Laudable, but I don’t believe there’s the political will to deliver such schemes now – whatever the Party in power

Copied from Comment inews.co.uk – Weds 31 July

George Clarke: We don’t just need more council houses – we need the very best in space and ecological standards

We are building noddy box estates with hardly any green space and no public amenities. It isn’t good enough

The housing system can't be just a numbers game., says George Clarke. Surely it is about ‘what’ we build rather than ‘how many’ we build (Channel 4)

I was brought up on a council estate, but it wasn’t just any old council estate. It was part of one of the most ambitious and innovative housing developments in the country. My estate was in Washington, a place between Sunderland and Newcastle that was given new town status in 1964. Some of the best architects, urban designers, planners, landscape architects and highway and infrastructure engineers came together to build an entire town that would completely transform my life. It was and still is a fantastic place to live.

My Mam’s council house, which she still lives in today, was designed to excellent space standards with a decent sized front and back garden. It sat around a pedestrianised square that was safe for us all to play in. I could walk to school without having to cross a road. The landscaping was amazing. Large green spaces became our fields of dreams where we played football for hours until the sun went down.

‘We had brand new shops, pubs, community centres, health centres, schools, sports facilities, a thriving shopping centre, youth clubs, industrial estates, factories, workshops, art centres, the lot’

There was an incredible mix of house types. Two-storey four-bedroom houses like ours for young families, three-storey six-bedroom houses for extended families, maisonettes and thousands of single-storey bungalows for those who wanted or needed to live on one level. My estate was a fantastic community that didn’t just happen by chance – it was designed from the outset to be a community.

It wasn’t just about great housing and wonderful green spaces. We had every public amenity a community needed. We had brand new shops, pubs, community centres, health centres, schools, sports facilities, a thriving shopping centre, youth clubs, industrial estates, factories, workshops, art centres, the lot. We hardly left our new town because we didn’t have to. We had absolutely everything we needed, designed in the most humane and caring way. Most importantly, our homes were truly affordable. Families worked and paid their affordable rent to the council. If you paid your rent you had a safe, secure and stable home for life and housing waiting lists were short.

Look where we are now.  After two-thirds of all council housing had been sold off under Right to Buy or handed over to housing associations, only two million are now left under council control from a high of more than six million in 1980. More than one million people are on social housing waiting lists. More than 100,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. The huge demand and massive lack of supply means property prices are the highest they have ever been. Long gone are the days when most of the population could buy a home for 3.5 times an average income. We are in the biggest affordability and housing crisis the country has ever seen and every year it is getting worse.

What we are building often isn’t good enough; noddy box estates with hardly any green space and certainly no public amenities. The Government has completely failed in its responsibility to provide good quality, affordable housing for its people.

In 2017, Theresa May admitted the housing market is “broken”. This broken system is destroying the lives of so many people. Homelessness is rife. As an ambassador for the housing charity Shelter and being close to the housing industry since becoming an architectural apprentice at 16, I’ve seen far too many families being affected by stress, severe depression, anxiety, poor health and even suicide because they don’t have a stable home.

This has to change. Not everyone wants to ‘own’ their home. Millions will never afford to buy their own home anyway. The state needs to build homes for affordable rent for its people again. Homes should be for people and not profit.

Read more

9m² flats, microhomes sold under Help to Buy: how office-to-flat conversions created the rise of ‘rabbit-hutch’ homes

The housing system can’t be just a numbers game. Surely it is about ‘what’ we build rather than ‘how many’ we build. That cultural change needs to happen from 31 July 2019, the 100th Anniversary of the Addison Act, when I launch my campaign to build 100,000 high-quality, low carbon council houses every year for the next 30 years to replace all of the state housing that has been lost.

Twenty first century homes require the very best in space and ecological standards. Why? Because without a stable roof over your head, everything else in life becomes so much harder, and everyone deserves a home.

George Clarke’s Council House Scandal starts on 31 July at 9pm on Channel 4 

Is Right to Buy a state sponsored gentrification programme?

It’s probably a bit late to ask this question, given that this scheme has been in place for 30 years now.

That said, the proof must already be there, especially in London where working class areas, that were a foreign land for those with means, are now fashionable and sort after locations for the young professionals, earning big money.

Exposing social housing to the open market , in high demand areas, where demand is the through roof and prices constantly rising, inevitably means the original tenant, very soon becomes the ex-owner.

It might seem like a a very worthy ambition, giving everybody currently sitting at the bottom of the pile and trapped in social housing – as certain people view it – a chance to own their own home.  However, assuming that hat  was even the original intention and it wasn’t just about killing off the bulk of social housing as we knew it, it’s also had the effect of depopulating our city centre of those of modest means, otherwise known as the working classes.

So all those people who used to empty the bins, sweep the streets, dig up the roads, drive the delivery van, serve in the local shops and do the thousand and one other menial, but vital jobs that keep a city running, now live a journey away from their workplace.

in some cases that journey may mean up to an hour spent on a bus, or train, travelling in from a remote housing estate where everybody else is doing exactly the same thing.  The effect of this, is that nobody actually knows who their neighbours are anymore and therefore certainly little, or no sense of community, because there’s so little actual time spent in the company of those who live near us.

Back in what used to be the social housing areas that haven’t been flattened and turned into expensive apartment blocks for the upwardly mobile, the housing has been gutted, extended and beautified, to make it desirable and more importantly, significantly more expensive than it was.  Again, just like the workers they displaced, the lack of community will be clear, but this will be by choice in most cases, because their social lives take them elsewhere and opportunities more diverse.

Job done.  All those rundown, poorly maintained sink estates cleared out from our city centres And that ‘unpleasant’ working class riff raff removed to where it belongs, when it not actually doing the work that needs doing.

The added bonus is, those who grabbed the social housing as soon as the first tenants where starting to sell, can now maximise their returns, over and over again, by renting to the high earners who need to live close to the city centres.

If Right to Buy was really about getting those of modest means on to the housing ladder, it was a fatally flawed concept.  It depopulated our cities of the ordinary working class people, by selling off the only type of housing they could ever have afforded to live in.  If that was always the intention, shame on you Margret Thatcher.

The Housing should have been retained and those who wanted to buy their own property should have offered equivalent grant funding to purchase their own home elsewhere.  This could have been in a privately built, or publically funding housing developement, such as in the new towns.

It was claimed that this would have forced people to move out of houses, or places they’d been in for many years and possibly spent money on.  This is complete nonsense and just a smoke screen used by government to justify to the orignal scheme.

Why should social housing tenants have been given that benefit on top of the massive discounts they received for the ‘equity’ they’d supposedly built up?  How was they were any more entitle than somebody forced to rent a property in the private sector, where the end of lease meant the most you were likely to get back was your deposit if you were lucky?

 

 

 

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.”

A salutary lesson for any landowner tempted to turn blind eye to tenant’s activites

Landowners’ liability for occupiers’ abandoned waste

Angus Evers
Joanne Sear
United Kingdom May 25 2018

An unsuccessful appeal by a landowner against a conviction for knowingly permitting an unauthorised waste operation on its land has highlighted the risks to landowners of incurring criminal liability if former occupiers abandon waste on their land.

The High Court has recently clarified the circumstances in which landowners can face criminal liability for waste abandoned on their land by former occupiers. Commercial landlords need to be aware of the risks and consider how they might be minimised, because the judgment imposes virtually strict liability on landowners in circumstances where occupiers cease trading and abandon waste on their land.

Background

Salhouse Norwich Ltd owned a site in Norwich, which it leased to a mattress recycling business. The business did not have an environmental permit or a waste exemption. In August 2015, the Environment Agency served an enforcement notice on the tenant, requiring it to remove the mattresses. The tenant didn’t comply, and ceased trading, abandoning over 20,000 mattresses (weighing 471 tonnes).

The mattresses remained on the site after the tenant ceased trading. Salhouse Norwich proposed a remedial plan to attempt to clear the site, but the Environment Agency rejected it and charged Salhouse Norwich with the offence of knowingly permitting the storage of waste without an environmental permit. One of Salhouse Norwich’s directors was also charged in a personal capacity, because the company was said to have acted with his consent or connivance, or the offence was attributable to his neglect.

Both Salhouse Norwich and the director were convicted in the Magistrates’ Court, receiving a fine and 150 hours of unpaid community work respectively. They both appealed.

The appeal

On appeal, the High Court upheld the convictions and found that Salhouse Norwich and the director were guilty because:

  • the continued presence of the mattresses on the land after the tenant abandoned them amounted to a waste storage operation; and
  • they had known that the mattresses were present on the land, but had failed to ensure their removal.

All the Environment Agency therefore needed to prove was that Salhouse Norwich and the director knew that the mattresses were present on the land and had done nothing to prevent them being there. There was no need to prove any positive act by them.

What does the case mean for landowners?

The judgment is a harsh outcome for landowners, as it seems to require them to take positive action to clean up their land if former occupiers abandon waste on it. Once they are aware of the presence of a former occupier’s waste on their land, they are guilty of knowingly permitting an illegal waste storage operation if they do nothing to remove it.

In addition to or instead of prosecuting for carrying out illegal waste operations without a permit, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities have powers to serve notices on landowners requiring the removal of waste when it has been illegally deposited or illegally stored on land. Failing to comply with such a notice is also an offence. As highlighted in our March 2018 update ‘Imminent changes to waste rules – it’s not all rubbish‘, these powers have recently been extended significantly, and the position now is that a landowner can also be served with a notice requiring it to remove waste when the waste was deposited with legal authority but where that authority has expired, when the occupier cannot be found, or when the occupier was served with a notice but didn’t comply with it. Landowners can also be charged landfill tax if they knowingly permit the illegal deposit of waste on their land.

Our experience is that, where possible and practicable, regulators will pursue occupiers in preference to landowners. However, regulators will look to landowners to make up the shortfall where an occupier has disappeared or become insolvent.

Before allowing a third party such as a tenant or licensee to occupy its land, a landowner should carefully consider the nature of the occupier’s business and whether it involves waste. If it does, the landowner should ask:

  • Are the necessary environmental permits and planning permissions in place for the occupier’s proposed use of the land?;
  • Is the occupier’s business established and reputable?;
  • Is the occupier’s business financially solvent?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the risk of the occupier disappearing and abandoning waste is reduced. Prevention in these circumstances in better than a cure.

Stone and Salhouse Norwich Ltd v Environment Agency [2018] EWHC 994 (Admin)

Are we ready to scrap democracy when it comes to local services and just pay as you go?

Interesting comment piece lifted from today’s Times (thank you).  It only discusses refuse collections, but should it be applied to every service we receive?  If the public just paid the going rate for the services they receive, with the private sector running things for profit, there would be no need for any political involvement.

Just as you now complain to ‘the company’ when the service isn’t up to scratch, you would then complain to the organisation that runs the refuse collection service, or whatever other service it is.  What response you get, is of course another matter.  After all, the person on the other end of the phone is in a ‘job’, not elected to a seat you can either vote to keep them in, or not.

However, the bigger problem for me with this proposal, is the same as happens whenever you outsource any public facing service – loss of flexibility and control.  Once the private sector get their hands on the contract,mother customer can so easily become the lamb to slaughter when it comes to changing circumstances.  Anything that’s not in the contract comes with a price tag.  There’s nothings wrong with that in itself, after all they are running a business not a charity.

So as long as the public understand that’s how things work and there’s very little politicians can do about it without increasing the budget for the contract, it’s fine.  Unfortunately, the public seldom do and the politicians are therefore get the flak.  The alternative of course, is that the contract ends up being more costly than it needed to be, just to build in the contingency funds needed to cover for the unknown and offer the desired flexibility.  What follows of course is the potential for the contractor to exploit that flexibility whenever the opportunity arises, more often than not to their own ends.

I take particular issue with one of the commentators suggestion.  That having taken away the ability to provide the service to a standard that is universal and consistent for the local community, the council’s role would then become that of enforcer against those who refused to conform to the new arrangement and in fact chose to save money by not disposing of their rubbish often enough.

If nothing else, two things are clear. This gentleman has never been a councillor, he’s a business man first and first foremost with little, or no understanding of the public service ethic.

Dump the idea of council-controlled bin collection, it’s time to privatise

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Pundits and politicians have been seeking to interpret the results of last week’s local elections. This has increasingly involved contorted meta-analyses whereby the challenge is not so much to look at the electoral outcomes themselves, but to compare the tallies with the degree of optimism or pessimism expressed by each party before polling day.

“Expectations management” has therefore become a necessary tool in the armoury of every spin doctor. If your party’s result is mediocre, but you persuaded people it would be pathetic, this is notched up as an electoral triumph. The consequence is that no one seems to agree objectively on who did well and who did badly or what Thursday’s poll means for the national political picture.

In one area, however, there has been an unbreakable consensus. The central explanatory force for many of the results was, apparently, the quality of local refuse collection. “Bin collection is fundamental,” Tom Brake, a Lib Dem MP, asserted in a television interview to knowing nods from his fellow panellists. “This was about bins not Brexit,” insisted Anna Soubry, a Tory MP, without challenge from the BBC’s interviewer. If the English electorate really did cast their ballots in an attempt to optimise the efficiency of the emptying of dustbins, they have acted in a rational, albeit rather narrow, fashion. Our local councils do not have any direct influence on whether we stay in a customs union with the EU, but they are responsible for picking up our rubbish.

What we should be asking is whether we really need refuse collection to continue to be a competence of municipal government at all or whether we can rely on the open market providing a better service. We don’t troop down to a church or school hall every four years to vote on how our council should provide us with an electricity supply or a telephone connection, so why should we entrust them with picking up our bins?

Perhaps this core responsibility of local government has been with us so long that we have become inured against questioning it. The Public Health Act 1875 first made it a legal obligation for councils to empty bins. In 1936, this statutory duty was strengthened to insist collections must be weekly. That specific requirement was relaxed in 1974 and the frequency with which our bins are emptied has continued to be a highly charged campaigning issue. Latest figures show that about 1 million households, and over 2.5 million residents, are forced to accept rubbish collections only every three or four weeks. The proportion of homes receiving weekly collections has fallen by more than a third since the turn of the decade. Many will point to the squeeze on local government financing, but surely improved technologies should be enabling councils to achieve more with less?

On the face of it, there are some credible reasons for refuse collection to be run by the public sector. First, it has the standard features of a natural monopoly. If a dumpster is travelling around a particular district anyway, then the associated costs of picking up all of the rubbish, rather than just from a proportion of residences, is fairly minimal. Second, there are obvious negative externality effects in play. Typically, I don’t much care how my neighbours arrange their household budgets, but if they do start to save money by allowing stinking refuse to pile up in their front garden, then my quality of life is impacted. The key question is whether new technologies and more imaginative public policy can overcome these inbuilt problems and allow a competitive market to solve the problem of collecting and disposing of household waste. The evidence is that they can.

About ten years ago, before the explosion of the gig economy, a research report by the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute concluded that moving to a privatised “pay as you throw” approach would have widespread benefits. Rather than relying on their council tax to pay for local government bin collections, households would pay privately in broad proportion to the waste they generate and the frequency with which it is collected. The report concluded that the impact on incentives would lead to an increase in recycling by 50 per cent, a reduction in the need for landfill of about 16 per cent, a cut in carbon emissions of millions of tonnes a year and a reduction in average bills. With the enhanced ability to transmit and collect data that we now have in 2018, these improvements would be likely to be even greater today.

New technologies could also help overcome fears that some people might be tempted to save money by fly tipping or allowing enormous amounts of refuse to build up before arranging a collection. Households could be charged with a specific minimal legal duty akin to the requirement for drivers to have basic motor insurance. It would be far easier to spot which homes had gone for many weeks without their rubbish being picked up than it would have been a decade or two ago. Councils might still be charged with carrying out appropriate enforcement processes, but this doesn’t mean they should be in control of the practicalities of collecting waste.

In a world in which we can book a taxi or order a takeaway meal and expect delivery within a matter of minutes, we can surely find a way to unleash the forces of the market to find cheaper and smarter ways to handle waste collection and disposal.

Politicians of all stripes have been insisting that a key driver of last Thursday’s vote was the electorate’s approach to “bread and butter issues”. The catchphrase is, of course, a misnomer. Fortunately, our bread and butter are provided through market mechanisms and not by local government bureaucracies. In a more rational world, we would be treating bin collections in the same way.

Mark Littlewood is director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Twitter: @MarkJLittlewood

At last, somebody puts in print my own thoughts exactly

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 31 Dec 2017

Let those filling up drunk tanks pick up the tab by Daniel Hannan

Shakespeare, and most likely Falstaff – played above by Sir Antony Sher – would recognise modern-day attitudes to public drinking CREDIT: ROBBIE JACK/CORBIS
The announcement that “drunk tanks” may be rolled out across the UK has prompted amused headlines around the world. I’m afraid we have something of a global reputation when it comes to alcohol abuse. “This heavy-headed revel east and west makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations,” as the poet says. “They clepe us drunkards”.
In our own day, as in Shakespeare’s, we display an unusual attitude to inebriation. In most countries, being drunk in public is disgraceful. The notion that young Brits boast about how hammered they got the night before is met with incredulity in much of Europe.
But here’s the thing. Contrary to the impression you’d get from this week’s headlines – or, indeed, any headlines over the past decade – boozing is becoming less of a problem in the UK. Take any measure you like – binge drinking, overall consumption, alcohol-related crimes. All are in decline.
Why? Partly because, in November 2005, we ended the rule that forced pubs to stop serving at 11pm. It was controversial at the time. The tabloids prophesied societal collapse. The Daily Mail warned against “unbridled hedonism, with all the ghastly consequences that will follow.” The Sun foresaw a “swarm of drunken youngsters.” The Royal College of Physicians predicted “more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
In the event, the opposite happened. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year- olds sank from 29 to 18 per cent. Overall alcohol sales declined by 17 per cent. Alcohol-related hospital admissions fell sharply. It turned out that forcing drinkers to beat the bell, racing to get a final pint in at last orders, was not a sensible way to discourage consumption. Giving people more responsibility, on the other hand, encouraged them to behave more responsibly.
I suspect the creation of innumerable virtual universes over the past decade has also played its part. Although parents complain about how much time their children spend on screens, that is time that previous generations often spent on more directly harmful addictions. The rise of online gaming and social media has probably also played a part in the reduction of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – two other developments that bear little relation to popular worries.
The increased use of police facilities or dedicated buses as places where drunks can dry out should be seen for what it is. Not as a response to some new epidemic of crapulous misbehaviour, but as a sensible way of ensuring that A & E facilities are there for the genuinely ill and injured. Being drunk, after all, is not a disease, but a consequence of choices. It is quite wrong to load the cost onto the taxpayer. The people filling the drunk tanks should be presented with the bill for their stay after they sober up.
The Englishman may, as Shakespeare put it, drink with facility the Dane dead drunk, and sweat not to overthrow the Almain. The least he can do is pick up his tab.