What is the view of independent councillors at the Local Government Association?

“Dear colleagues,

It has been good to see so many of you this month at our Group Party conferences and at the National Conference of Children and Adult Services. We also ran the first module of the Next Generation leadership course. All this adds skills and knowledge to the many talents of our [Independent] members and enables us to discuss issues and craft better solutions. The regional meetings also start shortly in every area, so we shall soon be at a place nearer you to hear your views first hand. Thank you to those who made it to the recent information and development seminar on campaigning, either in person or online in the webinar.

English councils have taken a reduction of £16m in Government Grant funding from income tax, only partly offset by the 50 per cent retention of local business rates. 166 councils will be expected to pay the Government instead, further centralising money and power, exactly contrary to the agreed direction. The LGA is working hard on this in their Budget submission. 97 per cent of councils signed up to the four year agreement, but on the promise that 100 per cent of the business rates would be retained in local government, now a broken promise. If you are one of the 166 councils, have you passed a motion to seek a better deal? Please let us know.

It leaves us short of funds to run services and makes it hard to support more people with increased housing. We have called long and hard for powers and funds to build the houses people can afford. It is bizarre that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for much needed housing, regardless of a sound business case.

Instead of lifting this cap, Theresa May has announced a £2bn fund for social and/or “affordable” housing. If you rely on the media it is unclear whether this is intended for affordable or social housing. For example, the Sky News headline refers to affordable housing while the Guardian headline refers to social housing. Whichever it is for, it is only available to some councils and then only through a bidding process, ratheru than just giving us the funds. Her calculation of 5,000 homes a year, is based on an £80,000 subsidy per dwelling, but in areas of greatest demand, where she says she wants to direct the funding, that will fall woefully short. In its budget submission, the Chartered Institute of Housing recommended an extra £1.5bn every year to build 28,000 homes.

Sadly, although genuine funds are always welcome, the fund announced by the PM will not tackle the problem. We cannot plug the housing gap while the “right to buy” continues to drain our resources. In many councils, these have almost doubled this year, each sale taking two thirds of the value out of the public purse and into central government and private hands. We have to start to limit these expensive donations to what we can afford.

We cannot flood the market to bring house prices down while demand is unrestricted. Anyone in the world can buy here, and they do. Like a foreign holiday home, the first sale brings money into the community, but after that sales are often passed from one absent owner to another and sometimes left empty – more a place to house funds, rather than people.

We cannot make housing affordable while rents spiral without restraint and “affordable” is not linked to income, but to 80 per cent of commercial value. Many people will obviously continue to struggle. A housing rent statement is expected to confirm the move back to a maximum of 1 per cent above the consumer price index.

Meanwhile, homelessness is rising. I visited EMMAUS which provides an en suite room, regular meals, a community and a job for 720 homeless people. But it uses Housing Benefit that is about to be swallowed up in Universal Credit, an issue colleagues and I have raised at all levels. Our Vice President, Lord Victor Adebowale, CE of Turning Point was on Twitter this week supporting the work of community enterprise.

Greg Clarke, one the most thoughtful of our Ministers, responded brilliantly to my question recently, pointing out that growth could be an empty target if it did not provide balanced communities with work and housing to match.

However, DCLG has a consultation out now about increasing the pressure on councils to give permissions for housing, regardless of local ability to provide jobs, services, infrastructure such as roads and schools, and regardless of land availability without damage to the environment. Our Group’s Deputy Chairman, Rachel Eburne, is on the LGA board for the Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport. She pointed out that the cross party board was unanimous in its objection to the centralised steamroller approach.

The LGA has sought powers to prevent land-banking that prevents houses being built, while councils are required to compensate by giving ever more permissions, making a mockery of a planning system which is prevented from planning ahead. DCLG has not chosen to put any pressure on the developers to get on with it, despite our calls to give councils the ability to step in. Also the viability studies remain obscure and enable developers to reject the much-needed contributions to affordable housing or infrastructure. We cannot just look at housing on its own. It must be linked to economics, environment, and sustainability.

Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association
Lincolnshire County Councillor and North Kesteven District Councillor”

The Red Tape Initiative – West Dorset MP and pal of Swire’s new, er, initiative

Does anyone else find this declaration of interest by Oliver Letwin, West Dorset MP, oldxEtonian pal of Swire and Cameron, champion of privatisation of anything and everything, but particularly the NHS, somewhat worrying?

Remember Letwin has been the centre of several controversies and foot in mouth incidents as well as authoring, with John Redwood (1988) “Britain’s Biggest Enterprise – ideas for radical reform of the NHS”.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Letwin#Controversies

He is now, as of April 2017, the founder and Chairman of the Red Tape Initiative, which he describes in his Parliamentary Declaration of interest:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmregmem/170502/letwin_oliver.htm

as:

“From 19 April 2017, Chair (unpaid) of the Management Board of the Red Tape Initiative; a cross-party think tank established to identify regulatory changes that can be made by political consensus speedily after Brexit. (Registered 19 April 2017)”

https://redtapeinitiative.org.uk

which is made up of:

“Leading Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians [who] have agreed to join the Advisory Board, alongside other distinguished people entirely independent from any political party.

The CBI, BCC, IOD and FSB are working with the RTI to construct groups of experts from a range of industries – as well as representatives of environmental and other NGOs – who can help us identify changes that could quickly be made in specific areas of EU regulation, with immediate benefits for jobs and businesses in the UK and with no adverse effects on our ecology or our society. We will be consulting relevant trade unions – via the TUC – on the proposals that emerge, in order to ensure that they are acceptable to employees as well as employers.”

Unfortunately, there is no list of the Management Board or of people, other than Letwin, who make up this group, other than someone called Nick Tyrone, whose blog can be found here:

https://nicktyrone.com

who had had a couple of relatively short tenures as leader of think tanks Radix and CentreForum, and who seems to work from a Centre in Westminster Kingsway College according to the postcode on the RTI website, but we do know its first three priorities:

The first three areas that the RTI will address are:

1) the construction of housing

2) the construction of infrastructure

3) training and apprenticeships”

Ah – developers and zero-hours employers? Oh, Owl is SO excited!

Government and developers creating NIMBYs

“The biggest housebuilders are creating growing numbers of nimbys by trampling over communities and building ugly, unaffordable homes, the head of a homelessness charity has warned.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said that developers were putting profits before people and ignoring concerns about the quality and price of new homes.

She blamed the builders for “a huge loss of public faith in our housebuilding system” and called for reforms to planning laws to put people’s needs before corporate profits. “Even when communities create detailed plans for housing developments, these developers brush them aside and build unattractive, unaffordable homes,” she said. “This means many [people] choose to oppose new homes rather than go through a long planning process, only to be ignored in the end.”

The three biggest housebuilders, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments, completed more than 46,000 homes last year and shared revenues of more than £11 billion. They made profits of £2.2 billion.

“The government needs to bring in a new way of building homes which listens to local people to build the high quality and genuinely affordable homes they need, along with schools, parks and other amenities,” Ms Neate said. “We once had a proud tradition of housebuilding in this country, as seen in our popular postwar new towns and garden cities, and it is now critical this is revived for the 21st century.”

Her comments came after a survey of more than 3,500 people found that only 13 per cent felt that developers listened to them. Almost 60 per cent said that they would be more inclined to support the building of new homes if they were listened to more keenly. The southeast had the highest proportion of nimbys, at 38 per cent, while the West Midlands had the lowest at 23 per cent.

The Times revealed last month that a consortium of housebuilders behind a new garden town in Devon had watered down its strict design code. The Sherford development on the outskirts of Plymouth was designed by the Prince of Wales’s architects to prove that his model village of Poundbury in Dorset could work on a larger scale.

The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community said that the builders, Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey, used arcane planning laws to renege on their commitments to quality. Ben Bolgar, the foundation’s director, said they were determined to build a “normal, rubbish housing estate” instead. The consortium said the quality of the homes would not be affected.

Stewart Baseley, chairman of the Home Builders Federation, an industry body, insisted that his members “work closely with councils and residents to ensure the homes being built are what communities need”.

“Housebuilders have dramatically increased output to provide desperately needed homes,” he added. “Constructive debate is needed to develop policies that allow more homes to be built as opposed to baseless claims.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Lung cancer rates among non-smokers doubles – ? pollution

It rather fits in with ex-Vice-President and environmental campaigner Al Gore’s description of the skies above us as “vast outdoor open sewers”.

“Lung cancer rates among non-smokers have doubled over the past decade amid concerns that high levels of air pollution lie behind the rise, a study shows.

The number of lung cancer deaths among people who have never smoked will overtake deaths from smoking- related cancer within a decade if the trend continues, according to the UK’s largest cancer surgery centre.

Researchers worry that this shift would make the condition, which is the deadliest form of cancer, even harder to diagnose and treat in time. There are 46,400 new cases and 36,000 associated deaths in Britain each year, and only one in 20 patients survives for more than ten years.

Lung cancer has overwhelmingly been linked to cigarettes, which caused about nine out of ten cases. As smoking rates have fallen to a record low, however, specialists at the Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield NHS Trust in London have seen a substantial increase in the number of operations they are performing on non-smokers.

Other researchers said they had yet to see any sign of the trend, and there is little rigorous national data on whether lung cancer patients ever smoked. However, a similar rise was recently identified by three big hospitals in America. Eric Lim, a consultant thoracic surgeon, said he was confident that his team had identified a new and troubling phenomenon.

Between 2008 and 2014 the number of lung cancer patients treated at the centre remained constant at about 310 a year, but the proportion of people who had never smoked climbed steadily from 13 to 28 per cent, rising from fewer than 50 never-smokers to nearly 100 a year, 67 per cent of whom were women.

Mr Lim said that the reasons for this change were unclear but air pollution was a strong candidate. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified fine particles such as soot as a carcinogen, and Cancer Research UK estimates that pollution accounts for 3,500 cases of lung cancer each year. Another possible explanation is better detection of tumours through scans for other diseases.

Mr Lim said the rise of lung cancer in people who had never smoked could lead to a higher death rate because it was harder for doctors to spot the disease early without the red flag of a cigarette habit. Even now only 21 per cent of cases are diagnosed by GPs, compared with the 35 per cent that are discovered at accident and emergency wards.

The Royal Brompton group plans to launch the first clinical trials of a “liquid biopsy” blood test next year that could catch fragments of DNA shed by lung cancer months or years before the most serious symptoms appeared.

Some experts argue that the study, which involved 2,170 patients and is published in the European Journal of Cancer, is too small to be truly reliable.

Stephen Spiro, a former head of respiratory medicine at University College Hospital and an honorary adviser to the British Lung Foundation, said: “There is no good evidence that lung cancer is becoming commoner in never-smokers.” He added: “Lung cancer will become more frequent in never-smokers as a proportion, as smoking cancers begin to decline.”

Mr Lim stood by his findings, saying that Britain was not good enough at monitoring lung cancer rates to have spotted the trend.”

Source: The Times, pay wall

“Cranbrook expansion plans for 1,200 new homes opposed by Cranbrook town council”

“Cranbrook town council voted on Monday night to object to plans for the southern expansion of the new town. Two new applications for the southern expansion of Cranbrook have been submitted to East Devon District Council for the outline planning permission for 27.2 hectares of residential development, 9.2 hectares of employment development, a new primary school, a local community centre, and sport pitches and tennis courts as part of a sports hub.

The plans includes 1,200 new homes, a new primary school, a sports hub, a petrol station, and a site for travellers and were a revision of plans that had been outlined in 2015 but had been deferred while the Cranbrook Development Plan Document was being finalised.

The revised plans would see a reduction of 350 homes, a reduction in employment space by 5,000 square meters to 35,000 square meters, enhanced sports and play areas with all-weather facilities, floodlighting, changing facilities and children’s play, community uses as well as the possibility of gypsy and traveller pitches as an alternative to employment land.

But concerns by the council’s planning committee were raised about the fact that the proposals added land for housing on the eastern edge of the original proposals between Parsons Lane and the Country Park boundary immediately opposite the existing homes in Post Coach Way which front the B3174, and they requested further clarification on the gypsy and/or traveller allocation being provided.

The committee said: “Broadly the planning proposals being considered are in line with East Devon District Council’s Local Plan 2013-2031, which precludes development within the Neighbourhood Plan areas of the surrounding villages. By reducing the application to 1,200 homes, the proposals maintain an acceptable density per hectare and respect the Neighbourhood Plan areas of the two immediate parish neighbours.

“The Committee considered that density of 45 dwellings per hectare as acceptable and reiterated that parking issues associated with that level of density were well recorded.

“The Committee felt that the applications ignored previous pledges about the green wedge contained within East Devon District Council’s Local Plan 2013-2031. Councillors were anxious to preserve the green wedge between Cranbrook and Rockbeare and considered the proposed wedge too narrow.

The proposal added land for housing on the eastern edge of the original proposals between Parsons Lane and the Country Park boundary immediately opposite the existing homes in Post Coach Way which front the B3174 which may raise concerns about visual impact from the village of Rockbeare.

“The inclusion of the “gypsy and traveller pitches” required clarification.The Town Council always maintained a position that it is acceptable for Cranbrook to accommodate a proportionate and reasonable number of pitches particularly to provide permanent homes for gypsy and/or traveller families and this provision should be within the allocation of affordable homes within the scheme.

“The indicative site was, however, shown as an alternative to employment land and had close proximity to the airport. This site was not suitable for settled gypsy or traveller families to be located because of its proximity to the airport and the Committee felt that a possible transition site should be located nearer the main arterial routes and the M5 and not in a residential area

“The Committee also reiterated that there was a need to separate between sites for each group and, traditionally both genuine gypsy and genuine traveller families were not usually content to share sites with new age or caravan travellers.”

They resolved to object to the planning applications.

Since the build of the new town in East Devon began in 2010, 3,500 homes, a railway station, St Martin’s Primary School, play facilities, the neighbourhood centre, local shops, the education campus, the Cranbrook Farm pub, while construction of buildings in the town centre and the sports pitches are underway, while plans for the ecology park in the town have also been submitted.

The application for the southern expansion for Cranbrook would see the town get an additional 1,200 homes, but also a petrol station, a residential care home, employment land, a new primary school, and an all-weather sports facility.”

http://www.devonlive.com/cranbrook-expansion-plans-opposed-by-cranbrook-town-council/story-30445666-detail/story.html

Austerity and the poor

Letter in today’s Guardian:

“• Deborah Orr (Opinion, 30 June) is unfortunately absolutely right in all she says about the Grenfell catastrophe. A contempt has developed for health and safety considerations and they are considered a pathetic nanny-state approach.

This, coupled with the worship of cost-cutting at the expense of humanity, has caused this tragedy.

Even though I understood that terrible things were happening in the name of austerity I must admit I still thought we lived in a country that used regulation to require housing to be built or altered so as to offer adequate fire protection. Not if you live in social housing it seems. Could that be any more shameful?

Linda Maughan
Hartlepool”

“Why do England’s high-rises keep failing fire tests?”

“… Undermining the building regulations

The first thing to know is that local officials no longer run all building inspections. England has a so-called “Approved Inspector” regime.

Contractors must no longer wait for a local authority official to check their work. Instead, they may hire people to check their construction processes meet the required standards. There is no single regulator – or arm of government – directly upholding standards.

Second, the most important requirement in the building regulations is to build a safe building. So long as you do that, the fine print of the rules does not much matter too much. That is why, when inspectors sign off sites, they do not feel the need to work directly from the government’s own guidelines. And the guidelines set out by government are rather old, and cannot specify everything in all circumstances.

That has left a gap into which esteemed sector bodies have stepped. Their umbrella organisation – the Building Control Alliance (BCA) – has issued advice about how to get a building signed off as compliant without using the type of materials specified in the government guidelines.

And it is the case that, in the event of some prosecutions or a civil case, breaching the government’s guidance would count as a serious strike against a builder. But it would also be the case that following widely accepted professional practise and BCA guidance may also constitute a defence in a suit for negligence and grounds for mitigation in a criminal prosecution.

The problem is that this BCA guidance does not just suggest ways of making new technology fit the old rules. It introduces loopholes. The net effect of the sector bodies’ guidance is to set weaker standards than the government’s rulebook. …”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40418266