Homes 2014

This morning I am speaking on a panel at Homes 2014 to discuss the role fast-build, off-site manufacture can play in accelerating our goal of building 200,000 homes per year by 2020.

More information is available here.

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Life in London survey

As your London-wide Assembly Member it’s my job to hold the Mayor of London to account and to do that I need your help.

 

Over the last year London has seen drastic policing cuts, soaring housing costs and transport fares continuing to rise.

 

Your views help me to illustrate the impact of the Mayor’s policies and to ensure the Mayor doesn’t get away with more broken promises, that is why I have today launched this year’s Living In London survey. The survey not only gives you the opportunity to have your say on the key issues in the capital but it gives my colleagues and I the vital information we need to help shape our policies for the coming year.

 

Complete the short survey by clicking here to have your say on how we can improve life for all Londoners.

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Why isn’t localism working in London?

Since 2012 the Planning Committee, which I chair, has been monitoring the progress of two aspects of localism – neighbourhood planning and the community right to bid – to see how they have been adopted in London.

There are some bright spots, but on the whole it’s clear that localism hasn’t taken hold in London to anywhere near the extent envisioned by Government. As fashioned by the Localism Act, these tools seem designed primarily for smaller, more homogenous areas than can be found in London.

Neighbourhood planning allows local people to draft a plan for their local area. The Community Right to Bid allows local people to identify buildings as assets of community value, which provides limited protections in case the owner decides to change use or demolish the building.

These are concepts with great potential, but that potential remains unrealised in the capital.

Localism in London report

In the course of our investigation, we found that a third of London boroughs have no neighbourhood forums, only one successful plan has been introduced so far, and it is unlikely more than a handful of neighbourhood plans will be in place by the time of the next election. The picture is more positive when it comes to the Community Right to Bid, but many communities still find the process daunting and potentially expensive.

The Committee is keen to engage with Londoners to understand how we can help communities across the city use the legislation to be proactive in planning their local area and to protect valued community assets. That’s why the report concludes with a call for Londoners to get in touch to share their thoughts on how localism is shaping up on the ground in the capital, and what the GLA can do to better implement it.

You can read the report here.

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Assembly to investigate Royal Albert Docks deal

Earlier today the Assembly voted to investigate Boris Johnson’s handling of the £1bn deal to redevelop the Royal Albert Dock.

Last week I appeared in a Channel 4 report which raised serious questions about the deal with Chinese developer ABP. That report highlighted the close relationship between London and Partners, which is a virtually wholly owned subsidiary of the Mayor, and ABP, as well as concerns about ABP’s human rights record and the involvement of the wife of a minister who made sizable donations to the Tory party during the tendering process.

At this morning’s Mayors Question Time, the Mayor attempted to pre-empt any further criticism by waving around an internal audit report. The report, which the Mayor claimed cleared the GLA of any wrong-doing, was released minutes after the meeting began, effectively preventing Assembly Members from having a chance to read it. Not a very transparent move.

The audit report left many questions unanswered. By its own admission merely a “desk top review” that failed to interview many of the key players, the document did not address issues raised in the Channel 4 report and offered unsatisfactory conclusions on others.

It was clear that  an independent investigation is necessary to restore faith in the process.

That’s why I spoke to a motion calling for the Mayor to appoint an independent investigation into the tendering process and relationship between the Greater London Authority and allied agencies, and ABP. It also called for three of the Assembly’s committees to hold meetings scrutinising the deal. The motion passed 14-3.

Channel 4 picked up the story again, which you can view here.

The relevant text of the motion reads:

“The London Assembly is deeply concerned at the Mayor’s failure to address fully concerns regarding the granting to Advanced Business Park (ABP) of the tender to develop the 35-acre site at the Royal Albert Dock, which includes 3.2 million square feet of office space, leisure facilities, and 845 residential flats.

“This Assembly is also troubled by the fact that, despite compelling evidence calling into question ABP’s human rights record in China, neither the Mayor’s Office nor London and Partners assessed ABP’s human rights record as part of the evaluation process in respect of the Royal Albert Dock development. In particular, this Assembly is disappointed by the Mayor’s recent admission that ABP’s human rights record in China “wasn’t relevant to the tendering process[2].

“This Assembly notes the comments of Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who has publicly stated that the tendering process “has the smell of a semi corrupt arrangement…[3]

“Given the gravity of the concerns raised by Channel 4 News’ investigation into the Albert Docks Development, this Assembly calls on:

The Mayor to:

•          Appoint an independent investigation into the tendering process and relationship between the Greater London Authority and allied agencies, and ABP, in the awarding of the Royal Albert Dock development.

The London Assembly Audit Panel (with authority delegated to the committee chair in consultation with group leads to agree the terms of reference) to:

•          Launch a scrutiny session on the internal audit process undertaken by the Mayor in relation Royal Albert Dock development, and seek a commitment from the Mayor to appear before the Panel as part of the scrutiny.

The London Assembly Economy Committee and Planning Committee (with authority delegated to the committee chair(s) in consultation with group leads to agree the terms of reference) to:

•          Launch a joint scrutiny session on the economic and planning aspects of Royal Albert Dock development, and seek a commitment from the Mayor to appear before the Committee as part of the scrutiny

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Big questions for Boris over billion dollar property deal

Tonight Channel 4 aired an exclusive story raising serious questions about Boris Johnson’s handling of the £1bn deal to redevelop the Royal Albert Dock.

You can watch the full report, including my interview, and read an accompanying story here.

The story raised serious questions about the closeness of relationship between London and Partners and ABP. The public has to have confidence in the process behind all  developments, particularly ones as high profile as the Royal Albert Dock. That confidence could well be undermined by the perception that London and Partners, a stakeholder in the tender process, appears to have had a financial link to the developer during that process.

Whilst London needs to attract inward investment we cannot allow a situation to arise where the public perception is that a developer is getting preferential treatment.

The Mayor and officers working for the GLA have a duty to do everything they can to ensure impartiality and avoid any perception of bias. Ultimately given that London and Partners are a virtually wholly owned subsidiary of the Mayor, then on any concerns about their conduct the buck has to stop with him. This programme raised a large number of questions about the close relationship between ABP and London and Partners. I hope the Mayor will take these concerns seriously.

Nicky on C4 news

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Our visit to Old Oak Common and Park Royal

Next month the Assembly will decide whether to approve the creation of a Mayoral Development Corporation for the Old Oak Common and Park Royal Area. The convergence of HS2 and Crossrail on a 50 hectare-plus brownfield site represents one of the greatest opportunities for regeneration in London’s history, but we need to make sure that the Mayor’s vision for Old Oak is the right one, and that a Mayoral Development Corporation is the best way to implement that vision.

Yesterday I joined Assembly Members from all parties on a site visit to Old Oak Common and Park Royal. The visit followed on from the Planning Committee’s meeting this summer, and highlights our continuing scrutiny of the Mayor’s plans.

OOC site visit 2

We saw first-hand the current under-utilisation of the brownfield land around Old Oak, the relationship between that site and Wormwood Scrubs to the south, and the highly-productive Park Royal industrial estate. Our visit was led by Victoria Hill, the proposed director of the MDC, who fielded questions from Labour members concerned about the height and design of future development, the make-up of the Mayoral Development Corporation board and planning committee, the impact on existing residents, financing of infrastructure, and the future of industrial uses. Many of these concerns were highlighted in the Labour Group response to the MDC consultation.

OOC site visit 1

We recognise the potential for this area, but our in-principle support does not mean we will give Boris a free ride to do what he wants with the place. We will continue to closely scrutinise these proposals closely.

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Peabody rents petition

Accepting a petition from Peabody tenants calling on the housing association to stop unfair rent rises

Accepting a petition  with my colleague Tom Copley from Peabody tenants calling on the housing association to stop unfair rent rises

Earlier today I received a petition from tenants calling on their housing association Peabody to stop escalating their rents, which have risen by 36% in just four years. Peabody bought four estates housing keyworkers across London in 2011 from the Crown Estate. The estates in Victoria Park in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, Cumberland Market in Camden, Milbank in Westminster and Lee Green in Lewisham contain 1,200 homes.

Despite assurances at the time of the sale that rents would be kept affordable, since 2011 rents have increased so someone who paid £650 per month now has to pay £884 a month. At a time of stagnant wage rises and increases in the cost of living residents simply cannot afford this. The petition signed by over 1,000 people calls for a meeting with senior staff at Peabody, a 12 month freeze on further increases and a review of their rent policy.

Peabody used to be a major provider of key worker housing, but the ability of nurses, teachers, and others to pay these escalating rents is slowly being eroded.

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