London Prepares to Elect

26 April 2018

For those of us involved in planning, property and communications, 3rd May will register as a pivotal day in the political calendar.

At the last local elections in 2014, national turnout was a dismal 35.7%, with London not fairing much better at 38.2%. Council elections have provided voters with a chance to offer a mid-term referendum on the government of the day. This is not dissimilar to the approach many have taken in the past to European Parliament elections.

This year, however, heightened focus has been placed on polling which suggests the Conservatives are due to lose prized London Boroughs to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst political war is being waged nationally, the most compelling campaign battles have taken place in London. Many are predicting Labour gains in Barnet and Tower Hamlets, and further Conservative losses to the Liberal Democrats in Kingston and Richmond. Wandsworth, perhaps the most high-profile Labour target, would represent a major scalp for the Party. In the 1980s the Borough pioneered Thatcherite policies such as outsourcing and lowering tax. Testament to their ambition, Labour heavyweights Ed Miliband and Owen Jones have weighed in to campaign for the local Party in recent weeks.

But what is the source of these Conservative woes? Could it be anti-Brexit sentiment, which runs deep in London, given the city turned out overwhelmingly for Remain? Could it be demographic shifts? London boasts an ethnically diverse population, not a traditionally Conservative base.

Instead, housing sits at the top of the electorate’s issues. Lord Ashcroft’s analysis shows housing as the biggest issue for under-49s, and that should come as little surprise.

As interest in this year’s elections has gathered with increasing momentum (terrible pun intended), stakeholders and shareholders are wisely asking questions about the impact of a potential swing at the ballot box. With all 32 of the capital’s boroughs going to the polls, developers and planners ought to be aware of the implications a change of administration at town halls can have on on-going projects.

Whilst all committees typically undergo a reshuffle in May, a change of hands between political parties is often accompanied by a halt on all current projects. In March, Councillor Simon Hogg, Labour’s Leader in Wandsworth, met with developers in the City to discuss what could be expected from a change of administration. Amongst a range of policy announcements, Councillor Hogg underlined his desire to strictly enforce conditionalities, requiring schemes that take place on public land to provide up to 50% affordable housing. This example provides a reminder for developers across the country that political insight is key to managing projects.

Of course, nothing is set in stone, and we should refrain from banking on predictions made by pollsters and commentators coming to fruition. However, minimising political risk and monitoring community sentiment are vital components of the planning and development process. 

Communications Potential provides clients with bespoke stakeholder engagement strategies, designed to minimise risk and help planning applications gain consent. Building community and political support is pivotal to the success of applications; our communications specialists offer clients a range of services to ensure the process is managed efficiently, identifying and minimising risks.