“Landowners Pocket £13bn Profit In One Year Just For Getting Planning Permission”

Is there an election in the air? Tories talking about removing the “stigma” of social housing! You know, the housing they don’t build because, as George Osborne said – why would you when Labour supporters live in them!


“Landowners pocketed a staggering £13bn in profit last year simply for securing planning permission while a housing crisis continues to grip the nation.

Research by the Centre for Progressive Policy and the National Housing Federation has unmasked how land-holders are raising massive sums simply for being a proprietor.

Agricultural land now becomes 275 times more expensive once it receives planning permission, even before a single home is built. This is a huge uplift from just two years ago when planning permission increased the value of farmland by around 100 times.

It means proprietors are effectively sitting on a goldmine once planners green-light development on a site they own.

The CPP and NHF report found landowners’ combined profits were more than the global profits of Amazon, McDonald’s and Coca Cola combined and has increased by £4bn over the course of two years to reach £13bn.

Theresa May is due to announce that £2bn of Government funds will be directed towards housing associations to give them long-term certainty they need to build homes.

But the NHF and CPP say a radical overhaul is needed so some land sales profits can be captured and ploughed into the public purse for new affordable housing and infrastructure, such as roads.

David Orr, chief executive of the NHS, said: “This research shows the astronomical sums that landowners have been able to pocket, before they even build a single new home. At the same time, the numbers of people in desperate need of social housing is sky rocketing – we have to build 90,000 new homes for social rent every year to meet this need.

“In the face of a disastrous housing crisis, it is clear that the the broken housing market is simply not delivering. What’s more, the way we buy and sell land is the key cause. Now, we need a fundamental rethink to tackle this fundamental problem.”

It comes as house prices and demand for social homes soar, with housing associations trying to build council housing for poorer families increasingly outbid on land by private developers.

May, who will address the National Housing Federation Summit in London on Wednesday, said the £2bn will be separate to the £9bn of public funding put toward the existing affordable homes programme until 2022.

She will also focus on ending what she calls the “stigma” attached to social housing, claiming some view tenants are “not second-rate citizens”.

The PM will say: “Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

“On the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home.”

Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said recognition of the social housing sector from the PM was welcome, and added: “But, as the Prime Minister recognises in her speech, it’s crucial that government investment helps housing associations to build the right kind of homes at the right prices.

“In practice this means building more homes at the lowest social rents – which is often the only truly affordable option for people on lower incomes.”

Labour also hit out at the Government plans.

John Healey, Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “Theresa May’s promises fall far short of what’s needed.

“The reality is spending on new affordable homes has been slashed so the number of new social rented homes built last year fell to the lowest level since records began.”

The English housing survey 2016/17 reported that 3.9 million households, approximately nine million people, lived in the social rented sector – which was 17% of households in the country.

The survey added 10% rented from housing associations and 7% from local authorities.

By contrast, 20% of households were private rented and 63% owner-occupied.”


Council charges bereaved woman £324 for privacy space at mother’s inquest – reduced from £1000

“A bereaved woman was asked to pay more than £1,000 for the use of a room at an inquest this week into her mother’s death.

Christie Dyball is due to attend a three-day hearing at Reading town hall and requested a family room – a private space away from the courtroom – which is a standard facility at most coroners’ courts.

The inquest into the death of her mother, Anne Roberts, 68, who was detained in hospital, starts on Tuesday and will be held before a jury.

Dyball was initially told the cost of the room would be more than £1,000. After protests from her solicitor, Merry Varney, the sum was reduced to £324.

Inquests in Reading are held in the town council building because there is no dedicated coroner’s court in the area.

Dyball said: “It was a huge surprise. It’s disgraceful. What do they expect us to do? Huddle in a public corridor and discuss behind our hands with our lawyers? How can we express our feelings in private?

“It’s a shame that the council would rather keep the room empty than let us use it. It’s been a real disappointment and added to the stress. I have had to pay the £324 in advance or else lose the room.”

Dyball, who lives in north Norfolk, sought the help of her local MP, Norman Lamb, to obtain legal aid to ensure she was represented at the hearing. The Legal Aid Agency declined to pay for the family room.

Varney, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “This is ridiculous for such a charge to be made against a bereaved family who are there through no fault of their own.

“The response from the town hall was that it’s a commercial venture and that’s why they have to charge. It is totally unreasonable for a bereaved family member to pay a fee for a facility offered routinely to other bereaved families up and down the country when attending a loved one’s inquest.”

Inquest, the organisation that supports relatives at coroners’ courts, condemned the demand. Selen Cavcav, a caseworker, said: “Bereaved families must be at the centre of the inquest process. This cannot be achieved when they are forced to pay for a basic requirement.

“When families are expected to sit next to those who may have been involved in the care of their relative, their trauma is only exacerbated. It is essential for the family to have a private space where they can go during distressing periods and to speak to their legal representatives in confidence.”

Reading borough council said: “Family rooms are not generally requested at inquests, but where they are there is a standard charge.

“We aim to provide a sensitive service for the bereaved and we intend to do everything we can to assist the family to find an area where they can have some privacy during what will no doubt be a very difficult time, but we cannot always guarantee to have rooms routinely available. In this instance the family were given a discretionary discount on the hire of the room.”


The new slums: 250,000 (including children) living in squalid rented homes

“A quarter of a million families bringing up babies and infants in England are living in privately rented accommodation that fails to meet the decent homes standard, it has emerged.

The number of households bringing up children aged under four in squalid conditions, which can include damp walls, broken heating and infestations of rats, has increased by an estimated 75,000 since 2007, according to analysis of official figures.

The study of England’s private rented sector says renters of all generations have been failed by successive governments. The number of rented homes has more than doubled since 2000, to 4.8m, as the construction of private and social housing has slowed dramatically since the financial crisis and hundreds of thousands of new landlords have entered the market seeking better investment returns amid low interest rates.

“It is scary for me to think we have a lot of families in these circumstances,” said Julie Rugg, a senior research fellow at the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy who co-authored the report. “There is a disproportionately high percentage of households with babies and infants living in the private rented sector and there is a particular concern for the longer-term health consequences of living in damp, mouldy property with poor thermal comfort.”

The problem conditions are not confined to young families. One in three homes at the lowest rents and one in five of the most expensive homes are classed as non-decent. In 2016/17, half of new households were private renters, twice the number who became owner–occupiers.

The Centre for Housing Policy also warned of a new kind of “slum tenure” at the bottom of the rental market spreading as a result of welfare cuts and the introduction of universal credit causing landlords to cut back on maintenance and allowing properties to fall into squalor.

The findings come amid growing pressure on the government to toughen regulation of private rentals, especially as more vulnerable people who would previously have been in social housing are relying on the sector.

Campaign groups including Shelter, which has described private rent as like the “wild west”, want the government to start making public its database of convicted rogue landlords and to insist on minimum three-year tenancies to give tenants greater leverage to challenge poor conditions. A new fitness for human habitation bill will mean tenants can take landlords to court with evidence that their homes are unfit.

“Declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting, particularly families with young children,” said Rugg. “Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative. We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role that private renting plays in our housing market.” …


“Standards watchdog head Sir Kevin Barron resigns over cover-up fears” – there really one law for MPs and one for the rest of us …

Owl says: what did you expect from this government?

“The head of the Commons standards watchdog has resigned and accused parliament of “sacrificing transparency” by banning the identification of MPs who are under investigation.

Sir Kevin Barron announced yesterday that he would step down next month after eight years of chairing the standards and privileges committee. “I am proud of the changes made to the code of conduct over the years, including the recent introduction of a new system of investigation into bullying and sexual harassment,” he said. But he took a swipe at his fellow MPs, adding: “It is a shame that some of those changes had to come with the sacrifice of transparency.”

In July members voted in favour of plans to keep secret the details of all MPs under investigation. The change was part of reforms being pushed through in response to reports of sexual harassment and bullying at Westminster.

Sir Kevin fiercely opposed the motion, describing it at the time as a “step backwards in transparency”. Lay members of the committee said that the move was “a detrimental step in continuing to build the credibility of the reputation of the House”. Less than two hours after the vote passed, the parliamentary standards commissioner had removed the list of current inquiries from its website.

Since 2010 details of MPs under inquiry, as well as rulings, have automatically been published. The new rules mean that the commissioner will no longer automatically publish verdicts.

Sir Kevin said: “I feel that now is an ideal time for me to move on and focus on other projects.” He commended the work of the lay members of the committee.

Jeremy Corbyn was reported to the standards commissioner last month for allegedly failing to declare his contentious trip to Tunisia or reveal who paid for it. If the commissioner were to rule that he broke Commons rules on declaring an overseas trip, he would have to apologise to MPs. Under the new system, however, the public would not automatically know of the details of the investigation. A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn has said: “The cost of the trip did not meet the declaration threshold.”

Source: The Times (paywall)

“Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m”

“… Excluding developments where planning consents were gained by a previous owner and the student accommodation projects, in 93% of Berkeley’s 57 London developments the company told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In one example, Land Registry data indicates Berkeley Group sold 71 homes in its Ebury Square development in Belgravia, central London, for a total of £358m.

The company told Westminster council that as the development was refurbishing an existing building that contained 60 units, only 11 additional homes would be generated. This meant, under Westminster planning rules, that Berkeley was obliged to build only one affordable home. But instead of building it on site, Berkeley made a payment to the council of £1.6m towards low-cost housing elsewhere in the borough.

Freedom of information disclosures show that Berkeley bought the Ebury Square site – a former police house – from the Metropolitan Police for £23.6m in 2009. The profit on this single development is thought to be in excess of £200m.

At Kew Bridge in west London, Hounslow council accepted that Berkeley could only build 20% of a 308-unit scheme as affordable – half the local authority’s affordable target.

Building those units, Berkeley stated in a planning agreement, would mean the scheme would be £24.6m in deficit. Berkeley told Hounslow that house sales would generate £132m. Berkeley did agree to make an extra payment to Hounslow capped at £8.3m in the event of the scheme performing well. Land Registry data suggest that the scheme generated close to £250m, with one apartment selling for £4.55m.

A spokesman for the company said: “Berkeley has a sustainable, successful business model that enables it to perform well throughout the economic cycle, as demonstrated by its results of recent years and creation of fantastic new communities and long term value. We are justly proud of our track record in building 10% of London’s much-needed private and affordable homes.

“Last year alone, Berkeley contributed more than £400m of subsidy for affordable housing and wider community and infrastructure projects, which has helped us be recognised as London and the south-east’s leading place-maker. Sales utilising Help to Buy are a very small part of Berkeley’s sales.” …


“Grant Thornton [EDDC’s past and present auditor] in record fine as auditing scandal spreads”

“The scandal around City auditors spread beyond the big four on Wednesday as Grant Thornton was slapped with a major fine for serious conflicts of interest with two audit clients.

The Financial Reporting Council fined the professional services firm £4 million, reduced to £3 million after a settlement discount. Three senior staffers and a former partner had admitted misconduct in the handling of financial audits for Vimto drinks-maker Nichols and the University of Salford.

The ex-partner, Eric Healey, was slammed for “reckless” behaviour after taking jobs on the audit committees of Nichols and the university despite continuing to work as a consultant to Grant Thornton after retirement. The accountancy firm continued as auditor to both, creating “serious familiarity and self-interest threats”.

The FRC delivered the damning verdicts five years after it opened the probes, which cover 2010 to 2013.

The £4 million penalty is the largest imposed on an accountancy firm outside of the big four — PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY. The costs will come out of partner profits.

It is the latest in a series of reprimands for Britain’s biggest auditing firms — just last week KPMG was fined £3 million for its audits of Ted Baker — as the FRC faces calls to reduce the big four’s dominance.

Healey’s simultaneous engagement with Grant Thornton, Nichols and the University of Salford “resulted in the loss of independence in respect of eight audits over the course of four years,” said the FRC.

It added: “The case also revealed widespread and serious inadequacies in the control environment in Grant Thornton’s Manchester office over the period as well as firm-wide deficiencies in policies and procedures relating to retiring partners.”

Healey, who retired from Grant Thornton in 2009, joined the audit committees of the University of Salford and AIM-listed Nichols in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The former role was unpaid and he got £22,000 per year for the latter.

The FRC said it has issued a £200,000 fine (discounted for settlement to £150,000) to Healey and excluded him from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for five years.

Three senior statutory auditors at Grant Thornton, Kevin Engel, David Barnes, and Joanne Kearns, were reprimanded and fined £75,000, £52,500 and £45,000 respectively (after discount for settlements).

Grant Thornton said: “Whilst the focus of the investigation was not on our technical competence in carrying out either of these audit assignments, the matter of ethical conduct and independence is equally of critical importance in ensuring the quality of our work and it is regrettable that we fell short of the standards expected of us on this occasion. As we have since made significant investments in our people and processes and remain committed to continuous improvement in this regard, we are confident that such a situation should not arise in the future.”

Source: Evening Standard