“We need ‘a steady supply’ of new homes in our National Parks, says Michael Gove adviser”

First they came for the green field sites, then they came for the green belt, then they came for the national parks … and by renaming AONBS they came for them too ….. The developer lobby has now come for everything.

Sit back and watch those developers get even richer … while those who need affordable (TRULY AFFORDABLE) housing get shafted again.

“People living in the countryside have to accept a “steady supply” of new homes need to be built in National Parks, the Government adviser in charge of a major review has said.

Julian Glover, who is running a review of whether to add to England’s 10 National Parks, said more homes had to be built in these protected areas.

Mr Glover also raised the prospect that new national parks will be created on the edge of major cities like Birmingham so people who live in urban areas can easily access them.

Another idea is to find new names for England’s 30 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/10/19/need-steady-supply-new-homes-national-parks-says-michael-gove/

“A land banking scandal is controlling the future of British housing”

“How often have you heard private developers and their allies say they can’t build more homes because planning rules have created a shortage of land?

Kate Andrews of the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) summed up this view in The Daily Telegraph, saying: “There is only one way to solve the housing crisis and bring down the extortionate cost of homes: liberalise the planning system and build more houses. A bold but pragmatic policy would be to release greenbelt land – just a small fraction of which would be enough to build the million homes needed to address supply.”

A million more homes? That’s a tantalising prospect. So is there any basis for her argument that the only way to solve this problem is to liberalise (or deregulate) planning?

A little digging into the latest financial reports of the top 10 housebuilders reveals a very different story. Between them, they have a staggering 632,785 building plots on their books, of which more than half have planning permission. At the same time, these 10 companies reported building a total of just 79,704 homes – which means they have, on average, eight-years’ worth of plots in their land banks at the current rate of construction.

Among the top 10, there is a wide variation. At the upper end, Berkeley and Taylor Wimpey are hoarding 15 and 13 years’ worth of land respectively. At the lower end, McCarthy & Stone and Bellway have land banks equivalent to four years’ current output. The difference is mainly in what are known as the ‘strategic’ land banks – reserves that have not yet gained planning permission. All ten have ample land with consent, ranging from three to five years’ worth of output.

The top 10 builders accounted for about half of the 159,510 homes completed by the private sector in 2017.

It is often the case that the stories an industry feeds to the media are at odds with the trading information individual companies give shareholders via regulated stock market announcements. A classic example of this is car insurance where the industry body complained of an “epidemic of fraud” while the major providers told the market that claims volumes were falling.

In the case of housing, the market reports of the top 10 builders are brimming with confidence about future trading. You might expect Bellway, for example, to be feeling the pinch from a supposedly burdensome planning system because of its smaller-than-average land bank. But its trading update in August said that it had detailed planning permission on all its 2019 building plots and had increased land acquisition by 12 per cent to an annual level 30 per cent higher than its output. “The land market remains favourable and continues to provide attractive opportunities,” the company said.

The top 10 builders accounted for about half of the 159,510 homes completed by the private sector in 2017. So, what about the other players? Information is patchy because many are private companies, but random checks on those that are publicly listed suggest that smaller housebuilders also hold enough land to keep them going for years.

And then there are the companies that combine building homes with developing sites to sell on to other builders. The latest trading update from Inland Homes, for example, said that in the first six months of this year it has built 357 units and sold 837 plots to other housebuilders but still has 6,808 in its land bank – nearly six times as many as it built on or sold.

The pattern is clear: across the private housebuilding sector big land banks are the norm. If the top 10 companies – equating to half the market – are hoarding 600,000-plus plots, it is safe to assume that well over a million plots are in the land banks of the sector as a whole. Far from needing greenbelt land, the builders already have enough plots to deliver a step-change.

But will they? The IEA believes ‘markets’ solve economic and social problems, but the last 30 years have shown that is certainly not the case with housebuilding. When Margaret Thatcher slashed funding for council housing in the 1980s, the idea was that the private sector would fill the gap. But it didn’t happen: while the number of homes built by councils slumped from 110,170 in 1978 to 1,740 in 1996, private sector output stayed at much the same level as it was under Labour in the 1970s. With housing association output also virtually unchanged, total housebuilding has halved from more than 300,000 annually under Jim Callaghan to an average of 154,000 since 2010.

This situation suits housebuilders nicely. Constrained supply has helped push up the average price of a new house by 38 per cent since 2010, against an average of 30 per cent for all houses. And booming prices have in turn generated record-breaking profits and dividends. Taylor Wimpey, for example, cleared a £52,947 profit on each of the 6,497 houses it sold (at an average price of £295,000) in the first six months of 2018 and was able to promise shareholders that it would pay out £600m in dividends in 2019, a 20 per cent increase on 2018.

The government has responded to growing anger about land banks by setting up a review under Tory MP Oliver Letwin to “explain” why the “build-out rate” on land with planning permission is so slow. Letwin’s interim report has already admitted that housebuilders complete homes at a pace “designed to protect their profits”. His final report is due in time for the Autumn Budget, but don’t expect anything radical: he has made clear that his recommendations won’t “impair” the housebuilders.

Labour, meanwhile, has published a wide-ranging green paper promising “the biggest council housebuilding programme for over 30 years” delivering more than 100,000 “genuinely affordable” homes annually. To achieve this, Labour would use existing public land, such as sites owned by the NHS and the Ministry of Defence, and set up a Sovereign Land Trust to work with local authorities in England to help them acquire land at lower prices. Taking inspiration from the 1945 Labour government, it would also legislate to create another generation of new towns and garden cities.

Labour’s policy would, in effect, draw a line under the Thatcher era by restoring to the public sector the proactive role it played in providing housing prior to the 1980s. In doing so, it would limit the scope for the big housebuilders to hoover up nearly all the available sites and hoard them in order to drive up prices and profits. As for planning, far from being the cause of the housing crisis, it would be a means of solving it.

Steve Howell is a journalist and author of Game Changer, the story of Labour’s 2017 election campaign.”

https://www.bigissue.com/latest/finance/a-land-banking-scandal-is-controlling-the-future-of-british-housing/

West Midlands mayor must travel in luxury to help the homeless

“A Tory mayor has sparked outrage after spending £500 of taxpayers’ cash on a chauffeur to drive him to a meeting on homelessness.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street splashed the “obscene” sum on the “exclusive” service to take him and an aide to Heathrow Airport and back home again.

In his manifesto when he ran to become mayor, Mr Street insisted: “I want to keep the costs of the mayor’s office as low as possible.”

The lavish spending by the former John Lewis boss can be exposed by The Mirror after his travel costs were revealed under freedom of information laws.

Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe branded the chauffeur-driven journey “obscene”, adding: “The money would have been better spent on night shelters and soup kitchens here in the West Midlands.”

The number of people forced to sleep rough in the West Midlands has shot up since 2010.

In November 2017, Mr Street visited Helsinki, Finland, in November 2017 to see an approach to tackling homelessness called Housing First.

Invoices obtained under freedom of information laws show the one-day trip cost £2,216.88.

The cost included a bill for £530.40 to transport an aide from Birmingham and Mr Street from Westminster to Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport.

The chauffeur then drove the pair back from London to Birmingham at the end of the day.

The website of the chauffeur company, Chauffeured By Car, says it operates a “discreet, professional service” offering “first class luxury travel”.

It adds: “You can simply relax, leave all the worry about directions and traffic to us, and enjoy the journey. To Chauffeured By Car your journey is our passion and we are committed to providing you with a world-class service.”

Detailing the one-day Helsinki trip, documents from West Midlands Combined Authority say: “Housing and land use is a key priority for the West Midlands Combined Authority.

“As part of this one of the key areas the mayor is focusing on is homelessness and rough sleeping. This visit represented a fact finding and lessons learnt exercise on homelessness issues.”

Housing First is credited with making Finland the only European country to see a fall in long-term homelessness in recent years.

It has been successful at ending homelessness for at least eight out of 10 people in the scheme.

This is compared to hostel-based accommodation which has resulted in between 40% and 60% of users with complex needs leaving, or ejected, before their homelessness is resolved.

Mr Street claims the Helsinki trip helped him secure £9.6million in funding in May this year for the West Midlands to try to end the scandal of rough sleeping in the region.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tory-mayor-splashes-500-taxpayers-13421748

Ageing-friendly cities [towns and villages]

Given East Devon’s demographic of a large elderly population, some of the points made in this article about designing ageing-friendly cities apply to our towns and villages too. There appear to be few (or no) design features for the older population in, say, Cranbrook, where it seems people are expected to move on if they grow older.

“…Getting out and about

The quality of the environment outside the home has a huge bearing on an older person’s quality of life. Joe Oldman, Age UK’s policy manager for housing and transport, says paying attention to the built environment can make the difference between someone participating in life, and them being isolated at home. “Accessible public transport, level pavements, places to sit, the removal of trip hazards, good street lighting and public toilets are all vital components to encouraging older people to stay engaged with their local community.”

New York City has added 1,500 new benches and 3,500 new or improved bus shelters in the last decade, in consultation with senior centres on their placement – such as within 250 metres from hospitals or community facilities. In the UK, 300 businesses in Nottingham have signed up to the city’s Take a Seat scheme, identifying shops where older and disabled people are welcome to rest with a “We are age-friendly” sticker.

With older people less likely to drive, affordable, accessible public transport is crucial to an age-friendly city. In January a UK study of 18,000 over-50s found that free public transport resulted in fewer cases of depression, after researchers tracked changes in mental health before and after people became eligible for free travel.

Natalie Turner of the UK charity, the Centre for Ageing Better, believes cities need inclusive transport strategies. “Good transport links help everyone, whatever their age, to access vital services such as doctors and social and cultural amenities, so that they can be involved in city life, stay independent and keep up social connections.”

Many cities, including Washington DC and Bilbao in northern Spain, have identified improving access to transport as a cornerstone of their ageing strategies. Proposals include making bus drivers aware of the needs of vulnerable community members, maintaining bus stops and pavements, and ensuring route information is accessible.

Innovative schemes are making cycling more accessible to older people. In south London, disability charity Wheels for Wellbeing offers sessions on specially adapted bikes, encouraging users to keep mobile, independent and fit. For those who no longer have the physical ability, Cycling Without Age – piloted in Copenhagen and now in 40 countries – enables the elderly to go out in tricycle rickshaws pedalled by volunteers.

Participation

An age-friendly city should provide opportunities for people to participate in public life and contribute to their communities, through paid or voluntary work. Evidence shows doing so increases social contact and good health. In Hong Kong the elder friendly employment practice helps older people to continue flexible employment post-retirement, through initiatives such as employment fairs and an online job-matching.

Roger Battersby, an architectural consultant to PRP Architects, specialising in age-friendly housing in China, says many members of the country’s growing population of over-65s are employed by local government in landscaping services. “One sees armies of older people tending the urban landscapes which, as a consequence, are generally of a high quality.”

But Professor Chris Phillipson says an age-friendly city needs to go far beyond work, housing and infrastructure to take in global factorssuch as climate change and pollution, to which older people are particularly vulnerable.

Unless the bigger picture is tackled, Phillipson says, we are likely to see an increasingly unequal society in the future, with the elderly among those bearing the brunt. “There will be a significant number of people in their 50s still renting. One-third of over 50s don’t own property. They will have rented for a long time and won’t have equity or savings. Gentrification has also had an appalling effect on older people.”

One example is Berlin, where low-income flats are being sold to private developers, leading to rent increases that have made many areas unaffordable to older people.

“We need policies that have a real impact on the urban development that is taking place,” says Phillipson. “If the environment is hostile to people on low incomes, that impacts disproportionally on older residents. Cities must not think about housing and town planning policies in isolation. Age-friendliness needs to be part of the debate about urban development.”

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/oct/10/what-would-an-age-friendly-city-look-like

“Shoebox Britain: how shrinking homes are affecting our health and happiness”

“… Jenny pays £475 a month, excluding bills, for one of the smallest of nine flats carved out of a Victorian terraced house on a busy road. One of them is not more than a glorified shed crammed into the garden. She doesn’t know the floor area, but planning documents show that her room, which includes a double bed, kitchen sink, hob, oven, washing machine and a clothes rail, covers 15 sq metres. The tiny, windowless bathroom adds 3 sq m. Her whole home is barely bigger than the average living room and would fit 14 times on to a tennis court.

“When I come home I feel this sense of doom,” Jenny says. “I can’t have the window open because I’m on a noisy, polluted road, and I can’t have the blinds open because there’s a bus stop right there. I’ve had people weeing on my doorstep, doing crack outside my front door.” There are practical challenges. Jenny eats on her bed, which, like her clothes and everything else she owns, smells of whatever she cooks. Without proper storage, anything out of place can make the flat feel chaotic. The hum of the fridge keeps her awake at night.

“I think that even if someone didn’t suffer from anxiety or depression, living in this flat would affect them mentally,” she says, wondering how she might start to recover in a house like this. “You feel it – oh my God, the air is so … heavy.”

… But standards and ideals can get blurred in a vicious economic cycle. Ministers relax planning rules to enable more building and development. Developers and landlords find profitable loopholes in those changes. Local authorities, desperate for alternatives to their own dwindling housing stock, direct residents to those landlords, fuelling further exploitation at a time when councils also lack resources for planning and building control. Residents, often faced with homelessness, endure the cramped results, until society notices and someone writes another report.

“My concern is that people are becoming inured to something that they shouldn’t have to put up with,” says Julia Park, the head of housing research at architectural firm Levitt Bernstein. She has written a history of space standards and is surprised by how little we consider the effects of domestic confinement. “When you’re living in smaller and smaller flats, you reach a point where it makes sense to take out the walls because one big room feels nicer, but I think that implies a lot of compromise we’re not examining,” she says. “Some of these flats pose threats to physical health, but, in small spaces, it’s going to be mental health that is most affected.”

… Park, who advises local authorities, laments the way sleeping, cooking and washing are increasingly viewed as the only functions of a dwelling in a housing market where a living room is becoming a luxury. She is especially worried about the types of homes that have emerged in the gaps in policy. This summer, she noticed a seven-floor former office block in Croydon, in south London that had been divided into flats. Planning records showed that each of the six upper floors in the building had been converted into 10 studios, including single flats of just 13 sq m.

By current standards, these flats are barely a third of the recommended size. Park was instrumental in drawing up the “nationally described space standard”, a nationwide metric implemented by the government in 2015. It recommends 37 sq m for a one-person, one-bedroom flat; a two-person, one-bedroom flat should be 50 sq m.

Park was surprised that the government had agreed to the recommendations, given its austerity policies. “The compromise was that it is optional,” she adds, estimating that fewer than half of councils have adopted it. Even when they do, it only applies to new buildings or developments that go through the planning system, but not to a range of “permitted developments”. So, for a relatively small investment, the owner of an office building, for example, can convert it into self-contained flats with only “prior notification”.

Ben Clifford led a team that visited more than 500 converted office buildings for a report published last May by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. “We were shocked by how many of these flats were of a very poor quality,” says Clifford, a senior lecturer in spatial planning and government at University College London’s Bartlett school of planning. In one, Clifford called the fire brigade after spotting walls dividing flats made only of plywood. “We spoke to one resident who was in a tiny one-bed flat with two children and no balconies or open space,” he says. “Another woman, in an 80s office building, said it just wasn’t very nice to live in a flat with big tinted windows that don’t open.”

In the so-called “lockdown” model, meanwhile, rogue landlords are converting family homes into tiny studio flats specifically to attract tenants aged 35 or over who, like Jenny, claim the higher housing allowance for a self-contained dwelling. By including a token shared facility, such as a tiny kitchen – or by ignoring rules altogether – these landlords also bypass planning permission by treating such developments as flat-shares (another permitted development). The rental income from six cheaply built studios is multiples of that for a three-bed flat share in the same house – and it is the taxpayer who lines the landlord’s pockets. “It’s basically the warehousing of homelessness,” says Jon Knowles, a computer analyst and campaigner who has recorded hundreds of such developments.

… Few housing campaigners have much hope that conditions might soon improve for the occupants of our shrinking homes. Clifford says there is a minor backlash against abuses of the permitted development rules, and several local authorities are moving against them. “We have to be much tougher on landlords and on standards,” Park says. “There are going to be compromises because we are desperately short of housing, but we cannot give people a free pass.” … “

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/oct/10/shrinking-homes-affect-health-shoebox-britain

Council tax, stamp duty or a home value tax?

“COUNCIL tax and stamp duty should be scrapped and replaced by a new annual levy based on the value of people’s homes, a powerful think tank has said.

The radical plans put forward by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) would see households pay yearly property taxes based on the current market price of their home.

It argued the move would help reduce wealth inequality between those who own a home and those who don’t.

The think tank claimed housing is currently “undertaxed” relative to other assets, distorting investment behaviour and contributing to inequality between homeowners and renters.

A property tax rate of 0.5 per cent would mean an annual tax bill of £1,243 for the owner of an averagely priced UK home valued at £248,611, the IPPR said.

The think tank claimed if the new property tax was set at 0.5 per cent it would raise at least as much as current council taxes. …

Carys Roberts, senior economist at IPPR, said: “Council tax is a regressive tax as it falls disproportionately on those with lower incomes and wealth.

“It’s also outdated, as it’s based on valuations that have not been updated since 1992.

“A new new property tax would be far more progressive, and would effectively capture increases in house prices in a way the current system does not.”

Property owners have seen their wealth and income grow, while rising numbers are locked out of home ownership and must pay increasingly high rents, according to the IPPR.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7448976/property-tax-scrap-council-tax-stamp-duty/

Rich council has 621 billionaire/millionaire homes left empty as investment vehicles

“A west London council has requested new powers to take over so-called ‘ghost homes’ and use them for council tenants when they are left unoccupied for long periods of time.

Kensington and Chelsea council’s deputy leader Kim Taylor-Smith has written to the housing minister to call for an overhaul of council powers to acquire unused houses.

Mr Smith said growing demands for social housing in the west London borough had been “framed by the Grenfell tragedy”, which led to the deaths of 72 people and left hundreds of council tenants homeless in June 2017.

Kensington and Chelsea was said to have a “huge buy-to-leave investment market”, meaning properties are bought and left empty, often to accrue value.

Mr Taylor-Smith said 621 properties in the area have been empty and unfurnished for more than two years, 347 of which are “amongst some of the most expensive in the borough”, including one worth almost £30 million. …”

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-council-calls-for-extra-powers-to-take-over-millionaires-empty-homes-a3955186.html