What goes around, comes around – again

The government’s continued interference and rewriting of the planning system, includes the rebranding of processes ministers had previously condemended as being too top down and even undemocratic.

To be fair, they are putting their own twist on this particular regurgitation of one of the most contentious pieces of the regional spatial strategy process that Eric Pickles made such a hash of scrapping, by calling it a ‘methodology’.

The end result of course will be the same.  The methodology is intended to circumvent long standing localised political resistance to increased housing development, by requiring those producing Local Plans, to use a process that always ends up with a plus figure.

Objectively assessed housing need is the way that’s supposed to be the way it’s done under the current system.  However, the ingenuity and cunning of local politicians, experiencing massive pressure from a vociferous and highly motivated NIMBY minded electorate, has found ways around this.

Inevitably, the draft Local Plan is then either found unsound at the Examination in Public, or as is more likely, land owners and developers simply submit applications on spec, using a lack of a 5 year housing land supply, as well as everything else in their tool box, to override local intransigence.

A subservient planning committee makes sure the politics holds sway, ignoring the hard work of their planning officers and effectively claiming black is white when it comes to their own council’s planning policies.

The inevitable overturn of the unjustified refusal, is swiftly followed by  appellant’s claim that, as well as being unjustified, it’s unreasonable.  This then opens the door to a successful costs claim, costing local taxpayers tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.

So clearly something needed to be done, but was it a one size fits all approach that catches the good, the bad and ugly all at the same time?  Or, with a bit more thought, focus and dare I suggest subtlety?

Could the government not have found a way of dealing with the inherent politicisation of the planning system in certain councils, through performance analysis and forthright challenge – name and shame league tables would have been a good place to start.

Now what what we are likely to see, is a national methodology that can be manipulated by the government of the day, using one of those algorithms they love to use every time they want to stitch up the opposition via the revenue support grant system.

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Consultation on assessing local housing need delayed
The Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed the consultation on assessing local housing need has been delayed until Parliament returns in September.

Speaking at the Local Government Association (LGA) conference early in July, communities secretary Sajid Javid said the government would launch a consultation on a new way for councils to assess their local housing requirements that month.

This was first announced in the housing white paper in February.

Now, a spokesperson at the DCLG has confirmed that the department “intends to publish the local housing need consultation when Parliament returns in September”.

Richard Blyth, head of policy at the RTPI, told The Planner the standardised methodology “must be introduced so as not to cause a hiatus in local plan production”.

Andrew Gale, chief operating officer, Iceni Projects, said: “While the introduction of a new simplified methodology for assessing housing requirements has been widely supported by many in the industry, the government has clearly concluded that efforts to force councils to increase the number of homes in their local plans is too much of a political hot-potato.”

2 August 2017
Laura Edgar, The Planner

Narrow roads squeezing buses out of new estates

Unfortunately, Stagecoach have chosen the wrong target when trying to find somebody or something to blame for this problem.  It’s not the planning rules, it’s the lack of them.  The drive for deregulation across many areas of government, has seen minimum road widths disappear and developers allowed to get away with doing the absolute minimum.  The only rules that seems to apply these days are those about visibility splays, to ensure that views are sufficient for a driver to pull out into traffic safely.

once again the politicians have allowed the developers to hold sway over common sense and good planning, creating blighted estates for generations to come.

Copied from The Times online

Narrow roads squeezing buses out of new estates
Graeme Paton, Transport Correspondent
July 31 2017, 12:01am,
The Times
Stagecoach says high-density developments are being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators need 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors
Stagecoach says high-density developments are being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators need 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors
RICHARD MILLS FOR THE TIMES

Residents on newly built housing estates are being cut off from the bus network because developers are failing to construct wide enough roads, according to public transport bosses.

One of Britain’s biggest operators warned that buses were being forced to avoid many estates amid concerns over narrow roads, sharp bends, overzealous traffic calming and parked cars.

Stagecoach said that high-density developments were being built with roads only 6m wide, when operators needed 6.5m to allow two buses to pass without clipping wing mirrors.

It blamed planning rules that have cut road widths or pushed the layout of sharp bends to keep car speeds down.

The company also said that national guidelines introduced by Labour 17 years ago intended to clear roads of cars by providing less off-street parking had backfired, with many motorists leaving vehicles on the street.

 

Stagecoach has issued its own guidance to councils, urging them to build roads at least 6.5m wide, with sweeping bends and off-street parking provided.

It also said that “shared space” schemes that seek to declutter streets by stripping out kerbs, road markings and traffic signs should be redesigned to “avoid buses straying into areas intended mainly for pedestrians”.

Nick Small, Stagecoach’s head of strategic development for the south, said examples included the Shilton Park estate in Carterton, Oxfordshire, where the company could not operate a full-size bus, and the Kingsway development, Gloucester, which had areas “impenetrable by buses”.

Daniel Carey-Dawes, a senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Bad design will lock our towns and countryside into toxic congestion and car dependency for decades.”

Martin Tett, housing and transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “We will be looking closely at this blueprint and continuing to work hard to deliver places where our communities can thrive.”
1RecommendReply

How to be a very clever fool

If you take a look a Sajid Javid’s Wikipedia entry, you’ll get some insight into why he was possibly the second worst choice as Secretary of State for Local Government, after Eric Pickles.  At least Pickles started his political life as a councillor, which is clearly where he gained his hatred for the sector.

in Sajid Javid’s case, Given that he’s never been a councillor, one can only assume that his dislike for councils is based on the size of his local council tax bill, the introduction of a fortnightly refuse collection, or an over complicated recycling system, where he resides.  Or is it that he really is a hardcore bean counter, with absolutely no people skills, who simply wowed everybody with his big brain and financial speak to become an MP and now finds himself like a fish out of water?

That said, even he must surely appreciate that, unless you carry your electorate with you, then all your highminded, doing the right thing policies count for nought, when it come to the ballot box.

Singling out councillors, as the sole reason why housing isn’t getting built in high demand areas, goes to demonstrate how out of touch so many of our MPs are.

The electorate are very happy to vent their anger with central government at local elections, especially when the council in control is from the same party as the government.  They feel that their vote is simply sending a message, as opposed to having any real impact on the future of the country, in the same way voting in a General Election does.

imagine then the fallout for those in control, if they have approved hundred, or even thousands of new houses, against fierce local opposition, even if it is desperately needed.  Ignoring the political pressure involved, especially in areas where the well heeled, well connected take up arms and their cheque books, shows a clear lack of political realism, let alone accume.

Also, I would remind Mr Javid, that his predecessor scrapped one of the key policy mechanisms for by-passing these so-called ‘selfish local councillors’ – Regional Spatial Strategies.  These set the housing numbers required for each area within the region covered and dictated individual Local Plans accordingly.  Eric Pickles came in like a bull in a china shop and threw these documents on the pyre in 2010, telling us all that such things should be decided locally, because locals know best.

Of course he didn’t really mean it, because waiting in the wings, was the National Planning Policy Framework.  This supposed simplification document of only 52 pages contained footnotes referring to documents containing at least 1800 other pages.  It was then followed up with the NPPF technical guide of nearly 200 pages and numerous ministerial directives, that have attempted to correct perceived shortcomings of the new improved system.

just to add insult to injury, the government has sought numerous ways to rig the system in the developer’s favour.  If you can’t prove you have a 5 year supply of readily available housing land, then it’s effectively anything goes.  If the developer claims the houses are too expensive to build, or more accurately, the profits aren’t big enough, they can play the viability card and avoid the provision of such things as affordable housing, provision of a school, or contributions to other local facilities.

Finally, and a perfectly example of his deep ignorance of all things planning, is his threat to shame council leaders into revealing their ‘real’ housing need.  Every council has to do this piece of evidence based work, as part of their Local Plan preparation.  Therefore, at some point, it becomes a matter of the public record, as part of the statutory consultation process.

I’m not sure what the difference is going to be between these figures and the ones he envisages, I’m not sure.  What’s worse, there’s very little point going through this duplicate process, if you then don’t have the delivery mechanism needed to make the need a reality.  You’re picking the wrong targets Mr Javid, on so many levels.

Like so many things in government and no more so than in planning, we are going around in circles. We’re going from local to top down, back to local and on to goodness knows what, given that the bloke now in charge, really doesn’t seem to have a clue where to start.

Copied from ConservativeHome

Published: July 16, 2017
Inflammatory language, noble aims. Javid prepares to battle for more home ownership and social justice.

By Paul Goodman

“From now on these council leaders, who include many Conservatives who should know better, are going to have to start telling the truth.

“We are not prepared for them to lie about the housing crisis to protect Nimbys [Not In My Backyard] who have had too much sway for too long.

“They are going to have to adjust to the idea that everyone has a right to a roof over their head in this green and pleasant land, not just a privileged few.

“Owning your own home is a fundamental part of being a Conservative. If a whole generation of young people cannot afford to do that, we can’t complain if they vote Labour.’

“Selfish Conservative councils need to smell the coffee or there won’t be a Conservative Party in the future. We have to end the tyranny of a well-heeled minority who complain a maisonette built within five miles will ruin the view from their “in-out driveways” and orangeries. They have the cash and clout to bully everyone else into submission. It cannot go on.”
Whichever “official” briefed today’s Mail on Sunday about Sajid Javid’s plans for housing – the source is described in that way – cannot be accused of seeking to ingratiate the Communities Secretary with Party members.

In one sense, this way of communicating Javid’s view, if it was authorised, is odd, since he reportedly has leadership ambitions. In another, it is par for the course. As we have written many times, the Communities Secretary is seized with the need for more homes to be built. And as politicians go, he is a very straightforward character – more inclined than most of them to sail straight towards the shore, rather than tack and trim to the tides.

At the end of last month, we reported that he sees the key to achieving this as “a needs assessment for each area based on robust data which local authorities are not able to water down to the point where nothing much gets built at all”.

Before the last election, he was unable to shift Theresa May on this point, and she was all-powerful in government. The transformation in the balance of power between her and her Ministers since June 9 is thus working to Javid’s advantage. The Mail claims that “he will this week warn that if wealthy areas like Maidenhead in Berkshire refuse to build extra homes to solve the UK’s housing crisis, they will drive more young voters who can’t afford to buy into the arms of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn”.

For the Communities Secretary to name the Prime Minister’s constituency would be quite extraordinarily, er, direct – and we must assume that the paper is gilding the lily.

But it sounds pretty much on the money when it adds that the Communities Secretary “is ready to ‘shame’ some council leaders into owning up to housing needs” and that “they will be ordered to perform a ‘full and frank’ audit of their area and explain how they will meet demand”. Javid will apparently “promise to increase the number of homes built a year in Britain from 190,000 to 300,000, a rise of 58 per cent” and “has the Prime Minister’s full backing”. Hmm.

We agree with the Communities Secretary. The importance of building more homes isn’t a post-election fad for us, suddenly unearthed since June 9th.

In the ConservativeHome manifesto, published three years ago, we called for a fairer deal for young people in Britain’s housing settlement – complete with new garden cities and new paths to home ownership “Central government support should be switched to enable councils, housing associations and other registered social landlords to build new homes,” we wrote. “This new support would be conditional on making these new homes available through schemes that help tenants to become owners.”

But make no mistake: Javid is set for the mother and father of all dust-ups with Conservative-controlled councils, whose fear of the Party’s collective leadership, in the wake of the election result, has plunged through the floor and is still heading downwards.

So he will need to deploy a bit more honey and a little less vinegar than today’s report suggests if he is to seek to keep local councillors onside. It is just as well that the changes he wants don’t require primary legislation, which wouldn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting through the Commons, as presently constituted. But he must ready himself for outraged Tory MPs to come knocking at his door in droves, backed up by Conservative council leaders.

Defending the indefensible

My group leader and leader of South Holland District Council, is doing a sterling job in his role as chairman of the Local Government Association, of defending the indefensible.

His recent appeal for local government to stop trading blows with ‘our’ Secretary of State for Local Government, seems to continue to fall on deaf ears when it comes to the man himself, Sajid Javid.

instead of being supportive and constructive, he has chosen to take on the enforcers role, of battering down the doors of democracy and ‘sending in the boys’.  Is this what passes for proactive leadership in his world?

A relatively small council, albeit a relatively wealthy inner London one, confronted by such an extraordinary event as the Grenfell Tower fire, doesn’t need taking over, by a bunch of self important bureaucrats and highminded senior councillors.  Asking for help is one thing, what he’s suggesting is a different beast altogether and is normally reserved for councils where political warfare, corruption, or financial mismanagement has become endemic.

Having placed a very large boot on every council’s throat at the recent Local Govenment Conference, by telling them that they had lost the public’s confidence, he’s now decided to prove his point by threatening to jump the gun at K&C.

Look in the mirror Mr Javid and you’ll see whose lost confidence in who.

What a shame the PM didn’t get her majority, as this could well have seen a new SoS, such as Gavin Barwell, who sadly also lost his seat.  As it is, we have one who is far more comfortable dealing with the spreadsheets and financial projections of his previous Treasury job, than he is with the real people and grass roots democracy of local government.

Copied from MJ online

Government open to Kensington & Chelsea takeover
13 July 2017
The Government will ‘take over’ Kensington & Chelsea RLBC if necessary, the communities secretary Sajid Javid has said.

In an interview with broadcast journalist Robert Peston yesterday, Mr Javid said that while the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has appointed an independent taskforce to advise the council for now, a complete takeover via commissioners is also a possibility.

He said: ‘I have made this clear and I said this in Parliament last week, if the taskforce comes back to me and they say, actually, the council is still not coping and it’s not up to this job, then I won’t hesitate to take further action, including taking over the council if that’s what is necessary.’

The appointment of a taskforce to assist Kensington & Chelsea RLBC with long-term recovery work following Grenfell was announced by Mr Javid last week.

But the secretary of state explained that for the Government to take away the powers of a democratically elected council is ‘a big thing to do’, but added that ‘it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.’

When pressed on whether the Government will provide financial support to councils that are carrying out fire safety work on buildings, Mr Javid pledged to provide them with the money that they require.

He said: ‘Come and talk to us and we will make sure that you get the financial support you need so that the work definitely happens.’

However, he did not answer Mr Peston’s question about where the funds will come from and whether the DCLG’s pledge for funding has the backing of the treasury and chancellor.

Addressing Parliament yesterday, the first secretary of state Damian Green clarified that the Government’s offer of financial support is only for those councils that can prove that they cannot afford to fund the necessary safety work on their own.

He said: ‘If the fire service recommends that something needs to be done for safety reasons, the local authority will be the first port of call to pay for it.

‘If a local authority can show that it cannot afford it, central Government will obviously then step in. That is a matter for local authorities and the fire service in the first instance.’

Mr Green also reiterated that the taskforce appointed to Kensington & Chelsea is purely advisory and does not have any executive powers. It will report to the communities secretary and not the council.

Democracy and politicians – never the twain shall meet?

As Whitehall politicians become more and more impatient with the drain local democracy places on the public purse, successive governments are finding ways to marginalise local politicians and insert those in their own image into that level of government, to do their bidding.

Labour attempted it with regional assemblies, with a sop to local democracy being made via the quality parish council initiative.  Regional government would emasculate every democratically elected body that currently existed outside of the Westminster bubble, with parish councils taking on parochial service delivery, thereby offering their local electorate a facade of local democratic power and control.

The current government has offered local government the ‘carrot’ of devolution.  The stick comes via the wresting away of democratic decision making and therefore wider than local spending powers, from directly elected local representatives, with the introduction of elected mayors.  These mayors would apparently see the bigger picture and establish a more direct line of ‘communication’ for their areas with central government.

Having failed to get these in place in a number of areas, they now appear to have come up with another cunning plan to do away with these pesky councillors.

Copied from The MJ Online Thursday 25 May 2017

Strengthening local democracy
By George Jones and John Stewart | 24 May 2017
Few have commented on a strange proposal in the Government’s Industrial Strategy green paper. It states: ‘We will work with local government to review how to bring more business expertise into local government, for example through the creation of a modern “alderman” type of role within local government’. There is no explanation of what this sentence means.

The use of the title alderman clearly repeats the use of the title mayor, which used to be restricted to the person indirectly chosen by the council to perform the politically-impartial role of chairing the council and carrying out ceremonial and social functions. But now it also refers to a person directly elected by the local electorate as the executive leader of the authority. The use of the word ‘mayor’ was intended to make this new role attractive to voters, but instead it confused the electorate as to what the role was to be. Now the term ‘alderman’ is perhaps seen as a way of making the new proposal (whatever it is) acceptable.

Whoever thought up this word may have misjudged how most people think. Aldermen have long been forgotten. They were abolished in the 1974 reorganisation of local government with little regret. They were seen as often frustrating the democratic will of the people, since they were appointed by the councillors, not the voters, and served for a six-year term.

Aldermen were usually senior councillors protected from defeat by the electorate. The position had been created in the 19th century as constituting a kind of House of Lords in local councils, acting as a constraint on the dangerous democratic processes of elected councillors.

The Government is intensifying its attack on local democracy. It is following its previous demotion of elected councillors into only the role of scrutiny of executive mayors by now proposing to diminish them further by inserting into councils aldermen, appointed not elected locally, with full voting rights.

This proposal signifies that in the culture of central government there is little interest in local representative democracy and no concern for its principles. It shows talk of local devolution is a sham.

The result of central government’s neglect of local representative democracy, or even of understanding its importance, has been that in a series of initiatives it has undermined elected local government.

Over the last 20 or more years, functions have been removed from elected authorities and placed under appointed bodies. The outstanding example is education, where schools are increasingly under the control of ‘chains’ which have emerged without any clear legislative basis.

The essence of local representative democracy is expressed in the direct election of councillors by citizens of the area they represent. But in combined authorities the mayor is the only member who is directly elected. The other voting members are appointed by their own councils.

The principle of direct election has been replaced by indirect election, usually of the leaders of the separate authorities. The principle of equal representation of areas is undermined by a restriction to a single individual for each authority, despite greatly varying populations.

The creation of directly-elected mayors undermines the position of councillors. The concentration of power in a single individual weakens local democracy. The council, as the expression of local representative democracy can alter policies and the budget only if there is a two-thirds majority, which is impossible in most local authorities.

The introduction of such ‘special majorities’ is a recent development in legislative bodies. It means the majority of a council can have no power even if a majority has voted for a proposal.

Local representative democracy is the principle on which our local government has long been based. It is the only effective way in which citizens can ensure accountability. Some, however, urge the merits of participatory democracy, and see it as opposed to representative democracy. We are not opponents of the techniques of participatory local democracy, but regard them as ways to strengthen representative democracy.

In a variety of ways local representative democracy is being eroded, leading to greater centralisation.

These developments have rightly led many, including The MJ, to argue for the start of a discussion on the future of local government, hoping it would help to reverse the process of centralisation, which has been a feature of the last 40 or so years under various governments.

Local representative democracy must be the basis on which effective and accountable local government can and must be built. There is no alternative if local government is to have the authority of responsibilities that can challenge the process of centralisation.

Centralisation cannot deliver effective government, since it thinks in terms of uniformities, whereas reality consists of diversity. Local government is the government of difference: it can respond to messy reality in ways that reflect the diversity of local circumstances.

Critical requirements to strengthen local representative democracy are for all concerned to recognise its importance and understand that political representation is an active role, involving interaction with the electorate, seeking out its views and ideas, and not merely waiting at surgeries for people’s complaints and specific problems to be aired, important though that is.

Indirect election and special majorities should be eradicated, as should the focus on single individuals as directly-elected mayors. Councils should be recognised as the supreme body locally and not regarded as requiring mechanisms to constrain its operations.

One basic constitutional change is needed to strengthen local representative democracy, ensuring it is truly representative, and that is to introduce proportional representation into local elections. The case for local government proportional representation is stronger than for Parliamentary elections, and it grows stronger in an increasingly multi-party society.

These ideas and more are set out in a book written in collaboration with Professor Steve Leach of De Montfort University, entitled Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).

John Stewart is emeritus professor of local government at the University of Birmingham. George Jones, emeritus professor of government at the London School of Economics, died last month, shortly after writing this article

A tribute to George Jones, originally published in The MJ, can be viewed here

Only local government can break the developer’s strangle hold on the housing market

Copied from Sunday Telegraph Sunday 16 April 2017

Economic Agenda
The key to opening up the housing market

By Liam Halligan

For decades across much of the UK far too few homes have been built. The average house now costs almost eight times annual earnings – an all-time record. In London and the South East, of course, this ratio is even higher.

Much of “generation rent” is simply unable to buy a home. For millions of youngsters, even those with professional qualifications and good jobs, property ownership is an ever more distant dream. Ten years ago, 64pc of 25 to 34-year-olds, the crucial family-forming age group, owned their own home. In 2015, it was 39pc.

Three fifths of an entire generation of young adults is locked out of the property market. Over half of first-time buyers get assistance from “the bank of Mum and Dad”, rising to two thirds in the South East. The housing market, once a source of social mobility, has become a source of growing resentment.
Part of the solution, as we so often hear from our politicians, is to “get Britain building again”. Yet the March PMI construction index, which monitors the UK’s leading building firms, last week pointed to a housebuilding slowdown. During the final three months of last year, 2pc fewer new homes were completed in England than the same period in 2015.

Over 2016 as a whole, while the construction of 5pc more homes was started than the year before, the number of new-builds actually completed was 1pc lower. Just 168,000 new-builds came to market across the UK as a whole in 2016 – way below the 250,000 needed annually to meet demand. The UK has built, on average, 100,000 too few homes a year since the 2008 financial crisis. For decades before that, housebuilding was also too low. The last time we did build a quarter of a million homes was back in 1980 – and 113,000 of those were council houses. With council-housebuilding now barely a few thousand each year, the UK’s housing needs are largely reliant on the private sector.

Although few homes are built, the UK’s three largest developers still report surging profits. Barratt saw a 40pc rise to £295m during the second half of 2016 – despite completing fewer homes. Taylor Wimpey made £733m last year, up 22pc. Persimmon’s full-year profits were £775m, 23pc higher.

These three developers now build a quarter of all new homes, with the eight largest accounting for over half. Small developers, suppliers of two thirds of new homes in the 1980s now build less than a quarter. It’s hard not to conclude the big housebuilders, who control so much of the land granted planning permission, are deliberately building slowly, to keep prices and profits up. Waiting to build creates a shortage and means their extensive land holdings also rise in value.

The “big developers” have “a stranglehold on supply”, said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, at last October’s Conservative Party conference. They are “sitting on land banks”, while “delaying build-out”. The House of Lords economic affairs committee has also weighed in, saying the UK housebuilding industry has “all the characteristics of an oligopoly”. These two statements alone, in my view, mean our competition authorities should take a closer look. The UK’s housebuilding giants deny any go-slow, of course.

When the long-anticipated housing White Paper was published in February, some of us were disappointed at the lack of bold measures. While admitting “the UK’s housing market is broken”, there was no mention of a previous pledge to build a million new houses by the end of this Parliament – so, by 2020. That’s probably because, in the words of Paul Cheshire, a professor at the London School of Economics and probably the UK’s top housing academic, there is “more chance of me living on the moon”.

‘It’s hard not to conclude the big builders are deliberately building slowly, to keep prices and profits up’

Since the White Paper was published, though, having followed various behind-the-scenes struggles across Westminster and Whitehall, I’m pleased to report a little-noticed development that may soon help unlock UK housebuilding.

This column has previously called for the creation of powerful Housing Development Corporations (HDCs) – state-initiated bodies that acquire land, grant themselves planning permission, selling on the land in parcels to private developers. The HDCs then use the “planning gain” from the sharp rise in land value to fund new schools, hospitals, roads and so on. If new housing means local public services are significantly enhanced, there would be far fewer objections from existing residents. Variations of this model have been successfully used in countries from Germany and Holland to Singapore and South Korea.
Under existing “New Towns” legislation, national government can set up HDCs – which, crucially, can buy land at “existing use” value. Arable land, for instance, is purchased as arable land, bringing a healthy upside once residential planning is granted – guaranteeing ring-fenced cash for extra local infrastructure. That’s far better than current “Section 106” negotiations, under which powerful housebuilders hold most of the cards and often spend less on local amenities than councils expect.

What’s new and interesting is that an amendment has been made to new housing legislation allowing local government, with central government permission, to set up HDCs. Councils can buy land for a large development, partnering with the private sector if needs be – but, crucially, the planning gain receipts stay at the local level.

Such cash can then be used to build local amenities or even give residents a council tax rebate, which should make housebuilding much more popular.

This could massively empower local government, while finally sparking the housebuilding the UK so desperately needs. “If councils are considering a sizeable development,” says an insider at the Department of Communities and Local Government, “they should give us a call”.

Some insight into why our competitive edge will always be blunt

A couple of weeks ago now, I was in the company of a number of senior people from one of of our major national developers.  We were all at attending a conference and  they were representing the sponsor of that evening’s conference dinner.

it was fast approaching midnight in the bar and the mood was jocular and relaxed with plentry of banter between politicians and developers present, as one might expect.  The conversation turned to the skills shortage and in particular the shortage of bricklayers in their industry.  In another life one of the politicians had been a builder, so was quick to agree with the developers’ complaints about the national apprenticeship scheme used to train brickies.

I won’t bore you with the details of their complaint, but suffice to say, that anything involving the principles of good bricklaying, was totally pointless when it came to training bricklayers, in their collective opinions.  As far as those in the know were concerned, it should only take a couple of months at the most to ‘knock out’ a capable bricky.

On the face of it, many people would sympathise with any employer who objected to paying for staff to be trained to a depth they believed would never be used ‘in anger’ so to speak, which of course is why these developers were complaining about apprenticeships for bricklayers.

However, if the belief that the absolute minimum will do when it comes to skills training, is common across all industries that make or build things in this country, we will always lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to increasing national productivity and therefore competitiveness.

The Germans have a far greater respect for non-academic skills than there has ever been in this country.  A qualified engineer in Germany is given the title Herr Doctor to acknowledge their skill and training for example.  Of course I’m not suggesting that all our young Waynes, Jacks, Jills and Johns should now be trained to the level of Herr Doctor Bricky.

However, if you give a young person a good grounding in their chosen career, then they are more likely to aspire to go further than where they started when they first started work.  There are plenty of 30+, or even 40+ tradesmen and women out there doing exactly what they were doing when they were 20, but could now be doing so much more, had they had the right training at the start of their careers.

Teaching somebody more than just how to lay one brick after another in a straight line, until somebody tells you to stop and go back to the beginning and start again, should be welcomed as an investment in our country’s future, not resented as an annoying delay in building your bottom line at the end of the financial year.

Short-termism infects every area of government and private industry in this country – at least government has the partial excuse of the election cycle for this.  This continues to put us on the back foot when it comes to competing with the competition globally.