Network Rail has no interest in our traffic issues

Recently the local press published a letter suggesting that South Holland District Council could somehow have required the rail companies to do something other than what they eventually did with the line through Spalding.

I did send the newspaper a response, as the writer did raise a number of valid questions that needed answering.  To date, this has not been published.

Dear sir,

Further to Mr Delve’s letter re traffic grid lock in Spalding being caused by increased use of the rail line. He refers to a rail loop proposal and asks why the council didn’t require Network Rail to build this, rather than carry out the upgrade work that allowed for the increased rail traffic.

If only it were that easy. The ‘rail loop’ he refers to, was in fact a protected corridor identified by the district council in an early plan. Its inclusion was more in hope than anticipation, that the rail company would see the logic in bypassing a town centre with four level crossings and no bridges, at some point in the future.

As the local planning authority, South Holland would never have been under any illusion that it could compel Network Rail to do anything other than the Railways Act allows it to; upgrade the existing line, whatever the impact. Even our encouragement for the development of a Rail Freight Interchange, failed to prompt the company into becoming more engaged.

Since the original upgrade proposals became known to South Holland DC, the council has made every effort to reduce the impact. First in meetings with Railtrack, when proposals included the potential for level crossing closures of up to 40 minutes in the hour. We also looked at the potential for a road bridge on Winsover Road. Then with Network Rail, a company that regrettably, has been somewhat less forthcoming.

We are now working in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council and local developers, to progress the delivery of the Spalding Western Relief Road. This road is one of only four strategic road projects in the county council’s local transport plan.

Working with LCC we successful bid for £12m from central Government, to support major housing delivery projects, a crucial element of Spalding Western Relief Road scheme.

Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones
Cabinet member for Place
South Holland District Council


Ministers’ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to councils must end

Copied from LG online

All too often the government’s attitude to local government can be categorised as “out of sight, out of mind”. The shadow of Brexit’s cloak of doom obscures most things right now.

However, local government made a high-profile sortie to the front of the collective ministerial consciousness earlier this week – when Sajid Javid and Theresa May lambasted the sector for its apparent failure to ensure homes get built.

While some councils do block too many new homes, scores of headlines relating to “nimby councils” were not a fair reflection of where culpability lies for failure to address the housing crisis. “Land-banking developers” and “ineffective ministers” surely merit far harsher headlines.

In her showpiece housing speech, the prime minister legitimately espoused the benefits of homeownership among the (relatively) young. However, she has become increasingly blind to the plight of more vulnerable younger people. Many have basic unmet needs as a result of austerity.

Warning more top-tier councils could follow Northamptonshire
LGC analysis shows an astonishing 63% of area reviews of special educational needs and disabilities provision undertaken in the past year have uncovered weaknesses. It is not that councils do not regard these services as important, but they simply lack the proper resources to offer the service levels they desire. SEND services, like a myriad of other areas of council provision, are deteriorating due to funding cuts – but the government continues to look the other way.

Ministers need to be a willing to accept responsibility for the tough stuff as they are willing to dole out the blame.

Evidence of the scale of local government’s financial crisis comes today as the National Audit Office reports on the sector’s financial health. The spending watchdog reveals that more than a fifth of top-tier councils are running through their reserves at such a rate that they are set to follow Northamptonshire CC in issuing a section 114 notice within the next five years. Authorities are in an impossible situation, buffeted by rising demand for services on one side and reduced funding on the other.

Councils’ plight is growing ever greater, as is the government’s inability to appreciate the scale of the challenge. In response to the NAO review, a government spokesman trotted out all the usual lines about the recent finance settlement striking “a balance between relieving growing pressure on local government and ensuring hard-pressed taxpayers do not face excessive bills” and how councils are getting “a real-terms increase in resources over the next two years”. The NAO’s research suggests a far more negative picture.

We need more straight-talking honesty from our ministers. They need to be as willing to accept the responsibility for the tough stuff – the devastating impact on services of austerity – as they are willing to dole out the blame.

In something of a breath of fresh air, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government minister Heather Wheeler this week said she would resign if rough sleeping worsens. If her ministerial colleagues are so certain they’re getting the balance right on council funding, they should make similar commitments to resign in the event of a spate of Northamptonshires.

Housing – not just a crisis of quantity

We will never reverse the low quality of the housing stock now being built in this country, until we confront the issues that caused it and are continuing to encourage it.

  1. Right to Buy – Since it’s introduction in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher’s government, Right to Buy has removed over 2 million social housing units from the system. Those in the most desirable areas, such as central London and the towns and villages of the Home Counties will never be replaced like for like, because the land is no longer available.  Even were any existing non-residential sites become available, given the open market value of housing in high demand areas, the private sector will always ensure that it outbid the local council. The Homes and Communities Agency, funded by DCLG, would be equally hard pressed to compete given its relatively limited budget for such uses.

The impact of this loss of affordable housing has forced ordinary, working class people further and further out to the edges of our large urban areas, in virtually every area of the country.

  1. Buy to Rent – this triggered a major building programme, which in turn encouraged the developers to produce a large number of lower quality off the shelf housing units, to fill the ever increasing deficit created by the RTB policy.

How many landlord properties are there currently in the market?

Landlords – the stats

– The number of landlords in the UK increased by 7% to reach 1.75 million in 2013-2014

  • In 2014, two million private landlords owned and let five million properties in the UK (Paragon)

Tenants – the stats

– In 2014-2015, 19% of households – equivalent to 4.3 million – were renting privately (English Housing Survey)

– The number of private tenants in England reached 3.84 million in 2011-2012 (English Housing Survey)

– Some 59% of 20 to 39 year-olds in England will be privately renting by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 there were 5.4 million households in the UK’s PRS, a number which will grow to 7.2 million by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 the PRS accounted for 22% of all UK households (ResPublica)


  1. Help to Buy – combined with the difficulties experienced by first time buyers in obtaining finance from the normal sources, has seem public money, that should have been spent on replacing the depleted social housing stock, sucked out of the system and placed straight into the pockets of the landowners and developers who are already applying a stranglehold on housing supply via their strategic land holdings and failure to follow through on extant planning permissions.

Even worse, the rules for getting money from the scheme have now been made so lax that, according to the government’s own survey, thousands of those who have used it, didn’t actually need to and could have purchased their own home without financial help from the taxpayer.

The government now plans to compound this, by placing a further £10 billion within their reach, while putting only £2 billion into replacing our severely depleted social housing stock.

The current proposed government funding of £2billion for affordable housing and a further £10billion to extend the Help to Buy scheme, is completely upside down and will simply continue the current lack of supply and lack of delivery we are experiencing.

Social Housing waiting lists

In 2016 there were over 1.2m on council house waiting lists.  This figure is actually down on previous numbers, because of what some might suggest is an attempt by central government to use local government as a way of covering up their failings.  By requiring a tightening up of the criteria for eligibility, tens of thousands of those previously entitled to be listed, have simply disappeared.  These families and of course single under 25’s, have been forced into the hands of what can be an over-priced and sub-standard private sector rented housing market, where security of tenure virtually non-existent and standard of accommodation often a lottery.

By 2021, a quarter of the British population will be in rented accommodation.  Much of it private and with potentially many of these tenants struggling to meet the ever increasing rent bill.

Unless government allows councils to begin and then sustain a major council house building programme, the quantity of housing will always be squeezed by a profit driven market.  Not only will this continue the opportunities for exploitation of tenants, it will also ensure that developers are able to build to the lowest standards, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what they build, it will always be a sellers market.

South Staffs – A totally predictable ‘clusterf###k’ Local Plan Examination

Lots of good points in here, worthy of note for anybody working on their Local Plan now. Too late for us to make any changes (not that we need any, actually that’s up to the inspector to decide for us) as our examination in public starts on 10 Oct in Boston. It’s a public meeting so anybody can attend and listen to the proceedings.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Amongst the names of local authorities that are heading for disaster and have plunged over the cliff despite all warning there are a few sad cases, one that always come up are the likes of St Albans, South Oxfordshire, Erewash and yes South Staffs – all of which think they have a duty to obstruct and stick two fingers up to all of their neighbors.

They have taken advantage of the fact they have a core strategy (without allocations) adopted in 2012 before any overspill form any adjoining area, Black Country, Brum, Stafford, Cannock Chase or Wrekin was set; taking advantage of recent case law (including Cooper Estates v Tunbridge Wells BC [2017; EWHC 224 (Admin)]; Oxted Residential Ltd v Tandridge DC [2016; EWCA Civ 4140]; Gladman Development Ltd v Wokingham BC [2014; EWHC 2320 (Admin)];) that an allocations plan following a recent core strategy does not have to examine…

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Buying property in Britain to get tougher for foreigners

I assume this is more about London than anywhere else in the country.  Even so, one has to wonder how it can possibly help deliver a single, genuinely affordable dwelling within the M25, for an ordinary working person, or family.

Taking highly expensive scarce housing out of wealthy foreign hands and placing into the welcoming arms of our domestic rich list, seems like another form of gerrymandering.  In this case, R.A. ther than manipulating electoral boundaries for political advantage, this could be seen as the manipulation of financial boundaries for political purposes.

How this will ensure that those needing to live in London in order to work, is a mystery and can only create more work for those lawyers expert in international property law.

intriguing comments by Luke Hall MP at the end of the article.  Given his relatively youth and inexperience as an MP, one can only assume that he has either personal experience, or received significant constituency pressure in this respect.

The watered down version now in place, doesn’t seem especially effective at addressing the issue of the many thousands of empty dwellings across the country.  Many of these are in some of the more high demand areas and attempts to prise them out of the hands of absent owners, or uncommunicative lawyers, is frustrating, time consuming and expensive.

Given the limited resources of the majority of councils and the likelihood that there will be more than enough longterm empty propertiesto be dealt with, Luke Hall appears to be making a great deal of noise about issues that would simply never arise.

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 24 September 2017

Home Affairs

By Ben Riley-Smith
FOREIGN buyers will face tougher restrictions on purchasing British property under Treasury plans to help first-time buyers.
Polices could be announced within weeks as getting younger people on to the housing ladder becomes a major part of the Conservatives’ autumn 
 political drive.
“There’s an issue in London with a large proportion of new-build flats being purchased off plan by, particularly, Far Eastern buyers: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia,” a Whitehall source said.
“They are bought when the flats are still under construction, meaning first-time buyers don’t get a look-in. That is not just in central London, but in the suburbs and other cities such as Manchester.”
Number 10 and Treasury officials will discuss housing policy this week ahead of the Conservative Party conference in the first week of October and the Budget in November.

Other ideas in the running include accelerating the sale of government-owned land and easing the rules on building on brownfield sites to help boost supply.
Some Whitehall figures also back more borrowing to invest in housing. Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, has previously supported the move in public – though the Treasury is concerned about cost.
Theresa May wants her domestic policy agenda to dominate the party conference after delivering her speech in Florence on leaving the EU. Sources involved in the preparations said that housing is likely to become a big theme of the coming weeks as the Tories look to win back younger voters who backed Jeremy Corbyn in June.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, told Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee recently that he wanted to address the difficulty faced by first-time buyers.
He called for ideas to be submitted for the November Budget and – alongside student debt – identified it as an area the Tories must tackle to win back young voters. An ally of the Chancellor said he feared people in their twenties and thirties were being “left behind economically” and therefore “punished” the Tories, as the governing party, at the election.
Ministers have already announced “accelerated” plans for selling off Government land for housing, but some Tories feel that more could be done.
Land around railways, owned by the Ministry of Defence or part of the NHS estate is especially being considered by Treasury officials.
The developments come as the Conservatives launched an attack on a little-known Labour policy announced in its housing manifesto during the election.
Labour pledged to restore Empty Dwelling Management Orders – a controversial policy introduced by New Labour in 2006 but watered down by the Tories – to its full strength.
The change would empower councils to take over private homes that have been left empty for six months, rather than two years.
Luke Hall, the Tory MP for Thornbury and Yate, warned: “The return of John Prescott’s bullying powers would mean town hall bureaucrats seizing everyday homes in streets across the country, including those of recently deceased.
“Labour’s hard-Left agenda would entail widespread state confiscation of private property, targeting the elderly and the families.”

Sajid and Goliath – new house building targets

There’s a double whammy here for Sajid Javid.  I’ve said it before, and so have many smarter people than me; politicians and these days, councils, don’t build houses.

Imposing revised housing numbers on councils, already struggling to see delivery targets met, seems to be no more that an exercise in saying something for the sake of it.

The article already refers to the resistance that is likely to be seen from councils with a combination of high demand and very vocal resistance from their communities.  However, what about the inertia in the industry itself, either through the lack of sufficient financial returns, a lack of skilled labour, or a lack of access to funding, for those seeking their first home.

Sajid Javid can juggle with as many spreadsheets and produce as many top down polices as he likes.  However, if  he doesn’t put any money in to it, it will just be a piece of political posturing and the housing numbers Goliath will ultimately slay this well meaning David.

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.


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