This week in the key London boroughs
Barnet council leader, Cllr Richard Cornelius, was forced to defend the planning committee’s approval of the rail “super-hub” freight transfer site in Cricklewood at Finchley Road in the face of longstanding resident opposition over HGV movements and air quality. He told local papers that it “marks a major milestone in the regeneration of Brent Cross Cricklewood… that will create up to 27,000 jobs, 7,400 homes and an extended shopping centre for people in Barnet and Brent.” Due to the location near borough borders, Brent councillor Lia Colacicco and Camden councillor Lorna Jane Russell joined two local councillors – Shimon Ryde and Jack Cohen – in addressing the committee in objection to the proposals. The proposals were approved 6 to 5, with all Conservative members of the committee voting in favour and all Labour members voting against, something not uncommon on the committee. Childs Hill ward, in which the freight site is located, is a highly marginal ward, which Labour expects to gain at the election in May.
Conservative-controlled Westminster Council is set to introduce a “community contribution” scheme of voluntary additional council tax contributions. Under the plans, those living in the area’s most expensive properties will be asked if they would voluntarily double the amount of council tax that they normally contribute each month to around £800. Council leader Nickie Aiken said the policy is a response to a number of requests from residents who wished to contribute more, and more than 400 homeowners living in multimillion-pound properties had responded to the consultation positively.
In Newham, support seems to be draining away from incumbent mayor Sir Robin Wales, who faces a selection process in the next month. Cllr Forhad Hussain, cabinet member for crime and antisocial behaviour has announced on Twitter (below) that he will be standing down at the election in May. Others from the current administration are expected to follow.
Meanwhile, Cllr Rokhsana Fiaz has emerged as the early frontrunner; gathering support from former mayoral hopeful Cllr Kay Scoresby, and former cabinet member Cllr Rachel Tripp, as well as senior Labour figures outside of the borough. Cllr Fiaz’s public backers are politically mixed, from “moderates” to Corbynites, boding well for her chances of selection. Sir Robin has pledged to build record numbers of council-owned homes if reselected.
In Tower Hamlets, Mayor John Biggs, up for re-election on 3 May, allied with left-wing and backbench councillors by attending a campaign meeting seeking a deferral of the proposed redevelopment of Chrisp Street Market in Poplar. Independent Group mayoral candidate Ohid Ahmed was also in attendance.
Biggs’s behaviour suggests he is not yet sure of the Labour vote holding up against challenges from Independents embedded in communities in the borough. The application was deferred by the Strategic Development Committee last night (Thursday 15th February), which is not unusual given the committee’s proclivity to defer or refuse applications recommended for approval in the last 18 months.
The Conservative Leader of Bexley Council, Teresa O’Neill, wrote for Inside Housing in opposition to elements of the draft London Plan, which is currently out for consultation. While agreeing with the need to deliver homes, Cllr O’Neill claims the Plan’s major failing is that it does not adequately distinguish between inner and outer London. With Bexley still poorly served by transport, Cllr O’Neill claims there is “little enthusiasm” for car-free developments, promoted heavily in the draft Plan. She also opposes what she says are restrictions on development to former industrial land, noting that the borough has hopes to redevelop “large areas of former industrial land, including 8km of underdeveloped riverfront”.
Despite predictions of a near wipe-out for the Conservatives in London, the Leader of Havering Council, Roger Ramsey, showed his confidence in an article for Conservative Home. In the article he calls Havering a “stronghold for conservatism in London”, pointing out the strong results they had in the borough in the general election. He goes on to predict that the Conservative group in Havering will gain a majority in May, and will no longer need to rely on the votes of Residents Association Councillors.
The leader of Brent Conservative Group Cllr John Warren set out his party’s stall against the council’s proposed council tax increase. In the Kilburn Times he brands council leader Cllr Mohammed Butt’s figures “misleading”, and the council’s consultation a “public relations exercise”. Proposing a council tax freeze instead of a 4.99% increase, Cllr Warren says this could be paid for by transferring New Homes Bonus money to the revenue budget. The Conservatives are expected to lose seats to Labour in Brent, with Cllr Warren at particular threat in the marginal Brondesbury Park ward.
In a sign that the pressure on Kensington and Chelsea council over Grenfell Tower is set to continue, several hundred people took part in a silent march from the council offices to the site of the fire. Attendees included local firefighters as well as senior Labour MP Diane Abbott. Meanwhile figures from housing charity Shelter – reported in the Evening Standard – showed that “one in seven” families living in Kensington and Chelsea are technically homeless, including those housed in insecure accommodation by the council.
In national politics
The Independent reported that 420,000 properties with planning permissions remain unbuilt, blaming property developers for land banking. This comes just days after the Labour-controlled Welsh Government announced they were looking to introduce a vacant land tax. The proposal, which is likely to make positive headlines and be popular with Labour’s grassroots, is further evidence the party is moving to a more radical position on housing. However, some in the property industry has labelled the proposals as “absolutely bonkers” pointing to measures such as speeding up planning and utility connections as better ways to increase house building.
Yesterday saw a flurry of council by-elections up and down the country with 14 Council seats up for election. It was another successful night for the Liberal Democrats who gained two seats from the Conservatives in Teignbridge, Devon, with one seat switching on a swing of over 25%. They also increased their vote in all of the seats they contested yesterday. On the other hand, it was another very poor set of results for UKIP who lost the only seat they were defending in Tendering, where they slipped from 1st to 6th.