This week in the key London boroughs
Huffington Post reported that a cabinet-level source expects Conservative-controlled Westminster, Barnet, and Wandsworth to fall to Labour in May, and for the Conservatives to be reduced to a handful of seats in several other London boroughs. Meanwhile, City AM claimed that Kensington & Chelsea was likely to be on the list of losses. This would represent a major turnaround, as the Conservatives currently enjoy a 30 seat majority.
A rumour circulated on Monday evening that Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales had decided not to contest the upcoming mayoral candidate selection. Several figures on Twitter had already started discussing his list of achievements and failures as a farewell. However, by late Tuesday morning, Sir Robin had debunked the rumour in a statement to the Newham Recorder. The rumour originated with Cllr Obaid Khan, who is currently serving a lengthy suspension from the Labour Party.
In a letter seen by Inside Housing, Conservative-controlled Westminster Council leader Cllr Nickie Aiken seemed to confirm that the council has reversed its previous policy, and will no longer require positive ballots of residents for estate regenerations to go ahead. The contrast with emerging Labour Party policy on estate ballots will no doubt be exploited by Labour activists in the borough, who this week selected noted leftwinger Steven Saxby as their parliamentary candidate for Cities of Westminster and London.
Wandsworth’s Conservative council leader Cllr Ravi Govindia upped his opposition to Heathrow’s expansion plans, several options for which are currently out for consultation. He told local paper Wandsworth Guardian: “I find the fact that Heathrow seems to think this is a done deal absolutely appalling. We know that this scheme is fatally flawed and if it went ahead would have a serious impact on our local environment and the health of our residents.”
In Barnet, Conservative MPs took issue with figures released by London Mayor Sadiq Khan which predict Barnet could lose 1,700 jobs in a hard Brexit. Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers said, “the economic disaster which some said would occur if we voted to leave the EU has not happened. I do not believe the Mayor’s predictions will prove to be any more reliable than those made before the referendum vote”. The Conservative administration in the borough may have preferred the MP to have kept a low profile on the matter, as Brexit was seen to be a drag on the Tory vote at the 2017 General Election.
Conservative leader of Kingston Council Cllr Kevin Davis came under pressure this week after engaging in a Twitter spat with a 17-year old who had suggested a conflict of interest regarding his son’s employment at developer CNM Estates. Cllr Davis lambasted James Giles, a local activist and sixth former, but later issued a statement admitting that feelings of protection for his son “got the better” of him. In a further development, a petition calling for his resignation has reached almost 2,000 signatures.
Kensington & Chelsea Leadership Team (what most other councils call “cabinet”) met on Tuesday evening to finalise the transition of Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) services back to the council, effective immediately. The officers’ report states that “the board of the KCTMO has reluctantly decided it can no longer guarantee that the TMO can comply with its obligations”.
In national politics
A survey of English local authorities revealed around 95% are planning council tax increases to make ends meet. Local Government Association Chairman Lord Porter said that local authorities face a funding gap of £5 billion by 2020, and some councils “continue to be pushed perilously close to the financial edge”.
Secretary of State for Local Government Sajid Javid MP launched a white paper entitled “Fixing our broken housing market”. The headline-grabbing element was government backing for “a new generation of townhouses” in cities such as London and Manchester through changes making it easier to add two storeys to existing blocks of flats, houses, as well as shops and offices.
The g15 group of developers have agreed to sign up to Sadiq Khan’s scheme to allow Londoner’s “first dibs” on new homes. Under the plan, homes worth up to £350,000 will be available to residents of London in the first month of marketing, then UK residents for two months, before finally being open to all buyers after the third month. Green Party London-wide member Caroline Pidgeon called it “yet another voluntary scheme” that will not be widely taken up by the housing industry.