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

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.”

Is this the day when it all starts to go wrong – again?

What a sad irony it would be, if yet another Conservative Party leader and only our second ever woman Prime Minster, suffered an ignominious departure, because she ignored the signs.

Copied from Daily Telegraph 7th July 2018

In a bid to appear pragmatic, Mrs May is losing the power battle with the EU

If Britain stood firm and said Brexit means Brexit, Brussels would be forced to deal with the situation

The Government has now found a policy on the Brexit negotiations. It unearthed it, apparently, in the cool, panelled rooms of Chequers last night. The instant wisdom is that it is a victory for the “pragmatists”.

In British – in particular, English – public culture, anyone claiming to be a pragmatist tends to win the advantage. A pragmatist is supposed to be an open-minded person who sees the facts as they are. The opposite of a pragmatist is an “ideologue” and/or a “fanatic”. Who, outside the wilder reaches of Isil or Momentum, wants to be one of them?

In recent weeks, Remainer activists have skilfully grabbed the pragmatic label. Leavers are presented as the raving ideologues. Trying to avoid cheap jibes about how poor, wild-eyed Tony Blair, noisy Anna Soubry and preposterous Lord Hailsham seem strikingly unpragmatic, I would like to investigate what this supposed pragmatism really is.

It goes wider than the Brexit issue. Essentially, it is the default position of those who have power in this country. In the 1970s, pragmatists coalesced round the idea that Britain must have a prices-and-incomes policy and a tripartite structure of government, business and unions to prevent inflation and economic collapse. This was espoused, with fanatical moderation, by the then Prime Minister, Ted Heath. People who opposed this view were dismissed as crazy “monetarists” on the one hand, or union “wreckers” on the other. The pragmatists prevailed. We duly had rampant inflation and came close to economic collapse.

At the end of the 1980s, having had a thin time under Margaret Thatcher, pragmatic forces at last got back together and insisted that Britain must join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) of the European Monetary System. By semi-fixing our exchange rate with that of other European currencies, they said, we could impose the financial and economic disciplines we seemed not to be able to manage for ourselves. We joined. The pragmatists’ policy forced extreme rigidity upon our economy. After less than two years of punitive interest rates, and consequent austerity and business closures, the pound came tumbling out of the ERM on September 16 1992, and stayed out. Britain’s economic recovery began the next day and lasted until Gordon Brown’s premiership 15 years later.

In 2016, the pragmatists were unprepared for the EU referendum. They resented the very idea that voters should decide an issue that they considered far too complicated for them. Since they assumed that voters must dislike the EU only out of ignorance, their sole tactic was to frighten them about what they might lose. Despite (because of?) their disproportionate power in politics, big business, central banks, Whitehall and academia, they failed.

Two years on, they are trying essentially the same thing. You cannot blame a company such as Airbus or Jaguar Land Rover for asking the Government what on earth it is doing. All of us want to know that.

But all such companies’ claims about what they might lose from a “disorderly” Brexit assume no possible gains. They do not factor in the exchange rate. They equate a short-term problem with long-term disaster. They concentrate on (and exaggerate) what we might lose in exports to the EU, which make up 12 per cent of our GDP, rather than the opportunities our greater freedom might gain for the other 88 per cent. They equate comfortable arrangements they have made for themselves in Brussels with the general good. They present their fears for their own comforts as things that should frighten the rest of us. This is not impartial calculation, but vested interest getting all hot and bothered under its vest.

A true pragmatist thinks hard about the reality behind appearances. The Remainer pragmatists do not. They like the status quo. They do not try to imagine why so many of the rest of us don’t. In this sense, although they are full of information, they are impervious to the facts, which is a most unpragmatic state of mind.

They are also, did they but know it, in thrall to a powerful ideology. It goes back to Plato. It holds that rightly guided, educated people – “people like us”, as our pragmatists might put it – must run things. Its modern form is bureaucracy in the literal meaning of that word – power held by the bureau, rather than the elected representatives of the people.

National solidarity and representative democracy are based on the idea that all citizens have an equal right to choose their rulers. If they live under a system, such as the EU, which frustrates that right, they become profoundly alienated. People trying to reverse the referendum result, or empty it of meaning, may think they are applying common sense, but they are enforcing this anti-democratic bureaucratic ideology and increasing that alienation. If you do not understand why that matters, you are as unpragmatic as the ancien régime before the French Revolution, and may suffer the same fate. In the meantime, as the constituencies are starting to tell MPs, you lose the next election.

As the scene moves back to talks with Brussels, we shall all be reminded that the least pragmatic players in this whole, long story are the people with whom our pragmatists keep telling us to make a deal – the EU Commission. Two years of arguing with her own colleagues have brought Mrs May no closer to grappling with this, the most dogmatic body in the Western world.

No British pragmatist has even tried to explain why the pre-emptive cringes advocated, incredibly, as our opening bid in the trade talks will induce Michel Barnier to make the deal with Britain that has so far eluded us. Why should he be impressed by the “common rule book for all goods” that Mrs May seeks? He already has one: it is called the customs union. If he thinks she is weak, he will beat her down yet further. She has admitted in advance that her latest plan makes it impossible for post-Brexit Britain to make a trade deal with the US: that’s a funny triumph for pragmatism.

The true pragmatist’s approach to these negotiations should be based on an estimate of power. If they are structured – as Mrs May seeks – to obtain special favours for Britain, they will fail, because the power of favour rests with the Commission. What have we done to make it help us? If, on the other hand, Britain says it is leaving anyway, in letter and spirit, because that is what the referendum decided, then it cannot be stopped. Faced with that reality, the EU and Commission are forced to consider how to make the best of this – for them – bad job.

Compare the high Commission rhetoric about the inviolable sanctity of the open border with Northern Ireland with the new war of words about closing borders between Germany, Austria and Italy – contrary to the EU’s own Schengen rules – because of the migration crisis. The former is a goody-goody game; the latter is serious. Theoretical talk is quickly crowded out when reality becomes unavoidable.

In all this time, Mrs May has never got serious in our power battle with the EU. She shrinks from it. So she is gradually, pragmatically, losing.

Follow Charles Moore on twitter @CharlesHMoore; read more at telegraph.co.uk/opinion

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)

Private approved inspectors ‘insulted’ by Hackitt report

Copied from Building Magazine

 

grenfell

Inspectors offended by recommendation in report that they be excluded from high-rise residential

Private approved inspectors have said the recommendation in last week’s Hackitt review that they be excluded from providing building control services on high-rise residential buildings is “unacceptable in a public report”.

Paul Wilkins, the chair of the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI), which represents the profession, said its members were “insulted and highly offended” by the report’s implication they would approve sub-standard work in order to get the next job.

He added: “To have their professionalism and ethics questioned in this way, with no evidence, has the potential to damage reputations and is unacceptable in a public report.”

Wilkins plans to write to Dame Judith Hackitt to ask for the evidence that approved inspectors accepted lower standards of workmanship.