“24,000 homeless families ‘sent miles from local area’ “

“The number of homeless families forced to move away from their communities is at its highest for 20 years, as councils struggle to find accommodation for the growing numbers of people in need.

According to official government figures, there were 23,640 families in temporary accommodation outside their local area in the second quarter of this year, the highest level in 20 years and more than double that recorded over the same period just five years ago.

The new data has emerged amid rising anger over homelessness, with recent research showing that deaths among homeless people in England and Wales have increased by 24% in five years. Deaths have risen every year since 2013, from 475 in 2014 to 597 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Several factors are being blamed for the rise in homeless families being relocated. A freeze on benefits and a cap on payments have led to a rise in demand for temporary accommodation. Meanwhile, the stock of council-owned housing has been run down and rents are rising, making affordable private rented accommodation harder to find.

Melanie Onn, the shadow housing minister who uncovered the figures, said they revealed the “human cost of the housing crisis”.

“Eight years of Tory failure on housing means that more and more families are being forced to move away from their communities, schools and jobs,” she said. Labour blamed cuts to housing benefit and an 80% fall in the number of homes for social rent being built.

Greg Beales, director of campaigns at Shelter, said his charity had witnessed the damage caused “when homeless families are forced to uproot their lives and move miles away to temporary accommodation in another area, abandoning jobs, schools and support networks. To put an end to the devastating cycle of homelessness, the government needs to commit to a bold new vision for social housing.

“Only then will families have a fighting chance of a safe and secure home in their local area.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the number of families being asked to relocate had become unacceptable: “As local councils struggle to find housing for people, the only option for many is to rent privately, but with renting costs now sky high and housing benefit falling short of rents, this is not a viable option for most,” he said.

“As a result many have no option but to leave any semblance of community and support behind, often moving to areas where they have no connections, leaving them trapped in a cycle of desperation.

“The government’s decision to start reinvesting in social housing is welcome, but it doesn’t go far enough. ” …

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/23/24000-homeless-families-sent-miles-from-local-area

“Yvette Cooper: It’s time to boost Brit towns and not lock cash funds in cities”

“… Research done for the Labour Towns group of MPs and councillors found that overall job growth in towns since the last recession has only been half the rate of growth in cities.

The economic divide between cities and towns is growing and the Tory Government is making it worse. …

Austerity has hit towns and smaller cities hard, so it isn’t just retailers who have been leaving.

Often the libraries, police stations, council offices, magistrates courts, swimming pools, community centres, A&E or the maternity services have been closed, forcing people to travel to nearby cities instead. Lottery and arts funding is higher in cities too.

Manufacturing jobs in towns are being squeezed while new service or creative opportunities are concentrated in cities.

Meanwhile most of the transport money goes to London or other major hubs. Buses have been cut.

… It’s time to support Britain’s towns. Instead of making everyone travel to cities for public services, we need more in towns.

Instead of rolling out new broadband or 5G infrastructure in cities first, why not start in nearby towns? Instead of always using all the transport money on overruns for big city projects like HS2 or Crossrail, why not start by improving local trains and buses?

The Government seems to think if you only support cities, everything will just trickle down and out to the towns, but it hasn’t worked. Let’s have a fair deal to boost our towns and cities together. … “

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/yvette-cooper-its-time-boost-13768773

“Grenfell warning over creation of ‘a new generation of slums’ “

“The lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire risk being ignored because developers can convert office blocks into homes without full local authority checks, a former housing minister has warned.

Nick Raynsford said that “a new generation of slums” was being created in Britain because developers did not have to submit a planning application when converting old commercial properties into flats. The policy leaves councils with limited power to ensure that the buildings adhere to national standards.

Mr Raynsford said that “permitted development” rules were designed to minimise bureaucracy when making “modest adaptations” to existing properties, but developers were using them to create thousands of new homes in old commercial buildings.

“The council doesn’t have the power [to force developers] to comply with minimum standards on space, lighting, children’s play facilities, or fire safety,” said Mr Raynsford, who was a housing minister under Tony Blair.

A studio in Newbury House, a former office block in Ilford, east London, was planned with 13 sq m of space. The minimum standard is 37 sq m. Windowless flats have been marketed in a former office block in Brixton, south London, illuminated only by light wells that channel light from flats above.

More than 100,000 homes have been built under permitted development since 2013, accounting for up to 40 per cent of new homes in some areas. The Local Government Association found that 92 per cent of councils were “moderately or very concerned” about the quality of these homes, with 59 per cent worried about safety.

Many standards, including on space, are not compulsory and only apply to plans that go via the planning system.

Julia Park, of Levitt Bernstein architects, said such developments “tend to be occupied by vulnerable people” and were often used as temporary housing.

Mr Raynsford said: “There should be early engagement by planning authorities with the fire and rescue authority when an application for a high-rise residential development is submitted. That runs counter to the whole ‘permitted development’ approach, where obligations on developers are minimal and the council does not have the resources to explore the implications, to ensure fire engines can access the site, for example.”

The government is consulting on whether to extend the rules.

Mr Raynsford referred to evidence emerging from the Grenfell inquiry, after the fire in June last year in which 72 people died. “It seems to be extraordinary that one arm of government is pushing in a direction that’s very different to the conclusions emerging from the public inquiry in which failings, in terms of preparations for coping with serious problems, have been highlighted,” he said.

Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association said the conditions in some developments were “Dickensian”, and added: “It is some of the most appalling slum housing this country has seen in the post-war era.”

Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, said: “All developments, including offices converted into homes, remain subject to strict fire safety rules.”

It is understood the government will look at permitted development when considering recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Grenfell report. …”

Source: Times, pay wall

That Knowle table … sold for £50?

Oh, er – been kicking off on Facebook page!

22 foot mahogany table with 8 foot extension (not sure if included in 22 foot or makes it 30 foot, but probably the latter). Rumour is it was “valued” and was sold for a winning bid of £50 (fifty pounds).

Most councils have a policy on this. Anyone seen East Devon”s?

“Ex-Persimmon chief fails to set up charity after anger over £75m bonus”

Owl says: a charity for the homeless would seem appropriate …!

“Jeff Fairburn, the former chief executive of the housebuilder Persimmon, has failed to set up a charity almost a year after pledging to do so in an attempt to assuage public and political anger at his “obscene” £75m bonus.

Fairburn has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up, 10 months after he said he would donate a “substantial proportion” of his bonus to a charitable trust. Fairburn declined to comment.

He was ousted last month after the company said his mammoth pay deal had become a “distraction”. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/dec/21/persimmons-former-ceo-jeff-fairburn-fails-to-set-up-charity-after-pledging-portion-of-75-million-bonus

Plundering of Knowle assets by councillors? Best value?

It appears that councillors and officers have been given first dibs of Knowle assets, in advance of the move to Honiton and one of them has rather jumped the gun on claiming his prize.

Is this best value or equitable, Owl ponders? As does at least one independent councillor.

Note: Neither of these emails were marked private and/or confidential when acquired by Owl.

From a well-known Conservative councillor:

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

Dear Members and SMT,

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

You will all be aware there has been an auction of council furniture, chattels etc of which I bid for a few bits and pieces.

I bid on behalf of my partner for the very large table in the members area along with the 20 green chairs that we all sit around.

I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say).

The relevance of my informing yourselves is that the rightful date of removal is end of January/ beginning of February when we finally ‘pull out of the Knowle.

I would apologise for the short notice but we have 22 family members to Christmas dinner and would like to pick the table up tomorrow as it appears it is the last day of our offices being open, which of course would mean I couldn’t collect it on Monday, 24th, as we will be closed.

We do have one or two meetings between the New Year and our final pull out but I feel it only right to ask members if indeed anybody felt offended if it was collected tomorrow on our last day.

I will fully respect any position any member may feel regarding it being removed earlier and would kindly request your thoughts.

If indeed it were removed earlier I have spoken to Simon Allchurch who feels we could put a few of the red tables on wheels in the place of the table and there is an array of chairs to use for members in the interim so it doesn’t look bare.

I must again apologise for the short notice but with the closing date being the 19th and all that goes with it at this time of year I would like to think you may grant me a little latitude (or not).

Best wishes and a Happy Xmas to one and all.”

And here is the response from an Independent councillor

“I feel I must reiterate my comment from when this started. Who authorised the ‘private sale’ of Council property to staff and members? Why are we not duty-bound to seek the best price at public auction? No-one answered my questions.

Will we ever know the proceeds of this internal sale for the public record?”

I strongly suspect that members of the public would be shocked to know that councillors have been able to buy items in this way. It is somehow appropriate that 22 family members will sit down to feast at this table, assuming the removal goes ahead.”