Lord Best – Build 100,000 Extra Care Homes a Year to pull Britain out of Recession #UKhousing


Lord Best has a plan. Housing’s great crossbench advocate has come up with a new strategy that will, in his words, “solve all the country’s problems”.

Here’s what the peer proposes: building 100,000 retirement, supported housing and extra-care homes a year. The trickledown effect will, in one handy flourish, pull Britain out of double-dip recession while also solving the country’s acute and growing housing crisis.

The boost to the construction industry would, by his calculations, create between 300,000 and 500,000 new jobs. “That’s the engine of growth,” he told a gathering of housing and care providers in London this week. “Whenever we’ve had a recession, it was the construction industry [that got us] out of it. If the money goes into housing, it goes into jobs – and into making people’s lives better.”

Building 100,000 homes designed especially for the needs of an ageing population would also help to house 350,000 other people. By selling their under-occupied large family homes and downsizing to smaller, specialist properties, our older people could help a whole generation of potential first-time buyers who are priced out of the market.

Lord Best said many of these homes would have been untouched and undecorated for up to 35 years, and so would sell at the lower end of average market value and be affordable to families struggling through recession. “Nearly all of the 7.8m people of pensionable age have more than two spare rooms, making way for 350,000 family [members] with children.”

So does the model stand up, or is it a rose-tinted oversimplification of a more complex economic and social system?

The first stumbling block is the finances; where does the original investment to build the 100,000 properties a year come from, especially when the days of healthy public subsidy for housing are behind us? The construction industry is in lockdown, afraid of risk and rejecting too much speculative development even where evidence of local need is overwhelming.

One argument suggests that public funding could be found if health and social care budgets and strategies were pooled and rationalised, finding savings where preventative healthcare and support for older people generates efficiencies within the NHS. This is why specialist housing providers such as Anchor have been campaigning for a dedicated minister for older people who can consider how health, housing, social care and other services fit together.

Even if the subsidy was found, what about the cultural barriers? In the UK, attitudes towards homes are rarely practical, despite our predilection for using property as an investment portfolio rather than as the shelter it was designed to provide. Retired residents who have nurtured a family and watched them move on struggle to leave those memories behind….

There would be other practicalities: planning spats over what type of housing is needed, where and how it should look; diverting funding from the vote-winning NHS to other services to support growing numbers of extra care residents; finding the money for investment in training and skills for those 500,000 new employees.

Its a good plan but rather incomplete without

a) a plan to ensure mortgages can be granted to those purchasing the freed up stock – rather than at present only new homes

b) developing them as part of mixed and balenced communities, otherwise could simply worsen the dangerous aging population balence of many areas where there is a lack of housing for young people and older people are buying up the existing stock.

It would be better if this plan ran in parallel with plans for producing social housing and housing benefit funding as we have blogged about on here many times


IEA – Lack of Regulation hindering Growth of Fracking – Now apply same arguments to Planning #NPPF

One of the arguments that most annoys me is that Growth in Britain is hindered by excessive planning regulation.  Many of the same dumb tanks also argue that markets have not developed in some industries because of lack of proper markets to stir innovation and provide certainty to business investment.  Consider the following:


Explorers must address social and environmental concerns over shale gas extraction if the unconventional fuel is to thrive, the International Energy Agency has said.

Launching a new report by her agency on the issue, IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said the technology was available for environmentally – responsible production of unconventional gas.

However, she warned that “if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks”.

“The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance, and governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place,” she added.

The report, Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas, sets out a list of recommended measures to ensure best practice.

These include: full transparency, measuring and monitoring of environmental impacts; engagement with local communities; careful choice of drilling sites and measures to prevent any leaks from wells into nearby aquifers; rigorous assessment and monitoring of water requirements and of waste water; measures to target zero venting and minimal flaring of gas; and improved project planning and regulatory control.

Hoeven said the IEA’s approach had already been endorsed by G8 leaders at their recent Camp David summit.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, the report’s chief author, said the agency estimated that the additional measures could add an extra 7% to the cost of a single shale well, but that this rate would be much lower for a typical larger development.

He said that unconventional gas production could triple to 1.6 trillion cubic metres globally by 2035 if the rules are followed, but that if they are not shale gas production may remain static in future, weakening the ranking of gas in the global energy mix as prices rise.

Imagine 10 years ago you ask what is the planning regulatory system in the UK for building power stations?  We did not have one rather we had one designed for householder cases and small developments and multiple other confusing regimes.  Now we have a reformed and simplified system designed for major infrastructure.  The issue im making is not one about fracking or its pros and cons but about efficient regulation.  Try describing your answer to the following question from an investor:

I wish to invest in a new Garden City in the UK, please tell me the steps I will have to go through.

We of course in England have no specific system for the approval of, or even the need for, major housing and mixed use projects of larger than local scale.  And we wonder what the problem is.  The failure is a failure of regulatory design not because regulation is the problem.

Would or Could South Oxfordshire ignore an Inspectors Decision if CS found unsound? #NPPF

Thought about this in the light of the curious statement below in the Oxford Mail.  Oxfordshire is complex as part of the South East Plan was struck out, however the inability of Oxford to meet its own needs within its boundaries is unqestioned and the successful legal challenge to part of the SE Plan was the a strategic Green Belt review was needed to meet Oxford’s requirements.  So has one been carried out – no – so given the new soundness tests in the NPPF how can the South Oxfordshire Core Strategy, which ignores the evidence of those needs, which exist whatever the status of the SE Plan policy on the Oxford Green Belt, be found sound in a month of sundays under the new ‘outcome’ duty to cooperate soundness tests (as opposed to the process legal test) including those from outside the LPA, in a month of Sundays.  This is Oxford’s carefully argued and correct stance, whatever you think about redefining Oxford’s Green Belt.  Of course there is the option of one of more Garden Cities in Oxfordshire etc.  as an alternative in the NPPF, have they been assessed and considered eeeer no.

A planning inspector is currently examining SODC’s core strategy, a document that will shape future planning decisions.

The city council and Magdalen College say SODC must take full account of Oxford’s housing needs as a neighbouring authority.

They point to the Government’s new planning framework, which places an obligations on neighbouring councils to work together.

City Council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “The argument put to the inspector by Magdalen College and ourselves is that SODC has chosen to ignore the housing needs of the city.

“These needs have been well documented yet are greater than can be accommodated within the city’s administrative area.”

Magdalen College bursar Charles Young added: “This is a crucial issue for Oxford. Grenoble Road happens to be just one element in the story of Oxford housing.”

The bursar said he remained confident that the site would eventually be developed.

He added: “It remains, in the city council’s view too, the best medium-term solution, allowing people to live close to where they work.

“The infrastructure is already there, down to the bus routes.

“As far as I am aware there is no alternative site of similar size around the city.”

But Michael Tyce, of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We thought we had laid this to rest many times but it keeps coming back.”

SODC spokesman Martin Crabtree said the inspector’s examination would not make any difference to the district council’s opposition to housing on the site.

He said: “The council successfully fought the proposals in the South East Plan to build 4,000 homes on Green Belt land in South Oxfordshire a few years ago.

“There is nothing to suggest that the inspector will seek to, or be able to, overturn this by including the proposals in our core strategy.”

So if the inspector said this is unsound, or would be unsound unless, could SODC ignore the inspector under the new rules.

They could not be forced to make changes they don’t want, but that may result in an unsoundness finding.  Could SODC ignore that?  Well it would have no power to adopt even in the new system without a plan being found sound, if it was not however there is no power to force an LPA to withdraw a plan, it simply would have no weight under the NPPF implementation chapter.

If an LPA then refused to cooperate with its neighbours on joint approaches it would be very vulnerable at appeal.  If an appeal were made after a failed such an attempt at a DTC approach then it would be very vulnerable to a ‘very special circumstances’ outcome on a planning appeal as the LPA with the unsound plan would not have any evidence or up to date development plan was in place to ensure that the inner boundary of the Green Belt was defined to last ‘in perpetuity’ as required in national policy.  Even if the case were called in and the SoS refused it they would be at risk of a successful legal challenge as the SoS would be defying their own NPPF policy on meeting needs and the Green Belt.

So SODC – pure spin.

York Core Strategy to be Withdrawn Following Out of Town Retail Approval #NPPF

Bowing finally to the inevitable a letter was posted yesterday here 

‘The proposals at monks cross clearly has strategic significance and we accept that changes to the Core Strategy are are necessary in order to reflect the approved scheme.  These changes would lead to considerable amendments to some strategic policies submitted in February 2012 for examination.

Accordingly, within the context described above we have reluctantly come to the decision to recommend to Council at the earliest opportunity the withdrawal of the Core Strategy; we would then take the appropriate steps to formally withdraw the Plan.

Earlier letters on Monks Cross are on the examination page, including a letter from the Inspector on the matter which York at first refused to put on the examination webpage until the inspector demanded it on the 25th May.

FT- Danny Alexander Considers ‘Social Housing Bonds’ Credit Easing Plan


The Treasury is understood to be examining plans to make it cheaper for housing associations to borrow even more money in the capital markets. Officials are looking at a new “credit easing” scheme for the sector, which could involve letting the Bank of England buy social housing bonds as part of its quantitative easing programme.

Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, held a meeting last week with chief executives of some of Britain’s biggest housing associations to discuss the potential plan, which is still at an early stage.

Good mews but Treasury moves at the pace of a snail when it comes to any idea outside their orthodoxy.  Why not also ‘Garden City Bonds’ to pay for infrastructure and construction costs of Garden Cities, and bonds to pay for the kind of mass prefab roll out we suggested a few days ago.  Each would more than pay for themselves as public funding would not be subsidising land values but reduce the state costs of housing expenditure.

Can you spot Income Inequality from Space?

Tim De Chant – who blogs at the Marvellous Per Square Mile covers a simple thesis that has been around a few years.

[researchers , Zhous and Yang 2008, have]  found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation. The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees.

Zhu, P., & Zhang, Y. (2008). Demand for urban forests in United States cities Landscape and Urban Planning, 84 (3-4), 293-300 DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.09.005

In London we can clearly see this.  It is the poorest boroughs like Newham and Tower Hamlets that have the lowest tree cover, and indeed specific policies for increasing tree cover.

In a follow up he posts some google earth photos for evidence from rich and poor areas in the same city.

Rochinha Rio

Zona Sul Rio

It is important to do this rather than compare different cities as some cities, such as for example Harbour cities such as Hing Kong, shortage of space to spread will lead the rich to build tall, but seen in two dimensions the richer areas still seem to have greater tree cover than poorer areas.

Brian Merchant at Treehugger Comments

The absurd thing here is that even trees themselves can come to reinforce socioeconomic standards; in this case, one that helps the rich get richer. An abundance of trees improves air quality, provides shade, reduces allergies, and even helps improve the mental health of nearby residents. People in tree-lined neighborhoods are likely to be fitter, happier, more productive.

Pasty Tax, Skips Tax or Doritos Tax

News comes last night that with the dropping of the VAT hikes on carvans and ‘cooling’ pasties comes a big VAT hike on Skip hire to pay for it.  That will help the construction industry i’m sure.

If the Treastury really wants to find a VAT anomaly that few would complain about why is it that crisps and Monster Munch are standard rated, whislt doritos, pringles, wheat crunchies, poppadoms, twiglets, pork scratchings and just about every other wheat, corn or pork based crunchie is zero rated, including yes Skips. It is a list of adhoc rulings made over many years many of which created arguments about whether or not they met the exempted item when it was first drafted.  This leads to some hilarity in the caselaw where Mcoys packed crisps with a dip and argued that it was no no longer standard rated as it no longer fell within a ‘without further preparation’ rule.

…giving the word its ordinary meaning, we are satisfied that dipping a crisp into a pot of salsa cannot amount to ‘preparation’ in any normal sense of the English language. The purchaser of the Appellant’s product is required to do no more than open a packet of crisps and a pot of dip. He may, or may not, dip the crisps into the pot. The process of conveying crisp to mouth, whether or not it pauses at the pot, is, in our view, commonly and correctly described as eating; it is not preparation.

Ah the important matters our courts concern themselves with.  The Court of Appeal

The ‘made from’ question would probably be answered in a more relevant and sensible way by a child consumer of crisps than by a food scientist or a culinary pedant. On another aspect of party food I think that most children, if asked whether jellies with raspberries in them were ‘made from’ jelly, would have the good sense to say ‘Yes’, despite the raspberries.

So what is the exemption most are using.  Well ‘exempted item 5’ applies to ‘potato crisps, potato sticks, potato puffs, and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, or from potato starch’

And you will note most of the exempted items are made from wheat or corn.  Hence a silly tax rule distorts the market giving wheat based snacks a boost at the expense of potato base ones.  The chancellor lost a potential populsit card by losing the opportunity to say he was levelling the playing field on behalf of Walkers and Golden Wonder against the assault of american wheat based pseudo crisps.

Coryton Refinery Closure Creates South East’s Largest Regeneration Site

The announcement of the closure and failure to sell the Coryton Oil refinery as a going concern has created 850 redundancies, as well as the largest regeneration site in the south east.

The site is next to the Shellhaven new Deepwater Port and logically would make an ideal location for its extension for associated logistics parks or more imaginatively as a freeport location for tax free entropot import/manufacturing/tax free reexport.