Red Brick Long Read: Getting Back to Being Connected: How Housing Associations Should Change

Innovation-and-Change-in-nonprofit-organisations.png.pagespeed.ic.3R3y75Jc6C

 

Just published is a book on non-profit organisations by a committed group of community workers; it includes two chapters by Charles Fraser, the first on his 20 years as CEO of St Mungos grappling with different governments to develop services for an unpopular group, single homeless people. His second piece criticises the role of large housing associations, suggesting changes.

 

Red Brick is delighted to re-publish the second of these chapters below.

 

The book “Innovation and Change in Non-Profit Organizations” was edited by Don Macdonald (former CEO of the Foyer Federation).

 

Other chapters cover campaigns (Windrush, Women Refugees), community development, leadership and management and quality improvement. Contributors, all respected practitioners in their fields, include Patrick Vernon (Windrush Campaign), Marchu Girma (Women for Women Refugees), Sian Lockwood (CEO Community Catalysts) and Shaks Ghosh (CEO Clore Social Leadership).

 

Getting Back to Being Connected: How Housing Associations Should Change

By Charles Fraser

 

Introduction

 

For 35 years after the war, the responsibility for building new homes on any scale rested with the private sector and local councils. The high point of council house building was reached in 1953, when 220,000 homes were built. 1978 was the last year when the total number of new homes built (private sector, council and housing association) reached 250,000.

 

While new public house-building was seen as the job of councils, housing associations had a different purpose. Social reformers and philanthropists had played a pioneering role in the 19th century in developing high-quality housing for the working poor; this provision was not that extensive, with the result that by the 1960s many households had no option but private sector landlords, some of whom were notoriously exploitative. A new grass-roots social activism emerged in response to this, where locally credible groups competed with these landlords in order to provide housing free from harassment and overcrowding. They formed housing associations, and surfed the wave of determination to tackle the cruel human consequences of housing shortage which had been so vividly exposed in Cathy Come Home. They were close to the communities they served, as could be seen in their names (Notting Hill Housing Trust, Brent People’s HA, Paddington Churches HA etc). The cornerstones of their professional and emotional appeal were good quality housing, community engagement, hands-on management and human-scale accountability.

 

Thatcher government

 

A step-change took place in 1980 with the election of Mrs Thatcher and the introduction of Right to Buy: between 1980 and 2013, 1.6 million council homes were sold. More than that, they were not replaced – councils stopped building. By 2016 just under 8% of us were living in council housing (compared to 42% in 1979). By the 1990s housing associations were being encouraged by government to assume the responsibility for building public housing, and, under political pressure to cut public spending, government also expected housing associations to compensate for reduced grant levels by borrowing private money – a precursor to the rather idiotic and lazy slogan of ‘more for less’, one consequence of which was to significantly curtail risk-taking.

 

Backing the housing association sector became ideological, but not just along party political lines: the Blair/Brown governments of 1997–2010 only built 7870 council homes. Housing associations did a reasonable job of delivering new housing, within the limits of available finance; but their supply was inevitably not adequate to the demand. For decades Britain has produced insufficient housing to accommodate not just population growth but also the changing demographics of household composition. Politicians have been slow to understand the imperative of new housing supply, and ideology has held sway over action. It is widely accepted that about 250,000 new homes need to be built each year in England: since the turn of the century the average has fallen about 75,000 short each year.

 

Housing associations

 

It is now quite common to hear complaints about housing associations being remote, empire-building megaliths, interested much more in development than in management. But if housing associations are so unloved, why is this? There are, of course, a variety of reasons – a belief that size has not generated efficiency of scale but remoteness and an uninterested arrogance; instances of poor quality workmanship in new-build and then, critically, an unwillingness to take complaints seriously, take responsibility and put things right; an insensitive bureaucracy; and that old perennial, poor maintenance. Perhaps underlying all of these is a disappointment that they so willingly forfeited any sense of independence, and acted largely as sub-contractors to the local state, which swallowed up all the nomination rights to new lettings.

 

Some of the charges do justifiably stick. With their stupid ‘re-branded’ names and vacuous assertions about tenants/services/communities ‘being at the heart of all we do’, one is right to be unimpressed, even suspicious. But at the same time one needs to beware of a simplistic approach which equates ‘small’ with ‘good’ and ‘large’ with ‘bad’. It is not the fault of large housing associations that government abandoned its role of funding council housing. That withdrawal left a vacuum which housing associations have partially filled. It was government which collapsed the grant rate, forcing associations to borrow privately. Avoiding a default became the absolute priority of the regulator so as to ensure that all the wheels didn’t come off the sector’s credibility with private lenders. Big associations do use their financial muscle to build new homes, and a good thing too – but isn’t that the least that they should be doing with financial muscle?

 

The problem perhaps lies in the fact that the sector (and the regulator) has allowed power and influence to flow from spreadsheets – the number of units; the asset base; and strong cash flows – rather than from successfully identifying what makes associations different from other housing providers, and then strengthening that. Tenants risk simply being viewed as rent-paying units. At the same time there is far too little protest about the relentless cuts in government funding – down (for example) from £11.4bn in 2009 to £5.3bn in 2015 (a reduction of 47%!) –as well as cuts to ‘adjacent’ services (e.g. health and employment) which are so critical to the prospects and well-being of their tenants. The sector has lost any radical edge it had, and is felt by some to be too cosy with governments which do not put housing, or people, first.

 

Then Boris Johnson lobbed a pebble into the pond: when he campaigned to become Mayor of London, he struck a chord when he complained that the label of ‘affordable housing’ was applied too narrowly to housing for people on low incomes or state benefits alone and that, given the high cost of housing in London, it should be extended to (for example) young couples with a joint income of up to £60,000. As the ‘cake’ was shared out more widely to address this hitherto unheralded example of housing need, it was inevitable that some resource would be diverted from building for social rent. The sweetener for associations – but not tenants! – was that ‘affordable rent’ was defined as a rental level up to 80% of market rent.

 

Funding models

 

I do not pretend to have an insider’s understanding of the funding models of large housing associations. Many of them seem to have raised money using very complex financial instruments: the business model is paramount. But there is an issue of mission drift: in 2015/16, out of almost 190,000 new homes built in England, only 6500 (3.6%) were for social rent, i.e. low-cost housing for people on low incomes. A year later the comparable figure was below 5400, or 2.5% of all completions. It looks as if the profits from developments for sale on the open market are going to ‘affordable rent’ programmes rather than to social rent, and that people who need social rent housing are being left to the tender mercies of the private sector.

 

It is not completely fair to criticise all large housing associations for being in some ways unresponsive. Some have been genuinely innovative, and have sought new approaches to the rapidly evolving needs of their tenants. And yet, and yet … there is a problem. It lurks within the very terminology ‘housing association’. The term covers too many disparate types of organisation. It is very hard to see what it is that links together a large association, a medium-sized one and a small specialist one – beyond a commonality of constitution and a common (but ‘one-size-fits-all’ and unimaginative) regulator. ‘Association’ is defined as ‘a connection or cooperative link between people or organisations’, or ‘uniting in a common purpose’. It is increasingly unclear how that concept applies to housing associations – should there be a commonality of purpose between landlord and tenant? That seems to be increasingly rare. Customer care programmes and call centres may well have cut costs, but they are extremely impersonal, and entirely unaccountable. They only partly answer human-scale needs.

 

We seem to have forgotten that housing is not just about bricks and mortar, it is about people. In the early 1980s some London local authorities still had housing welfare officers, whose job it was to help new tenants deal with practical issues so as to aid their settling in. That seems like a very distant dream today. Housing associations with their roots in the 1960s were not set up in order to build an asset base – they were a front-line, humane response to the abominations of landlords like Rachman, offering security of tenure and dependable housing management. One of the great lies of recent times was the fatuous assertion by the DoE (as it then was) that it was ‘the department of place’ – all government departments are departments of people, and it behoves them to remember that fact.

 

Are housing associations private or public?

 

An interesting question is whether housing associations are private or public organisations. The answer varies, and will depend on the size and focus of each association. The reality, though, is that nowadays most housing associations are indistinguishable. They have lost local connectedness, which does not mean connectedness with an area on Google Maps, but with real people living in a locality. While it is true that the big associations re-invest their profits – sorry, ‘surpluses’ – into providing more units of housing, they behave in many ways like private housing companies. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but it then becomes questionable whether they can justify their charitable status, especially since most of them pay their board members. It looks more and more as if ‘charitable’ describes their privileges, not their obligations.

 

The supported housing sector (‘supported housing’ refers to the integrated provision of housing with support, which can sometimes be so intensive as to border on care) has been struggling badly due to unsympathetic government and generally uninterested (and sometimes downright hostile) local government, but there is precious little show of solidarity between the different ‘wings’ of what likes to portray itself as a single sector. Indifference does, though, seem to have been sanctioned – the regulator has failed to promote the wellbeing of small and medium-sized associations, and especially specialist supported housing providers. But then this is the same regulator which has consistently refused to countenance any nuance of designation, which in turn has led to the endless idiocy of small supported associations being exploited by their larger, property-owning ‘peers’, and of being assessed by the regulator against criteria which are patently irrelevant.

 

Perhaps this is not all the regulator’s fault – after all, it was central government which abdicated its responsibilities in 2003 by handing control of funding streams for vulnerable people to local councils, despite pretty clear evidence that they had a negligible track record in assisting the client groups which are covered by that rather unforgiving label. What started off as a ring-fenced fund of £1.8bn had by 2014 become an un-ring-fenced fund of £1.6bn.

 

Funding cuts

 

Many councils took proactive steps to cut the funding further. Nottinghamshire was one of the most celebrated and brutal councils: an SP budget of £27m in 2004 was cut by 65% in 2012; a further 35% cut was planned for 2014, leaving an overall budget of £8m in 2017. Derbyshire cut its budget by 81% over three years. These were by no means the only councils which, when faced with the need to save money, visited savage cuts disproportionately on those least able to fend for themselves. Local government claims to be the natural strategic housing body, a claim which is tested by the fact that homelessness has risen by 169% since 2010. The great difficulty for the providers caught in these cross-hairs, of course, is that organisations which seek to support people who fall between the gaps in services are themselves likely to fall between the gaps in funding. It is a cruel irony that supported housing should be cut when it saves money: the problem is that it saves money to the public purse, rather than only (or mainly) to its funder. Thanks to the embers of localism, the local tail wags the national dog.

 

These cuts matter, for two reasons. First, supported housing providers work with and on behalf of those whom mainstream housing associations choose to ignore; second, they maintain a close relationship with their clients, thereby ensuring the sort of connectedness and advocacy which the best housing associations once promoted more routinely. By working with marginalised groups, however, these providers risk themselves becoming marginalised. We are frequently reminded of the benefits of communities, without seeing their drawbacks. I recall a colleague from a homelessness agency who sought planning consent for a development of six flats in central London, for which the council received 840 written objections! Apart from the obvious disappointment in realising that 840 people had such strong feelings against homeless people that they were moved to put pen to paper, this does raise compelling questions about the validity of a planning system which is so immune to social progress. Is there a case for taking social housing developments outside the remit of the planning framework? But of course communities rarely define themselves by what they are, and much more frequently by what they oppose. They are intrinsically excluding: and it is at least arguable that social innovation takes place despite communities, not thanks to them.

 

Connected organisations

 

This is why it is important to have organisations which ‘smell the cordite’, that is, which are able and willing to stand up to powerful interests on behalf of their client groups, and which are able to harness the talents and experiences of their client groups in themselves helping to shape the services they receive.

 

I am not trying to argue that ‘small is beautiful’. Just because an organisation is small does not mean that its connections to its client base are exemplary: on the contrary, small organisations are just as capable as large ones of being manipulative, ineffectual and self-important. The important factor is the quality of their relationships with their clients, and then whether those relationships assist their clients towards Maslow’s notion of self-actualisation. At its best, that is the strength of the voluntary sector.

 

It is beyond doubt that there are sub-sections of the population who have been left behind. The cliché declares that ‘a rising tide floats all boats’ – not if they are holed below the water-line it doesn’t. These sub-sections have been failed: they have been failed by public services; they have been failed by the market; tragically, they may also have been failed by their own families. The voluntary sector, in the form of specialist supported housing providers, may well represent their best (and last) chance of having a future.

 

And it is here that the large housing associations can have a valuable role to play. They should stick to what they do best – but they could and should offer more practical assistance and financial support to their more precarious colleagues in the supported housing world who are trying to maintain that connectedness with their clients in housing need (and ‘financial support’ does not mean clever wheezes to make a quick buck out of them!).

 

What matters is almost always that which cannot be counted. When George Peabody established the Peabody Donation Fund he declared that the aim of the organisation would be to ‘ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness’. Promoting happiness would be a noble goal for today’s housing associations – but are any of them up to the challenge?

 

 

Charles Fraser was CEO of St Mungo’s (1994-2014).  This chapter is from Innovation and Change in Non-Profit Organisations, Ed. Don Macdonald, Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd, 2019.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A handy guide to Labour’s manifesto housing pledges

By Sheila Spencer, Secretary, Labour Housing Group

Take this with you on the doorstep! A handy guide to Labour’s manifesto housing pledges.  LHG Housing Policy Guide GE 2019LHG has produced a quick guide to the main manifesto promises for housing. Please share it round to all your Labour friends!

For a more easily printable version go to the doorstep guide on LHG website.

We couldn’t mention everything in this 1 page guide, but there’s something in our policies for everyone:

  • young people stuck in private rented homes, paying exorbitant rents, having to move every 6 months or year, and facing landlords who don’t maintain their properties
  • families moving from one private rented home to another, with no stability for their children and no hope of a secure, affordable, council or Housing Association home
  • leaseholders having to pay through the nose for ground rents
  • anyone facing homelessness
  • people in high rise tower blocks worried about fire safety in their homes
  • families who are anxious about where their children will be able to afford to live when they grow up
  • first-time buyers wanting low cost homes so they can stay near their work and families
  • those wanting to live in environmentally sustainable homes

We know that young people in particular are desperate for hope that the housing market can be made to work for them. We want to see the end of “young” people (under 35??) being forced to share flats and houses with people they don’t know, forced to move on a frequent basis, and facing huge battles to get decent living conditions. So when Labour gets into power, we’ll make all private tenancies indefinite ones as a matter of course (as they were before the Tories changed the rules in 1988). This won’t stop you agreeing a fixed term tenancy with your landlord – but you won’t any longer be forced into this.

No-fault evictions go out with this change too. And the 2019 Manifesto says that we’ll cap rent increases, bring in binding minimum standards, more money for enforcement, and funding for renters’ unions. The work of Acorn and Generation Rent can be replicated around the country, protecting tenants from the excesses of the worst landlords.

Other big stories are, of course, the pledge to build an average 100,000 council homes a year, the Green Deal which means retrofitting older homes can become a reality, and the pledge to reform leasehold.

My other favourites are getting rid of Bedroom Tax (alongside LHA caps, and reforming Universal Credit), ending the Right to Buy, and, of course, funding for fitting sprinklers and other fire safety measures in all high-rise council and housing association tower blocks. And if you’re on the doorstep and people ask how we can deliver all of this at once, tell them that the draft legislation to repeal the Bedroom Tax is already written so it will take only days to get this into force, once we are elected!

As the Labour Party says, Labour is on the side of the tenants. We need to broadcast this loud and clear for the next 2 weeks. Please help to get this message across!

Labour on the side of tenants

For a more easily printable version go to the doorstep guide on LHG website.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A look back at Labour’s Annual Conference 2019, from a housing perspective

By Sheila Spencer, Secretary, Labour Housing Group

 

Healey at LHG 2019

Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey MP, addressing the LHG fringe meeting.

 

Amid the gloom of Brexit, climate change, and reselection fever, Annual Conference this year was a rather more cheery experience for those who care about housing issues. For one thing, there were more fringe meetings about housing and homelessness (at least 20) than any other subject – even Brexit and the NHS. And the Priority Ballot for delegates to vote on which topics they want to see discussed at Conference saw housing get the highest vote in the Constituency ballot, and one of the highest in the Trade Union one. Finally, a large number of motions had been submitted about both housing and homelessness.

So we were off to a good start, with the compositing meeting coming straightaway on the Saturday evening. Quite a few CLPs and some affiliated organisations had submitted the Labour Campaign for Council Housing model resolution, or variations of it. Labour Housing Group’s own resolution, put together following a lively discussion of the outcomes of Shelter’s Social Housing Commission at our AGM in March, contained many of the same issues.

There was fundamentally little disagreement between many of the delegates about what we should be doing to address the housing crisis. All agreed that we need a major programme of council house building, that housing should be at the heart of our campaigning efforts to win the next general election, and that the Right To Buy must end, though this could be accompanied by an option to buy a discounted home from private sector stock.

To my delight, no-one argued against compulsory purchase of unoccupied empty tower blocks, removing restrictions for councils to build new homes (by which LHG had meant counting investment against the PSBR), or abolishing Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs). Nor was there any major falling out about the need for indefinite tenancies and the introduction of rent caps in the private rented sector whether Bedroom Tax should be abolished, or the need to build energy efficient homes.

There were, however, several contentious issues, and we took some time to explore them. Key amongst these were the question of whether it is necessary to state how much to spend on building the 155,000 public (social) rented homes to be built each year by the next Labour Government, and whether all new homes should be built to a lifetime homes standard.

Two other issues proved worthy of longer discussion, the first of which – retrofitting sprinklers and replacing combustible cladding in high rise tower blocks – will cause no surprise. Arguments were put forward for this to happen in all social housing tower blocks, to be paid for by the Government, and this view won the day.

The second issue was whether Housing Associations should be brought back under local authority control. From amongst the delegates present, there were several horror stories about the behaviour of these housing bodies which started their lives aiming to help to meet housing need and now seem, in the case of at least a number of the larger ones, to see themselves as private businesses beyond the reach of tenants, local councillors or indeed the government. The final wording in the composite, to “Give councils the powers and resources to take housing associations under direct council control” was intended as a last resort where the housing provider did not pay attention to the case made for them to mend their ways!

When it came to the housing session at Conference, the Housing and Homelessness composites came on the very last day, somewhat overshadowed by the dramatic events at the Supreme Court the day before and the recall of MPs to Parliament that day. So in the event it was just as well that John Healey had not been down on the programme to speak – but I felt this was quite a disappointment, given the profile that housing should have in our General Election campaign. I was also disappointed that Jeremy Corbyn mentioned only building council houses in his speech, ignoring the impact that could have come from telling young people that we will abolish ASTs and stop them having to move every 5 minutes. As John Healey often points out, for once, our current Leader needs no convincing about the importance of progressive Labour housing policies.

The housing composite resolutions passed by Conference can be found here.

At LHG’s two fringe meetings (“Time for Public Housing Revolution”, and a second meeting with SERA and others, “A home shouldn’t cost the earth: How Labour can address the housing and climate crises), people were in no doubt about the need for housing to be at the heart of our campaigning. As John Healey said, we must get across that only Labour can put in place what is needed, and give people hope once more.

And giving hope back to people about a decent approach to providing housing was very much called for this year at Conference. The visible need for this was obvious, since no-one can have failed to be dismayed by the large number of tents, people sleeping in doorways, and people begging that we passed every day on our way to and from the conference centre in Brighton.  Despite going to several fringe meetings where homelessness was discussed, I uncovered no explanation for this big increase in the system failing to prevent people becoming homelessness other than the ones we all know about: sanctions, Universal Credit, Local Housing Allowance rates; sky-high PRS rents; and not building enough affordable public housing in the city.

I left Brighton feeling that we had done a good job on outlining what we must do when we are in office – but a little dismayed at what there is still to do to bring housing to the forefront of Labour’s collective campaigning mind. Oh well, back to the doorstep for me, then!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Labour to modernise feudal leasehold system in response to Tory inaction

By Dermot McKibbin

On 11 July there was a debate in the Commons on the Government’s response to the House of Commons Select Committee critical report on the leasehold tenure.

The Government claims to be bringing forward reforms to:

  1. Ban the granting of new leases on houses other than in exceptional circumstances.
  2. Restricting ground rents on newly established leases to zero.
  3. Working with the Law Commission to look at ways to reinvigorate commonhold and improving the process for buying a freehold or extending a lease, or exercising The Right to Manage.
  4. By reviewing charges faced by both leaseholders and freeholders and professionalising and regulating property agents.
  5. By clamping down on unjustified legal costs for leaseholders, ensuring all landlord freeholders belong to a redress scheme and giving freeholders on private estates equivalent rights to leaseholders to challenge communal costs.
  6. By persuading developers to sign up a to public pledge to help existing leaseholders trapped in unfair and costly agreements.

The Government claim to be committed to introducing legislation as soon as parliamentary times allow. However due to the Brexit debate Parliament has been clocking off early and few bills are in fact currently going through Parliament. Ministers have repeatedly promised action to tackle the abuses that leaseholders face, yet with over 60 official announcements since 2010, no new legislation has been introduced. The Government lacks the political inclination to progress this issue as it is too close to the interests of property.

The Government claim in their response that leasehold is a legitimate form of home ownership. However, England is about the only country in the world that has not yet moved away from this feudal form of tenure. The leaseholder has to pay a ground rent to the freeholder and at the end of the lease the leaseholder becomes a mere tenant if no action is taken. The leaseholder can forfeit their lease if they break a term of the lease. There is no legal defence to the freeholder’s right to remove the lease. The relationship is a landlord/tenant one which is feudal in nature and no longer appropriate for the 21st century

Memes, Masters, and Liberalism: RADICAL PEASANT  WE'VE GOT TOGET  RID OF THIS FEUDAL  SYSTEM  IT'S KILLING US.  ARE YOU WITH US?  LIBERAL PEASANT  NO, NO, THAT'S  TOO EXTREME.  JUST WAIT UNTIL  WE GET A NEW LORD.  I HEAR THE MASTER'S  SON HAS SOME  GOOD IDEAS ABOUT

Alternatives to leasehold are available through co-operative flat ownership in Europe, strata title in Australia and condominium ownership in the USA. Closer to home, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all taken steps towards ending leasehold.

The Shadow housing front bench has recently produced an excellent consultation document called ‘Ending the Scandal: Labour’s new deal for Leaseholders’.

Labour plans five radical changes:

  1. Ending the sale of new private leasehold houses with direct effect and the sale of private leasehold flats by the end of the first term in office.
  2. Ending the ground rent for new leasehold homes, cap the ground rent for existing leaseholders at 0.1% of the property value, up a to a maximum of £250 per year.
  3. Set a simple formula for leaseholders to buy the freehold to their home, or commonhold in the case of a flat, capped at 1% of the property value.
  4. Crack down on unfair fees and contract terms by publishing a reference list of reasonable charges, requiring transparency of service charges and giving leaseholders a right to challenge rip-off fees and conditions or poor performance from service companies.
  5. Give residents greater powers over the management of their homes, with new rights for flat-owners to form residents’ associations and by simplifying the Right to Manage.

The report poses 11 consultation questions which require a response by 30 September to leaseholdconsultation@labour.org.uk.

The document correctly refers to the growth in the number of leaseholders. The precise number is still surprisingly unknown, but is estimated at between 4.3 and 6.6 million: up to one in four of all homes. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of houses built as leasehold is thought to have doubled.

Over 90% of all leasehold house owners say they regret buying a leasehold property and almost two-thirds feel like they were mis-sold. Many leaseholders thought they had brought on the basis they could easily and cheaply convert to freehold ownership, only to later find that a complex and often expensive process makes enfranchisement impossible for them to afford.

According to the report it is increasingly clear that there is a systematic problem with the selling of properties on a leasehold basis. Leasehold mis-selling has the potential to be a new PFI scandal.

In 2018, the Conveyancing Association published research suggesting that 98% of sales of leasehold properties with onerous or doubling ground rents had been in breach of consumer protection regulations. The campaign group Leasehold Knowledge Partnership have estimated that up to 100,000 homes cannot be sold due to a high ground rents and other onerous lease conditions.

At the heart of Labour’s plans to help leaseholders is the opportunity to obtain true ownership of their property through conversion to freehold or commonhold in the case of flat owners. Labour will legislate for a simple buy-out formula that will apply to longer leases, set at a proportion of freehold capital value. Labour will set the maximum ground rent chargeable at 0.1% of the ground rent, with a cap of £250 per year.

For a leaseholder currently living in a house or flat worth £200,000, Labour’s simple new formula would mean they can buy their freehold for just £2,000. This is a significant saving compared to leasehold enfranchisement for a £200,000 property: with 90 years left on the lease and a £250 per year ground rent, the current cost for enfranchisement would be over £6,000 plus expensive legal fees. For properties with ground rents above £250, the cost would be significantly higher still.

Mis-selling of leases is a big issue in the North West. This region has 75 MP’s of whom 20 are Conservative. Approximately two thirds of leaseholders live in London where there are elections in 2020.Hopefully this report will be read and acted upon by all Labour Party members. A House of Commons briefing paper is helpful and the accompanying table has useful regional and constituency statistics. (2)

Dermot Mckibbin, Beckenham CLP

For more information see:

https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8047 and its associated tables (Excel Spreadsheet) http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-8047/CBP08047—Tables-for-download.xlsx

Image credit me.me – https://me.me/i/radical-peasant-weve-got-toget-rid-of-this-feudal-system-4506989

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

From social mobility to social justice: how a simple policy announcement started a small war

Most people reading or watching the media during the last few days would have been left with the impression that Jeremy Corbyn had launched a major attack on the last Labour Government. In fact, he made a forward-looking speech to teachers on moving away from an emphasis on social mobility to talking about wider social justice instead.

Jeremy Corbyn (pic: Guardian)

It got little coverage, no surprise there, until it was attacked by Tony Blair with a video and a fanfare, after which Corbyn was widely denounced for disparaging the last Labour government. Much of the vitriol was not in response to what he actually said, or even his own tweets on the issue, but to a strange and incoherent tweet from Momentum in reply to Blair’s video, saying in effect that austerity was Blair’s legacy. A little bit of displacement was all that was needed to make the charge that Corbyn had had a go at the last Labour government.

Blair’s video is a hallmarked example of the spin at which he is so adept (a political talent Corbyn lacks). He takes one line from the social mobility speech – “for decades we have been told that inequality does not matter” – adds in a couple of quotes carefully selected from other speeches in the past, then claims Corbyn is constantly attacking the last Labour government and ‘enough is enough’, before laying out some of Labour’s relatively good record on taking people out of poverty, spending on public services (focusing on health and education), throwing in Labour’s excellent performance on overseas aid as well. So far as I know, none of these are disputed by Corbyn, indeed I frequently hear him attack the Tory record by quoting Labour’s achievements in these areas.

But the facts of Labour’s record was not what this was about. The media skirmish that ensued was remarkable for the lack of nuance. An exception was Sean Fitzsimons‏ (@CroydonSean) who tweeted “My take on the Blair/Brown Government. Solid performer on most fronts. Excellent on NHS, education, and improving incomes of pensioners and middle/low pay with children. Poor on house building, class and wealth inequalities, and North/South divide. 7.5/10.”

For virtually everyone else it was either 0/10 or 10/10. Hatred of Blair on the one hand and hatred of Corbyn on the other. The result of this madness will be no Labour government at the next election.

So, what about the substance of what Corbyn said? He was talking about inequality not just tackling poverty and he was talking about the weaknesses of the social mobility idea. Blair counters by saying inequality diminished under Labour. He compares the bottom decile with the top decile, but it is the top 1% that has become detached from the rest of society and that is what Corbyn concentrates on. Then again, this was not mentioned in his speech. Whether inequality rose or fell largely depends on which figures you pick, and it depends whether you include wealth as well as income. Blair also stresses that social mobility improved under Labour, rather missing Corbyn’s central point.

Whether it is fair to include 1997-2010 in the ‘30 years in which we were told inequality doesn’t matter’ or ‘dropping 40 years of political consensus’ is of course a matter of judgement, but in my view it is fair because it has proved possible to reduce poverty (normally measured by comparing the poorest with the average) without reducing inequality. Andy Burnham on Marr yesterday used a similar rhetorical flourish, saying  that governments have ‘failed the north for many decades’ including when he was in government. Is he to be denounced? Another expert in rhetorical flourishes, Peter Mandelson, probably did the most damage to Labour’s reputation in this area with his notorious comment that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”.

The idea of social mobility relies too much on counting how many people born into poor circumstances ‘make it’ into the richest group or into political power. Media often reduce it to whether someone born into poverty could become prime minister or find a ‘route out’ though football or boxing – the topic of many a film. It is often associated with the idea of ‘meritocracy’ and has been used to justify a wide range of both progressive and reactionary policies – including grammar schools and paid-for places in private schools, both of which are said to improve ‘social mobility’.

Corbyn was building intelligently on a substantial debate about social mobility in recent months, including important reports by IPPR and by CLASS think tanks.  There has also been debate in and around the current Social Mobility Commission, which has  commented on issues to do with inequality, warning that without major reform social and economic divisions within Britain’s society are set to widen. One of the current Commissioners,  tweeted that “I would personally welcome a shift of political narrative away from upward mobility for some and toward a greater emphasis on inequality, individual flourishing, and tackling the reproduction of privilege.”

I suppose I’m a good example of social mobility, brought up on a council estate in a one-illness-away-from-poverty family and ending up with degrees and well-paying jobs. But nearly all of the young people I grew up with left school at 16 and did not have the luck that came my way. In my view, the social mobility approach focuses on people like me and ‘the ladder out’, changing nothing structural, whereas the social justice approach cares about all the rest and how to create a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Corbyn plans to replace the social mobility commission with a social justice commission, sponsored by the Treasury, which would have a wider brief to undertake audits and impact assessments of policy and suggest changes to legislation.

The quote that caused the uproar was taken from this part of Corbyn’s speech:

“For decades we’ve been told that inequality doesn’t matter because the education system will allow talented and hard-working people to succeed whatever their background. But the greater inequality has become, the more entrenched it has become.”

“The idea that only a few talented or lucky people deserve to escape the disadvantage they were born into, leaving in place a social hierarchy in which millions are consigned to the scrap heap, results in the talents of millions of children being squandered.”

I think this is uncontroversial, not worthy of the fuss that’s been made, yet grounded in reality, and the right way to go.

And the legacy of past Labour governments was fairly judged by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, speaking with Corbyn, who said

“The Tories like to talk about people like me who had a difficult start but got on in life as evidence that anyone can succeed on their own. But actually my life shows the exact opposite. Any success I have had is thanks to Labour governments that provided the council house, minimum wage, tax credits and Sure Start children’s centre that enabled me to achieve it. That is social justice.”

Rayner also published an article making the case for the change in New Statesman.

So, despite the fury and the apparent division, this shift in emphasis away from social mobility towards social justice is actually something the whole Labour Party should be capable of uniting around.

There are many battlegrounds within the party, but this shouldn’t be one of them. 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Labour’s ‘Land Grab’

In the middle of all the fawning over Trump, the newspapers got their teeth into a Labour story this morning. According to the Daily Mail it was about “the policies of Venezuela” and “Labour’s garden tax: Party unveils new Corbyn cash-grab on your private green space and force the sale of vacant land on the cheap.” The Daily Express said “Jeremy Corbyn proposes ‘bombshell’ tax RAID on hard-working homeowners who have a garden.” The Telegraph’s slightly more moderate headline but equally inaccurate story was: “Jeremy Corbyn unveils plans for ‘progressive’ tax raid on homes and gardens of the middle class.”

Such disgraceful behaviour by Corbyn and the Labour Party attracted my interest, but when I tracked the actual report down I found it was a detailed and thoughtful analysis and set of recommendations around an issue which has huge implications for people who want affordable homes.

Called ‘Land for the Many’: Changing the way our fundamental asset is used, owned and governed it was produced for the Labour Party by seven contributors* including George Monbiot and Laurie Macfarlane – whose work we have covered on Red Brick before. Land is the hidden issue behind the housing crisis and the full report is well worth a read – because if you rely on media portrayals you might get the wrong impression of it.

George-Monbiot

Monbiot sets out his stall in a powerful preface, worth quoting at some length:

Dig deep enough into many of the problems this country faces, and you will soon hit land. Soaring inequality and exclusion; the massive cost of renting or buying a decent home; repeated financial crises, sparked by housing asset bubbles; the collapse of wildlife and ecosystems; the lack of public amenities – the way land is owned and controlled underlies them all. Yet it scarcely features in political discussions.

The sense that even in discussing land we are trespassing is so strong that this critical issue remains off the agenda. Yet we cannot solve our many dysfunctions without addressing it. This report aims to put land where it belongs: at the heart of political debate and discussion. It proposes radical but practical changes in the way land in the UK is used and governed. By these means, it seeks to make this a nation that works for everyone, with a better distribution of wealth and power, greater financial stability, economic security and environmental quality, greater participation in the decisions that affect our lives, an enhanced ability to create our own homes and neighbourhoods and a stronger sense of community and belonging.

Despite the hysterical headlines, the report is not yet Labour policy: it contains proposals that will considered between now and the general election. But the reaction shows what a mountain of bias and misrepresentation Labour has to climb to get a serious debate going on this vitally important topic.

Is any of hysteria justified? Let’s look at the key proposals

  • free and open access to data on land ownership
  • an explicit government goal to stabilise house prices to improve the long-term house-price-to-income ratio.
  • redirect bank lending to productive sectors and reduce speculative demand for land.
  • proposals for a Common Ground Trust to buy land underlying a house, to reduce house prices and bring in the idea of socialised land rents.
  • major reforms to private renting with a cap on rent increases and an ambitious social housing programme.
  • replace council tax with a progressive property tax payable by owners not tenants – with surcharges for empty and second homes and non-UK residents.
  • phase out stamp duty land tax for owner occupiers.
  • replace business rates with a commercial Land Value Tax.
  • new Development Corporations buy sell and develop land to crate new towns.
  • enable public bodies to buy land at closer to current use value, estimated to be able to reduce the cost of affordable housing by 50%.
  • remove permitted development rights that allow offices to be converted to homes without needing planning permission.
  • stronger public involvement in planning.
  • proposals to promote community ownership and control of land and buildings.
  • greater provision of parks and stronger use of the public realm. And a stronger right to roam.

It’s a detailed report, an instructive read, and in my view spot on in its analysis. It follows on from a lot of good work on the land question done by others in the recent past and covered on Red Brick, see Dave Treanor here, London Assembly Housing Committee here and Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlane for the New Economics Foundation here.

The Monbiot et al report is a serious contribution to a genuine debate, so it is enlightening to see how it is treated by the media. Most of it was hugely hostile, and I couldn’t find a word about it on the BBC News or Sky News website. Let’s see if Channel 4 can do a little better. But it shows the real difficulty Labour has in promoting progressive policies for wider debate, and the inherent bias in the mainstream media against leftish proposals, even when they are as strong and beneficial as these.

When the headlines say ‘an end to council tax’ or ‘an end to stamp duty’ then the public might have a chance of understanding what it’s about.

 

* The seven authors are : George Monbiot (editor), Robin Grey, Tom Kenny, Laurie Macfarlane, Anna Powell-Smith, Guy Shrubsole, Beth Stratford.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How many council houses should Labour plan to build?

Labour’s programme for the next general election needs to be bold and radical but also practical and achievable. There are a number of different estimates of how many affordable homes are needed and of what type. Here we try to unravel the figures and ask – how many council homes should Labour plan to build?

A new group called Labour Campaign for Council Housing aims to ‘radicalise Labour’s housing policy to ensure our party tackles the housing crisis when in government’. Fair enough. It rightly says that there is a crisis of availability of affordable housing, and that Labour’s priority should be to build social rented homes. It wants councils to build ‘at least’ 100,000 of these, with an extra 55,000 contributed by housing associations. It argues for £10 billion grant a year to fund councils to build them, or £100,000 per home.

No one can argue that this isn’t ambitious. The government currently spends less than £2 billion annually on building affordable homes, and few of these are let at social rents. Labour’s green paper, Housing for the Many, promises a programme of 100,000 affordable homes annually of which ‘the majority’ will be for social rent. It would finance this, in part, by raising grant to £4 billion annually, the level achieved by the last Labour Government in its final years. But the new campaign believes this is not enough: ‘these commitments would not meet the scale of ambition needed to solve our housing crisis’.

So they call for 155,000 social rented homes to be built, and expect two-thirds of these to be new council housing. The target comes from a Shelter report published earlier this year, A Vision for Social Housing. However, the report was out of step with other projections of housing need. For example, Crisis and the NHF published a detailed assessment by Glen Bramley showing the annual need for new social rented homes to be 100,000 across Great Britain, with 90,000 needed in England. There are various differences in the ways the two projections were done. Bramley’s assesses a much bigger existing backlog of unmet need, for example. But the main difference is that Shelter assumes that all new needs in the categories it identifies have to be met by building more social housing, whereas Crisis provides a dynamic assessment in which new building influences the whole housing market – as indeed it would in practice – changing the behaviour of landlords and renters as more affordable homes are provided. As might be expected from someone who has been modelling housing needs for years, Bramley’s model gets closer to the real dynamics of the housing market.

Another report calling for a similar level of social rented output came from Capital Economics, written for SHOUT and the National Federation of ALMOs. They argued that building 100,000 social rented homes a year would be justifiable in terms of savings in benefits and the wider effects of the extra construction activity on the economy and on government incomes. Essentially, while Crisis addressed the demographics and affordability, Capital Economics shows the feasibility of the programme. Both, in broad terms, back up Labour’s target.

Let’s have a closer look at the target suggested by the new campaign. For housing associations to contribute 55,000 homes would mean a huge shift away from affordable rent and shared ownership, but at least they have built close to that overall number in the recent past. But in calling for 100,000 new council houses to be built annually the new campaign seems to take little account of councils’ capacity. The last time they built as many as 100,000 homes per year was in the mid-1970s: in fact, you have to add up all the council houses built since 1985 before you get a figure exceeding 100,000, amounting to over 30 years of councils’ output.

Of course, many local authorities are now gearing up to bigger building programmes, taking advantage of the government’s removal of the caps on their borrowing last November. The government believes that within a few years they might build 10,000 units annually, as compared to fewer than 5,000 now. This looks a reasonable assessment, but any progress beyond that depends on overcoming a number of serious constraints. These include access to land, having the skills to run a large new-build programme and being able to finance the extra borrowing involved from rental income. But the biggest constraint is access to grant. Labour’s plan to increase grant to £4 billion annually would help enormously if the money were to be refocussed on social rented homes. Councils could also continue to make use of developer contributions, which already finance nearly half of affordable housing output. Nevertheless Labour’s 100,000 affordable homes target is already an ambitious one, especially if the social rented element is to be close to 90,000 annually.

Now the new campaign argues for a target more than 50% higher, and one which relies much more on councils building than on housing associations. They want to raise the affordable homes budget to £10 billion annually, with grants of £100,000 per unit. The ambition is commendable, but why set a target that many will regard as far too high, and one which bears no relation to the sector’s capacity – especially that of local authorities? Do they really expect an incoming Labour chancellor to set a housing budget which is five times its current level and to be able to spend it from virtually a standing start?

The advantage of the target set in ‘Housing for the Many’ is that it is realistic, costed and grounded in reality: it’s rightly ambitious without being pie in the sky. With strong commitment, it’s capable of being delivered over a five-year period. The new campaign arguing the case for council housing is warmly welcome, but we have to make sure that Labour is able to deliver its current target before we set an even higher one that might be a step too far.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Voluntary Right to Buy: should housing associations be ‘proud to be involved’?

The headline is based on an Inside Housing article this week by a director of a national housing association, Stonewater, which is one of those taking part in the government’s pilot scheme in the Midlands. Sue Shirt says they are ‘unashamedly supportive of the VRTB’ and ‘proud’ to be selling off their houses, estimating that around 170 will be sold in the pilot period (presumably in most cases houses currently let at social rents). She gives two main reasons for this. One is that they are giving tenants what they want. The second is that (unlike with council housing right to buy) they plan to replace every home sold. She says that it keeps tenants in their communities whereas otherwise they would move out to buy. In Stonewater’s view, VRTB ‘helps the social housing journey’ by enabling financially secure tenants to buy instead of rent.

VRTB

Superficially, of course, Ms Shirt has a point. No doubt the lucky buyers of Stonewater houses are over the moon, especially as they have qualified for discounts of up to 70% – or £82,800 outside London – the same levels as for council right to buy. They’ll have to raise a mortgage but instead of paying rent they’ll have a valuable asset to pass on to their children or to sell or let out at a later date. In many ways it’s surprising that the pilot scheme isn’t proving more popular. Stonewater has so far completed just 11 sales, and if it reaches its projected level of 170 it will have sold just two per cent of its stock in the region. That’s a lot of effort to reach such a small proportion of tenants, and the government is said to be considering extending the pilot scheme to raise more interest.

What is missing from Sue Shirt’s assessment is any examination of the wider picture if the pilot scheme does turn out to be successful. Of course, one reason why a housing association like Stonewater is willing to take part is that it gets full and instant recompense for the hefty discounts it has to give, so they can aim to have one for one replacement of their own stock. The money comes from a Treasury pot of £200 million created for the purpose. An extended scheme would need more money. Failing some magic by the chancellor, the only sources are the rest of the housing budget or reviving the Treasury’s original plan, which was to force councils to sell their high-value council houses and hand most of the money over to subsidise housing association discounts.

Either way, a lump sum worth up to £82,800 to one ‘financially secure’ tenant who buys their home comes at the expense of the same amount invested in new social housing for people who are struggling to rent, let alone buy. It is not the narrow perspective of whether Stonewater replaces one for one, the essential point is that the money available in the housing system will produce fewer additional homes in total for people in need.

Sue Shirt says that the ‘crucial point’ about VRTB is that it helps more people into much-needed, modern, energy-efficient housing. But this is a very suspect argument. After all, tenants exercising VRTB are in a nice comfortable home already, and while the mortgage they will now pay releases a receipt that Stonewater can reuse, that’s only because the rest of the sale price will be made up by the government.

A supposed advantage is that VRTB buyers stay in their home when they might have moved out to buy elsewhere. While this may be advantageous for the community in the short term, it ignores the issue of what happens when the buyer eventually moves. A house that could be relet at social rent may well end up in the private rented sector, as is frequently the experience with the council RTB. It will be let at higher rents – costing more in housing benefit if that is needed – and quite possibly with minimal management, causing problems for other tenants in the area.

While the pilot scheme might involve selling a relatively small number of homes, up to 3,000, the real danger lies in its potential success. This could have two effects. One is that it hastens the day when all housing associations are persuaded into a ‘voluntary’ scheme by attractive offers about how fast they can access the receipts, without answering the crucial question of where the money will come from once the Treasury’s £200 million has been spent and what the impact of that will be on other programmes. Back in 2015, when it was planned to use ‘council high value sales’ to fund the VRTB, in Selling off the Stock CIH showed that a popular VRTB scheme might require all the receipts from selling high-value homes, leaving no money for replacements.

The second effect will be to prolong the right to buy in England when it should be on its last legs. It was scrapped in Scotland in 2016, it died in Wales earlier this year and soon it may be gone in Northern Ireland too. Only in Whitehall do politicians continue to find ways to breathe life into a policy that’s not relevant to today’s problems. Let’s put some more nails in its coffin, not try to revive the corpse.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“A decent, affordable home ought to be a human right. Under Labour, it will be” says Tom Copley AM

We wanted to draw your attention to today’s edition of Labourlist, which is guest edited by Tom Copley, Labour’s housing spokesperson on the London Assembly and chair of the London Labour Housing Group.

 

No surpise, Tom’s edition has a heavy housing focus. In addition to his overview, there are articles by

  • Karen Buck MP on her groundbreaking private member’s Act – the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act

  • Cllr Farah Hussain, Cabinet member for housing in Redbridge, on the Homeless Reduction Act and why the Act will fail unless more resources are put in.

  • Mayor Phil Glanville of Hackney on achieving high standards in new build homes.

  • Cllr Linda Woodings from Nottingham on the challenges facing councils who want to build new council houses.

  • Mayor Sadiq Khan on his approach to tackling the housing crisis in London.

Some good reads here and some clear statements of what Labour is doing in Parliament and on the ground. As Tom concludes:

Tom Copley:

This is just a small snapshot of what Labour is doing where we are in power. But we all know that to truly solve the housing crisis, we need a Labour government. A decent, affordable home ought to be a human right. Under Labour, it will be.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Poverty and deprivation are increasing in outer London – is London in danger of going the same way as Paris?

By Glyn Thomas

Chipping Barnet CLP

The left-leaning think tank The Smith Institute has published a new report called The unspoken decline of outer London; why is poverty and inequality increasing in outer London and what needs to change?”  The report is supported by the Trust for London.

Outer London is now in economic decline.

In the past, the popular view was that poverty in the capital was confined to the inner London boroughs and that the leafy outer Boroughs were full of affluent Tory voters.  That is no longer the case.  The report shows that poverty, inequality and deprivation are rapidly shifting from inner London to outer London.  60% of all Londoners living in poverty are now based in outer London, a total of 1.4 million people.  This figure has almost doubled in the past 15 years, from 32% in 2004.  If we don’t act now, London will end up like Paris.  In Paris, the arrondissements in central Paris are very affluent whereas the outer suburbs [the banlieues] are deprived and disadvantaged with all the tell-tale signs of deprivation ie poor housing, lack of employment opportunities, high crime and racial tensions.

Smith Institute Report Cover 2019

Mayor needs to support the outer London Boroughs.

The report is a timely alarm call to the Mayor of London and all Londoners particularly as the Mayor is preparing the next London Plan at the moment.  The report warns that growth across London has already become unbalanced with employment opportunities increasingly located centrally.  Unemployment is higher in outer London that in inner London.  High rents have priced poorer Londoners out of inner London.  The report calls for a radical rethink to rebalance London’s economy and deliver inclusive growth for all Londoners.  Better paid jobs and affordable housing for local people are desperately needed in outer London.  A greater emphasis is needed on supporting the poorer London boroughs which have suffered from government cuts.

Paul Hunter, Deputy Director at the Smith Institute said:

“London is becoming a divided city.  The ‘trickle out economics’ of city centre growth and turbo charged house prices is not working for outer Londoners on low incomes, who struggle with housing affordability issues and access to good jobs.  That is why we are calling for a more balanced approach to economic development of the capital.  This would mean reassessing infrastructure and regeneration projects to help spread growth across the capital with a much greater focus on tackling poverty.”

Adverse effects of City Centralist policies.

The report suggests that the current ‘city-centralist’ approach to planning is changing the pattern of economic growth adversely particularly for people on low incomes.  The rise in housing costs together with the effects of the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ have driven more low income people into private renting in outer London.  Housing Benefit claims in the private rented sector are up 17% in outer London but down 13% in inner London.  One solution to this is that Mayor should support the introduction of rent controls or rent regulation throughout London.  Rent regulation is commonplace in large cities in continental Europe; Berlin is a very good example of this.  The report also calls for a step change in investment in outer London and that new funding and policies should seek to promote better paid, higher skilled jobs there.  The emphasis should be on local jobs to reduce the costs and stress of commuting.  On housing, the report suggests that the GLA and Boroughs should pilot ‘affordable housing zones’ using publicly owned land to create areas where housing is more affordable including new forms of low cost housing where costs are kept low in perpetuity.

Deputy Mayor for Outer London.

The report recommends that the Mayor of London should create the role of Deputy Mayor for Outer London to be a champion for outer London who would work with the GLA to deliver a new vision for outer London.  There is also a strong case that the now defunct Outer London Commission should be refashioned into an Outer London Inclusive Growth Taskforce with a remit which includes tackling poverty and inequality as much as securing economic growth.  A new vision for London’s suburbs and town centres is needed when strategic decisions are being made.

Axing Crossrail 2?

On transport policies, the report is more controversial.  It recommends that the GLA should review the £30bn of Crossrail 2 funding with a view to redirecting investment in outer London.  But Crossrail 2, like its predecessor Crossrail 1, is designed to improve rail links not only inside the metropolis but also for the Home Counties where a large part of London’s labour force lives.  Many of these work in the financial services industry.  Good transport links are important to maintain the City of London’s competiveness as a world wide financial hub.  It was largely pressure from the Corporation of London to improve London’s transport systems that persuaded policy makers at City Hall to support the development of Crossrail 1 and the Overground network.

If Crossrail 2 was axed, people would still have to commute into London.  But the existing suburban rail services cannot cope at the moment.  So much of the future commuting would be by road thus increasing urban congestion even further with its serious implications for air pollution.  Notably, there is no mention of the problem of air pollution anywhere in the report.  Also it is doubtful that if Crossrail 2 was axed that the money saved would be spent on London’s infrastructure.  It would simply go back to the Treasury.

Improving London’s orbital networks.

The report is right when it suggests that a much greater focus from the GLA and TfL on orbital transport networks in outer London would enable inclusive growth and create new jobs in outer London.  But increasing the number of buses on the roads would not be the solution; that would make the already serious problem with pollution even worse.  The London Borough of Croydon has shown the way forward; trams.  These street running vehicles are pollution-free and inexpensive to run.  With the development of new types of electric trams based on enhanced battery power, large disruptive and expensive civil engineering works would not be necessary to develop new routes.  The proposed West London Orbital Railway should also be supported.  This line would run from West Hampstead/Hendon to Old Oak Common on existing lightly used freight lines. On route, it would interconnect with the Tube and Overground services at Harlesden.  At Old Oak Common, it would interconnect with Crossrail 1, HS2 and the services to Heathrow airport.

Conclusion

Overall, the report is an important contribution to planning for the future of the metropolis.  Its arguments are backed up by detailed analysis and statistics.  I think that it should be given very serious consideration by policy makers at all levels.  Whilst I have some reservations about some of the public transport policies contained in it, I think that the report should be supported by those who have London’s interests at heart.  I recommend it to readers of Red Brick and hope that they will support its recommendations.

Glyn Thomas

 

The Smith Institute is an independent think tank which provides a high-level forum for thought leadership and debate on public policy and politics. It seeks to engage politicians, senior decision makers, practitioners, academia, opinion formers and commentators on promoting policies for a fairer society. For more information visit www.smith-institute.co.uk @smith_institute

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment