Property news from the 2021 Conservative Party conference

Replacing stamp duty and council tax with a proportional property tax – an idea discussed by Lord Willetts [given the nickname “Two Brains” in the 1990s – Owl].

Brexit may have finally been replaced by net zero and levelling up as the main topic of conversation, but one thing remains constant as the Conservative Party conference reconvened this week — housing is still at the top of the agenda.

Carol Lewis, Emanuele Midolo 

Not unsurprisingly for a party with the slogan “build back better”, there was a focus on construction: from the housing secretary Michael Gove’s promises to build on brownfield sites in the Midlands and the north, to the charity Shelter’s banners adorning the buildings outside Manchester’s convention centre telling the prime minister the solution to the housing emergency was to build social housing. With more than 100 mentions of the words “housing” and “homes” the Tories’ agenda was clear.

UK construction statistics published this week showed that building faltered in September amid a lack of materials and staff. However, in a small room high above the trade hall — away from the TV crews, the party faithful and stall holders — delegates at a fringe event, hosted by the think tank Bright Blue and the campaign group Fairer Share, had alighted on a solution.

Lord Willetts, the president of the Resolution Foundation’s advisory council, and Aaron Bell, the MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, were among those discussing how replacing stamp duty and council tax with a proportional property tax could release up to 600,000 homes into the market over the next five years without the need to lift a single brick. [Source seems to be Fair Share Campaign – Owl]

The tax — an annual charge equivalent to 0.48 per cent of a property’s value, rising to 0.96 per cent for second homes and foreign-owned homes — would release an additional 315,000 properties through extra market activity plus 135,000 second homes and 55,000 empty homes over five years, as well as 90,000 houses to be built on undeveloped plots. Some 255,000 of these would be one and two-bedroom homes suitable for first-time buyers, according to the groups.

Construction was not forgotten though, with the tax forcing an additional 90,000 more homes to be built as developers were spurred into action by the tax instigated at the point of planning permission to combat land banking.

Overall, the tax would mean 76 per cent of homeowners in England would be better off, with any increase compared with council tax capped at £100 per month. But most importantly, explained Andrew Dixon, the founder of Fairer Share, it would free up homes and the movement of people, helping more first-time buyers on to the ladder while encouraging downsizers out of family-sized homes.

Fairer Share’s calculations, based on data from 2020 showing 270,000 long-term empty homes in England, could be an underestimate, however, with the latest official statistics revealing that the number of vacant homes stood at 665,000 in October 2020.

Chris Bailey, the campaigns manager at Action on Empty Homes, says that homes are often inherited by families who don’t have the money, time or energy to renovate them. “Some remain empty for years or even decades, often ending up in a run-down state sold at auction. They are a wasted resource,” he says. “With so much focus on working towards net zero, making best use of our housing stock should be a no-brainer.”

It might be a case of taking back control rather than building back better to solve the housing crisis.

Network Effects – Shocking Transport Gap – Onward

New dataset reveals for the first time how many jobs are reachable by car and public transport in every small local area in Britain – exposing a shocking transport gap between North and South.

[This summary concentrates on the “Red Wall” constituencies but the full report also shows the particular problems faced by Devon and Cornwall. Neil O’Brian MP was one of the founders of the “Onward” think-tank in 2018. He has recently been appointed to Parliamentary Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – Owl]

Robert Largan MP

If Levelling Up is to mean anything, then it must be about fixing the transport inequalities between regions. I sincerely hope the Government take this report on board carefully.

How many jobs can you reach within an hour’s drive or 90 minutes on public transport from your front door?

We have created a brand new dataset that for the first time reveals the number of jobs accessible by car and public transport from every local area (LSOA) in the country across different time horizons. The subsequent analysis, Network Effects, exposes a yawning transport gap between different parts of the country:

  • Public transport is so poorly connected in some parts of England that people can access fewer jobs within an hour on public transport than they can reach within a 5-miles radius of their local area. In Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Bolsover, workers can access only around three-quarters of local jobs within an hour on public transport. This compares to some towns in London’s hinterland, like Redbridge, Barnet or Epping Forest, where an hour on public transport unlocks access to 7 times more jobs than exist locally.
  • This transport gap becomes even clearer when comparing similarly sized towns in different parts of the country. Halifax in Yorkshire and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire have similar levels of population as Aldershot in Hampshire. But using public transport you can reach twice as many jobs within 90 minutes from Aldershot (1.2 million jobs) than from Halifax (581,837), and over four times as many as from Mansfield (246,857). Aldershot is 30 miles from London, while Halifax is 8 miles from Bradford and 14 miles from Leeds and Mansfield is within 14 miles of Nottingham, 22 miles from Derby and 30 miles from Sheffield.
  • In some of Britain’s most important regional cities, public transport barely improves access to jobs at all. In Newcastle and Glasgow, an hour on public transport boosts job access by a third. This compares to London where public transport nearly quadruples local jobs access: i.e. there are 3.7 times as many jobs within 60 minutes on public transport as within a 5 mile radius.
  • You can reach more than 50% more jobs within 30 minutes by car in parts of the Home Counties bordering Greater London (482,000 jobs) than you can in central Birmingham, reflecting the latter’s byzantine road network

The transport gap is particularly acute around towns in the Red Wall regions of the North West and West Yorkshire, where geographic proximity to jobs is no guarantee that workers will be able to reach them.

  • In the Greater Manchester area, people in Prestwich, Droylsden and Blackley can access around 90% of the nearby jobs (within 5 miles), despite being just inside the M60 and close to the city centre. But people in Wigan, Rochdale and Bolton can access twice as many jobs within 60 minutes as there are locally.
  • In West Yorkshire, towns in the middle of the conurbation like Batley, Brighouse and Mirfield can access only 94% of the jobs that exist locally by public transport, while Huddersfield or Bingley, which are further from Leeds and Bradford, can access 94% more jobs than exist locally.

This suggests that spending dedicated to public transport could be much better directed towards improving jobs access in Britain’s regional towns and cities, rather than improving transport in places that are already well-connected.

The report also suggests that the Government should not rely solely on transport investment to support stronger regional growth.

Successive governments have placed considerable emphasis on transport investment to unlock growth, with transport projects typically scoring higher on benefit cost ratios under the Treasury’s Green Book rules. However, our research suggests that this may be a mistake, as transport connectivity to jobs appears to have little overall bearing on the average income and productivity of a place:

  • Only a small share of the local variation in median incomes is explained by the number of jobs accessible within 90 minutes by public transport, and access to jobs by car is not at all related to income. 
  • Differences in income are far better explained by qualification levels and the mix of occupations and industries than by connectivity to jobs. These three combined account for over four-fifths of the variation in median income between places.
  • This suggests that further transport investments will struggle to improve incomes and living standards in a place without addressing other economic fundamentals like education and the quality of jobs available.

We are publishing the dataset as open data

We have published the dataset openly to allow others to analyse it and create their own maps and graphs. Head over to our GitHub page to download all the journey time data used in this report. Please credit Onward if you do.

We are particularly grateful to Alasdair Rae, founder of Automatic Knowledge Ltd, who developed the measure of access to jobs used in this paper. A full methodology is available in the Annex of the full report.

East Devon’s Development Planning – The Dream – The Vision – The Reality! 

From a correspondent:

On paper there is little doubt that development planning in East Devon has been well documented. 

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) recommends decision-making should be genuinely plan-led, to achieve high quality designs, conserve and enhance the natural environment, reduce pollution to support a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy, whilst taking account of the diverse character of different areas, by providing a framework within which local people and their accountable councils can produce their own distinctive local and neighbourhood plans which reflect the needs and priorities of their communities. 

The role of the Local Plan is to help set out what we want East Devon to be like in the years to come, the type of development we want to see and where development should occur and what benefits it will bring to our communities based on local insight. 

Moreover, the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plan represents the community’s vision and priorities for how we would like to see our neighbourhood area evolve. It puts us, as a community, in the driving seat when it comes to having a say over what, how and where development should take place. 

Sadly, after the production of all these copious documents, containing a myriad of protective policies and advice in both our East Devon Local and Neighbourhood Plans – alongside the colossal amounts of time and public money expended in their preparation and approval – these policies were completely ignored by East Devon Planners in their decision on 20/1001/MOUT at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary! So the reality is that Clyst St Mary’s vision and ideology for the future growth of their valued, special village were crushed, pulverised and brushed aside by politicians and officials exclusively for unproven, economic benefits for East Devon. 

There is anxiety that any future changes to our community will now be entirely developer-led and contain incalculable numbers of lucrative housing – but the promised sports, leisure, economic, social and environmental benefits to the community will be scaled down significantly. Will our primary school children learn to swim in the pledged indoor swimming pool, before they reach adulthood? Only, perhaps, with the loss of additional sports fields or agricultural land to more housing? The tried and tested developers’ mantra will be that without additional housing – the financial viability of the whole masterplan will be at risk! 

Meanwhile, the local residents watch as the directors of the development company fly-in regularly and land their private helicopter on the pledged community sports fields; they listen to the deep-throbbing engines of the directors’ Porsches parking in the car park adjacent to their homes, whilst these entrepreneurs banquet at the high cost, high-end Winslade Manor restaurant and bars!

However, this is expected behaviour from directors of development companies – so we can’t blame them for reaping the benefits and taking advantage while they can? So who is to blame? 

Burringtons’ proposals for 39 homes on a protected green field, together with their horrendous designs for 40 four-storey flats (that resemble 1960s urban car park designs) in this rural village, opposite a Grade II* Listed Manor House, are accelerating at speed through the local planning processes with two Reserved Matters applications submitted (21/2217/MRES and 21/2235/MRES) under consultation. 

Can those responsible for the flawed recommendations and decision-making at the outline planning stage, now ‘claw back’ some credibility within this neighbourhood, to ensure that the Reserved Matters plans represent the wishes of those people who actually live in this community? Can we not secure housing designs that will be judged with pride, that are sustainable and will not detrimentally affect many existing homes in this community? Can EDDC Planners build back better and more beautiful or has the damage already been done to gain economic benefits for East Devon that are unlikely to be achievable – so now there is no way back? Or can the decision-makers now condition the Reserved Matters to ensure that the benefits to the community are provided alongside the housing provision in a staged process? Otherwise the developers will give precedence to the development of the 79 homes by  ‘cherry- picking’ the lucrative 39 on a green field and 40 inappropriate, four-storey flats in a village with no local  housing need  – but  the much-valued community facilities will be relegated and banished! 

Will the economic benefits that were so lauded by EDDC’s professional and elected planners and resulted in them ignoring protective planning policies in the NPPF and the Local and Neighbourhood Plans, ever be realised post-pandemic with innumerable business employees now electing to ‘work from home’ in future and not requiring the 2,000 predicted jobs offered at Winslade Park to East Devon? 

Clyst St Mary wonders if these plans will follow the example of Cranbrook with thousands of houses but no town centre – or Axminster with a profusion of housing but with no ring road – or Newton Poppleford with increased housing but no doctors’ surgery or health centre – or more locally – 80 homes at Greenspires with no footpath provided for children to walk to the primary school? 

Are we to forget the dream and the vision of aesthetically-pleasing growth proposals that will stand the test of time and be admired in the future? Is the reality likely to be  that Clyst St Mary will be sacrificed to become a giant housing estate of urban sprawl with none of the pledged infrastructure, resulting in it losing its special characteristics as a valued  rural, historic village? 

The decision is in the hands of a few elected members of the Planning Committee on recommendations from EDDC’s planning officials – is this a lottery governed only by chance – or does the local authority actually have jurisdiction to control the future development of our communities?  For the answers  . . . . . Watch This Space!