Swire on May

“… Theresa May. I’m not denying there are issues around her leadership. But her vilification is damaging our prospects as a nation. There is no knight-in-shining-armour statesman or woman waiting in the wings to replace her. For now, we need to reconcile ourselves to practical governing as the Brexit process grinds on. She may have her faults but she is also dutiful and she is diligent and she deserves our support during these difficult negotiations.”


What a damning condemnation of current Tories: “we don’t have anyone better so put up and shut up”!

And “Dutiful and diligent” – sounds like an end of term report on a pupil who hasn’t achieved anything but her teacher is desperately trying to say something positive!

Ombudsman complains about council thwarting its inquiries

A critical new report has found that council bosses tried to frustrate and delay an investigation into a housing estate which should never have been built.

In September last year the Plymouth Herald revealed how councillors were misled when approving plans for the controversial Dunstone Gardens estate in Elburton.

A collection of 16 homes were eventually erected without proper permission, sparking a major inquiry by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

Now five years on from the first application to build on the site, a detailed report exposes how Plymouth City Council repeatedly tried to thwart the inquiry, before publicly questioning its findings.

LGO chairman Michael King said: “In the course of the investigations we met with considerable resistance from the council, which was unnecessary and disappointing.

“This frustrated and delayed our efforts to progress the case.

“We were eventually able to confirm that the council had failed to properly publicise a planning application; was unclear about the site boundary; did not give proper consideration to the complainants’ amenity; did not consider drainage arrangements properly; and listed the wrong plans in the decision notice.”

The LGO recommended nearby homes should be re-valued and told the council to pay the difference.

PCC was also asked to sort out issues with drainage, which caused water to run from the new estate into nearby gardens, and to offer extra training to members of the planning committee.

“Despite the evidential basis for these conclusions and recommendations being very clearly set out in the report, it was even more disappointing that the council chose to publicly question those findings in a subsequent press release,” Mr King (above) said.

“To date, the council has confirmed compliance with several of the recommendations and I welcome the action taken, but has yet to satisfy us in relation to the drainage arrangements.

“We remain in correspondence about the matter and the council has recently confirmed the further steps it will take.

“I hope this will address our outstanding concerns without the need for further formal action on our part; we will keep the situation under careful review.

“The adversarial response from the council in this case was disappointing. However, I note that you invested in training in complaint handling during the year. I hope that this will be of assistance in avoiding similar problems in the coming year, and provide the basis for a constructive relationship in the year ahead.”

A Plymouth City Council spokeswoman said they “accepted in full” the LGO’s recommendations.

“There are lessons to be learned from the way in which this planning application was considered,” she said.

“Improvements to existing processes to address some of the issues highlighted by the report have already been implemented.

“The LGO annual report acknowledges the action the city council has promptly taken to address a number of the recommendations which the LGO now accepts the city council has complied with, following correspondence setting out the actions we have been taking earlier in the year.

“On the issue of drainage, we confirmed to the LGO the actions we are taking on 28 April and 5 June following their confirmation of the one outstanding issue they considered still needed to be addressed.

“This is being implemented in conjunction with the property owners and we expect this case to be closed very shortly because the city council would have responded in full to all the LGO recommendations.”


Should empty homes bought for investment be requisitioned?

“If people hoarded food the way they hoard homes, hungry people would riot. No wonder proposals to help councils requisition empty properties are popular.

This week the Guardian revealed the names of some of owners of the 1,652 empty properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea , after the names, addresses and council tax details were accidentally sent in response to a freedom of information request.

Some familiar names crop up – the Candys, of course, via an offshore company; former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg; and a string of sheikhs and oligarchs. As of 2016, there were 2,753 households on the council’s waiting list.

For some, the link between empty homes and homelessness is moot: the two are unrelated and no links and correlations should be drawn between them. This misunderstands the reason homes are left empty. Most people buy homes to live in, with good reason; the chances are that your home, rented or bought, is what you will spend the most money on in your lifetime.

Most people don’t have the capital sloshing around to buy two homes, let alone one to leave empty. So to buy homes to leave empty is to treat them as money-making machines; the wealthy increasingly view housing as a liquid investment, due to its low volatility. This may change slightly, though not substantially, with warnings that the top end of the market is tailing off.

But it also changes how we view housing as a nation. After the Grenfell Tower fire, when scores of families were left homeless, and still remain in hotel accommodation, the idea floated by Jeremy Corbyn that we might requisition empty homes to temporarily house survivors was met with shrieking from the commentariat and political classes alike. The idea, they said, was ludicrous, communist and made a mockery of property rights. As it happened, the public disagreed: 59% of those polled by YouGov agreed with Corbyn’s proposal and only half as many opposed it.

The requisitioning argument, and revelations on empty homes in Kensington, reveals the battle lines being drawn on housing in the UK. What matters more, our human right to shelter, or people’s right to use property as equity?

Treating housing as an asset is not benign. Hoarding homes pushes prices up, and encourages market supply to boost what is most profitable – luxury flats that can be left empty and flogged when the market is booming, not family homes that can be bought on a modest income. And when land values soar as a result of a keen market interest in buying up property, unscrupulous local authorities eye up the land social housing is built on, and consider whether turfing out council tenants to make a quick buck on the ground homes stand on is worth a punt.

The public seems to be accepting the idea that a right to shelter should trump a right to profiteering: the histrionic claims that requisitioning empty homes will lead to families being turfed out of their properties reveals there is no proper argument to be made for letting homes lie empty while people sleep on the streets.

We accepted homelessness while the rich left houses empty. No more
No one will be kicked out of a home they live in, but consistently allowing people to hoard an asset that is in short supply has no ethical argument behind it. If people hoarded food the way they hoard homes, hungry people would riot. The outcry over the revelations of these empty homes and support for Corbyn’s proposal to boost powers for councils to requisition empty properties, shows the public is in agreement.”