More than 200,000 homes empty in England worth more than £43m

“In England there are 200,000 homes that have been sitting empty for more than six months, according to new Government figures. This is equivalent to £43bn worth of housing stock.

In London alone there were 19,845 homes sitting vacant for over six months last year, property that is worth £9.4bn, taking into account average prices.

Kensington and Chelsea has the capital’s highest number of homes which are vacant for more than six months with 1,399 empty, up 8.5pc on last year, and 22.7pc higher than 10 years ago.

This is likely due to the buy-to-leave phenomenon, where wealthy buyers snap up homes as an investment, and leave them empty while waiting for its value to increase.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid downplayed the role of such foreign buyers in exacerbating the housing crisis, saying the problem “isn’t as bad as some people think”. A Savills’ report found that the majority of homes bought by people based overseas were being rented out, rather than left empty. …”

Strike threat at Hinkley C – bonus said to be not enough for skilled workers

“Workers on EDF’s 18 billion pound Hinkley Point C nuclear project in southwest England could go on strike over bonus payments, two labour unions said on Thursday.

The GMB and Unite trade unions will hold a vote among 700 workers employed by the Bouygues-Laing O’Rourke (BYLOR) construction consortium appointed by EDF to build parts of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in decades.

The ballot is scheduled for May 2-5, the unions said.

“The bonus rate offered by BYLOR is insufficient to attract the quality of workers needed to ensure that the civil works phase of the 18 billion pound project is completed on time,” the unions said in a joint statement.

EDF Energy, the French utility’s British subsidiary, said that discussions with its contractor and trade union partners were ongoing.

“We are committed to a continuing dialogue on this issue,” said an EDF spokesman, also speaking on behalf of Bouygues and Laing O’Rourke.” …

Source: Reuters

Persimmon non-payment for 3 years may lead to loss of bus service

Owl says: if a developer has not kept its side of a bargain and ows money or in-kind payments, with a planning application, surely it should not be allowed to submit further planning applications till the debt has been fully discharged (with appropriate interest).

“The future of a vital bus route could be placed in jeopardy. Persimmon Homes South West has built 334 new homes at Mile End on the Ashburton Road on the A383 at the edge of Newton Abbot, and as part of the planning agreement for the scheme, they would help to fund the number 88 bus service that runs between Newton Abbot and Totnes, via Buckfastleigh, and travels on the A383 Ashburton Road,

But, the developers have been accused of not paying those contribution for 2015, 2016 and 2017 – a total of £225,000.

Teignbridge Council have commenced legal proceedings against the developer to ensure all the signed contributions are met.

But there are fears that unless the developers pay up, the bus route could be placed in jeopardy as there could be no funds for it.”

More travellers arrive in Cranbrook

“Residents in Cranbrook have hit out after more travellers arrived overnight near the town’s train station.

The number of caravans parked at the station car park are reported to have been increasing in recent weeks with three more vehicles pitching up on a grass area next to the car park on Wednesday evening.

Local resident Caroline Williams said that locals are ‘fed up’ by the situation. “Devon County Council and Cranbrook Consortium have to rid this peaceful town of travellers who turn up cause havoc,” she said.

“When they finally get moved on the mess and filth is there for weeks and then just when it gets cleared another group turns up.

“Everyone has complained and nothing seems to be being done other than the travellers being provided with mobile toilets. We have asked for better security around the train station as it is now seen as an easy target but no one seem willing to help. It’s beyond a joke.

“People no longer use the park and ride and many more now taken then bus to avoid the area – something needs to be done. Residence (sic) here love Cranbrook and are building a community that is being ruined and seemingly forgotten about.”

A spokesman for Cranbrook Town Council said the it is hoped that the travellers will be moved on by the end of Thursday.

“This morning (Thursday) we received confirmation from the Consortium, who own the Country Park, that they have arranged for the eviction of travellers on the Consortium land and hopefully eviction will happen today,” said the spokesman.

“They are also contacting Devon County Council on an hourly basis regarding their enforcement action on the station car park, which is owned by Devon County Council.

“We understand that no repair works to anything will take place until the travellers have departed. We fully understand how frustrating this situation is and empathise with residents’ feelings. We keep doing everything we can to keep the pressure up so that those who are responsible for resolving this unsatisfactory situation initiate action.”

Sally Woodbury, chairman of the Romany Gypsy Advisory Group and spokesman for travellers groups in the region, has called on councils across the region to provide more provision for them.

A new government policy blocks anyone identifying as a Gypsy or Traveller from staying on permanent caravan sites unless they can prove they have travelled several times that year.

She said: “There is definitely a real lack of sites for travellers and transport provision in Devon. I have been speaking on behalf of travellers for several years now and the issues are getting worse and there are less and less places for them to go.

“It is all very well people saying that we don’t want travellers here, but then there needs to be a provision for somewhere for them to go instead. Most travellers I speak to would be happy if there were sites for somewhere for them to go and pay rent, have toilet and rubbish collections facilities, and stay there for a while before then moving onto the next site. But until there are enough sites put in place for this to happen, everyone’s hands are tied and the occupation of sites will keep happening each year.

“There needs to be more provision for travellers as we are just going around in circles year after year, and it feels like it is getting worse.”

Claire Wright asks for “army of helpers” for bid to challenge sitting MP

An army of helpers are required if I am to run as a parliamentary candidate again!

I am seriously considering putting my hat in the ring as an Independent candidate in the 8 June General Election.

I have been for many years, deeply concerned at this government’s attitude towards public services, especially the NHS, social care and education, all of which are underfunded and hugely struggling, especially in Devon.

Devon County Council has seen over half its budgets disappear due to austerity measures. Many services have been cut back, or lost as a result.

I am also concerned about the effect of Brexit on the vast amount of land and species currently highly protected under EU legislation. This is at risk of not being properly protected as we leave the EU.

In Devon alone, there are 122 sites across 115,000 hectares, including at Woodbury and Aylesbeare Commons.

The transfer of this EU legislation to UK law needs carefully monitoring.

Since Tuesday morning I have received hundreds of messages of support and offers of help if I decide to run again, which has been touching and inspiring. This has forced me to consider my options carefully.

To run a successful campaign at such short notice, however, I need an army of leafleters and helpers.

If enough people come forward to offer practical help, I will be able to run.

If you are able to help, please contact me at

stating relevant skills you have and how you can help.

Thank you.

Useful case law on sustainability

“A judge has dismissed all seven grounds on which a developer sought to challenge the Community Secretary’s decision to reject a planning inspector’s recommendation.

The case concerned Arun District Council’s refusal to grant permission to developer Keith Langmead to build 100 homes at Yapton, West Sussex.
An inspector recommended that Langmead’s appeal be allowed, but this was overturned by the Secretary of State.

Giving judgment in Keith Langmead Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anor [2017] EWHC 788, Mrs Justice Lang noted the Secretary of State had concluded the appeal did not accord with either the overall local plan or Yapton’s neighbourhood plan.

Arun lacked the five-year supply of housing sites required by the National Planing Policy Framework (NPPF) and so could be liable to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

But the Secretary of State concluded that the proposed development did not comply with the social element of sustainability, and the “adverse impacts of this proposal would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the identified benefits”.

Langmead appealed on the grounds that the Secretary of State misunderstood and misinterpreted the NPPF, failed to apply it correctly, failed to take into account the independent examiner’s reservations about the Neighbourhood Plan and made a decision internally inconsistent with regard to the weight given to the local plan.

The company also argued that the decision was irrational and failed to give adequate reasons.

Lang J said the Secretary of State’s decision “did not disclose any misinterpretation or misapplication of the NPPF”, while it was unlikely that any material change came to his notice at the right time.

The inspector’s view had been incorporated and the Secretary of State “disagreed with the inspector’s conclusions, as he was entitled to do”.
Langmead had obtained by disclosure a copy of the internal planning casework division (PCD)’s submission to the Secretary of State to allow the appeal and while the decision letter did not mention this “it seems very unlikely that the Secretary of State failed to consider it, since an internal submission of this kind would usually be a helpful starting point for the minister”, the judge noted.

She said: “Although this appeal was controversial, it was not especially complex, in fact or law. The reasons in the [decision letter] were adequate and intelligible.

“In my view, the claimant knew full well the Secretary of State’s conclusions on the principal important controversial issues. Its real complaint was that the conclusions reached were unreasonable and misguided.”
The judge added: “The Secretary of State was entitled to make up his own mind, and reach a different conclusion to that of the PCD and the inspector.”

NHS a major concern for voters

“Health is always discussed on the doorsteps in general election campaigns.
Labour has long seen the NHS as its defining electoral issue.

The Conservatives have tried hard to demonstrate their commitment with pledges in recent years of above-inflation investment.

But how much difference will it make this time in a campaign that is sure to be dominated by Brexit?

Polling suggests the state of the NHS is high on people’s list of concerns.
An Ipsos/Mori survey in January in association with the Economist showed that 49% of respondents considered it to be one of the biggest issues facing Britain, up nine percentage points since December and the highest level recorded since April 2003.

This was slightly ahead of the proportion (41%) seeing the EU and Brexit as a major issue. Immigration was next on the list, though lower than in December.

The same survey just before the general election in May 2015 had the economy, the NHS and immigration bunched quite closely together as issues of the highest public concern.

The latest snapshot has the NHS pulling ahead of both. But the key question is whether what people tell the pollsters are key issues translates into voting intentions.

The King’s Fund think tank recently analysed the British Social Attitudes survey taken across England, Scotland and Wales and found that public satisfaction with the NHS was high at 63%, little changed from 2015.
It is worth pointing out, though, that this polling was carried out in the summer and early autumn of 2016 before the latest bout of winter pressures.
The general election health debate will be about England as governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland run their health services and they have no elections this time.

Labour made health a central plank of its 2015 election campaign. Andy Burnham, then the party’s health spokesman, spoke out forcefully about the pressures on hospitals over the preceding winter. He also accused the Conservatives of encouraging privatisation of the NHS, which they in turn denied.

But this failed to cut through, as the Tories achieved a majority.
This time Labour is stressing that health will again be central to its campaigning effort.”

Council development gain mechanism flawed says RTPI

“The methods used to capture development gain for local communities are inadequate, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has said.
It has commissioned research to see how the section106 and community infrastructure levy (CIL) regimes compare to alternatives used abroad to capture the uplift in land value resulting from planning permission or public investment on or near a piece of land.

CIL was found ineffective by a working group that reported to ministers in February.

The RTPI’s project will compare the current mechanisms with a simple tariff mechanism and two variants of the impact fee approach used in North America.
Each approach’s ability to raise money, and its attractiveness and ease of implementation will be tested via interviews with planners, planning consultants, lawyers, valuers and developers.

RTPI president Stephen Wilkinson said: “Infrastructure is critical to housing delivery and economic growth. At a time when public finance is squeezed we have to look at new funding models to ensure infrastructure can be built at the speed and scale we need.

“We are missing a trick by not accessing the vast potential of rising land values which currently go directly to landowners. Rising land values are a reasonable place to look for infrastructure funding and international evidence suggests there are fairer, more effective ways of sharing this gain.”

He said the present methods successfully clawed back some uplift but did not allow “local authorities to be proactive by using rising land values to fund land assembly and deliver housing”.

Can we afford to starve education of funding?

“BRITAIN is facing a chronic skills shortage as the country’s teens languish among the worst in the western World at reading and maths.

A devastating new report last night claimed England and Northern Ireland together are rated in the bottom four “of the international class” for literacy and numeracy.

And they’re the UK’s 16 to 24 year-olds are dead last in an OECD classification of 19 countries for computer problem-solving skills.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) slammed ministers past and present for “two decades” of failing the nation’s youth.

And it urged the Government to use a further £2 billion from the Apprenticeship Levy to pay for more skills training.

Lizzie Crowley, CIPD skills adviser, said the country was “sleepwalking into a low-value, low-skills economy”.

She said: “Our report should serve as a real wake-up call for the Government to break with the past past two decades of failed skills policy and set the UK on a new course that delivers the right results for individuals, organisations and the economy as a whole.”

She added: “We can either take the high road as a nation or we can keep doing what we’ve always done and get the same mediocre results.”

The CIPD said it was the first time the OECD had arranged the statistics in this way.”