Isn’t 7 years in power long enough to stop blaming previous government for housing situation?

David Cameron came to power with the Lib Dems in May 2010 and began the “austerity” policy. One of the first things he did was arrange for developers to rewrite planning policies in their favour. Yet Theresa May still prefers to blame Labour for her housing disasters!

“The sombre shadow of the Grenfell Tower disaster hung over Prime Minister’s questions.

The six month anniversary of the tragedy was noted by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, with the Labour leader saying it had shone a “light on the neglect of working class communities.”

The Labour then used all six of his questions to shine a forensic light on the Government’s record on housing.

Mr Corbyn struck a dignified, almost sorrowful tone as he listed how homelessness has risen by 50% under the Tories and rough sleeping has doubled.

“Will the Prime Minister pledge that 2018 will be the year when homelessness starts to go down?” he asked.

Theresa May ignored the question.

The Labour leader tried again. And again.

Would the Prime Minister ensure all rented homes are fit for human habitation?

Would she ensure no children would spend next Christmas in temporary accommodation?

Would the Prime Minister bring in a three-year rent cap?

You could tell Mrs May was uncomfortable as she went into full automaton mode, regurgitating her “I’m perfectly clear” and “we are clear” lines without actually saying anything of substance or even providing an answer.

The Prime Minister was stronger in her last couple of responses but she was forced to rely on the previous Labour government’s record to defend her own administration’s failure on housing.

Voters may have lingering gripes about what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown achieved but they will also know it is now seven years since they were in power.

May’s use of statistics was not so much brazen as shameful. At one point she claimed “statutory homelessness peaked under the Labour government and is down by over 50% since then.”

Yes, it peaked in 2003 but then fell every year until Labour left government in 2010. It is now rising again.

Corbyn could not resist ramping up the volume for his final question where he accused the Tories of putting the interests of private speculators and rogue landlords ahead of tenants.

Though clips of these attacks tend to play well with the faithful, he was at his most effective when asking quiet, penetrating questions.

It was not a walkover for the Labour leader but it was a return to form after an indifferent couple of weeks.

SCORE Jeremy Corbyn 2 Theresa May 1”

The Times: “Builders shun brownfield sites” [what a surprise!]

Are we surprised? Oh, come on – of course not. And interesting that a council, for example, might spend, say, £10 million on a new HQ, but not have the “resources” to identify all suitable brownfield sites for housing in their district!

Parts of the countryside are being needlessly sacrificed to build homes because thousands of small plots of previously developed land are being overlooked by councils, a study has found.

Sites with room for almost 200,000 homes are missing from official registers of brownfield, according to research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). These include former builders’ yards, disused warehouses and blocks of garages no longer used for parking.

The government says that it has a “brownfield first” policy when identifying land for more homes. To help to achieve this it has ordered all councils in England to publish registers by the end of this month of brownfield land suitable for development.

The CPRE examined 43 of the registers already published and found that only 4 per cent of the brownfield land they identified was on small sites that could accommodate up to ten homes.

In the budget last month the government announced that it wanted councils to identify enough small sites to provide 20 per cent of the new homes needed.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, also said that the government would “ensure that our brownfield and scarce urban land is used as efficiently as possible”.

The CPRE found that if councils met the 20 per cent target on small brownfield sites, an additional 189,000 homes could be built in England.

It asked a sample of local authorities how they identified land for their brownfield registers and found that they “routinely disregarded small brownfield sites”.

Councils overlooked the sites even though they usually had infrastructure in place, such as rail and road links and schools and hospitals, which were less likely to be available for greenfield sites.

The reasons given by councils for not listing small brownfield sites included that they lacked the resources to identify them and that housebuilders did not favour them because of the perception that the planning system was too burdensome for small plots.

The CPRE said that the failure to identify small brownfield sites was resulting in councils allocating land for development in the green belt, the protected land around 14 cities.

It has called on the government to amend official guidance to ensure that councils identified all the available brownfield sites in their areas.

Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE’s planning campaigner, said: “Up and down the country tens of thousands of small brownfield sites are not included in brownfield land registers and their housing development potential missed.

“The current system of collecting this data must be improved if we are to unlock the potential of brownfield and stop developers finding an excuse to build on greenfield areas.”

In October Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, said on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “I don’t believe that we need to focus on the green belt, there is lots of brownfield land, and brownfield first has been a policy of ours for a while.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Grenfell Tower resident blogged that fire would be result of council’s deliberate neglect – local media refused to take up the story

Local media knew about this for YEARS but refused to take it up or investigate, leaving a lone Grenfell Tower blogger to document the unfolding disaster. One so-called “local” journalist was actually filing copy from Dorset!

“[Edward] Daffarn [a social worker who had lived in Grenfell Tower for 15 years] is understandably emotional when reflecting on the last few months, but more than that he is angry. Angry with the way he feels Grenfell residents were treated by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation – the people who were entrusted to maintain the estate and keep its residents safe. Angry with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, which was meant to scrutinise the KCTMO. Angry with a society which didn’t seem to care about people like him – people who live on housing estates – until it was too late.

“The reality is if you’re on a housing estate it’s indifference and neglect, two words that sum up everything about the way we were treated,” he says. “They weren’t interested in providing housing services, keeping us safe, maintaining the estate. They were just interested in themselves.”
It wasn’t for us to tell the council what they should be doing we were just trying to raise an alarm.

Edward Daffarn, Grenfell Action Group blog

Daffarn and fellow Grenfell resident Francis O’Connor had been blogging on behalf of the Grenfell Action Group since 2012. They wrote about issues that concerned their tight-knit community – air pollution, the closure of the local public library, and their fears that corners were being cut during the refurbishment of the tower.

“We wanted to record for history how a community on a housing estate in the fifth richest country in the world could be ignored, neglected, treated with indifference. We never thought we could make change. We just wanted to record what was happening,” he says.

Daffarn and O’Connor shared a theory that Kensington and Chelsea – a London borough more widely known for its museums, designer shops and flower shows – actually wanted its council estates to go into decline, so that the residents would leave and expensive flats could be built in this sought-after location. For this they were described as fantasists.

“We weren’t fantasists,” he says, visibly hurt. “We were trying to raise genuine concerns about how our community was being run down.”

The natural consequence, he concluded, would be loss of life. Which is why on 20 November 2016, frustrated and desperate, Edward wrote the blog post KCTMO – Playing with fire!

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

A few months earlier a fire had ripped through five floors of a tower block in Shepherd’s Bush, just down the road. Edward was worried that if a fire broke out in his tower block residents wouldn’t know what to do. They had been given no proper fire safety instructions from the KCTMO. There were no instructions on individual floors on how residents should act in the event of a fire, there was only a recent newsletter saying residents should remain in their flats – advice which in the case of the Shepherd’s Bush fire would have led to fatalities.

There’s a lot of abusive behaviour evidenced forensically about what was happening to our community, but it wasn’t sexy so it never got picked up.

In March 2017 the KCTMO installed fire safety instruction notices in the entrance hallway to Grenfell Tower and outside the lifts on every floor of the building, again urging residents to “stay put” unless the fire was “in or affecting your flat”.

It wasn’t the first time the Grenfell blog’s authors had raised concerns about fire safety.

Before the blog began, when a school was built on the only green space the residents had, they wrote to the borough pointing out that access for fire and emergency vehicles had been compromised.

Later they blogged about the blocking of a fire exit with mattresses during the refurbishment and the power surges in 2013 that manifested in flickering lights, computers and stereos blowing up, and entire rooms filling with smoke. These continued for three weeks, Daffarn says.

“We were tenants we weren’t fire safety specialists but we were switched on enough to feel this was important and it was not being dealt with on our estate and that’s why we were blogging. It wasn’t for us to tell the council what they should be doing., We were just trying to raise an alarm.”

An alarm that went unanswered. The November 2016 blog post represented the last moment at which something might have been done to avert the disaster which followed six months later. But why didn’t anyone heed or investigate Daffarn’s claims?

Hidden within the story of the Grenfell blog is another story of the decline of local media. There simply was no local press on the ground in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea scrutinising the authorities and helping to amplify the voice of people like Edward Daffarn.

The last time he had the attention of a local journalist was in 2014 when Camilla Horrox, the reporter for the Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle ran front page stories about Grenfell residents’ concerns regarding the possible presence of asbestos on the site of the new school and about the power surges.

She had met Daffarn several times, and had been concerned about KCTMO’s dealings with the residents of the properties it managed.

But when the newspaper was closed down later that year Horrox was made redundant and all her Grenfell articles disappeared from the web. The Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle was incorporated into a website that reports on 29 west London districts.

Horrox’s replacement was expected to report on three boroughs – Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham – while based in Surrey, an hour’s drive away.

Some residents of the borough might have been under the mistaken impression that they did have a local newspaper. In 2015 a free paper, The Kensington and Chelsea News, was established to fill the gap left by the closing of the Chronicle.

But when I tracked down its reporter he explained that he was the sole reporter working on the paper, and on two other local newspapers – his salary was £500 a week and he did almost all his reporting from home in Dorset, 150 miles away. He made it to the borough only twice in two-and-a-half years, and the one story he ever published about Grenfell was from a council press release about the installation of the new cladding.

Though he always searched for a “good front page splash” for each of the three editions, he also made sure to find two pages of royal stories and two pages of entertainment stories.

Edward Daffarn didn’t take his concerns to the media in November 2016 because he no longer thought anyone would listen. But the blog was out there for everyone to see, he points out, if only they had been looking.

“We’d been blogging for three or four years and you go back over that time there’s a lot of abusive behaviour evidenced forensically about what was happening to our community, but it wasn’t sexy so it never got picked up.”
For Edward, what was going on at Grenfell wasn’t just a local story, but a national one. A story about invisible people in a society that cared more about celebrity and wealth than its most vulnerable residents.

Close to tears, he admonishes the nation’s journalists.

“If you look back now our whole community of North Kensington, the policy that the local authority was taking every public space and privatising it, that that could be missed by the BBC, by Channel Four, by these wider news agencies… The question should be for you, why did you miss it?
“Why aren’t our lives important enough for you?”

“Tory stamp duty cut could cost first-time buyers twice as much as they save, leading think tank says”

“… Because this is a permanent reduction in stamp duty for first-time buyers, it will actually increase the price of properties by twice the size of the tax cut,” the think tank said. “As such prospective first-time buyers’ net costs will actually increase not decrease.

“In reality, a first-time buyer purchasing an average priced property would experience a £3,200 price increase to offset the £1,600 tax cut.”

Those buying cheaper properties, however, are likely to save more in stamp duty than the extra they have to pay in inflated house prices, it added. The stamp duty cut also means that more of a buyer’s savings can go towards a deposit, enabling more to afford a home.” …

How many council houses equals a new headquarters?

The £10 million being spent on the new EDDC HQ could pay for 80 new council houses in our district.

Yes, EDDC will say it will SAVE money.

BUT if EDDC had properly maintained Knowle over the last 10+ years as it should have, they would not have needed to move.

“Councils are on course to spend more than £1bn on commercial property this year, investing more in shopping centres, country clubs, hotels, offices and other assets than in building council houses, figures show.

Town halls in England and Wales spent £758m buying up commercial property in the first eight months of this year, according to property market data from Savills, but are only building 1,730 council houses a year, government figures for 2016-17 show.

The £1bn councils are on track to spend could produce more than 8,000 new council homes, an expert estimate suggests. Earlier this year, Downing Street indicated that amount could deliver 12,500 homes.

While no nationwide figure is available for the total cost to the taxpayer of council houses built in 2016-17, expert estimates putting the cost per property at up to £125,000 would suggest local authorities spent in the region of £250m. …”

“Rogue landlords enjoy an easy ride as councils fail to prosecute”

“Councils across Britain have been accused of letting rogue landlords off the hook, after new figures revealed that most have failed to secure a single prosecution.

Almost six in 10 councils had not prosecuted any landlords in the last year, with more than 80% prosecuting fewer than five.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, have prompted suggestions that private renters face a “postcode lottery” when it comes to having their rights upheld.

It comes with councils complaining that the unprecedented budget pressures they are facing mean that they are struggling to cope.

Nearly 30% said they had carried out fewer than 100 inspections in their area in the last year. It has led to calls for councils to be handed more power and resources to tackle the problem.

More than 180 councils responded to a survey on inspections of private rented housing and prosecutions.

The London borough of Newham stood out, having prosecuted 331 landlords. The council has a mandatory licensing scheme for landlords, which it is currently waiting for the government to renew.

Brent council was next with 65 prosecutions, followed by Waltham Forest with 58, Doncaster with 49, Barking and Dagenham with 35, and Wirral with 29. However, most reported that they had not secured any. …”

And just as interest rates are predicted to rise – Javid says government should borrow to build houses!

Owl says: suddenly when Tories see that lack of suitable housing = losing Tory votes, NOW it’s ok to borrow!

And who will the borrowed money go to – developers!

“The government should borrow money to fund the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes, a cabinet minister says.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said taking advantage of record-low interest rates “can be the right thing if done sensibly”.

Housing charity Shelter said his comments suggested the government was “going in the right direction”.

Labour said spending on new affordable homes had been “slashed” since 2010.
It comes as Mr Javid launched an eight-week review of housing, in which he has called on the industry to offer solutions to the home-buying and selling process. …

… Asked about the change in tone from the Tories’ previous approach to borrowing, Mr Javid said a distinction should be drawn between “vitally important” deficit reduction and “investing for the future” in housing and infrastructure.

“So for example… you borrow more to invest in the infrastructure that leads to more housing – take advantage of some of the record-low interest rates that we have. I think we should absolutely be considering that,” he said.” …