On 3rd November 2020, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, confirmed plans to relocate London’s City Hall and the seat of the Greater London Authority (GLA) from Central London to the Royal Docks. The plans, first raised last June, will see the Mayor action a break clause negotiated into the 25-year lease, signed in 2001, and will see much of GLA’s staff move from their offices near Tower Bridge to The Crystal in 2021, a building already owned by the GLA.
The move is largely in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what the Mayor has referred to as inadequate funding of local and regional government in government, leaving the GLA with a ‘£500m financial black hole’ as a result of diminished income from council tax and business rates.1 In addition to this, St Martins, the current sites Kuwaiti-owned landlord, is predicted to raise rent to £9.6m a year, with further expenses including business rates and running costs adding another £3m on top. When considering these expenses the Mayor has said that he ‘cannot justify remaining at our current expensive office’ when savings can protect frontline public services and provide investment towards London’s economic recovery.2
The move to The Crystal is expected to save £61m over five years, even when factoring in the £3.6m needed to install adequate security measures, due to the building already being owned by the authority and its ‘exemplar’ example of sustainable design, meaning it is also cheaper to run.3 It is hoped the move to East London will bring benefits to the surrounding area too and to ‘act as a catalyst for the regeneration of Royal Docks’, an area set to see 25,000 new homes and 60,000 new jobs within the next 20 years. 4 Relocation to The Crystal is also hoped to encourage the popularity of the much maligned crossed-river cable car, and is also close in proximity to a station on the Elizabeth line and Crossrail route due to open in 2022.
Whilst moving to East London will ensure savings, some have been critical of its location outside of Central London and have warned that this could result in a recline to the institution’s role. The Crystal also has a much smaller capacity than London’s present City Hall and would mean that many GLA employees would have to move to the headquarters of London Fire Brigade in Southwark.
The moving of City Hall has numerous advantages and disadvantages but Len Duval, the leader of the London Assembly’s Labour group, most succinctly puts the reason for the decision – ‘though our preference was to see the heart of London government remain in the heart of London… we recognise that COVID-19, and future budgetary pressures, have rendered that incredibly difficult’.5 Whilst moving City Hall may not be popular, in a time of financial constraints it would appear to be the prudent decision and an investment not only in London’s financial recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in London itself post-pandemic.