EENY, MEENY, MINY, MOE
With 29 Days to go until 31 October, it increasingly feels like we’re all gripping a tiger by the toe and utterly terrified of letting go.
Today’s edition unavoidably touches on some of the latest national political events, focusing on the Conservative Party Conference, but also covers major planning stories from Southwark, an update on Prospective Parliamentary Candidate selections and key people moves in the capital – among other London news.
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FROM MANCHESTER WITH LOVE
With the press morbidly fixated on the prorogation fiasco and competing plots to carry out or frustrate Brexit, the Conservative Party made a spirited effort to make the most of Conference as an opportunity to change the subject. Even with Parliament refusing to cede time for a limited recess, the annual gathering went ahead, with many Tory MPs and Ministers managing to make their way to Manchester. Team Boris was definitely in campaign mode, making a series of impressive-sounding new funding pledges, which included £25bn to improve England's roads and £13bn for building or refurbishing 40 hospitals nationwide (with an initial £2.7bn over the next five years, for six hospitals, of which two are in London). Local authorities meanwhile received a guarantee that, in the event of a No-Deal Brexit, Whitehall will cover £4.3bn-worth of EU funding for this financial year.
Spending announcements aside, the Government also revealed several new policies. The big-ticket item was a promise to raise the National Living Wage to £10.50 per hour (from £8.21) within five years and bring down its age threshold to 21 (from 25). The Chancellor also notably hinted that a new White Paper, setting out plans for devolving more powers and funding in England, is in the works. In planning and housing, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick launched a new National Design Guide, confirmed plans to extend Permitted Development Rights and develop a new ‘right to shared ownership’ for housing association tenants, as well as announced a new consultation on building regulations, while promising that an ‘Accelerated Planning Green Paper’ will be published ‘in the Autumn’.
Today the PM delivered his speech to Conference, revealing little in terms of new policy – though he did provide some hints about the Government’s latest proposal to the EU for resolving the impasse over the backstop, now released in full.
With the Opposition increasingly likely to attempt a vote of no confidence against the PM, preparations for a General Election are heating up. Following weeks of speculation, MP for Liverpool Wavertree Luciana Berger (formerly of Labour and then Change UK) has confirmed that she will stand for the Lib Dems in the London constituency of Finchley and Golders Green. This seat is currently held by Conservative MP Mike Freer, who was elected with a majority of 1,657 in 2017. Labour came second at the last election, suggesting that with Berger now in the mix, this could very well prove to be a three-way marginal. Meanwhile, Labour MP for Barking Dame Margaret Hodge is set to face a full reselection ballot after five out of 11 of her local party branches voted in favour of the action (the political term for this being 'triggered'). Hodge, who has been an MP for 25 years, has been a vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s approach to tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks.
SOUTHWARK COUNCIL APPROVES PLANS FOR CANADA WATER MASTERPLAN
LCA attended Southwark Council’s Planning Committee on Monday night to see our client, British Land, gain unanimous approval from the eight members for its Canada Water Masterplan. This was a key milestone for proposals to create a new town centre at Canada Water. Based on the Illustrative Masterplan, it will deliver around 3,000 new homes of which 35% will be affordable (with 70% of these Social Rent). Southwark Council will have the first option to purchase all social rent homes and let them as council homes, at council rent, on council tenancies. The 53-acre Masterplan will also deliver around 2m sq ft of workspace to accommodate around 20,000 jobs, around 1m sq ft of retail, leisure, entertainment, education and community space and 12 acres of new open space, including a 3.5 acre park and the first new High Street in London for 100 years. The project is expected to take shape over 15 years, with the first phase of development being delivered by 2024. This will provide 265 new homes, including 87 affordable homes (60 for social rent) and a new Southwark Council leisure centre with an eight-lane 25m swimming pool. This first phase will also be home to around 2,300 office, retail and estate management jobs. The resolution to grant planning consent is the first step in the approval process for the project and comes after five years of extensive consultation and input from the local community, during which British Land welcomed over 5,000 individuals to more than 120 public consultation and local outreach events. It will now be considered by the Mayor of London.
RETURN OF THE BISCUIT FACTORY
Grosvenor has submitted amended proposals for its Biscuit Factory site in Bermondsey, which was called-in by the Mayor in May this year. The application was previously rejected by Southwark Council, mainly on the basis of insufficient affordable housing. Grosvenor has now boosted the scheme’s affordable offer, from 27% to 35%. If given the go-ahead, the new plans would deliver a total of 1,548 homes, of which 482 would be affordable (split 30% social rent and 70% discounted market rent). The scheme still includes a new school, as well as retail and workspace, and Grosvenor has said that the new offer should address concerns raised by the community, local council and Mayor. Grosvenor has also, however, underlined that the changes come at a cost: accommodating more affordable housing requires raising the height of some of the proposed buildings and reducing the amount of retail space. A new GLA consultation started on 26 September and will last until 28 October. A public hearing for the scheme will then take place, though a date for this has not yet been announced.
LONDON PLACES FIRST
For the third year in a row, London been awarded the title of ‘best European city for long-term commercial real estate investment’ by Savills Investment Management. The relevant research takes into account cities’ performance in six different categories, comprising ‘investment’, ‘interconnection’, ‘inspiration’, ‘innovation’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘inclusion’, with London placing top in the first five categories, and second in the last. Savills pointed specifically to the fact that since June 2016, Apple, Google and Facebook have confirmed plans to establish new offices, alleviating concerns that the uncertainty caused by Brexit would have an adverse effect on London’s economy, including a fall in investment and a drop in the number of companies opening new offices in the city. While the city as a whole evidently remains an attractive place to invest in commercial real estate, news of upheaval at WeWork (which has ousted its own CEO, ‘postponed’ a planned IPO, and seen its credit rating downgraded) has triggered some concerns about the sustainability of the flexible workspace sector. WeWork is reportedly the single biggest office tenant in New York and the second biggest in London.
- Alex Crowley, political adviser to Boris Johnson during his time as Mayor of London and more recently as Prime Minister, has resigned from Johnson’s Downing Street team.
- At Westminster City Council (WCC), Councillor Richard Beddoe has been appointed to the newly created role of Deputy Leader for Strategy, retaining his Cabinet role as Member for Place Shaping and Planning - and Councillor Tim Mitchell will now be Deputy Leader for Delivery, in addition to Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning.
- Also at WCC, Councillor Gotz Mohindra is to be replaced as Chairman of Planning by long-standing Councillor Melvyn Caplan. Mohindra is reportedly stepping down due to his time-consuming responsibilities as Chairman of London Conservatives. Caplan will take on the role from 9 October.
- Matthew Palmer, Conservative councillor for Queen’s Gate in Kensington and Chelsea, is now listed as an Independent on the Council’s website. While it is unclear why he has left the Conservative Party, it is worth noting that he came under criticism earlier in the year after it emerged he had campaigned for the Brexit Party at May’s European Elections.
- Niroshan Sirisena, Labour Councillor for Croydon’s Fairfield ward and Deputy Cabinet member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, has resigned from the party and the council. According to a short statement by Croydon Labour, Sirisena resigned due to an unspecified ‘serious incident’, ominously referring to potential ‘legal proceedings’.
- Construction firm Mace has announced a number of changes to its senior management team, which will take effect in the new year. Mark Holmes has been promoted to Group Deputy Chairman, and four new divisional CEO roles have been created.
- Judith Salomon has been appointed Pocket Living’s new Head of Strategic Planning and Communications, having previously worked for Berkeley Group and London First.
- In the world of retail, Tesco CEO Dave Lewis has announced that he is stepping down from the role and will be replaced by Ken Murphy from Walgreens Boots Alliance next summer.
- Meanwhile, the John Lewis Partnership is scrapping 75 of its 225 senior head office roles in a major cost-cutting drive.
THE TROUBLE WITH FRIENDS
With the political heat ever rising, several allegations against Boris Johnson’s conduct as Mayor of London and before that, as Editor of the Spectator, have come to light, casting a shadow over the Conservative Conference. First, reports emerged alleging that a relationship between the then-Mayor and an American entrepreneur, Jennifer Arcuri, enabled the latter to receive £10,000 in grants from London’s promotional agency, as well as gain access to several City Hall trade missions. An investigation has been launched by the Greater London Authority into Johnson’s relationship with Arcuri and the police watchdog has also been asked to investigate possible misconduct. Then, journalist Charlotte Edwardes alleged that Johnson had squeezed her thigh under the table at a private lunch, shortly after he became editor of the Spectator in 1999. For his part, the PM has flatly denied everything (and/or pleaded amnesia), on all counts.
The GLA and Port of London Authority (PLA) have jointly released ‘The Case for a River Thames Cultural Vision’. Our Chairman, Robert Gordon Clark, attended the report’s launch in his capacity as Chair of the Thames Festival Trust. The document explores the wide range of cultural activities already taking place along the river, asserting that the Thames is nevertheless not nearly reaching its full potential. It argues that a new ‘cultural vision’ is needed to support both the Mayor’s priorities and the PLA’s Thames Vision. Laying out the findings of extensive research into the current uses and governance of the river, it also identifies ten opportunities that could be achieved by a comprehensive River Thames Cultural Vision. In the words of Deputy Mayor for Culture Justine Simons, the document is ‘an invitation to think, debate and shape a new and ambitious vision for the River Thames’ and is certainly a welcome addition to the public discourse surrounding the management of London’s biggest waterway.
UNIONS SOUND OFF
London Tube drivers on the Jubilee, Central, Northern and Victoria lines have confirmed that they will go ahead with industrial action, in which they will drive trains at reduced speeds in protest over noise levels. 95% of RMT union members balloted have reportedly voted in favour of industrial action, stopping short of a strike, which will take place from 10 October onwards. As previously mentioned in LDN, Underground staff have repeatedly voiced concerns about the noise levels on the Tube. For its part, Transport for London (TfL) insists that it has provided drivers with the appropriate ear protection and that it is also looking into long-term solutions to the noise issue. RMT evidently isn’t satisfied and insists slowing down trains is the only way to speed up the process.
END OF THE ROAD
While a story on Northern Ireland is probably unprecedented for LDN, the collapse of Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus is worthy of our readers’ attention. The company, which produced the 21st century reincarnation of the Routemaster buses rolled out under Boris Johnson’s Mayoralty in 2012-13, has gone into administration following an extended period of financial difficulty and unsuccessful talks with two major bidders. Unless its administrators can find an investor willing to rescue the company in the nick of time, all 1,200 of its employees (and potentially hundreds more along its supply chain) could lose their jobs. The company’s predicament also raises questions about whether TfL will ever receive 20 hydrogen-powered double-decker buses ordered from Wrightbus in May this year. At the time, it was expected that the new buses would be deployed on routes 245, 7 and N7 in 2020 and it is unclear whether TfL’s £12m, part-EU funded investment will now have to be written off. This sad story acts as a poignant reminder that London’s economy (and vital infrastructure) is intricately tied to places and businesses across the entirety of the UK.
LCA'S TAKE ON CONFERENCE
We’ve covered the key points of the Conservative Conference ‘big picture’ above, but it is worth conveying our own first-hand impressions of this year’s events. Compared to previous years, venues felt a tad less crowded, but the crowd palpably more tense. London’s presence was also more muted. 2020 London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey enjoyed a prized slot on the conference stage – you can hear his speech here – and spoke at several fringe events. His fellow Tory London Assembly Members were also very visible. But with the exception of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, most Tory-led London boroughs kept a low profile this year. Westminster Council also cancelled a number of planned fringe appearances, without warning. For a more comprehensive analysis of this year’s Conference season, keep an eye out for our next blog, to be published on our website very soon.
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