Crossrail 2 threat from London elections

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Crossrail 2 could become an unlikely casualty of London’s local elections, the New London Sounding Board claimed this week in a session which also included updates on the NPPF and the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

The £30bn line from Broxbourne in Hertfordshire to Epsom in Surrey, said Waltham Forest strategic director of economic growth Stewart Murray, had been central to a clear methodology for growth in Kingston, for example. But a change of leadership at the authority, combined with the ‘quirkiness’ of London communities governing which boroughs will be ‘growth’ boroughs and which will ‘retract’ has added more question marks about it going ahead. And, added Urban Design London co-chairman Daniel Moylan, other boroughs’ changing leaderships may also have a bearing, with the Gerrard Review underway about Crossrail 2’s affordability likely to be affected. ‘What has this done to the case for Crossrail 2?’, asked Moylan. ‘It is, potentially, completely destroyed.’ 

Meanwhile MCIL 2, set up to contribute to Crossrail 2’s total cost, is on track to emerge next April, with its possible higher rates forcing a number of developers to look at their timescales to get things done before that deadline, said London Communications Agency executive chairman Robert Gordon Clark. Gordon Clark described the election results as ‘no-one hurt in small earthquake’, but there was nevertheless a ‘tremor’ in south west London as Kingston and Richmond swung back to the Lib Dems. The Tories were relieved not to lose boroughs to Labour, especially at the ‘crown jewels’ of Westminster, K&C, Wandsworth and Barnet, Labour ending up with 21 boroughs. Two main points to note: there are three ‘almost one nation states’ now, and one in four borough leaders has changed – eight out of the 32. 

LSE director Tony Travers said that against an expectation of enormous change, rather less had happened than was expected – ‘the non-barking dog principle’. The Conservatives lost 100 seats in London, down to 511 – the lowest total it had ever had since 1964, while Labour was up to 1120, up 61 and Lib Dems were up 35. Although the vote share is not yet in, it is clear there are significant swings each way and even within wards, added Travers, but it would be ‘unprecedented’ for Labour to have done this badly in local elections and then go on to win the general election in 2022. This was not a return to the tribal politics of the 50s and 60s, however.

Chair, London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies Peter Eversden suggested that the implications of the results could have a bearing on how boroughs behave, so that when boroughs ‘flipflopped’ from one party to another, scrutiny of applications suffered, and could lead to ‘bad decisions’. More community engagement was needed, Eversden said, and communities had clearly had an effect on plans for Oxford Street, right in the middle of the election, Travers pointed out. Now the challenge is how to pick up from that and move forward, said City of Westminster’s director of place shaping Deirdra Armsby.

Central director Pat Brown suggested a consolidation in central London including the reappointment of Peter John in Southwark suggested that people largely welcomed the style of regeneration, as a positive for the development community. But the approach to development and growth has been a political/election issue in Haringey, with a ‘definite change in the zeitgeist’, suggested Sounding Board chairman, Argent’s Robert Evans.

Certainly, we have a lost generation of ‘pro-regeneration’ local politicians who are prepared to stick their necks out, said pocket CEO Marc Vlessing. ‘I think we’re looking at a consultation and political lobbying patchwork which will be a real headache’, he said. Two arguments have now become almost ‘normalised’, suggested Moylan – first, that regeneration of council estates is essentially inhumane; and that building new residential units does not benefit anybody because properties are financed bought and held by foreign money. What was needed, said Chair, BexleyCo Ltd, LB Bexley Rick Blakeway, was to somehow communicate the scale of growth needed to keep London running. Indeed, some of the fears of communities could be broken down if the benefits of some of the better schemes were better communicated, said Turley executive director Michael Lowndes.

The Sounding Board also discussed the NPPF, whose increased emphasis on housing delivery was a key theme of the local elections. Andy von Bradsky, Design and Delivery Adviser, Housing-led Regeneration, DCLG, said that the key message was a ‘steady line from government’, with around 28,000 responses having been received to the White Paper, and 8,000 to the NPPF itself, which will come out in its final form later this summer. Highlights include the way a duty to cooperate is now written, which von Bradsky suggested made him feel it was ‘more strategic’ than it had been for some while, higher densities, and clear aspirations for design visions to be embedded into local plans. 

Finally, MP Emma Dent Coad presented on the Grenfell Tower inquiry, saying that the initial anti-tall buildings reactions have subsided, but the focus will be on the quality of work on the building and the cladding, with another issue being the implications – not least insurance – for people living in new tower blocks. ‘Everybody is interested because what happened was unspeakable, and it should never have happened to a building that was so solidly built, and post-Ronan Point.’ It is a repair job, not least with the community, said Dent Coad. The inquiry will be technical, with some of the wider social economic and political issues looked at elsewhere, including at the European Human Rights Commission. But implications for the rest of the sector were clear, said Dent Coad. We have an overabundance of luxury housing’, she said, ‘and we don’t have anywhere for about 300 people to live. They are stuck in hotels…. Are we building what people want and need? I don’t think we are.’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ

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