and Labour, its new position on Brexit is likely to turn away as many voters as it attracts and some in the party itself are less-than-enthusiastic about its new crop of transplanted MPs.
LONDON LIB DEMS AT THE FORE
Several of the party’s London MPs, including new-joiner Chuka Umunna, addressed the full conference, as did their Mayoral candidate for the 2020 GLA Elections, Siobhan Benita. Her speech on Monday included a pledge to guarantee freedom of movement within London for EU nationals post-Brexit. Benita also talked about her new 5-point plan for tackling knife crime, which she had launched the day before, alongside former Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick, Haringey Councillor Julia Ogiehor and Leroy Logan MBE, another high-profile defector to the party. Logan, a former Met Police Superintendent, previously served as Sadiq Khan’s advisor and had until quite recently aspired to run as a Labour candidate for the London Assembly. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats’ only sitting Assembly Member, Caroline Pidgeon, made several appearances and was name-checked and pulled on stage by Benita. Other senior London Liberal Democrats were also seen on the conference Fringe, including Leader of Sutton Council Ruth Dombey, who spoke at an event on tackling the housing crisis.
LONDON SELECTIONS, (DE)SELECTIONS, (RE)SELECTIONS
As a General Election looms, news and speculation about who will and who won’t be standing in London trickles in by the day:
- The Lib Dems have confirmed that their candidate for the marginal seat of Kensington, where Labour’s Emma Dent Coad has a majority of just 20 (ahead of the Tories in second place), is current Tower Hamlets councillor Rabina Khan.
- Labour MPs Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) and Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham Deptford), both of whom faced trigger ballots by their local party branches, have both been reselected to stand at the next General Election. Coyle tweeted that he had received support from eight out of 10 local party branches, while Foxcroft said that she had ‘won the support of every branch by an overwhelming majority’.
- It is rumoured that MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, who recently defected from Labour to the Lib Dems following a brief stint with Change UK, has been tipped to stand in the London constituency of Finchley and Golders Green.
- OnLondon reports that Leader of Haringey Council Joseph Ejiofor may be considering standing for Labour in Vauxhall. Current Labour MP and ardent Brexiteer Kate Hoey confirmed that she would not seek re-election earlier this year. Ejiofor has neither confirmed nor denied his intention to stand.
- Former Labour MP for Enfield North Joan Ryan, who now sits as an Independent Group for Change MP, has confirmed that she will not stand at the next election. No Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for the constituency have yet been confirmed by either Labour or the Tories.
Overall, we now know with certainty that the incumbents in ten of London’s 73 constituencies will not be standing for re-election in their home patch.
POWER FOR LONDON?
The Mayor has unveiled plans for ‘London Power’, a new energy company to be created in partnership with Octopus Energy. City Hall promises its energy prices 'will be always be fair', that all of its electricity will be generated from renewable sources, and that any profits made will be reinvested to help tackle fuel poverty and make London a zero-carbon city. The company, which will offer services exclusively to households in the capital, is to launch in December. The new initiative delivers, at least in part, on one of Sadiq’s 2016 manifesto pledges, supports aims of his wider Energy for Londoners programme, and aligns with the national Labour party’s support for local, publicly-owned energy companies across the UK. It follows similar initiatives elsewhere: Nottingham City Council and Bristol City Council led the way with Robin Hood Energy and Bristol Energy. Others local authorities, including Enfield Council with Energetik and Islington Council with Angelic Energy here in London, have since followed in their footsteps. While existing local power companies have succeeded in offering consumers low energy bills, they still depend on subsidies and local councils taking on considerable risk to operate. Following a change in political control in 2018, Portsmouth CIty Council recently decided it wasn’t worth the cost or risk, and wound down plans for its own planned company, Victory Energy.
(MORE) TRANSPORT DISRUPTION
Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion, had 19 of its activists arrested on 13 September after they threatened to fly drones in the exclusion zone surrounding Heathrow airport in an attempt to disrupt its operations. Amongst those arrested was co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, who has called the planned expansion of Heathrow a ‘crime against humanity’. Further Extinction Rebellion action is planned for next month. Meanwhile, below ground, 95% of Tube drivers belonging to the RMT union have voted in favour of potential industrial action over the noise levels they endure on the Jubilee, Central, Northern and Victoria lines. TfL has said that drivers are provided with the appropriate ear protection and that work is underway to reduce the noise, but the RMT continues to press the transport authority for more action on this front. RMT members who work on the eastern end of the District line have also voted to take action following an increase in levels of passenger violence, asserting that from 27 September onwards, they will refuse to attend incidents unassisted, and will insist that they only work in environments which they deem to be safe.
- The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has elected John Fallon, Chief Executive of Pearson, as its new President.
HOUSEBUYERS’ B*****CKS TO BREXIT?
The housing market continues to wobble along in the face of continued uncertainty, with mixed results continuing to perplex even the most seasoned of analysts. Last week, new figures by Halifax suggested there have been twice as many first-time buyers in the year to date, compared to the same period in 2009 - despite average deposits being 18% higher today. Meanwhile, a number of major housebuilders, from Barratt to Berkeley, have been posting healthy financial results. However, Rightmove’s latest house price index suggests UK-wide house prices for September fell, month-on-month, for the first time since 2010, even though the period usually marks the start of an ‘autumn bounce’. London saw a 2.2% fall in asking prices, compared to the 0.2% national average. While this dip is attributed mainly to Brexit-related uncertainty, there are other clouds on the horizon. Help To Buy, on which many housebuilders depend heavily, is due to expire in its current form in 2021. Senior executive pay and quality of construction – particularly at companies benefitting most from Help to Buy – are also under increased scrutiny. Even environmental factors are beginning to impact the market: A new website, addresspollution.org, uses air quality data by postcode and encourages renters and buyers to seek hefty discounts in areas of high air pollution.
- The Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report on Help to Buy. It found that while the introduction of the scheme has helped many people purchase homes and increased the number of new homes, around three-fifths of those who took advantage of the scheme did not necessarily need the government’s help. It also highlighted that Help to Buy is not addressing other key housing problems, such as making homes more affordable.
- The Fabian Society has published a report in collaboration with Shelter on rent controls. Beyond Affordability unsurprisingly found that tenants are in favour of rent controls, but also that ‘fairness and security are higher priorities than saving money’ and that ‘pragmatic’ renters are also ‘concerned by unintended consequences such as any proposals causing landlords to sell up.’
HERITAGE TO HIGH STREETS’ RESCUE?
Brexit aside, tectonic shifts in technology and consumer behaviour have long been shaking up UK retail generally and particularly traditional high streets. In its latest effort to support the sector’s evolution towards a more viable model, the Government has announced £95m in funding for historic high streets in 69 towns nationwide – including £14.3m for London and the South East, with beneficiaries in the capital including Tottenham, Harlesden and Woolwich, as well as high streets in Croydon and Tower Hamlets. The grants will support the repurposing of disused historic buildings as shops, homes and community centres, as well as help businesses 'adapt to better compete with online outlets'. The £95m – which looks rather paltry when spread across the country, even if it does draw in further funding from local authorities and private investors – is pooled from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund (£40m) the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Future High Street Fund (£52m), and from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (£3m).
WALTHAM FOREST AT NIGHT
Waltham Forest has been allocated a £75,000 grant from City Hall to create London’s inaugural Night Time Enterprise Zone (NEZ). The funding, earmarked specifically for Walthamstow High Street, will be used to introduce a series of measures, such as offering cheaper workspace and promoting more evening activities, to make the high street a more vibrant and lively area after 6pm, boost the local economy and aid those who work odd hours or irregular shifts. While it's s small pot of funding in itself, the lessons learned from this pilot, which will run between October and January, will then be applied to future NEZs now in the works. The NEZ programme was thought up by the Mayor’s Night Time Commission and is intended to support his efforts to ‘make London a leading 24-hour global city’, which previously saw the introduction of the Night Tube in 2016. The grant has been allocated to Waltham Forest in its final few months as London’s first ever Borough of Culture, a title it has held throughout the year and which will be passed on to Brent in 2020.
Following a summer of cricket that matched 1981 and 2005 for heroics, work has begun on the redevelopment of Lord’s Cricket Ground. The plans include the replacement of the Compton and Edrich stands with two three-tiered stands which will increase the ground’s capacity by 2,600, to 31,000. As well as additional seats, the redevelopment will also provide more dining facilities and food and drink outlets. The work, which is being carried out by ISG, should be entirely complete by May 2021, with the seating in place in time for next year’s major fixtures. Meanwhile, proposals to redevelop the Oval are also being floated, as it has been reported that Surrey County Cricket Club (Surrey CCC) is planning to launch a bond to fund the plans to replace the Lock/Laker stand to increase the ground’s capacity and provide new facilities for spectators and hospitality guests. The bond would also fund the construction of One Oval Square, a new conference and event space on the site.
PAUSE FOR INFRASTRUCTURE
Last week, we attended London First’s 6th annual London Infrastructure Summit. The event attracted a large crowd and took place in the awesome setting of Tottenham Hotspurs’ new stadium (an LCA client). Attendees heard from an all-star cast of sector players and if we learned one thing, it’s that new infrastructure in London is currently on hold. Commissioning bodies, investors and contractors are all working under close scrutiny by official watchdogs, the media and the taxpaying public and are squarely focused on finishing ongoing projects. As for the lack of progress towards getting newer projects off the ground, almost all pointed the finger at the Brexit-induced political deadlock in Westminster. Several speakers also expressed concerns that perceptions of the ‘North-South divide’ taking hold in Whitehall may relegate perfectly viable plans for infrastructure projects in London to a perpetual drawing board. And so, we wait.
London is decked out in all its fineries this month, with several overlapping festivals showcasing our city’s credentials as a global capital of culture. Fear not if you missed Fashion Week, as the London Design Festival as well as Totally Thames 2019 are still in full swing and Open House London is just around the corner. The LCA team is especially excited to support a number of our clients participating in the festivities. King’s Cross will be hosting a Design District for the very first time, presenting exhibitions, installations, talks and much more – as well as welcoming back the designjunction international interiors show. Victoria Connections, led by Victoria and Victoria/Westminster BIDs, also returns as a Design District and, aside from a whole host of free events and workshops, it also features its first ever festival commission – the Life Labyrinth, an impressive installation just outside Westminster Cathedral. Alternatively, if placemaking is your thing, The Northbank BID are hosting a week-long exhibition at Somerset House together with Makerversity on reimagining the role of public space in future cities in terms of inclusion, interaction and civic benefit. Totally Thames is curated by the Thames Festival Trust, whose board is chaired by LCA Executive Chairman Robert Gordon Clark. More information about its 100+ events (most of which are free to attend), can be found here.
GREAT LONDON BAKE OFF
This Christmas (yes it is time to start thinking about it!) LCA is sponsoring the Museum of Architecture’s Gingerbread City exhibition at Somerset House. A hundred of London’s finest architecture firms will be designing, and baking, their own plots of a city under the theme of ‘transport’. Gingerbread City launched this week, some plots are still available for architects and developers alike. If you’d like more information please email LCA Director Sarah Rawlings at sr@Londoncommunications.co.uk
Just a taste of Gingerbread City 2018
LCA CHARITY FOOTBALL
Last week, LCA were delighted to take part in the inaugural Barratt London Football Tournament at the Powerleague Shoreditch. LCA was one of 25 teams competing for The Glen Dyer Football Cup, named in honour of a Barratt staff member who was recently treated at The Royal Marsden Hospital – for which an amazing £30,000 was raised! LCA finished the tournament strongly, topping off a great day with a solid 3-1 victory (if a bit low in our group’s rankings).
The LCA squad: Sam Cranston, Chris Hewett, Jay Allan, Lottie Colquhoun, Anna Whitton and Calum McCullagh
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
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.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Duncan Hepburn on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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