The government must improve its relationship with City Hall if its “build, build, build” mantra is be put into effect in the capital, according a leading property sector consultant with strong Conservative Party links.
Peter Bingle, who is Director of the Terrapin Group public affairs consultancy and a former Wandsworth Tory councillor, has criticised housing minister Robert Jenrick for “attacking the Mayor [Sadiq Khan] for lack of vision and failure of delivery” while at the same time “holding up schemes approved by the Mayor”.
In comments made on the networking site LinkedIn, Bingle writes, “it is in everyone’s interests to create an effective working relationship between MHCLG [Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government], which Jenrick heads] and City Hall. If the government is serious in supporting the PM’s mantra of ‘Build Build Build’ such a relationship is essential to hitting national housing targets.”
In March, shortly before the first Covid lockdown, Jenrick fired an early salvo in what is widely seen as a national government assault on the London Mayor’s autonomy and powers with a letter not only directing changes to his proposed new London Plan – the capital’s overarching spatial planning document – but also making scathing criticisms of housing supply under his mayoralty.
However, Jenrick’s department has also intervened in a string of applications Mayor Khan has used his planning powers to determine, slowing their progress. These include the redevelopment of Newcombe House on Notting Hill Gate and the Kensington Forum Hotel on Cromwell Road, both in Tory-run Kensington & Chelsea. Jenrick ultimately approved the former and City Hall says it is waiting to find out if he will “call in” the latter, after it received mayoral approval for a second time last month following a successful court challenge by the council to Khan’s first green light decision.
Other applications Jenrick has placed a “holding direction” on – meaning he can block them for a certain period – include the redevelopment of the Master Brewer site in Tory-run Hillingdon, which City Hall approved in September against the council’s wishes, and the revised plans for the Bishopsgate Goodsyard site at the junction of two Labour boroughs and the City, which will be considered at a City Hall public hearing on 3 December.
Describing Jenrick’s London Plan letter to Khan as “infamous”, Bingle says the current relationship between the MHCLG is “unclear” and asks if the government is “preparing to strip the GLA [Greater London Authority] of some of its key functions thereby rendering it irrelevant?”
Others have noted with surprise that Jenrick’s White Paper for planning reform makes no direct mention of the London Mayor, who has significant planning powers, albeit these can be overridden at national government level.
Bingle writes: “The development community likes the GLA. The reasons are obvious. The officer team is of a high quality and has a pro-development ethos. In addition, City Hall recovers large and often complex schemes in London boroughs which are generally regarded as difficult. We all know who they are…”
In a speech to the Centre for London annual conference last week, Khan accused the national government of trying to unpick the powers of London government “by stealth” and of seeming “happy to undermine our capital city, attacking us to shore up our vote elsewhere”. Khan has repeatedly criticised the government for what he regards as unfair conditions being placed on emergency funding provided to Transport for London which has seen its income from public transport fares collapse as a result of the pandemic.
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