TAKE YOUR PICK
In today’s edition we’ve got major planning decisions in outer London in Havering and Kingston, planning battles in RBKC and planning headaches for any schemes reliant on Public Works Loan Board money.
There are also planning challenges of a different kind for those involved in candidate selections in London, as they juggle the prospect of the London Assembly election next May with the potential for a snap general election before that.
Meanwhile, we take a quick look behind the Queen’s Speech headlines and the latest boundary change reviews for London’s local authorities.
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LABOUR SELECTIONS LATEST
- Following his suspension from the Labour Party, Steven Saxby, the prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) for the Cities of London and Westminster, has now ‘formally withdrawn’ from the race, taking that particular selection process back to square one.
- Meanwhile, Labourlist reports that the party has drawn up ‘long-lists’ of aspiring candidates for safe Labour seats in Ealing North where Stephen Pound has announced his intention to step down and Poplar and Limehouse where Jim Fitzpatrick has done the same. Both appear to be very hotly contested, with some high profile names in the running including Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, who has launched his campaign to stand in Ealing North.
- Over the past week it was reported that Labour is to run full selection processes for Ealing Southall and Edmonton after sitting Labour MPs Virendra Sharma and Kate Osamor saw a majority of their local party branches vote against their automatic reselection. Separately, we have heard that at least one more sitting Labour MP in London may be facing a trigger ballot.
- In Streatham, where Chuka Umunna was elected as a Labour MP but defected to the Lib Dems, there are at least three names on the party’s all-woman shortlist for the constituency: Chief of Staff and Political Advisor to Diane Abbott MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Deputy Leader of Lambeth Council, Jennifer Braithwaite and management consultant Maxine James.
BERGER TO BAG FINCHLEY?
A constituency-specific poll commissioned by the Lib Dems suggests that newly-minted party member Luciana Berger (the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, formerly of Labour and then Change UK) could be on course to win Finchley and Golders Green at the next General Election with a massive swing in favour of her party. The voting intention poll, carried out by Survation on 2 October, found that 33% of the 400 people surveyed said they would vote for the Lib Dems, with 25% opting for the Conservatives and 21% for Labour. Back in 2017, the Lib Dems’ Jonathan Davies had scored only 6.6% and was the third-placed candidate. The seat went to the current incumbent, Conservative Mike Freer, who secured 47%, with Labour’s Jeremy Newmark a relatively close second at 44%. The constituency is one of three in the London Borough of Barnet (the other two being Chipping Barnet and Hendon). While traditionally dominated by the Conservatives, Labour had gradually made significant gains in the area, only to see those gains compromised by persistent allegations that it has failed to tackle antisemitism within its ranks. Barnet alone accounts for one-fifth of the Jewish population in England and Wales – and Berger, who is herself Jewish, resigned from the Labour Party alleging that it has become 'institutionally antisemitic'. It’s now a three-way marginal for sure.
LONDON ASSEMBLY SELECTIONS LATEST
The Labour Party released several shortlists of prospective candidates for May’s London Assembly elections, only to announce that the process had been paused while the party prioritises parliamentary selections. The shortlists are specifically for the eight superconstituencies either currently held by Conservatives or where sitting Assembly Members will not be seeking re-election, and for Labour’s London-wide list. They include several sitting councillors, one current and one former Assembly Member and at least eight Momentum-backed candidates. The Conservatives have meanwhile selected Nick Vandyke as their candidate for the City and East seat (currently held by Labour with a majority of 89,629), though they have yet to choose a candidate to replace Ben Seifert, former candidate for the North East seat, who recently resigned and defected to the Lib Dems. Labour and the Tories are lagging well behind the other parties in the selection of their candidates: both the Greens and the Lib Dems confirmed their candidates months ago.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) has won permission for a Judicial Review (JR) hearing to contest the Mayor’s decision to approve Queen Investments and Rockwell Property’s Kensington Forum Hotel scheme. The council objects to the plans’ height and massing, but for the purposes of the JR is more specifically claiming that the Mayor acted ‘with improper purpose’ by effectively barring the Communities Secretary from intervening. The hearing is set for 21 November. It is clear that the Council is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is under pressure from some residents and the Mayor to deliver more affordable homes; on the other, many residents routinely oppose developments that change their neighbourhood’s density and character. However, it seems that RBKC is gently shifting gears to enable higher density and lower cost housebuilding where possible. Council Leader Elizabeth Campbell laid out the council’s own plans for 600 homes (50% affordable) at a Chelsea Society event this Monday. And earlier this month, the council launched a tender for a consultant to draw up a new ‘characterisation and densification study’, which will ‘investigate opportunities for intensification across small and larger sites.’ The deadline for applications is 25 October.
RAINHAM IS GO
Havering Council’s Strategic Planning Committee has approved plans for the first two sites of the borough's '12 Estates' regeneration programme. A joint venture between the borough and Wates Residential aims to deliver around 5,200 homes in total by 2034. The schemes approved on 10 October will see the 97 flats in the existing Napier and New Plymouth House tower blocks demolished and replaced with 197 homes (64% affordable) in three buildings of 3-10 storeys. The 126 new affordable homes will be split 69% social rented and 31% affordable rent. The relevant officer’s report recommended the scheme for approval and noted (three times) that the Greater London Authority supports the development, which is just as well, as it is referable to the Mayor. Perhaps counterintuitively, there is no obligation for a residents’ ballot here because the scheme received a commitment for GLA funding ‘on or prior to 18 July 2018’ and is therefore included on the list of 32 (as of July 2019) estate regeneration projects involving the demolition of social homes, which have secured an exemption.
TOLWORTH TOWER TAKEOFF
Kingston’s Development Control Committee has, in line with officers’ recommendation, granted approval for the conversion of the Tolworth Tower office building into flats. Plans for its conversion were first submitted to the Council in December 2018, as many of its offices had been vacant for several years, and this after years of planning debates about the site. Under the new plans by Meadow Residential’s Healey Development Solutions (Tolworth), the tower – at 22 storeys the tallest building in the borough – will be repurposed to provide 261 flats. In 2018, the GLA deemed a previous version of the plans not fully compliant with the London Plan, as just 11% of the proposed 261 flats were to be offered at London Living Rent (LLR). The affordable housing offer has now been increased to 35% of habitable rooms with 19 flats (30%) available at LLR and 55 (70%) at Discount Market Rent – and with the amended plans also referable to the Mayor, the developers will be hoping that this is enough to satisfy the GLA.
According to a series of unsettling (but conflicting) reports, several Crossrail workers have ‘died in their sleep over the past six months’. According to one unnamed worker cited by the Metro freesheet, five workers have passed away, Unite the union has claimed it was four, while a spokesman for Crossrail is cited as stating that ‘three workers have died since June’ and that fourth death earlier in the year was ‘a result of an unrelated illness.’ Many Unite members working on the Bond Street site apparently suspect that poor air quality is to blame and have reportedly ‘downed tools’ until the cause of their colleagues’ deaths has been fully investigated. Crossrail Ltd has stated that ‘an extensive independent air-quality survey’ has found ‘no issues of concern’ at the site, but Unite has called on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to ‘undertake a full inquiry’.
BAKERLOO LINE EXTENSION CONSULTATION
Transport for London (TfL) has launched a 10-week public consultation on plans to extend the Bakerloo Line to the south-east, from Elephant and Castle to Lewisham via stations on the Old Kent Road and at New Cross Gate (and potentially further to Hayes and Beckenham Junction in Bromley at a later date). With areas south of the river already ill-served by the Tube network and the population expected to grow considerably in key Opportunity Areas, the need for greater public transport capacity is obvious – and its direct link to sustaining new housing has been underlined in comments by Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Growth, Development and Planning Johnson Situ, who stated that the extension ‘will help deliver our vision for the Old Kent Road, including hundreds of affordable new homes, jobs and facilities for local people.’ All the above said, there is still some way to go; TfL’s current Business Plan for the period 2019/20 to 2023/24 states that it is still ‘working with our stakeholders to identify sustainable recurring funding options’ (i.e. a full funding package remains elusive).
The Government finally got its Queen’s Speech on Monday and while the speech itself glosses over the details (you can’t expect Her Majesty to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of policy), the Government’s ‘background briefing notes’ are more revealing for those of us interested in local government, democracy and the built environment:
- The proposed rollout of legislation for safeguarding ‘electoral integrity’. This includes controversial provisions requiring all voters to provide photographic ID in order to vote in General Elections and (in England specifically) Local Elections.
- The announcement of an Environment Bill that will – among other measures – ‘increase local powers to tackle sources of air pollution’ and implement ‘mandatory biodiversity protections into the planning system’.
- A commitment by the Government to publish its National Infrastructure Strategy later in the autumn, which will aim to achieve the UK’s net zero emissions goals, but also ‘to help close the productivity gap between London and other parts of the country.’
- Confirmation that the Government will be publishing a White Paper setting out its strategy for ‘continued local economic growth and increased productivity across the country’, as well as ‘further information on our offer for enhanced devolution across England.’
BORIS GIVETH WITH ONE HAND
Even beyond the Queen’s Speech, it’s been quite an eventful week in policy terms. Last week, the Government announced a new approach to help housebuilders deliver schools as part of their S106 obligations. The pilot programme, run by the Department for Education, will award 10 projects ‘low interest loans’ of between £5m and £22m, until 2021. The loans, repayable once new homes are sold, will be drawn from the DfE’s free schools budget. The Government is hopeful that the financial support will boost the viability of new housing and enable developers – particularly SME developers – to build schools earlier than is usually possible (or strictly required). Insufficient infrastructure to accommodate new residents is frequently cited as grounds for opposing new housing development (or as a reason to question its viability) as developers are asked to foot the bill for it. It is therefore encouraging that the Government is actively testing new ways of bridging this gap. More details can be found here.
BUT TAKETH AWAY WITH THE OTHER
However, last week the Treasury announced that it will be increasing the interest rates for new loans from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) from 0.8% to 1.8% over the gilt rate. The significance of this move cannot be underestimated, as the PWLB is a major source of funds for local government-led capital projects including roads, town centre regeneration schemes, and yes, schools. It is therefore, by extension, critical to enabling the development of new housing. For a sense of scale, the PWLB currently has around £78bn of outstanding loans on its books and the Local Government Association estimates that the rate rise could cost councils an extra £70m in borrowing costs next year alone, creating a very real risk that capital schemes, including council house building projects ‘will cease to be affordable and may have to be cancelled as a result.’ Individual councils in London and further afield (and even business association London First) have complained that the move came with little warning and will adversely impact key capital projects, as well as council-led housebuilding. For its part, the Government has cited the fact that ‘some local authorities have substantially increased their use of the PWLB in recent months’ as the justification for raising its rates, while offering assurances that it has also increased the Board’s overall lending limit from £85bn to £95bn.
EXTINCTION REBELLION EXTINGUISHED?
Extinction Rebellion targeted the City in their second week of protests – following a week in Trafalgar Square – but a ‘Section 14’ order imposed by the police on Monday in effect renders their action illegal. The order has been met with anger from some quarters, with human rights group Liberty saying that the ban is ‘an assault on the right to protest’ while London Assembly Member and Green candidate for Mayor Sian Berry has called on the Mayor to justify the decision. For his part, the Mayor has said that he had ‘received assurance that Extinction Rebellion are not banned from protesting in our city’. Surprisingly to some, Sadiq said that neither he nor his Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Sophie Linden had been informed of the decision and that he has asked senior police officers for an explanation, while simultaneously condemning ‘those who have broken the law over recent days’. The group now plans to target the Tube, saying that it will ‘non-violently’ disrupt Underground services from 17 October. As of 16 October, a total of 1,642 arrests have been made since the beginning of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Autumn Uprising’.
The Local Boundary Commission for England has launched its second consultation into proposals for boundary changes to most of the City of Westminster’s 20 wards. The draft proposals suggest a new scheme of 18 wards, each represented by three councillors (for a total of 54, down from the current 60). The proposals’ primary aim is to ensure that wards are roughly equal in population - and as Westminster has not undergone a boundary review since 1999, a few tweaks are probably long overdue. The consultation will be open to submissions until 9 December. The Commission’s final recommendations will be published in March 2020 and, pending Parliamentary approval, should be put into effect in time for the next local elections, in May 2022.There are also consultations underway in Barnet (which closes on 29 October) while Camden and Kingston’s close on 11 November. Meanwhile, several other boroughs are also engaged in a boundary review process, either awaiting the beginning of a second consultation on the Commission’s draft recommendations, or its final recommendations.
GREEN BELT BLUES?
A new report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), ‘The contribution of public green space to house prices’, indicates that house prices are higher by an average of £2,500 when they are located within 100 metres of public green space – a premium of 1.1%. The report also found that homes which have a view of green space or water enjoy a premium of 1.8%. The ONS’ analysis is based on the sales figures for over one million properties in urban areas of England and Wales, between 2009 and 2016. Meanwhile, research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has found that most homes built on Green Belt land released for development in recent years are not affordable. ‘Space to Breathe’ indicatively found that only 13% of homes built between 2015/16 and 2018/19 on greenfield land removed from the Green Belt are affordable. However, the methodology and full findings of the report are actually rather convoluted, so much so that a spokesman of the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government has dismissed it as ‘misleading’. The CPRE, a long-standing advocate of protecting Green Belt land from development, unsurprisingly recommends that the Government focus on incentivising housebuilding on brownfield, introduce even greater protections for the Green Belt and implement more rigorous tests for its re-designation.
CENTEPOINT GOES MODULAR
Homelessness charity Centrepoint has announced its biggest spending programme for 50 years, investing £15m into a new modular housing scheme. The charity is aiming to deliver 300 homes by 2021, with an interim target of providing 86 homes by 2020 for young people who no longer require Centrepoint’s services but who cannot afford the high cost of housing. Residents’ rent will be capped at a third of their income, and tenancies will last for a maximum of five years. The charity has explained that it has chosen modular housing given that it is easy to transport ‘between sites to reduce the costs of development due to high land values’.
- Hema Selvaraj has been appointed as Grosvenor Britain and Ireland’s innovation director.
- Michael Gallimore, one of the country’s best known planning lawyers is set to join Town Legal LLP as its 10th partner from Hogan Lovells in January 2020.
HB REAVIS GETS THE GREEN LIGHT TO TRANSFORM WATERLOO
As you may have seen in the press, last night (15 October) Lambeth Council’s Planning Applications Committee voted unanimously to approve plans by our client HB Reavis to redevelop Elizabeth House in Waterloo. Designed by AHMM, the proposed development will create around 1.2 million sq ft of workspace to support up to 11,000 jobs, along with new retail space and a transformed public realm. The development will also provide desperately needed new access routes into Waterloo Station – a welcome bit of news we’re sure will please many of the 100 million commuters who use the station each year. LCA has worked with the project’s development team for over two years, supporting their extensive public engagement on these plans, in addition to our role in providing corporate communications support to the company.
LCA WIN BIG
Last week saw a major triumph for the LCA team as we were crowned champions of the U+I charity quiz for Shelter! We had a brilliant evening, flexing our consultant brains and supporting a fantastic cause in great company. Thanks to U+I for a fabulous evening and commiserations to all those teams who just could not compete with us!
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 email@example.com.
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