Category Archives: Housing
After a climate-friendly Flybe decision, will government respond to Tory challenge on the scandalous North-South funding imbalance?
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The Financial Times casts doubt on the prime minister’s commitment to the regions in two articles today
As Jim Pickard reports, in Flybe collapse puts commitment to regions in doubt, some MPs are voicing concerned about the impact of the bankruptcy on their constituencies. He points out that Boris Johnson’s administration had repeatedly vowed to improve “regional connectivity” and sees the Flybe decision as a failure to uphold this commitment.
The economic case was put by Kelly Tolhurst, the aviation minister: “Unfortunately, in a competitive market, companies do fail, and it is not the role of government to prop them up”.
Snapshot FT reader’s comment: decision is climate friendly
Tory think-tank Onward has found “dramatic” differences in spending to the advantage of London in recent years
In another article, Pickard reports that – in his election manifesto last year – Mr Johnson promised to ramp up the Housing Infrastructure Fund from its current £5.5bn to £10bn to support the delivery of new homes in local authorities “across every English region”
Housing Infrastructure Fund graphic
He refers to a report called “The Challenge”, by the Tory think-tank Onward (May 2019) which has found “dramatic” differences in spending to the advantage of London in recent years.
It argued that government spending has for years been skewed towards the most prosperous parts of the country, in part because of the Treasury’s “Green Book” — which sets spending criteria.
The differences in spending included:
- capital spending on transport in London at £6,600 per head between 2008 and 2019, compared with the English average of £2,400,
- research funding for universities — was nearly twice the UK average in London, at £3,900 per head versus £2,300 per head from 2001 to 2017 and
- London received 47% of Arts Council England spending and central government funding of arts institutions over the same period.
Pickard’s conclusion that such evidence raises questions about the depth of the prime minister’s commitment to the regions is qualified by his FT colleague, Camilla Cavendish: “Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda depends on devolving power”
Camilla Hodgson reports that ten English authorities with the highest number of homes at serious flood risk plan to build homes in what the government considers “high-risk” areas. Almost 35,000 are planned – and more in lower-risk flood zones, according to local planning documents analysed by the FT.
Council planning officers at both Fenland and Hull councils said the risk of flooding must be balanced against the importance of economic growth.
Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at catastrophe risk modelling company Risk Management Solutions warns of several hazards, including:
- the failure to consider insurance during the planning process, so that some homes end up being uninsurable or very expensive to protect;
- councils’ inability to afford to monitor the installation of planned mitigation measures – such as raising the height of the electrics in new housing
- and that currently developers bear no further responsibility for properties after they are sold.
in November The Lincolnite reported that more than 5,000 homes have been proposed in high-risk zones of Lincolnshire, where roads and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded with some farms being totally marooned.
Andrew Ward, one of the affected farmers, described the ‘horrendous’ damage: “Potatoes, sugar beet and maize have been ruined and the loss of wildlife will be colossal here, all of their habitats will be ruined.”
He complains that the Environment Agency are using farmland as flood plains to prevent flooding in Lincoln: “The rivers need to be dredged but we haven’t ever seen it happen here”. The Environment Agency has insisted that it does carry out regular and ongoing maintenance and blamed problems on the heavy rainfall. See video link
On the campaign trail in flood-hit Derbyshire, the prime minister said: “We’ve got to stop building on flood plains. We’ve got to stop building on areas which are vulnerable to flooding.”
In due course this statement should be fact-checked.
Jeremy Corbyn’s politically unique offer: truth, compassion, justice, peace and a sufficiency for all
Many years ago, around the time when Jeremy Corbyn challenged Margaret Thatcher about the plight of people living in London’s ‘cardboard city’(see video), I sat next to him at some peace-related gathering in London.
We were supposed to discuss one of the issues on the agenda, but after one glance at his rather surly, sulky face I decided to cross the room and there had the good fortune to meet the genial Professor John Roberts, an exceptionally caring and thoughtful historian who was a World Federalist.
Over the years however I did note and credit JC’s consistent stand for peace, justice and the less fortunate and his much maligned mediation with warring parties, hoping to bring about peace by diplomacy.
Many working for good can bear witness to his steadfast support
One of these is Richard Gifford, who for many years has freely given legal services on behalf of the Chagos Islanders, unjustly displaced from their homeland, now used as an American military base (above, centre). To their discredit, the USA and UK governments, despite an overwhelming vote in the UN assembly, have disobeyed the order of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in May to hand back the islands as soon as possible.
In Corbyn the Spirit of ’45 survives
That spirit led to the setting up of the welfare state and the national health service – dreamed about by the soldiers planning a better future in their trenches. After corresponding with leading writers, artists and politicians, they helped to form the Common Wealth Party, many later transferring to Labour, Green or regionalist parties as founder members died or retired.
Poster for the Spirit of 45, filmed by Ken Loach
That intense young man has now matured into a ‘statesmanlike party leader’, resembling Professor Roberts in appearance and mindset.
He is valued by many European ministers and heads of states; Politico’s headline was ‘Brussels rolls out a red carpet for Jeremy Corbyn‘ but the Daily Mail hastily withdrew its original paragraph, “Corbyn appeared to be the statesmanlike party leader holding all the cars. He was greeted by “all the European press” like a “Prime Minister in waiting”, one aide told me” (see video).
World Federalism, which once seemed rather ‘way out’, now seems to be a really sensible way of addressing the towering threats posed by climate related instability.
And Jeremy Corbyn is the only British leader credibly offering to address the plight of the 10% on low incomes with no secure housing or employment, to cease the harassment of the disabled and to save young lives – and huge sums of money – from being wasted in aiding and abetting unjust military interventions.
On Tuesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research launches its Environmental Justice Commission (EJC) and people are coming together across Conservative, Labour and Green parties to serve on it – leading figures from business, academia, civil society, trade unions, youth and climate activism.
Ed Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North and a former leader of the Labour party; Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion and Laura Sandys, a former Conservative MP for South Thanet, have written about this and many readers’ comments are well worth reading. Important points made are summarised below
Too often the issue of climate change seems marginal to the public’s concerns, when it is in fact central.
This will be done by committing to a Green New Deal (GND), with an unprecedented mobilisation and deployment of resources to tackle the accelerating climate crisis and transform our economy and society for all. Read more on the Green New Deal website.
Its aims are to:
- mobilise a carbon army of workers to retrofit and insulate homes, cutting bills, reducing emissions and making people’s lives better
- move to sustainable forms of transport and zero-carbon vehicles as quickly as possible, saving thousands of lives from air pollution
- end the opposition to onshore wind power and position ourselves as a global centre of excellence for renewable manufacturing
- protect and restore threatened habitats and
- secure major transitions in agriculture and diets that are essential if we are to meet our obligations.
People have been asking how we can revive communities that have been left out of prosperity. They ask whether they and their children will be able to get work and also what the quality of that work will be and what skills will be needed. ECJ believes GND has the potential to do this.
The areas of policy mentioned above answer the immediate economic concerns of people for jobs and hope. Green jobs must be secure and decently paid, with a central role for trade unions in a just transition for all workers and communities affected.
The commission will aim to help the UK to take a lead, believing that there is economic and societal advantage in doing so. An increasing number of people, young and old, see that the way we run our economy is damaging our climate, our environment and our society, but that, crucially, it is within our power to change it for the better. And change it we must.
Corbyn smears escalate
Yesterday came a warning: “With a general election possibly afoot, we must all be alert to the orchestrated dirty tricks and the ferocity of the propaganda assault that will inevitably be launched against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour by the terrified establishment”. It was issued by Richard House, after replying to ‘absurd views’ in the Independent alleging that Jeremy Corbyn would usher in ‘a communist government’ of a brutal nature.
Articles in the Murdoch Times today bore these headlines
- MPs launch angry revolt over leaders’ Brexit talks: Breakthrough hopes fade after May meets Corbyn
- Brexit talks: Dark clouds gather as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn work out what to do next
- The PM, as we must still call her, was numb — perhaps past caring
- Two-party cartel would regret an election now: The electorate is more volatile than ever and many will be looking for a home beyond the Conservatives and Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with Europe’s socialist leaders was highlighted some time ago with a standing ovation noted in the Financial Times:
“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a rapturous reception by his Socialist allies in Brussels on Thursday, as he warned that leaving the EU without a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for the UK economy. Mr Corbyn was met with a standing ovation by Europe’s centre-left parties as he addressed delegates at the Europe Together conference, just hours before prime minister Theresa May was scheduled to meet her EU counterparts at a European leaders’ summit”. We omit the description of Ms May’s very cool reception.
Corbyn’s negotiating skills are appreciated by senior EU figures, including Michel Barnier.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walk prior to a meeting on July 13, 2017 in Brussels.
Another perspective: Jeremy Corbyn is a mainstream [Scandinavian] social democrat
“From his style to his policies Mr Corbyn would, in Norway, be an unremarkably mainstream, run-of-the-mill social-democrat. His policy-platform places him squarely in the Norwegian Labour Party from which the last leader is such a widely respected establishment figure that upon resignation he became the current Secretary-General of NATO.
“Yet, here in the United Kingdom a politician who makes similar policy-proposals, indeed those that form the very bedrock of the Nordic-model, is brandished as an extremist of the hard-left and a danger to society”.
British media’s portrayal of Corbyn, and by extent his policies are somewhat exaggerated and verging on the realm of character assassination rather than objective analysis and journalism.
Mr Corbyn’s policy-platform, particularly in regard to his domestic policies are largely identical with the Norwegian Labour Party manifesto. They enjoy near universal support among the Norwegian electorate and, in fact, they are so mainstream that not even the most right-wing of Norwegian political parties would challenge them. They include:
- railway nationalisation,
- partial or full state ownership of key companies or sectors,
- universal healthcare provisions,
- state-funded house-building,
- no tuition fee education,
- education grants and loans
Jonas (right) adds that such policies have been integral to the social-democratic post-war consensus in all the Nordic countries, which. enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards and presumably should be a model to be emulated rather than avoided, and continues:
The whole controversy surrounding Mr Corbyn probably betrays more about Britain’s class divisions and how far the UK’s political spectrum has shifted to the right since the early-1980s, than it does of the practicality of his policy-proposals.
Reflecting this is British media whose ownership is highly concentrated: 70% of national newspapers are owned by just three companies and a third are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK . . . the British media has focused its reporting on the personal characteristics of Mr Corbyn, usually in rather unflattering terms, and shown scant or shallow regard to his policy-agenda.
He notes that a direct comparison of Britain with other similar European states would reveal both the dire condition of British living-standards for populations, particularly outside London and how conventionally social-democratic are Mr Corbyn’s policies.
Jonas Fossli Gjersø ends: “You might agree or disagree with his political position, but it is still far too early to discount Mr Corbyn’s potential success at the next general election – particularly if he manages to mobilise support from the circa 40% of the electorate who regularly fail to cast their ballot in elections…
“(J)ust as few recognised the socio-economic and ideological structural changes which converged to underpin Margaret Thatcher’s meteoric rise in the early-1980s, we cannot exclude the possibility that we are witnessing the social-democratic mirror image of that process today, with a prevailing wind from the left rather than the right”.
This eye-catching headline was placed above an article by Merryn Somerset Webb, editor-in-chief of MoneyWeek, in the Financial Times. She pointed out that Help to Buy (H2B) has been a huge boost to the housebuilding sector, as only new-build homes are eligible under this scheme, keeping it going through the years following the financial crisis.
Kate Davies, executive director of Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association says Help to Buy is now “a cornerstone of the UK property market”.
Ms Somerset Webb points out that the main beneficiaries have been the big developers who have been provided with “an almost endless source of state financed, captured and slightly desperate buyers”. Jules Birch (Inside Housing), writing in similar vein, points out that housebuilding output has increased, but not ‘remotely as much as profits, bonuses and dividends’.
She comments that H2B hasn’t helped the smaller players much, as ‘hordes of them’ had already gone down with the market in 2008-9 and then records these relevant facts:
- Two hundred thousand people in the UK have now bought houses using former chancellor George Osborne’s Help to Buy equity loan scheme, paying the average 16% new-build premium.
- The taxpayer has lent those people £10bn, an average of £55,000 each . . . ‘a special kind of quantitative easing just for them’.
- The maximum you can borrow from the taxpayer is 20% of the purchase price cap of £600,000 in most of the UK and 40% of the cap in London — £120,000 and £240,000 respectively.
- Research suggests that Help to Buy purchasers pay 5 to 8% more than ordinary buyers of newbuilds, allowing the builders to increase their prices.
- 18% of Help to Buy house sales in early 2017 were leasehold properties with escalating ground rents.
- Half of Persimmon sales are H2B; their pre-tax profits have just passed £1bn.
Writing in the LSE journal, two senior Cambridge academics confirm that the main beneficiaries are large house-builders
In their report: Helping or Hindering? The latest on Help to Buy, they conclude that Help to Buy has had ‘regressive distributional consequences’. They quote ‘one executive’ in the FT who claimed that the scheme had allowed him to raise selling prices by 10%, which would almost double the profit margin for most builders. The market agreed: when rumours circulated on 4 August 2017 that H2B might be withdrawn, £1.3 billion was wiped off the stock market value of the five biggest builders within 90 minutes.
They also present some of the findings by Resolution Foundation research, which suggest that about 35% of H2B recipients could have bought a home without the subsidy:
“Those who have purchased a property with an HTB equity loan have an income significantly higher than the median – indeed, 40% of HTB loans have gone to those with annual incomes of £50,000-plus. Unsurprisingly, DCLG’s own assessment of the policy suggests that 35% of HTB recipients could have bought a home in the absence of the subsidy”.
We don’t think enough about local government, one of whose jobs it is to mend potholes. When in our own lives our nearside front tyre is shredded, the pothole, Parris believes, represents “a momentary twitching-back of one tiny corner of a great curtain, behind which lie, no, not potholes, but a million anxious human stories, caused in part by cuts in public spending”.
He adds that accidents due to potholes are usually relatively trivial compared with cuts which for others may have meant:
- the loss of social care in dementia,
- no Sure Start centre for a child,
- the closure of a small local hospital
- or the end of a vital local bus service.
Potholes are a parable for others that matter even more. Unfilled potholes put lives at risk and have become a symbol of the damage done to every walk of life by spending cuts.
All the pressures on those who run government, local and central, are to worry about the short-term. it is usually possible to leave issues like road maintenance, decaying school buildings, rotting prisons, social care for the elderly, Britain’s military preparedness or a cash-strapped health service, to tread water for years or even decades. “They’ll get by,” say fiscal hawks, and in the short-term they’re often right.
- Nobody’s likely to invade us;
- the NHS is used to squeezing slightly more out of not enough;
- cutting pre-school provision is hardly the Slaughter of the Innocents;
- the elderly won’t all get dementia at once;
- there’s little public sympathy for prisoners;
- teachers can place a bucket under the hole in the roof
- and road users can dodge potholes.
Parris continues: “But beneath the surface problems build up. The old get older, and more numerous. Potholes start breaking cyclists’ necks. Care homes start going under. The Crown Prosecution Service begins to flounder. We run out of social housing. Prisoners riot. And is there really no link between things like pre-schooling, sports and leisure centres and local outreach work, and the discouragement of knife crime?”
“When New Labour was elected in 1997 we Tories groaned as it tipper-trucked money into the NHS, school building and other public services. Thirteen years later when Labour left office the undersupply was monetary, the red ink all too visible”.
Parris asks: “Must we forever oscillate like this?
One answer: Green & Labour Party leaders would meet these needs and avoid red ink by redirecting the money raised by quantitative easing.