May: Be proud of council houses

Despite years of trying to undermine, even eliminate social housing from the housing landscape of the United Kingdom, they have finally had to accept that it has a vital role to play in providing decent housing for those in need.

I sincerely hope that this is not just a sound bite, designed to placate those who have been seeking to remind the Conservatives of their duty to work in the interests of the whole nation, not just those with the right background and connections.

It would appear that Lord Porter of Spalding’s constant pressure on the Conservative government, has finally paid dividends.

Gary Porter, Leader of South Holland District Council, has never been backwards at coming forwards as they say, when it comes to the subject of housing.  His passion for council housing and ensuring that councils are able to replace the stock lost to the ‘well meaning’ but flawed, Right to Buy process, is we’ll documented.  I also agree with his belief that councils should retain ownership of their housing stock and add to it as the needs of their local community grows.

Why councils cannot be viewed in the same way as the private sector when it comes to providing rental properties, escapes me.  It is no doubt tied to the origin of the money that built the original Council housing stock coming from central government.  Since that time, the Treasury has never missed an opportunity to remind local government that it still somehow ‘owes’ the Treasury that money.

So now, in an apparent change of heart, a new lump of money no doubt with even more strings attached, is to be made available to councils to replenish their housing stock.  However, if the government make it as difficult as they often do when providing financing, the housing is likely to take many years to become a reality.  Meanwhile, councils are just getting on with it.

Copied from Daily Telegraph Wednesday 19 September 2018

LEAD STORY

Tories break from Thatcher’s philosophy of home ownership with promise of £2bn to be spent on social housing

THERESA MAY will today signal a major shift in Conservative policy on council housing by insisting that people should feel “proud” of living in a state-funded home.

In a speech on housing policy, the Prime Minister will pledge to spend an extra £2 billion on social housing and will say that politicians and society should stop “looking down” on those who live in council homes.

Since Margaret Thatcher’s revolutionary right-to-buy housing policy of the Eighties, a central tenet of Conservative policy has been encouraging home ownership and appealing to the working classes who aspired to buy their council-owned properties.

However, in the wake of the financial crisis, which led to a drop in home ownership, the Prime Minister will today seek to change the language used by senior Tories about council homes.

“For many people, a certain stigma still clings to social housing,” she will say. “Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

“And on the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home.

“We should never see social housing as something that need simply be ‘good enough’, nor think that the people who live in it should be grateful for their safety net and expect no better.”

She added: “I want to see social housing that is so good people are proud to call it their home.” Mrs May’s remarks signal a change in tone for the Conservatives, a generation after Lady Thatcher spoke about the pride of home ownership and its benefit to inner-city estates.

However, the comments mark a risky approach, as the Conservatives have traditionally relied on the support of home owners, or those aspiring to own homes, for electoral victory.

Mrs May will make her speech hours before she travels to Salzburg for an EU summit at which she is expected to plead with European leaders to accept her vision for Brexit.

Her speech is also designed to offer a domestic agenda to poorer areas of the country that voted Leave. It is part of a policy programme, including energy price caps, that involves more intervention in markets ministers do not 
believe are functioning properly.

Downing Street insisted Mrs May was not trying to dilute Lady Thatcher’s right-to-buy legacy, and that it remained her “personal mission” to get more people on to the housing ladder. However, she believes social housing is essential in fixing the housing crisis.

Mrs May will address the National Housing Federation Summit, the trade body for housing associations, and will urge it to get on with building high-quality homes the Government has 
already agreed to fund.

She will announce an extra £2 billion in funding over the next 10 years to give housing associations “the certainty they need” to break ground on tens of thousands of affordable homes.

So far eight associations have been given a total of £600 million to build almost 15,000 affordable homes, but Mrs May wants more to follow suit.

A call for chaos on the high street

Copied from Sunday Telegraph Business section – 9th September 2018

If somebody who wants open a new business on the high street can’t afford to apply for a change of use planning application and wait UP TO 8 weeks, then that business is probably going to fail not long after opening.

Then there’s the matter of an inappropriate use opening up next to an existing business, just because that vacant unit was available and has a willing owner.  Who picks up the pieces when the two businesses clash?  The local council of course.

RETAIL

Retailers and landlords: rip up planning laws to save high street

A COALITION of retailers, landlords, councils and pubs has called for planning laws to be torn up so that abandoned shops can be turned into cafes, galleries, gyms and other businesses that could help rejuvenate Britain’s decimated high streets.

Empty units in the middle of towns and villages are often hard to let because it can be difficult and expensive to get permission to change their use. For example, a unit used as a hairdresser’s needs permission to be changed into a nail bar.

“At present, it can take about eight weeks and cost about £500,” said the British Property Federation, which represents shops’ landlords. It wants to change the rules to keep up to date with modern shopping habits, as online sales take retail business away from high streets.

This makes it crucial those selling “experiences” can move into empty units once used for retail.

The landlords’ call to chop back planning rules was joined by other groups who said the move could revitalise high streets. The proposals came in responses to an inquiry by the housing, communities and local government select committee.

“Traditional shop uses have become increasingly blurred, as coffee shops also become mini-libraries, and independent gyms house cafes. Although businesses have adapted to challenges, planning laws have not,” said the Federation of Small Businesses. “Planning conditions seek to regulate every type of floor space, from sale space to a gym floor. These strict regulations and planning conditions drastically reduce businesses flexibility and adaptability, reducing their ability to compete.”

The British Retail Consortium agreed, calling for regulators to “ease of change of use [rules].”

The Booksellers’ Association said it wants “simply less red tape”. It wants more creative use of empty space to bring shoppers back to the high street, including “use of empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts”.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), said “transforming the fortunes of high streets is eminently possible”.

“High quality visitor experiences” help as does a recognition that “far more than just ‘shopping’ is allowing some town centres and their high streets to change and thrive,” said British BIDs.

The Local Government Association said it is time to recognise “a contraction in retail floor space” may be needed to help high streets survive.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said high streets should specialise if they want to thrive. “Examples include Ludlow’s reputation as a centre for ‘slow food’, Norwich’s coordinated approach to its medieval heritage and the ‘alternative’ identity created in Stokes Croft, Bristol.”

We are being jammed, crammed into even smaller spacers and boxed into corners when we try to fight back

My only disappoitment with this comment piece, is that Tom Welsh talks more about cars, that most of us use no more than 5% of the time we own them.  Even when he refers to roads, it’s about problems fitting the moving cars on to them.

He does however get on to the auwful boxes we are forcing our young people to put their hearts and souls into and maybe even raise a family in, if then priced out of the market for larger properties.  Here’s where the roads come into play, with the narrowness of those now built in residential developments, turning pavement parking into the standard practice.

Comment piece from Sunday Telegraph 9th September 2018

Stop ramping up our daily stress by cramming us into smaller, tighter spaces

Much about modern life seems designed to provoke fury. Sinks in hotel bathrooms are too tiny to fill up even the miniature kettles they provide. Household goods are too complicated to fix without the services of an expensive expert. Now we have statistical confirmation of another failure by design that drives people mad: parking spaces are too small for today’s cars.

This is largely because cars have expanded in size. The most popular models have widened on average by 17 per cent since the late Nineties, to provide more room for passengers and to cram in all the technology that regulation and drivers demand. Roads and parking spaces haven’t widened to accommodate them, however.

Many streets have in fact become narrower to fit in bus and cycle lanes. Dents, scuffs and even bad backs from drivers angling themselves awkwardly from their vehicles are the sad consequences of too-small parking bays. Terrible drivers who feel the need to park across two do little for societal calm, either.

The broader problem is an obsession with rationing space. Britain feels overcrowded partly because the population has grown strongly, but also because the authorities are determined to squeeze as much as possible into as little room as they can, a perverse fixation on ever greater density. This leaves passengers on trains uncomfortable, new-build flats and houses barely inhabitable and much smaller than older properties, and a trip to the shops by car far more stressful than it need be. Ironically, cars are one of the few things that have changed to meet a natural demand for more comfort. Meanwhile, council car parking spaces rigorously stick to the minimum size permitted by law in order to cram more vehicles in.

Policy changes could fix all of this, of course, and release some of the fury that is built into our daily lives. Land is expensive, and should ideally become cheaper. Travel costs on rail are already high, so operators attempt to pack more into commuter trains. But they could avoid proposed measures like the outrageous scrapping of first class carriages, which enable people to escape the packed-in discomfort we are expected to put up with.

But would any of this get a fair hearing today? Politicians and regulators are wedded to three principles that conspire together against public comfort. First is an unhealthy belief in targets, which sees 200,000 homes built a year as a triumph, even if they’re just inner-city box flats and not the family houses people actually want; and which trumpets unusable bays as meeting demand for parking.

Second is a blind faith in regulations, wherein things are designed to meet regulatory criteria, rather than to satisfy consumer demand. Third is a skewed mania for equality – exacerbated by snobbery – in which those who choose to take up more room, whether by buying a family car or wanting a family home, are deemed to be offending against efficient use of space. It isn’t the owners of large cars we should be fuming against

HS2 rail line backed by only quarter of people, survey says

I’d love to say you heard it first here and now the public have final caught on, but that of course is not the case.  Once it had gone past the concept and business case stage, selling it to the minister of the day could only ever have been a vanity project and something to put a big tick in that BS project the Northern Powerhouse.

Sunday Telegraph 9th Sept 2018 POLITICS

HS2 rail line backed by only quarter of people, survey says

£56bn budget would be better spent on NHS, it is suggested

PUBLIC opposition to the Government’s £56 billion high speed rail scheme significantly outweighs support in most of the country.

An ORB survey for The Sunday Telegraph found that 38 per cent of people oppose the scheme, with only 26 per cent in favour.

If HS2 were to be scrapped, 86 per cent said the money should go to the NHS. Only in the North West, which stands to benefit from the line, did support outweigh opposition, and even then only by 2 per cent.

The findings come as the project faces various setbacks amid growing concerns about its overall cost. Last week it was reported that the legislation needed to trigger the second section of the line, to Manchester and Leeds, had been pushed back to 2020. Several ministers have privately expressed their concerns and backbenchers are to call for a full review in a Commons debate on Wednesday, led by Bill Cash, the veteran Tory MP.

Last night Cheryl Gillan MP, who campaigned against HS2, said: “Is it right that such large capital expenditure should have only a quarter of people supporting it?

“It is a deeply unpopular project that has not caught the imagination of the country in any way. I fundamentally question whether HS2 is good value for money and this suggests taxpayers may be of the same view. People want to spend money on the health service, which benefits everyone, rather than something like HS2, which will benefit only a few.”

Last week ORB polled 2,100 people on their support for HS2. Of those, 17 per cent said they were somewhat opposed to the scheme while 21 per cent said they were strongly opposed.

Only 8 per cent strongly supported HS2, with 18 per cent saying they somewhat supported it. In Wales, 12 per cent were in favour while 52 per cent were against.

Last month David Lidington, Theresa May’s de facto deputy, criticised the “early, abysmal communications” at HS2 Ltd, the government-sponsored body behind the scheme, warning “there is still some way to go before there is a real culture of being open with residents about the development of detailed plans”.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, writing in The Sunday Telegraph last month, said an extra £43 billion was needed to “make the most” of HS2 by addressing the “inadequate” transport links passengers would face at both ends of their journey.

A spokesman for HS2 said: “As Birmingham is already demonstrating, HS2 will transform and rebalance the British economy. By making it easier to travel between and within the Midlands and the North, as well as to Scotland and London, HS2 will drive re-generation. In the process HS2 will also drive the economy, providing jobs and developing new skills. Already 6,000 people are employed either directly or indirectly by HS2.”

 

Why we need to get back control of the land in this country

Copied below are two items from a recent Sunday Telegraph.  Whether, or not the proposals Edward Malnick will ever see the light of day is debateable.  However, what is of note is the angel, understandable most would say, taken by the letter writer, Stewart Baseley.

Leaping to the defence of the principle of private land ownership and the benefits that brings, especially to many of his members who of course pay his wages, he also claims that his members have done a sound job when it comes to meeting the housing needs of the nation.

Taken as the base argument, given that councils have been actively prevented from delivering any meaningful numbers of social rented housing for the last 40 years, his comments are accurate.

However, what he conveniently ignores, is that this private sector delivery drive has been all about quantity and profit at the sacrifice of quality at every opportunity.

The development industry has carried out an extremely success guerrilla campaign to reduce build standards.  No doubt via the duel processes of lobbying and event sponsoring over many years.  I don’t have any evidence to substantiate my suspicions, but why else would successive governments have continued to reduce the overall standard of housing developments in this country, to some of the poorest in Western Europe?

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/apr/08/uk-living-rooms-have-shrunk-by-a-third-survey-finds

An online image from the Daily Mail shows how quickly standards are dropping.

UK room size 2003-2013

Taking control of the land BEFORE the value is inflated by the green-eyed monster of the huge financial gains to be had from obtaining planning permission, might just help to begin to reverse the creation of the ‘rabbit hutch’ developments that has become our standard in this country.

It’s also worth pointing out that poor build quality isn’t just limited to the dwellings themselves.  The recent debate about pavement parking is even more valid these days due to the inept and mis-guided government policy on parking standards of John Prescott  when the minister for Labour in Government.

Should the UK ban parking on pavements?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44466813

https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/what-we-do/key-issues/pavement-parking?gclid=CjwKCAjwt7PcBRBbEiwAfwfVGEQO_M5W923O0GDTPL7BVycf4TWBcqlk4GWljZdL78CYlhMVYu7cDRoCt_UQAvD_BwE

These were designed to force people out of their cars and on to non-existent public transport.  WE also suffer from almost non-existent standards for road widths within housing developments.  A lack of sufficient off street parking for each dwelling, added to streets and roads that are too narrow to allow parking of vehicles on both sides and two-way safe flow between, has forced residents to use the pavement to park on instead.

Pavement parking

POLITICS

Housing adviser to May backed forced land discounting

By Edward Malnick, Whitehall Editor Sunday Telegraph – 26 August 2018

THERESA MAY’S housing adviser has backed a controversial campaign to force landowners to offer huge discounts on the price of their land, it can be revealed.

Toby Lloyd called for an overhaul of compulsory purchase laws months before his appointment to Downing Street in April. Writing on the website of Shelter, Mr Lloyd, then head of policy at the housing and homelessness charity, said the Government should be able to buy up land at “true market value”, rather than current rates, which generally include a speculative uplift based on planning permission that a site could gain for future development.

100

Onward, the think tank, says agricultural land multiplies in value by 100 once planning permission for housing is granted

“The current value of land is inflated – because its value is dictated by the wildest dreams of the landowner and enforced through legal processes … We need to reset the price of land to its true market value,” he wrote in November.

“That means reforming the compulsory purchase laws … which ultimately determine the market price of land.”

Last week a coalition of organisations, led by new think tank Onward, and including Shelter, started a formal campaign for such a move, with an open letter to James Brokenshire, the Housing Secretary. Mr Lloyd “liked” a tweet by Will Tanner, Mrs May’s former deputy head of policy and now director of Onward, canvassing support.

The open letter to Mr Brokenshire had claimed that agricultural land typically becomes at least 100 times more valuable when it is granted permission for housing to be built. The groups said more of the uplift in value should be “captured” to provide community benefits. They also called on the Government to “reform the 1961 Land Compensation Act to clarify that local authorities should be able to compulsorily purchase land at fair market value that does not include prospective planning permission”.

Today, the Home Builders Federation, warns in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph that the campaign seeks a wholesale erosion of private property rights”.

An ideological attack on private landowners

SIR – Last week, in an open letter to the Housing Secretary, campaign lobby groups put forward the case for radical reform of the land market, claiming that developers “wriggle out of commitments”.

This is a gross misrepresentation of a system which, while imperfect, provides communities with billions of pounds worth of infrastructure and affordable housing each year, as a by-product of private housing delivery. As the state has moved away from direct provision of affordable homes, private developers now deliver half of all new affordable homes, making them the largest funder of traditional social rented homes.

This new campaign seeks an entire rewriting of the system and wholesale erosion of private property rights. The creation of a far more adversarial process would deter landowners from willingly selling land, resulting in taxpayer-funded legal disputes, fewer sites coming forward and fewer new homes being delivered.

The campaigners have ignored the Government’s existing plans to increase the transparency of the negotiations which currently determine the contributions that developers make to the local community. These plans, although not without some challenges, are a more practical, pragmatic and workable approach than the radical theory advanced by this campaign.

Reflecting the gravity of the housing crisis, housing supply has increased by 74 per cent in four years, the fastest increase on record, to the kind of levels seen in the immediate postwar years. After a few years of progress in addressing decades of undersupply, we must not become complacent. Compromising the delivery of homes for families to buy because of an ideological opposition to private housebuilders and landowners would do nothing to tackle the housing crisis.

Stewart Baseley

Executive Chairman
Home Builders Federation

London SE1

Call to punish residents of the substandard housing developments government has forced them to live in

I’m almost certain, that if asked most of those residents currently ‘guilty’ of pavement parking would rather not do so and would much prefer to park their vehicles on the road.

However, successive governments have allowed the build standards of our housing developments to be waterdown so much over the years, that developers can almost get away with providing dirt tracks within new developments.  All that the highway authority seem to be concerned about these days, is that the visibility splay of any new exit road, is sufficient where it joins a main highway.

Walking, or cycling around my council ward, one of the newest developed areas of Spalding, I don’t get angry at the residents who’ve parked on pavements – unless it’s clearly unnecessary and they’re just being total pillocks.  I feel frustrated, angry and more than a little embarrassed to be part of the process that created such poor quality developments.

Given that we are a rural area, we have little or no prospect of ever seeing a comprehensive bus service provided.  As such, we councils like ours should be given the powers to plan for housing that accommodate the use of the private car.  John Prescott, when Labour’s minister at DCLG, changed planning legislation that squeezed even more cars on to the roads and inevitably, the pavements of the country.

Changing parking standards in new developments to require a maximum level, instead of a minimum level, was a gift to developers and an instant blight on every new housing development in a rural area.

 

So what we are left with, is poor quality developments where the residents are forced to pavement park, or risk damage to their sole form of transport from a passing delivery truck, van, or even car.  Staying completely on the road, could even find themselves upsetting their neighbours, because their car prevents a delivery, or a visitor from accessing the neighbours property.  Where residents do pavement park, when it happens on both sides of a residential street, or road, it likely to prevent anything but a standard car to pass, making refuse collections impossible.  Need an ambulance, or fire engine urgently? Forget it, they’ll need to walk.

Seeking to punish such people, without consideration of their situation, is not something I would wish to endorse.  Selective warnings, with enforcement as a last resort, where pedestrian safety is a real concern, is the only acceptable approach.

Charities urge curbs on pavement parking

There are calls for the rest of England to follow London, where pavement parking has been banned since 1974
There are calls for the rest of England to follow London, where pavement parking has been banned since 1974LAUREN HURLEY/PA
Share

Save

Motorists should be banned from parking on pavements to prevent pedestrians having to walk on the road, ministers have been told.

A coalition of charities is calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to fast-track legislation designed to bar drivers from mounting the kerb.

In a letter to The Times, the groups criticise the government for “stalling” over the issue and say that action is needed to stop cars on congested streets spilling over on to the pavement.

The issue is particularly pressing for parents with prams, the elderly, those with disabilities and people who are blind and partially sighted, they say.

The letter is signed by 20 charities including the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Living Streets, Age UK, British Cycling, Scope and The Ramblers. An open letter to the prime minister signed by 16,000 members of the public has also been delivered.

Almost three years ago the DfT suggested that a review of the law would be carried out as part of reforms designed to promote more cycling and walking, but it never materialised.

Today’s letter notes that it has been 1,000 days since ministers first proposed to take action. “Cars parked on the pavements force people into the road to face oncoming traffic, which is particularly dangerous for many, including blind and partially sighted people, parents with pushchairs and young children, wheelchair users and others who use mobility aids,” it says.

Xavier Brice, chief executive of Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity, said: “We strongly support a banning of pavement parking. It is particularly dangerous for those who are blind and partially sighted, other less able people and people with push chairs.”

The DfT said: “We recognise the importance of making sure that pavement parking doesn’t put pedestrians at risk, and believe councils are best placed to make decisions about local restrictions.

“Councils already have the powers to ban drivers from parking on pavements and we are considering whether more can be done to make it easier for them to tackle problem areas. It is important to get this right for all pavement users.”

Another victim of incendiary devices sold on the high street

Copied for Sunday Telegraph online 8 July 2018

ANIMAL CRUELTY

New calls for ban after stray Chinese lantern sets horse alight

AN MP, farmers and the RSPCA have issued warnings over Chinese lanterns after a horse was set on fire and lost part of its tail.

Bastante, a seven-year-old point-to-point racehorse, was also left with a foot-long gaping wound on its leg after it bolted through a wire fence in shock after being hit by a lit lantern.

Sarah Sladen, Bastante’s owner, said it was disgusting that the lanterns were still allowed and called for a ban. “These things should be outlawed, it is as simple as that,” she said.

“The biggest problem is for the animals, because, if it falls into grass, [the lantern is] wire. Grass gets made into hay. You then end up with animals injured through eating the wire that gets into the bales of hay. It’s all of that. They should be got rid of, end of.”

The horse was seen by a vet, and is recovering.

Many have argued that the lanterns endanger wildlife, as they can cause fires, especially during hot weather.

Ruth George, MP for High Peak, had called for a lantern festival happening near her constituency in the Peak District to be cancelled over fire fears.

The event, which has since been called off, was to be held at Buxton Raceway, Derbys, on July 28, with thousands of lit lanterns to be sent into the sky over the Peak District, which has already been subject to fire warnings because of the dry conditions.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said: “We welcome the decision by Buxton Raceway to cancel the Manchester/Birmingham Lights Fest at Buxton on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park, which would have put our valuable landscapes, wildlife and farming livelihoods at risk… I share the public’s frustration that the organisers did not consider the impacts of sky lanterns before planning this event so close to the UK’s first National Park, and not least in light of recent wild fire incidents.”

Mike Thomas, a spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union, said: “There is plenty of evidence that shows they can harm animals. We continue to campaign for an outright ban.”

Dr Mark Kennedy, equine specialist at the RSPCA, described the incident with Bastante as “very distressing”. He said horses can be burned by lanterns, and “further injury can be caused as they panic and attempt to escape.” He added: “Even stabled horses are at risk from these devices; the consequence of a burning lantern drifting into a stable or barn full of highly combustible straw and hay are obvious and horrifying.”