We face a land crisis, not a housing crisis 

Letter www.theguardian.com

Sam Bowman (The big idea: could fixing housing fix everything else, too?, 17 January) is quite right in pointing out that one social problem – the housing shortage – lies at the root of many other problems, and he provides a pretty full list of what those problems are.

As he says, it is not the cost of bricks and mortar that has sky-rocketed, but the cost of land. We face not a housing crisis, but a land crisis. It is clearly wrong that when the state – in the guise of the local planning authority – grants permission for development on an area of land, the enormous increase in its value is largely pocketed as unearned income by the landowner, rather than going to the community whose needs and whose taxes that have paid for local infrastructure give value to land in the first place.

Bowman blames the shortage on the scarcity of permissions to build, but Julia Kollewe (Report, 8 May 2021) told us that since 2010-11, permission for 2.78m houses has been given but only 1.6m have been built in the same period, prompting the suspicion that developers are holding land unused while speculating on further increase in its value, and therefore in their profits.

Bowman considers various ways to fix this modern ill, but fails to mention the best one: a revenue-neutral reform of the tax system so that tax is increased on the unearned income from land, ignoring improvements, and reduced on earned income and consumption. Such a land value tax would be levied on unused land as well as other land and so would put a stop to land speculation. There would be a strong incentive to develop, the cost of land and therefore of houses would reduce, leading to real affordability, as well as to solutions of all the problems he identifies as stemming from our housing crisis.

Dr Justin Robbins

Yealmpton, Devon

Hospital patients to be moved to hotel to free up beds amid ‘enormous pressure’ on NHS

Hospital patients in Norfolk will be moved to a hotel to free up bed space as the NHS faces extreme pressure.

news.sky.com 

Up to 15 patients will be moved to the hotel in Norwich in a three month pilot scheme, NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group has confirmed.

Patients are expected to move there within weeks.

The scheme will only include people who are healthy enough to leave hospital, but may still require care before they can go home.

This comes as the area’s health system declared a critical incident on 5 January as it struggled for bed space.

Chief Nurse Cathy Byford says the system is under “enormous pressure” despite staff “working tirelessly to ensure that people get the medical help they need as quickly and as safely as possible”.

She added that using hotels for extra capacity had been “used successfully in other regions”.

Patients at the hotel will be looked after by Abicare, a care provider with experience of delivering similar services in England.

Its managing director, Anne-Marie Perry, said staff are “keen to help” relieve current pressures on the health system.

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NHS deals with sicker patients this winter

“Care hotels are an excellent example of a proactive short-term solution that can be readily set up as they are needed, utilising resources that exist within the community,” she added.

The scheme will not include people who have tested positive for coronavirus, or anyone with symptoms.

Similar methods have been used in other parts of England.

A hotel in Plymouth saw 30 patients moved into its rooms in December 2021 to relieve pressure on hospitals.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons this month that he has “looked at every available route to secure the maximum capacity possible across the NHS”.

This includes creating virtual wards, using beds in hotels and hospices, setting up new Nightingale “surge hubs” within hospital grounds, and making use of the private sector.

Omicron falling fast, but new uptick detected in children

covid.joinzoe.com

According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures, in total there are currently 144,527 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average, based on PCR and LF test data from up to three days ago [*]. A clear decrease of 21% from 183,364 reported last week (Graph 1). 

In the vaccinated population (at least two doses), there are currently 53,703 new daily symptomatic cases in the UK. An decrease of 36% from 83,699 new daily cases reported last week (Graph 2).

The UK R value is estimated to be around 0.9 and regional R values are; England, 0.9, Wales, 0.8, Scotland, 0.9. (Table 1). 

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 27 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID. In the regions, England, 1 in 26. Wales, 1 in 30. Scotland, 1 in 35. (Table 1).

New daily symptomatic cases are now dropping in all regions (Graph 3).

New daily symptomatic cases have seen a recent uptick in the age group 0-18. Cases in the over 75’s have fallen back to very low levels (Graph 4).

According to the data, ZOE estimates that 46% of people experiencing new “cold-like“ symptoms are likely to have symptomatic COVID-19, meaning any new ‘cold-like’ symptoms are now again more likely to be a cold than COVID. (Graph 5).

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on reports from around 840,000 weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 46,284 recent swab tests done on symptomatic cases in the two weeks up to 17 January 2022. 

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, comments on the latest data:

“It’s great to see cases falling rapidly. In just two weeks, the number of new cases per day has fallen around 31% from its peak of over 211,000 to under 145,000 and new cold-like symptoms are now again slightly more likely to just be a cold and not COVID. While it is easy to think the worst is over, our health service is still not functioning properly, and complacency will inevitably lead to trouble. The ZOE data is already showing an uptick in symptomatic cases in children due to the back to school effect. With cases still high and restrictions being lifted, we’ll just have to hope that people remain sensible, their households are triple vaccinated, and regardless of official advice, that everyone knows to isolate and self test when experiencing cold-like symptoms.” 

Graph 1. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures total number of daily new cases over time.

Graph 2. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures results over time; total number of new cases and new cases in fully vaccinated

Graph 3. Incidence rate by region

Graph 4. Incidence by age group 

Graph 5. Comparison of new onset of cold-like illness and new onset of COVID with respiratory symptoms

Table 1. Incidence (daily new symptomatic cases)[*], R values and prevalence regional breakdown table 

Map of UK prevalence figures

Families forced to leave Isles of Scillies amid housing crisis

“Several properties on the island which have historically been rented out to people on a long-term basis have either been sold or converted to holiday lets as a result of the growth in staycations – or because of the boom in property prices because of the pandemic.”

www.itv.com

A housing emergency has been declared on the Isles of Scilly as a lack of homes mean families are being forced off the islands.

The council is warning essential services – such as the hospital and the school – could soon be in “danger” due to a lack of homes.

It comes as 15 households are being forced to leave the islands due to having nowhere to live.

Councillors unanimously agreed to support an emergency motion recognising a housing crisis exists on the Isles of Scilly at a full council meeting this morning (January 21).

The motion was was put forward by Cllr Tim Dean, who is the lead member for housing for the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

He said the isles are facing unprecedented pressure on housing.

Part of the motion says: “We currently have 15 households who have presented themselves as homeless. This means that they will be without a home in March and will have to leave the islands.

“These are our friends, colleagues and family and many perform essential work on the islands. We are in real danger of putting essential services at risk, such as the hospital and the school.

“Without these, our islands will no longer be a viable place for our community to survive. Our population is declining and getting older. If we don’t act now, we will pay the pricein the coming years.”

The letter goes on to say the housing crisis affects everyone on the island, from businesses, schools and health providers who are in need of accommodation for staff.

It adds: “The council is finding it increasingly difficult to recruit, as are pubs, restaurants, hotels, the Steamship company, the carriers, and the boatmen and letting agents. Without all of these services, the islands economy will change irreversibly.

“So, what can we do? One thing is for sure, we at the council can’t solve this crisis on our own. We need the help of the wider community. The Duchy of Cornwall, private landlords, second homeowners and even households with a spare room can help.”

The council has bought a property on St Marys to try to ease the situation and plans to covert it to provide two properties with two bedrooms and one property with one bedroom.

“But it’s an expensive solution,” the motion adds.

“We are a very small authority with very limited financial capability, but we felt it was the right thing to do given the current situation. However, we are acutely aware that it is not enough… we need help.”

Hugh Town, Isles of Scilly Credit: Steve Spinner

Several properties on the island which have historically been rented out to people on a long-term basis have either been sold or converted to holiday lets as a result of the growth in staycations – or because of the boom in property prices because of the pandemic.

The council is also asking tenants to consider downsizing and is offering to help with moving costs and looking at financial incentives.

Plans going forward will include a public meeting to explore the current housing issues facing the islands and possible solutions.

Silence over Teignmouth Hospital’s future

Will long standing local Tory dogma on bed closure withstand scrutiny?

When Claire Wright tried to challenge hospital bed closures during a County Council Health Scrutiny meeting in  2017, Cllr. Randall Johnson ignored her motion and instead allow a fellow Tory, Rufus Gilbert, to seize the momentum by kick starting the debate and swiftly proposing the exact opposite. – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

Members of the public expecting to hear an update on the future of Teignmouth Hospital at a council meeting this week were left disappointed when there wasn’t one.

In November, it was announced that plans to close the community hospital on Mill Lane will be reviewed by independent experts after an intervention by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, who asked them to aim to report back by mid-December.

At a meeting of Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee on Thursday, the first since then, the agenda contained ‘modernising health and care services in the Teignmouth and Dawlish area – update on referral to secretary of state for health and social care’ as one of the items.

However, when it came up an hour into proceedings, chair of the committee, Councillor Sara Randall-Johnson (Conservative, Broadclyst) announced there was no update and she had yet to receive a response.

The town’s county councillor David Cox (Lib Dem) responded: “How did this get on the agenda then? Because there’s lots of people watching this at home in Teignmouth because they believed there was going to be a great announcement – either yes or no – and it seems a bit bizarre that it’s on the agenda.”

The clerk of the meeting clarified it had been included because Mr Javid’s letter said that he hoped to get information to the committee by then, calling it a “just in case item, in case any information had been sent to us.”

But Cllr Cox remarked: “It could have been removed because people have been inconvenienced and they’re watching at home expecting to hear something, and they’ll be a bit disappointed.”

Cllr Randall-Johnson then said: “There hasn’t been an update. There might well have been an update this morning, but there hasn’t been,” to which Cllr Cox replied: “Oh well, fair enough.”

The community hospital was the first to be built by the NHS after it was established 74 years ago but was facing closure, with services moving to Dawlish Hospital and a new £8 million health centre in Teignmouth town centre.

However, campaigners argued against the decision made by NHS Devon’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), saying community hospital beds are “desperately needed,” while a petition entitled ‘Hands Off Teignmouth Hospital’ has been supported by more than 1,000 people.

Local MP Anne Marie Morris has also campaigned to keep the hospital open and welcomed the decision by the Exeter University-educated Mr Javid last year.

It is not known when a decision will be made on the hospital’s future.