Category Archives: Housing

Grenfell Tower: a tragic tale of double standards – two-nation politics

On Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 phone-in a listener described a city where – at one extreme – her care-worker son earns £17,000 a year, whilst George Osborne gets £200,000 for delivering one speech.

“In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs

Noting the lack of attention to the repeated and recorded complaints made by the Grenfell Tower residents she asserted that had they come from the affluent area of Kensington they would have been quickly addressed and added a searing afterthought: “In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs” – but as London MP Harriet Harmon noted, the government has been cutting the money to councils. If you cut money to councils, you can’t put in sprinklers

Campbell’s caller also denounced the proposals made by developers referring to the burnt tower as being a orime brownfield site, insisting that the residents should be rehoused in the same area during the rebuilding process instead of being sent to outlying areas or even different parts of the country; as they work hard in lowly paid jobs they should not also have to spend time and money travelling long distances to work.

A tale of a divided nation – and of two cities

Following a link sent by Felicity Arbuthnot we read the words of Jeremy Corbyn, (seen here with a local resident seeking a 12-year-old girl missing after the Grenfell Tower blaze): “Kensington is a tale of two cities – it is among the wealthiest parts of this country but the ward where this took place is one of the poorest”.

Like the Radio 5 caller he emphasised that residents must be re-housed, using requisition of empty properties if necessary, in the same neighbourhood, adding:

“The judge-led public inquiry must be speedy and all residents should have access to legal aid and the support they need”.

 

 

 

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A progressive alliance with progressive policies

Christine Parkinson has drawn attention to an article in the Guardian, in which MPs Clive Lewis and Caroline Lucas  express a profound sense of frustration and dismay about the Conservative victories won by narrow margins in places such as St Ives, Richmond Park and Hastings. They pointed out that if every progressive voter had placed their X tactically, Jeremy Corbyn would now be prime minister with a majority of over 100.

Highlights from their article

The regressive alliance we see forming before our eyes between the Conservatives and the DUP can only be fully countered by a progressive alliance on the opposition benches and if we work together there is nothing progressives can’t achieve. The limits of the old politics are there for everyone to see – the limitlessness of the new we are just starting to explore.

More than 40 electoral alliances, in which people across parties cooperated on tickets including support for proportional representation and the common goal of preventing Conservative candidates winning, were pulled together quickly for the snap election. People from different parties worked together to ‘do politics differently’ and there was a sense that politics has become hopeful and positive again.

We shouldn’t forget the challenges we face:

  • markets that are too free,
  • a state that can be too remote,
  • a democracy that still leaves so many voices unheard
  • and change on a scale our people and our planet can’t cope with.

It is going to take a politics that is social, liberal and green to overcome these challenges. No single party or movement has all the answers. We are going to have to learn to cooperate as well as compete to build the society of which we dream. And we are going to have to recognise that the future is not a two-party system but one in which smaller parties grow – both in influence and in their electoral representation.

Colin Hines adds detail: also advocating a progressive alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid and the Greens he says that they will need to get their ‘policy ducks in a row’ to win it. He continues:“Firstly, these must provide hope, not just for the young, but for every community in the country.

“To do this Jeremy Corbyn must revisit and vigorously shake his people’s QE “money tree”. This could pay for real economic activity on the ground via decentralised infrastructure projects to make the nation’s 30 million buildings energy efficient, ensure a shift to localised renewable energy, and the building of local transport systems.

“Secondly, the divide between young and old must be bridged by policies fostering intergenerational solidarity. Older people with significant saving should be offered “housing bonds”, paying, say, 3% interest to help fund a massive council and affordable homes programme.Tuition fees would be scrapped, but so too must be the threat of having to lose a home to pay for care, or having to scrabble for means-tested benefits such as heating allowances.

“Financed by progressive and fairer wealth and income taxes, and a clampdown on tax dodging, this should have an election-winning appeal to the majority of grandparents, parents and their young relatives”.

 

 

 

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Did the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier play SimCity?

Having seen the beneficial effect of this computer game on a six-year old, a teacher advocates placing it on the national curriculum.

In every different edition of SimCity, the player is given the task of founding and developing a city from a patch of green land, defining what buildings are constructed via development zones – residential zones for Sims to live in; commercial zones for Sims to shop and have offices within; industrial zones to provide work through factories, laboratories and farms – as well as ensuring their citizens are kept happy through establishing various services and amenities, all while keeping a stable budget.

People report problems and the mayor addresses them – his objective: to keep as many people happy as possible.

SimCity 3000: (the environment and localisation now come into the equation); by allowing certain structures to be built within the city, the player could receive a substantial amount of funds from them. The four business deal structures are the maximum security prison, casino, toxic waste conversion plant, and the Gigamall (a large shopping center). Business deal structures however have serious negative effects on a city. The toxic waste dump lowers both the land value and residential desirability in the area surrounding it and produces massive pollution. The prison dramatically decreases land value. The casino increases citywide crime and the Gigamall weakens demand for local commerce.

Too late now – but if the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier had been educated by the SimCity ’game’ (now used in urban planning offices!), Michael might well have grown up less willing to play real-life war-games, Jeremy could be ensuring good care for all the sick and frail and Theresa might be putting into practice her rhetorical concern for the less fortunate in our society.

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on cuts – 5: the poorest targetted

A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.

He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.

Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.

The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.

David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.

The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.

For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?

Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.

 

 

 

 

Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

hs2-viaductvisual

“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

 gravy-train

Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

 

 

 

 

Housing minister: executive homes built in the countryside are profitable but don’t keep villages alive

Alice Thomson reports that more than 1,300 villages have disappeared in the first decade of this century, according to figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics: “Their greens, meadows, churches, war memorials and pubs have been subsumed into towns and cities, their identities eroded”. This land was used predominantly for more concrete jungle of warehouses, car parks, offices and supermarkets.

saltaireShe reminds us that the Victorians campaigned to save their countryside, backed by artists, poets, architects, writers, businessmen like George Cadbury and Titus Salt (Saltaire, left).

By the 1920s twentytwo organisations were lobbying parliament over our landscape and together they formed what is now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which championed green belts. Alice calls for us to devote as much of our imagination to preserving our villages and countryside as did those Victorian artists, poets, architects, writers and businessmen, commenting: “If organisations such as the CPRE hadn’t been set up and we had followed the relaxed planning laws of the US, London could now look like Los Angeles and would reach Brighton”.

Urban councils receive 40% more funding than those in rural areas, but seaside, market and country towns need to be rejuvenated, with more bus routes, better broadband and more sensitive, innovative building projects.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework, councils must have a “local plan” limiting housing developments to land specifically allocated for it. But 40% of councils haven’t completed their plans, mostly because of legal objections from developers and, despite the increasing population, fewer houses were built in the last decade than in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Ms Thomson and many others agree that urban housebuilding should predominantly once more be on brownfield sites. High streets and out-of-town shopping centres can be turned back into housing as we increasingly buy goods online.

One commentator added: “Villages need affordable rented housing, once called council housing, to give people a stable home life where children can go to the local school and use local services. Executive homes built in the countryside are very profitable but don’t enhance a stable community. Let’s build in villages and keep them alive. It used to be like that until council houses were sold off”.

Alice continues: After Brexit there is a chance to redefine our relationship with the countryside.

 

 

 

Black Monday: how can government sentence the poor and disabled to increased hardship?

How can MPs earning more than double the national average – plus allowances, directorships and expenses – find it in their heart to vote to sentence the poor and disabled (without influence) to increased hardship?

The relatively prosperous look on aghast as support for those who have least is cut but the prosperous are voted tax breaks and other concessions. How far will this government be allowed to go?

It is no coincidence that around the country groups are gathering to promote showings of the latest Ken Loach film and citing his Question Time video clip:  

ken-loach

A Bournville reader points out that “the tragedy is that (the long-term homeless) are going to be joined by many more who have had a home. See what is going to come into play with effect from Monday 7th November” and sends a link to an article about a cut in housing benefit from Nov 7th.

He asks: “Where are all these extra homeless people and families to go? And at what cost?” 

Tomorrow more than 100,000 households will be materially worse off. Some households will lose as much as £115 a week.

The idea of tightening their belt and reducing household spending assumes that energy and food are expendable luxuries.

tighten-belt-cropThose hit by the cap will soon be in arrears. Either their landlord, social or private, absorbs the cost of the arrears, or – more likely – the tenant is evicted.

In the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty stresses the costs of the lost income, the long-term psychological harm to tenants, the deteriorating health of households in temporary accommodation and the exorbitant cost of temporary accommodation for those evicted.

Every day in England and Wales, 170 tenants are evicted.

homeless-textEvictions have increased by 53% in the past five years. Around 80% of these are carried out by social landlords, and a further 20% by private landlords.

The new reduced benefit cap: how it works and who it affects – the facts and figures – are given here and in the BBC programme, right.

Those who are being swayed by the PM’s rhetoric should look at her previous actions in office as Minister for Women and Equality, when her edicts downgraded the provision for carers, children in need and vulnerable people. She:

  • suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
  • scrapped the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
  • closed the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbié child abuse scandal and
  • removed a clause from the Equality Act which would have required public bodies to consider how they can reduce socio-economic inequalities when making decisions about spending and services.

Welfare payments are designed to act as a safety net to stop people in the fifth-richest economy in the world being hungry or homeless.

Where will the cuts inflicted on the poorest end, and wherever is Ms May’s compassionate conservatism in action?

 

 

 

Is the only response a progressive alliance?

With thanks to the reader working in Uganda who sent this link from which we give extracts:

Peter Hitchens writes:

peter hitchensIt will be good for Britain if Jeremy Corbyn wins his fight to stay as leader of the Labour Party. I agree with the late Queen Mother that the best political arrangement for this country is a good old-fashioned conservative government kept on its toes by a strong Labour Opposition.

There’s no sign of a good old-fashioned conservative government. But Mr Corbyn speaks for a lot of people who feel left out of the recovery we are supposed to be having, and they need a powerful voice in Parliament.

There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security.

I wish the voiceless millions of conservative patriots had a spokesman as clear and resolute as Mr Corbyn is for his side.

globalisation imagesThe truth is that both major parties have been taken over by the same cult, the Clinton-Blair fantasy that globalism, open borders and mass immigration will save the great nations of the West.

It hasn’t worked. In the USA it has failed so badly that the infuriated, scorned, impoverished voters of Middle America are on the point of electing a fake-conservative yahoo businessman as President.

So far we have been gentler with our complacent elite, perhaps too gentle. Our referendum majority for leaving the EU was a deep protest against many things. But it did not actually throw hundreds of useless MPs out on their ears, as needs to be done. They are all still there, drawing their pay and expenses . . .

If Mr Corbyn wins, our existing party system will begin to totter. The Labour Party must split between old-fashioned radicals like him, and complacent smoothies from the Blair age.

And since Labour MPs have far more in common with Mrs May than with Mr Corbyn, there is only one direction they can take. They will have to snuggle up beside her absurdly misnamed Conservative Party. And so at last the British public will see clearly revealed the truth they have long avoided – that the two main parties are joined in an alliance against them.

And they may grasp that their only response is to form an alliance against the two big parties. Impossible? Look how quickly this happened in Scotland.

greenhouse header

Is such an alliance gathering now? See http://greenhousethinktank.weebly.com/uploads/4/8/3/2/48324387/green_house_progressive_alliance_july_2016.pdf

 

 

 

How many realise that the government’s much-vaunted & welcomed 2013 flood insurance agreement has not yet been implemented?

Britain is still building nearly 10,000 new homes a year on floodplains despite growing warnings over episodes of extreme flooding. The FT reports that one new home in every 14 that was built in 2013-14 — the most recent year for which data is available — was constructed on land that has a significant chance of flooding, either from a river or the sea, according to an FT analysis of official figures.

defra 2 14-15 report coverA report by the Environment Select Committee has warned, on page 27, that “the large number of properties at significant and in some cases increasing risk of flooding means that prioritising spending on flood defences is essential if the UK is to minimise potentially huge costs of future flood events”. It called on the environment department to set out its detailed budget for maintaining flood defences within the next three months.

In 2013, reports following government negotiations with the Association of British Insurers, announced the capping of flood insurance premiums.

Smaller businesses were to be excluded from the programme, which guarantees affordable insurance to domestic properties, except for rentals; landlords are not eligible, so tenants in flooded properties face the prospect of being removed. Yesterday the Financial Times reported the FSB’s estimate that about 75,000 smaller businesses at risk of flooding had found it difficult to find flood insurance and 50,000 had been refused cover nationally.

flooded business in yorkFlooded businesses in York

Accountants – KPMG [Press Reader], PwC [BBC] – have warned that thousands of businesses will face financial ruin because they will have to bear a fifth of the estimated £5bn national cost of flood damage, with inadequate or non-existent insurance cover.

John Allan, the FSB’s National Chairman, said: “Ministers should look again at the availability of affordable and comprehensive flood insurance for small businesses, potentially through a dedicated Flood Re style agreement. The financial cost to small businesses following the 2012 flooding was £200 million.

“We can’t hope to create a buoyant economy . . . if vulnerable small businesses can’t sufficiently protect themselves from increasingly unpredictable and severe weather that in the worst cases can close a business.” 

PMQs: Lutz in the Birmingham Press got it right. Corbyn impressed

A recent article by Richard Lutz in the Birmingham Press opened: “The Prime Minister will have to have change his upper class bully boy tactics once he faces new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

As Lutz recounted: “PMQs is hardly polite. In fact, it is so red in tooth and claw that the Speaker had to recently warn baying Parliamentarians to calm down as some of the more demure MPs said it just wasn’t worth showing up any more . . . but with the chance to perform for TV, it has become more and more nasty, personal, vindictive and, ultimately, void of any real content”. He referred to Cameron: “braying personalised attacks at those sitting across the House from him”.

Watching PMQs today – recorded here.

jc magisterial pmq firstElderly readers of the Times who have been voicing concerns about his appearance will be reassured by the fact that he was wearing a tie – a concern which also seems to loom large in the mainstream press.

Corbyn, with considerable gravitas, opened – to Labour applause and opposition silence – by referring to the public’s perception that conduct in ‘this place’ is too theatrical and out of touch. He remembered welcoming Cameron’s 2005 promise to end the “Punch and Judy” politics of PMQs, sadly unfulfilled.

Over 40,000 people sent in questions for Mr Corbyn’s consideration. Of the 2500 on housing he selected Marie’s focus on the chronic lack of affordable housing and thanked the PM for his polite, “more adult” reply. We learnt that the government’s July order to cut rents in social housing by1% for the next four years has already led to 150 job cuts in a Stevenage housing association and will mean less money will be available to spend on maintenance and housing. Elsewhere we read that it will also reduce housebuilding by housing associations.

Paul’s question, conveyed by the new Labour leader, doubted the wisdom of taking £1000 from each of 3 million working families in April through family tax credit cuts, as these credits were essential to avoid reliance on food banks.  

A relatively minor level of shouting from Labour benches (by PMQ standards a murmur) was reproved by the prime minister as not being in keeping with the new style advocated by Corbyn.

Cameron answered that employment is at an ‘all time high’ and wages are rising, and referred to those who choose to live on welfare payments rather than work. Corbyn answered gravely that many people don’t have the choice. He then cited the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 8000 families would suffer a 26% loss.

Gail provided the next question, which opened with the dramatic statement that all accept that the mental health service is ‘on its knees’ and David Cameron appeared to agree. He said the parties should ’work together on this’ adding an oblique reference to the media fables about the Corbyn economic agenda: “there can be no strong NHS without a strong economy”.

The question from Angela, a mental health professional, referred to the lack of available beds which meant that patients were left without accommodation or moved far away from family and friends. Mr Cameron agreed: “We need to do more as a country; beds are important”, but then alleged that mental health issues are often not treated when patients go to their GP.

After fifteen minutes, Jeremy Corbyn’s questions ended and there was a change of tack, which could be described as indirect sniping – when questioners no longer had to face a Corbyn reply.

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson says his party “looks forward to working with Jeremy Corbyn and against government austerity” adding “particularly on Trident” – but had to ask ‘What happened to the new PMQs?’ after Cameron asked him in a jeering manner if ‘the SNP is frit?’

Nigel Dodds (DUP) belligerently referred to shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that we should “honour” IRA members who died in the armed struggle – a remark set in full context in a careful report of the proceedings in the Independent.

Conservative bloomer, surely?

Julian Knight stressed the importance of Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent – which actually does not exist, as many point out, Alex Thomson for one: our “independent” Trident missiles in reality come from Lockheed Martin in the US and are maintained by the US Navy. So we are being asked to spend around  £100bn to maintain and replace an “independent” nuclear strike capability – which does not exist. David Morrison adds: “If Britain doesn’t maintain friendly relations with the US, then it won’t have a functional nuclear weapons system, despite having spent billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money on it – because the US would simply cease providing Britain with serviceable Trident missiles”.

Other MPs questions followed, making references – probably planted to provoke – to increased defence spending, NATO membership, traditional values and the national anthem.

Lutz was right on target:

david cameron pmqCameron did ‘play it cool’, not going for ‘the teenage nastiness that has sadly stained the current level of PMQ debate in the last years’.

He did stick to answering questions, and for the time being he appeared to be “growing up”.

My neighbour said drily, ”Only another 25,000 questions to go.”