New London mayor faces torrent of advice

Copyright: David Lawson- Property Week April 2000

When London's new executive mayor sits down to  work this summer the first thing he could  call for is a new desk. The existing one will be overflowing with reports on  how to do the job. The next will be an explanation of the blizzard of acronyms on their covers.

   For all the shortcomings which led to the creation of a single  city boss and development body, one thing the capital can boast in spades is a plethora of agencies, committees and partnerships. There are dozens  ranging from London First, the  Chamber of Commerce, London TECs and the Tourist Board down to local development groups and associations.

  Every profession has a London arm and every local council seems to be involved in an umbrella authority or partnership with neighbours - sometimes several of them.

 All have an axe to grind and many have put the grindings on paper for  the new boss.  This kind of cacophony of voices has often driven property professionals to distraction in other parts of the UK. They claim potential occupiers become confused over who is in charge, where to find advice and who holds the purse strings. A single mayor, a general assembly and a London-wide development agency might be expected to eliminate the need for this chorus.

 'If it does nothing else, it will be a relief to get shot of all those acronyms,' said one  planning consultant. But there is little sign of anyone clearing their desks.

 'There could be a shake-out, but it won't happen overnight,' says Michael Chambers, political watchdog at the RICS. 'Much of the regeneration work will be absorbed by the London Development Agency. But London is a big place - bigger than some European countries. Sub-regional bodies and local authority groups will continue to lobby for parts of the city.'

  None of the main bodies appears to anticipate an early death. In fact, quite the reverse, as the piles on the mayor's desk talk of  co-operative involvement in future rather than a handover of existing work.

  London First  is gearing up for a second decade of promoting the capital via its 300 business members, universities and local authorities. It exudes a proprietorial view of the mayor and GLA - perhaps justifiably, as the group  was a driving force in the campaign for a city boss  and helped shape legislation for the Greater London Authority. Its subsidiary, London First Centre, also  has a significant track record  for attracting and guiding inward investment.

 These roles appear remarkably similar to those expected from the London Development Agency. The LDA was set up under different legislation to the mayor and, like other regional development agencies, will be a business-led organisation to co-ordinate investment and regeneration.

  London First hopes  to  continue its promotion and investment role  as an agent, perhaps with LDA funding.  But it will also be  a mix of watchdog and nursemaid as the GLA makes its first faltering steps.

 'We expect to keep a watching role,' says London First executive director of property Judith Salomon. Early concerns will centre on  the way transport and planning strategies are drawn up. New finance rules allocating additional local rates to the mayor and GLA will also be scrutinised.

    Another factor keeping pressure groups active is the sense of independence generated by the rebirth of citywide government. 'The mayor, whoever he or she is, will probably want to put  blue water between London and the government,' says Michael de Styrcea, a director of Chesterton Katalysis and  chairman of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry policy committee. That offers the opportunity for  continuing advice on policies for the capital.

  Too many advisers  revives  the spectre of confusion but that  was spotted early on, says de Styrcea. Ministers said business had to get its own house in order before giving advice on London's future, so the Chamber, London First and CBI London combined forces last year to create the London Business Board.  One of the main reports on the future of London  will be its  manifesto setting out priorities for economic development, transport, planning and the environment.

  A leading name sure to disappear is the London Development Partnership, the umbrella group of public and private bodies which has spent two years drawing up a detailed strategy that will be top of the pile on the  mayor's desk.

 'We were always meant to be a temporary body,' says chief executive Eric Sorenson. No-one should be surprised, however, if there is little sign of change on July 3rd, when the LDA comes into being. It is  accepted wisdom that the partnership was a 'shadow LDA' and while the mayor and GLA has to approve the membership, it could be little more than a formal transition.

 Sorenson was  tight-lipped over whether he will  be involved but it would seem a natural transition, considering the wealth of experience he has accumulated leading the LDDC and then the LPA. And the learning process has continued in two years of research into areas like manufacturing and clusters.

 'We have discovered how much there is still to learn about London' he says. 'We know a lot about key deprivation factors but the figures are out-of-date. We have also discovered how little we know about business drivers.'

 Other acronyms which disappear into the maw of the new local government include the GOL (Government Office for London), LPAC (London Planning Advisory Committee) and EPL (English Partnership, London). LPAC previously reported to the boroughs and will effectively provide the back up to the mayor's strategic planning powers. Government and EP offices around the UK have been folded into regional agencies. EP will retain control of the Greenwich Peninsula, however, as the contamination problems are too big for the new GLA to handle.

 The property industry  is well placed in the centre of all these changes. Around a third of London First members come  from the sector and big names like Peter Freeman (Argent), Lee Goldstone (Regalian) and Robert Laurence (Resolution) have been taking active roles. The LPA's land and property working group also includes representatives such as Andrew Gould (Jones Lang LaSalle), Nigel Hugill (Chelsfield) and Tony Wilby (Taylor Woodrow). Public sector opinion has included Ed Hartill (City Corporation) and Martin Simmons (LPAC), while the group was chaired by Harvey Marshall (Association of London Government).

 Watchdogs such as  Westminster Property Owners, the BPF and RICS are girding up to examine   eight London-wide strategies to be drawn up by the mayor over the next couple of years. The Spatial Development Strategy - referred to by mere mortals as a development plan - will be crucial, as will transport.

  One reason they will remain active is  that the mayor may not have enough in-house property advice to call on, according to Tim Watcher, chair of the RICS Greater London committee. 'There is a crying need for someone with hands-on expertise,' he says.

 This could be crucial on issues such as planning. The mayor's powers will be severely limited - partly because of lobbying by bodies like the RICS - but will still be significant in blocking major schemes and deciding on overall strategy.

 'It will be nothing like the old GLC,' says Wacher, who is well placed to judge, as he worked at the former London authority in the heyday of  Ken Livingston. 'It will not be involved in such detail. as the boroughs keep their planning powers but there is a need for property expertise in deciding how their strategies should be stitched together.'

 The property industry will be praying he is right.


London Development Partnership - set up two years ago as prepare the ground for  the London Development Agency, which comes into being on  July 3. This is the capital's version of the chain of regional development agencies around the UK and  will have a substantial proportion of business members.  It's role is to co-ordinate inward investment, raise labour skills, improve business competitiveness and lead social and physical regeneration.

London First - launched in early Nineties to fill the gap left by lack of  London-wide promotion and development body. Business led, with more than 300 company members, which provide funding supplemented by  colleges, English Partnerships and the City Corporation. Campaigned for executive mayor and road pricing, and sponsored LPA.

London First Centre  - subsidiary of London First acting as inward investment agency

London Chamber of Commerce and Industry -  long-established pressure group, mainly for smaller firms

CBI London - regional body for premiere national business pressure group

London Business Board - combined voice for the above

English Partnerships  - London office absorbed by LDA. National office retains control of major regeneration like Greenwich Peninsula.

Government Office for London - folds into LDA

London Planning Advisory Committee - folds into GLA


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