I am sure that in retrospect our individual and collective actions will all seem to have been following an expected pattern. That is of compliance and stoicism through fear and fretting to frustration and wanting to break free. Across the City businesses activities are frustratingly partially open but not quite there and largely still without many walk-in customers. The City is keeping many activities alive online and with some limited physical presence. Two physical ceremonies saw flags being raised over the Guildhall to celebrate (separately) Pride and Armed Forces. Elsewhere Hampstead Heath is a growing magnet for people whilst the arts are still anxious and premises closed. There are those always ready to make a killing in any situation. I don’t mean lawyers but the criminals who prey on the vulnerable at this time.
Online Fraudsters Steal £17m during COVID19 Lockdown
The City of London Police are the National Lead Force for Economic Crime and run the national Action Fraud reporting call centre and dissemination. Sad to say that nearly £17m has been lost to online fraud over the COVID-19 lockdown period with younger shoppers most affected, according to Action Fraud. Online scams have snared 16,352 victims with online shopping and auction fraud since bricks and mortar stores were ordered to close on March 23. That amounts to around £16.6m in losses, with the largest group of victims (24%) aged 18 to 26 and residing in cities including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol and Nottingham. A spokesperson said “Always be wary of emails, texts and social media posts that offer products for considerably less than their normal price – this is a common tactic used by criminals. Where possible, use a credit card to make online purchases as this will offer you more protection if anything goes wrong.”
Pride in the City
The rainbow flag has been raised over four City landmarks as the City of London Corporation shows its support for the LGBT+ community. The iconic banner was raised with a small ceremony at Guildhall and also flies at Tower Bridge, The Mansion House and the Central Criminal Court, as well as at some of the City Corporation’s schools and open spaces.
In recent years, City Corporation staff and elected Members have taken part in the annual Pride in London parade, but this year’s celebrations have been cancelled due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions. The Chair of the City’s Establishment Committee said “While we can’t physically come together to celebrate, flying the flag is a sign of our support for London’s LGBT+ community and our diverse City”.
Armed Forces Week
In the following week the flag of the Armed Forces was hoisted over Guildhall on 22nd June and the Lord Mayor was actually present with senior members of the Armed Forces. This was a first event of such kind to be held since lockdown. All the necessary social distancing was observed. In keeping with the new normal the event also included an online element with the Lord Mayor meeting and talking to City Reservists from the Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who celebrated Reserves Day on 24th June.
The City of London Corporation runs Hampstead Heath as part of its 11,000 acres of open spaces around London. A particular pleasure associated with the Heath is the open swimming ponds available all year round to allow swimming in fresh water. These had been closed but the City is now setting out a plan to reopen these facilities. The situation is under constant review and will reopen as soon as it is safe for visitors and staff, in consultation with Swimming Associations. Meanwhile the rest of the Heath is open and proving very popular with walkers cyclists and dogs.
Arts and culture
Sadly London’s major theatres and arts venues are in dire straits. Only so much can be performed online when, after all the thrill of the theatre, concerts, dance and opera is that they are live and you are present. Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director of the Barbican described the crisis as a triple whammy: it’s an economic crisis of devastating proportions, affecting all sectors of the arts; it’s an artistic crisis, destroying the work and earning power of individuals; and it is a philosophical crisis, causing us to question many of our ways of operating and working.
He added “We have a long history of delivering art and learning activities with schools and communities in east London and beyond, while the Culture Mile initiative brings us together with a wide network of partners large and small. It’s vital to us that the arts as a whole thrive, because the sector is a delicately balanced ecology of developing talent, creative innovation and income generation. As we look to re-opening, we will be back — but we may not be quite the same.”
Plans approved for create a New Museum for London
As Plaisterers heard at the recent Zoom event the Museum was keeping its fingers crossed to get planning permission for the new site. The City of London Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee approved the plans on 23rd June. The new Museum of London will create a new, world-class cultural destination within a series of historic buildings in West Smithfield
The project will redefine what a museum can be in the 21st century. It will tell the story of London and Londoners in new and innovative ways, and create an unmissable experience for its visitors. It holds 7 million objects and will continue to reach every school child as well as the many adults criss-crossing the location at the hub of the transport network of London. The approved plans mean a secure, sustainable future for the historic market buildings that make up the site, most of which date back to the Victorian Era and have fallen into significant disrepair. Much of the historic fabric of the buildings will be preserved to create cavernous and atmospheric spaces both above and below ground, capable of hosting a broader range of displays, exhibitions, learning activity and events.
It seems that the excitement of the new Museum site might be liable to mask the underlying issues around the Arts in general, as Nick Kenyon sets out. The City of London thrives as an international destination because of the richness of the cultural offering as well as the business cluster and liveability of the City. We would be a poorer and less dynamic place if these were not able to revive and flourish.
Things are beginning to change visibly around the City. There are a few more people on the streets, much more noisy construction work, vehicular traffic has increased and more shops are open and trading. I have lived in the City for 24 years and when I first came here the weekends were empty. It feels a bit like that now – not entirely dead but just reviving. That is clearly what the economy needs and the City Corporation and businesses are focussed on facilitating a safe working environment.
Black Lives Matter
The public killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis was abhorrent and the repercussions across the world have been felt in the City as well. The City of London Corporation issued a statement which included the words “The City of London Corporation is committed to equality, inclusivity and diversity and we stand in solidarity with BAME colleagues and communities. We understand it is not enough to say we are against racism but we have to work to eradicate all forms of racism in all that we do.” Many City businesses have made public statements and committed to action to eradicate racism, prejudice and inequality. This is clearly an important issue that must shape the working practices of the City and all communities. The City Corporation has set up a group to review in the widest terms what further action can be taken to tackle racism. Some focus has been on the visible signs of historic inequality and profit from the slave trade. Outside the Museum of London Docklands the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was removed peaceably with the full support of the Museum and Tower Hamlets.
The City prepares
Work on the streets has started to introduce wider pavements and extra cycling road space with many barriers being erected across the City. Businesses are preparing with markings delineating 2 metre spaces as well testing for those arriving at work. Whilst some businesses have started a slow return, the opening of shops from 15th June with be a big signal. Alongside these indicators the Mansion House has taken the opportunity to mark the work of the frontline workers and placed a rainbow wreath on the front door.
Plans afoot for the new combined wholesale City markets
Notwithstanding pressing issues around the pandemic longer term planning continues. On 3rd June the City of London Corporation submitted a landmark planning application to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham which will create a new home for Billingsgate, New Spitalfields and Smithfield markets at Dagenham Dock (the former Barking Reach Power Station).
The move will create the country’s largest wholesale food destination across 42 acres of industrial land – forming a new 21st century food centre for London, the South East and the UK. Not only will the move to Dagenham Dock secure the future of the three historic markets, it will also provide an economic boost to Barking and Dagenham, by reviving an abandoned industrial site – bringing new jobs and businesses to the area.
Relocating the market to Dagenham Dock will bring a number of environmental benefits too, with the potential to use the nearby rail network and River Thames to transfer goods and produce. This pioneering approach to food logistics will help to alleviate pressure on the A13 road.
The designs, which have been developed by architects Chetwoods, also present an opportunity to help combat the effects of climate change. The new development will be built with sustainable materials and using the latest environmental technology. As well as providing market tenants with new modern facilities to help protect their futures and grow, the plans will deliver a new food school, which will aim to train tomorrow’s market traders, butchers, fishmongers and fruiterers.
If consent is granted, the City Corporation will be required to submit a series of detailed planning applications, with the target of opening the new markets by 2025/2026.
Will you take the test?
The Lord Mayor joined others re-entering the workplace at Legal and General who started the day an immediate test for Covid19. This was set up by a charitable foundation, Covid Crisis Rescue (CCR), who want to test people in order to minimise the risk of a second wave of the disease.
City Police get new recruit
The City of London Police have been in the news quite a bit recently. Whilst face to face crime had dropped at the start of the lockdown, cybercrime and online fraud particularly Covid related have been frequently in the news with warnings not to be taken in by fake websites selling masks and gloves or risking your savings. More recently the City Police’s work with the Metropolitan Police has come into the news. The two forces with British Transport Police work collaboratively under a policing arrangement called Operation Benbow. This has meant our City cops are on the front line of the protests in Westminster, Whitehall and Parliament Square. Their latest recruit, who was impressed with this commitment is Penny Lancaster who is joining the ranks of the City of London Special Constabulary. Many will recognise her from celebrity magazines and reports as the wife of Sir Rod Stewart. As one wag said that’s sorted out the band for the Police Christmas bash. The City of London Police have nearly 100 special officers who give their time voluntarily and many bring exceptional skills much needed and used by the Force. For example some have played an important role in helping the Police to unpick tortuous financial frauds using their work experience as bankers, or others have helped in the areas of professional standards bringing some private commercial skills to the world of policing.
The lockdown is beginning to loosen but it is still not clear what that means to each of us. Yesterday walking around the City I saw people inside several independent coffee and sandwich shops clearly tidying up and cleaning and, in most cases, putting up barriers or marking out 2 metre lines on the pavement ready to reopen. Pret has already opened many of its outlets to catch the trade from 8 – 2.30. The Lord Mayor popped back to Mansion House and many businesses are investigating with their staff what travel plans and partial occupation might mean for each of them. We are all so used to staying at home, venturing out seems a bit too scary.
Court of Common Council meeting online
Following my description of meetings online in my last post, it was on 21 May that the City held its main meeting, the Court of Common Council, online and streamed live on YouTube. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss to appear and so I used the chance to ask a formal question about the use of e-scooters in the City, One of my business voters was keen to encourage them as an additional method of travel that will ease public transport. Their use is currently illegal in any public setting. The Chair of Planning and Transportation answered that they were being piloted by the Department for Transport ahead of a public consultation and the City was reviewing the position at the next Planning Committee. I was glad to raise the point but am conscious that any introduction must be balanced with health and safety considerations and space for their proper use. Watch this space.
The City continues to rise
One of our sister Livery Companies, the Clothworkers, has just been granted planning permission for a new development on their current site at Dunster Court near Fenchurch St Station. A 35-storey tower will be built at 50 Fenchurch Street, nestling with the other Square Mile tall buildings. Boasting green credentials it will have a large green façade with metal planters providing support for climbing plants on the tower’s south, north and east elevations. The good news is that the roof garden on the 10th floor will have public access. Those familiar with the site will know of the listed crypt and tower that will be incorporated into the new build. The Livery Hall will also be rebuilt with extensive offices and shops surrounding it. The scheme was designed by Liveryman Architect Eric Parry.
Your property interest might be more piqued by house prices and market conditions. At a webinar held by the New London Architecture the mood was certain that the London Market shows signs of lift off. As the Government’s changes allowed house moves to take place and the residential market to start operating then the agents reported renewed interest. Knight Frank’s Stuart Baillie said in the Zoom session that hundreds of his colleagues had been returning to their High Street estate agencies and reported that things are ‘picking up again’, with ‘pent-up demand’ in both leasing and house buying coming from people who have been ‘perhaps stuck in accommodation that they have been looking to move on from, or to release capital for other things’. ‘That’s been really positive for our business, he told the group.
Tu-be or not Tu-be?
Travelling back into the City will be a big issue for everyone – worker, resident or tourist. Tube trains and buses have been running on a skeleton timetable but this is now changing with a return to near normal service but also with exhortations to keep your distance. TfL are issuing warnings about the busiest stations and the busy times – both to be avoided if possible. TfL have suffered significant losses and a recent bail out of £1.6 billion from the Government (by way of a loan) means a change in some of the payment arrangements. The fares freeze that Mayor Sadiq Khan came to power promising is likely to end with rises in January 2021, children under 18 cannot now travel free and freedom pass holders (save those with disabilities) will not be allowed free travel at peak times (the fact that most freedom passes are for older people means that they will be discouraged from travelling on the busier rush hour trains when there is the most risk of infection). As to the roads, the congestion charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone charges are now reinstated – both to start recouping funds but also as the number of vehicles is now slowly increasing,
Cognisant of the fact that the number of pedestrians and cyclists will increase with people minimising their time on public transport, the City is instituting changes to several roads to accommodate this likelihood. These had been trailed in my note earlier this month. These proposed changes have now been agreed and the physical works are starting to take shape across the City. Those of you travelling in the rush hours will know how crowded the pavements are, especially around the mainline stations, and many people find that they are pushed into the road in order to keep forward momentum. The City’s response is to make several roads one way only, allowing the rest of the carriageway to be used by pedestrians and cyclists (properly demarcated). This includes Cannon St, Cheapside, Old Jewry, Threadneedle Street etc. These roads are not immediately adjacent to Plaisterers’ Hall but may impact if you are planning to travel in by car in the future. Buses will be rerouted as needed along these particular streets. These are temporary measures until the pattern of travel has settled down.
What to do with waste?
Refuse collectors are probably one of those professions that we have come to admire more now that we see our dependency on so many aspects of our daily life. However there is still a band of unscrupulous fly-tippers who have taken advantage of the lockdown to dump rubbish. Not only is that a criminal offence but many have chosen the City owned and run beauty spot of Epping Forest as the dump.
Between January and April this year people abandoned 192 piles of unsightly rubbish in Epping Forest - up from 126 fly-tips for the same time last year. Most of the rubbish has been left on the roadside and the clear up team said they saw the biggest increases in furniture, general household items and garden waste. In good times even the City of London has had to spend a staggering £320,000 to get rid of waste at the historic woodland, which it could better use to care for wildlife instead. Fines do not deter and so more drastic powers have been given to the park wardens and it has been reported that they crushed a transit van which was involved in fly tipping three tonnes of waste in Epping Forest. Once the usual tips reopen this unsightly crime should stop or at least return to pre-Covid levels.
P.S. The other question on everyone’s lips is what will the “new normal” look like? Will public transport cope and will everyone feel confident to use it? How will the small coffee and sandwich shops break even if there are reduced numbers in the City who might want to minimise the time they spend out of the office once they have arrived ( perhaps now better used to preparing their own lunch every day?) Anyway, there will not be time to queue up for a Pret cappuccino if only 6 people are allowed in the shop at any one time. Let’s all take care but also take courage and plan a return to the lifestyle that gives us pleasure and purpose and that includes being a Plaisterer.