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Westlake Legal Group > Local government

Stephen Davies: Fighting for Conservative values in Stroud

Cllr Stephen Davies is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Stroud District Council.

Stroud is a market town nestling on the edge of the Cotswolds surrounded by some of the most beautiful parts of the Gloucestershire countryside, but it has little in common with the more affluent and Conservative (usually) Cotswolds. It is the proud birthplace of Extinction Rebellion, which, at its inception cost the local council to clear up graffiti, probably with chemicals which are not good for the environment. There is a “Stroudie” community that are rightly proud of their alternative heritage. It has been a marginal seat for years, and marginally voted remain in the referendum.

Many of us probably wish that our electorate were more politically active, but I would warn you to be careful what you wish for. In Stroud, we see protests on a whole range of issues, ranging from an anti “Energy from Waste” facility campaign through to the resistance of the introduction of car parking charges, which I was proud to successfully lead. In 2017, we lost our staunchly Remain MP, Neil Carmichael, despite increasing his number of votes, because of blatant tactical voting by the Greens, resulting in the election of our current MP, David Drew, representing the more left wing elements of the Labour Party. Carmichael and Drew have faced off against each other for nearly 20 years, Drew winning 3-2.

Carmichael has now stood down to pursue other interests, including a brief period as a candidate in the Euro Elections for Change UK.

Last year, the Stroud Conservative Association selected Siobhan Baillie as our Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. She is bringing a fresh energy to the constituency, and has every chance of success. We are a hard working Association in this consistently marginal seat. Siobhan represents the exciting future of the Conservative Party, and we are determined to get her elected whenever the next General Election is.

The next challenge is the District Council Elections in May 2020, when the whole Council is up for re-election. We are the largest Party, and need only three seats to gain a majority. Looking at this year’s elections, this would appear a tall order, but in a post Brexit environment, I believe this is possible. Our opponents, the Labour Party, will still have Jeremy Corbyn, who we know from knocking on doors is not popular in many parts of our District.

The opposition in Gloucestershire is often the Liberal Democrats, but not in Stroud. It is the Labour Party, and a flavour of the Labour Party that would do a north London borough proud. The more extreme nature is visible through endless motions of support for a myriad of causes that have no connection with Stroud, and a level of infighting and plain nastiness that could put you off local politics for life.

So what do we Stroud Conservatives stand for? We believe in all the usual Conservative principles, like value for money and efficiency. But we are also determined to ensure that Stroud District Council represents and supports the whole district, as well as the more vociferous “Stroudie” element. We also believe that issues like the environment matter, but disagree that the solution is stopping people doing things, which would be democratically challenging. That is why I am dubious about Extinction Rebellion talk of a “climate emergency”, as that is one step away from demanding emergency powers.

We believe technology is a key part of the solution, and in our district, we have a strong engineering heritage, including a company working on electric powered flight.

If you are in the area, we always appreciate help, and can always find a delivery route for you.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Mark Weston: The system of a directly elected Mayor has worked badly in Bristol

Cllr Mark Weston is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Bristol City Council.

A referendum held in Bristol on 3rd May 2012 returned a vote in favour of adopting the Mayor form of governance in place of the Leader and Cabinet option. It was a run close run thing (41,032 for with 35,880 against) on a low turnout (24 per cent). Across the country, there was a widespread rejection of the idea. In fact, the City of Bristol was the only one of ten major cities in England also holding referenda on the same day to back this change.

Locally, the Conservative Group campaigned strongly for making the switch, despite some internal opposition against what was essentially national party policy. The deciding factor in our internal debates were the failings of the existing political leadership in our city, arising from having to hold elections-in-thirds over a four-year cycle.

In Bristol, throughout the noughties, the traditional structure had produced a series of unstable, minority administrations, or Parties with vulnerable majorities. This not only resulted in a high level of churn; it effectively stymied important strategic decision-making, as politicians diverted their energy towards either fighting, or preparing, to fight the next election. This was proving to be resource sapping, as well as confusing for the electorate.

The advantages and disadvantages of directly elected Mayors were well-known and fully debated at the time. The main positives being:

  1. This would introduce stability in office through fixed four year terms (no need to worry about annual leadership elections)
  2. It provided a city-wide democratic mandate
  3. Post holders will have a higher profile and engage with more people
  4. Lead to a reduction of political in-fighting as more Parties could become part of the Executive/Cabinet
  5. Result in substantial financial savings by reducing not only the number of councillors needed to run the city but also see the abolition of the most expensive senior bureaucratic tier of Chief Executive.

Against these ascribed benefits was set the case that

  1. Councillors – especially backbench members – would lose influence and status within the organisation.
  2. There was always the risk of mavericks getting elected who could make disastrous decisions for the city
  3. Too much power would be invested in an individual politician over whom there was little to no checks and balances (admittedly a deliberate design feature to encourage dynamism)
  4.  An increased scope for nepotism and cronyism in appointments or favouring pet political projects
  5. The danger of actually creating another level of control which ends up costing taxpayers even more for little tangible benefit.

Be that as it may, on 15th November 2012, as a result of the referendum, Bristolians ultimately chose an Independent, George Ferguson, to be their first elected Mayor by 37,353 votes to Labour’s Marvin Rees on 31,259 (on a 28% turnout).

Ferguson maintained a largely politically-mixed Cabinet right up to the end, but eventually excluded one Party (Lib Dems) entirely from his executive and disposed of other individuals who differed with him over policy. It is also true to say that incumbents, as the result of events and political pressure, seem to quickly become much less collegiate and far more defensive in their dealings with opposition Parties.

Tables were turned on Ferguson in 2016 when he lost his campaign for re-election to our current Rees. A nascent Independents’ movement had stalled in Bristol. Rees won by 56,729 votes to 32,375 on quite a high turnout (45 per cent). This defeat was due as much to Ferguson’s unpopularity following some controversial and divisive decisions taken over the imposition of RPZs, the introduction of 20mph speed limits across most of the road network, and costly, largely superficial, Green Capital projects.

However, another important element in Rees’s victory was the fact that following a Boundary Commission review in 2015, the city had now moved to holding all-out elections (every ward seat) to coincide with the Mayoral electoral cycle. This enabled Labour to maximise its vote against a sitting marmite Mayor.

Well, since then, the weaknesses of this elected office have become ever more apparent. Rees started off by honouring his manifesto pledge to share decision-making with a cross-Party Cabinet. But, after some early skirmishes, this commitment was ditched entirely by November 2017, when we saw tribal loyalties reassert and excuses confected to justify Labour ending such collaborative working.

However, this is not the deepest flaw of this governance model – its real flaw is a complete lack of checks and balances on the executive powers of the Mayor. Experience has shown that without counterbalance, this is a profoundly undemocratic position. The current post-holder has been damaged by controversial severance payments made to two departing Chief Executives (a £200,000 package for the first and a non-contractual payment of £98,000 to the second).  So no financial savings made here. The cost and size of the Mayor’s political office has grown just as valued frontline services have been cut.

Rees has favoured constitutional gerrymandering, and used his slim majority of councillors to ram it though, which minimises scrutiny and limits opportunities to challenge executive power. There is a growing tendency to create strategic management boards without political opposition representation, scrutiny, or input. Moreover, one of his most contentious decisions – taken against a majority view of elected members – has seen the agreed location of a long-planned indoor arena unilaterally moved from its original site to the outskirts of the city. Such political hegemony is almost without parallel or precedent.

Besides, the political landscape has shifted considerably since 2012, with the creation of City Deals and Regional Mayors. Since February 2017, we have had a West of England Combined Authority headed by Metro Mayor Tim Bowles, who is required to work cooperatively with the leaders of Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire County Council, and Bristol. This approach, involving mutual respect, in strategic planning, transport infrastructure, and training matters is working very well. Arguably, it is this structure which has rendered a City Mayor superfluous. Indeed, with the latest talk around the formation of a ‘Western Powerhouse’ linking Cardiff, Bristol, and Swindon, I very much doubt the Bristol example will be something many other local authorities in this part of the country will be eager to follow.

In the Referendum of 2012, the people of Bristol voted for leadership – what they got was dictatorship. A four yearly electoral cycle of councillors can provide the stability needed to prevent continuous infighting. The Mayoral position just isn’t needed. The reality is that the Prime Minister has greater checks to her authority. It is the fig leaf of democracy, and I would advice against any other authority ever adopting this model of Government. In fact, I sincerely hope that at the earliest opportunity, 2022, that Bristol holds a new referendum, and its citizens terminate the role for good.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Bald: “Points mean prizes” has to stop.

John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector and has written two books on the history of writing and spelling. He is Chairman of the Conservative Education Society.

For decades, governments have tried to make schools do the impossible, using paperwork, statistics, and inspection as their weapons. Labour demanded reams of policy documents, imposed ill-informed Cromwellian “strategies”, and fiddled results when they didn’t work. In recent years, Conservatives have run them a close second, imposing arbitrary and unrealistic targets, nitpicking over Labour’s cumbersome safeguarding systems, and abusing inspection findings to fast track schools into academy status without giving them a chance to improve.

Tests for 11-year-olds (SATs) are pivotal, as they are both the key indicator for primary schools, and the baseline for setting GCSE grades. The government has correctly dismissed Labour’s call to abolish SATs, because this would return us to the position we had before they were introduced. In the authority I worked for, some schools had under ten per cent of pupils reaching the standard needed for success at secondary school, and no-one was doing anything about it. Follow these pupils through to 16, and their secondary schools had five or six per cent, with five GCSEs at Grade C. Go back to the infant school, and scores on the authority’s reading test showed a steady decline of three-quarters of a percentage point each year over a ten-year period, a fact hidden from elected members by officials, until I published the figures in The Guardian.

But where there is a figure, there will be someone looking to fiddle it, which is probably what Churchill meant by “lies, damned lies and statistics.” Labour again led the way. When test scores dipped, they lowered the pass mark (2000), sacked the markers (2005), or, when even that didn’t work, in tests at 14, abolished the test. That one put them in a bind. Around 1998, a dip in test scores that put Labour, and progressive English teaching, in a bad light, was followed by crazy marking, that credited pupils whose writing was at 7 year-old level with the expected Level 5. These pupils had no chance whatever of making the expected progress to GCSE, which would have looked even worse, and so the tests were scrapped. Points only mean prizes if you can get the points.

Since 2010, our Conservative ministers have had much success in reforming tests and exams. The non-qualification of AS at 17 has been abolished, and external marking at GCSE has left outright cheating as the only, risky, opportunity for fraud. The phonics check for six year olds has a stable, child-friendly format, and focuses attention on the key skill of using information from letters, rather than guessing, to read words. The new multiplication tables check for eight year olds should be as good, and the reformed SATs for 11-year-olds have been more sensible than had been predicted from some of the non-statotory guidance.

And yet we are still in deep political trouble in education, and point scores are at the heart of it. Our coalition partners did not like Ebacc, or Michael Gove’s plans for further reform of GCSEs, and forced through a system called “Progress 8”, which measured a pupil’s best eight GCSEs against their SAT scores in English and maths. How English and maths were to provide a baseline for a GCSE in subjects that have little to do with English and maths is a question that can only be answered by a statistician or bureaucrat. They provide a baseline because we say they do. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t say it. And of course, they reduce everything to a point score, and points mean prizes, in the form of continued employment.

This thinking, in which all subjects are equal, but some are harder than others, has had a distorting and damaging effect on education that affects every 16-year-old in the country. Ofqual, the guardian of standards, interprets this role as the prevention of grade inflation, which it does by applying statistical formulae, based on SAT scores, to all subjects. If a subject, such as German, attracts a large number of higher-attaining candidates, Ofqual maintains standards by giving them lower grades than they would have received in subjects attracting less able pupils. The result of this even-handedness is that German candidates in 2018 were overall one grade lower in German than in their other subjects, and French nearly as bad. I founded the British Association of Teachers of German, which has 280 members, partly to campaign for fair testing and grading, and Ofqual’s stonewalling response would have made the Kremlin proud, if not jealous. Niet, Non, Talk to the Hand. Ofqual is right, and if German dies out at A level and in state schools, it’s not their fault. Statistics can’t lie. They shall not pass. I’m informed that Ofqual is now stonewalling over A level, even though this is now described by Professor Katrin Kohl as harder than Oxford’s first year examinations.

And of course, if heads don’t win enough points to win the prize, they get the sack, and know it. So they go for easy subjects, and are dashing to Spanish, as they think it’s easier than German or French. The statistics prove this under the current system, although Spanish has also stalled, with entries falling in each of the last two years. In the meantime, Ebacc, rightly seen as the core of education, is suffering. Its subjects don’t necessarily count in the progress 8, and, while around 38% of pupils are taking Ebacc, the pass rate is around 23%, which puts the qualification in a precarious position. The point system of Progress 8 is at the heart of it. Heads, and academy chains, look for the best chances of getting points to boost the score, and think of little else. This may be an unintended consequence, but it is a pernicious relic of the coalition and we need to get rid of it.

The solution is simple. Return to the requirement for all schools to publish their grades and entry numbers in all subjects, so that people can see what is really going, on and schools can’t hide weaknesses behind point scores in softer subjects. Then consider these scores in the context of the school. This is, I believe, the principle behind Amanda Spielman’s reforms in Ofsted, and Edward Timpson’s excellent review of exclusions for the DfE, a brilliant analysis that takes full account of the context and reasons for exclusion rather than focusing only on the numbers.

Sir Bruce Forsyth was much loved, and points mean prizes was a great slogan for his game show. It does not serve the needs of children, teachers and schools. It must be scrapped.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Shaun Bailey: Rent “controls” will make a bad situation worse. It’s time to build.

Shaun Bailey is a member of the London Assembly and the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London

Don’t be fooled.

That’s my message to people who will read about Sadiq Khan’s rent policy – expected to be unveiled this week – and be tempted by it.

Because, on the surface, it sounds good, doesn’t it? Most of us living in London are feeling the squeeze and could use some relief.

But here’s the thing: the Mayor can’t actually deliver his policy. He even admitted so in 2016:

“I have no plans to introduce rent controls, nor the powers to do so.”

And we should be glad for that, because rent controls don’t work. They’re false hope peddled by politicians who don’t want do the hard work of building the homes that Londoners, especially young people, desperately need.

Now, if the criticism were simply that rent controls are ineffective, it would be one thing. But they will actually take our bad situation and make it worse. There’s a reason economist and housing expert Assar Lindbeck once called rent controls “the most effective technique presently known to destroy a city – except for bombing”. Even noted inequality expert Angus Deaton thinks they’re bad news.

And while it’s true a fraction of those already in private rental accommodation do see some benefit, over the longer term, private landlords are driven out of the market – reducing supply – while those who remain put less investment into their properties, lowering the quality of the flats on offer. Does London really want to be a place, like New York, where people scour the obituaries hoping to find a rent-controlled flat?

If rent controls don’t work, why is a smart man like Khan choosing to front them?

The three answers are: failure, popularity, and cynicism.

No matter how much Khan tries to spin his success in building homes – his ‘first priority’ when campaigning in 2016 – by any metric, his record is one of failure. The Mayor was granted almost £5 billion to build 116,000 affordable homes by 2022. Now halfway through the programme, City Hall has only started 34,515 homes in the past three years, which is just under 30 per cent of his target.

And then there’s popularity.

The Mayor is now, according to polling, done for City Hall, at his lowest levels of popularity since his election. And funnily enough, the same polling that showed his approval rating slipping into the negatives is the polling that showed rent controls are very popular, with 68 per cent of Londoners saying they would welcome them. Not that Londoners were told the true story of rent controls’ ineffectiveness around the world before they were asked the question, of course.

Which brings us to the Mayor’s cynicism.

Despite acknowledging that he doesn’t have the power to act, the 2019 edition of Khan is now promising the undeliverable.

What’s changed?

Well, other than now having a poor record to defend amidst lower levels of popularity, the Mayor has also developed a well-worn and deeply cynical strategy: blame central government for everything. The Mayor now wants to use rent controls – or rather, the lack of them – to pick yet another fight with the Conservative government.

Indeed, picking a fight instead of getting on with the job has been Sadiq Khan’s only tactic as Mayor, whether on policing, on transport, on the environment, and now on housing. His hands are somehow always tied. “Vote for me, I can’t do anything” is now the official Khan line.

Instead of rooting through his £18 billion budget to cut waste and fund more police – as I did, finding £83 million to fund nearly 2,000 officers – or cancelling his short-sighted fares policy to free up more money for Transport for London, this Mayor would rather take the easy route of slating his political opponents in the hopes that voters won’t notice his poor record.

But a scrap over rent controls would be Khan’s most cynical ploy yet. Not only does he want a barney, he wants one in order to have the powers that would actually make Londoners worse off.

If London is going to remain open – and it should – then the only solution to rising rents and high house prices is to build more homes.

Helping renters should also be a part of a Mayor’s plans, but it should be done through extending tenancies and getting tough with rogue landlords, not driving them out of the business or dissuading new builds with bad policy.

But if all of this feels a bit too academic, or counterintuitive, think of rent controls this way:

If you were sick and went to a doctor who promised you a medicine he didn’t have that would make you worse if you managed to take it, would you trust that doctor? Of course you wouldn’t.

So don’t fall for more of Sadiq Khan lies.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Bob Seely: Scrap the automatic Right to Buy. And nine other ideas to make housing sustainable.

Bob Seely is Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight.

Whoever becomes our next Prime Minister needs to bring fresh thinking to housing. We can’t have more of the same. The current policies are flawed, built on a system which is a failed mix of free market (land banking, a tax regime manipulated for developers’ benefit, unsustainable housing estates) and over-complex planning regulations.

Overall, Britain is moving to a more sustainable economic model. We need to do the same in housing. We need a model which stresses recycling of existing buildings as well as existing brownfield sites. We need to use space more efficiently, and design a tax system to encourage this. We need to increase density in towns, where there are services and communities, rather than using up greenbelt, where there are none. We need to reform the system to allow more of the right houses to be built, in the right areas, in the right styles. We need to give councillors the confidence to demand better from the system.

First, the facts. Britain needs houses. The number of households is projected to grow by 159,000 per year based on current trends. We need between 250,000 and 340,000 additions per year to clear the backlog of over 4.7 million households with housing need across Great Britain.

But it’s not just the right numbers we need, it’s the right type of housing. Both old and young are being squeezed. For the young, house prices have grown seven times faster than family incomes, according to IFS research – meaning many can no longer afford to own their home. In 1995-96, some 65 per cent of 25-34-year-olds with incomes in the middle 20 percent for their age owned their own home. Twenty years later, that figure was just 27 percent.

For older folk, households headed by a pensioner account for 88 percent of the projected growth in households between now and 2041, yet an NPI study found “there is a very limited choice for older person households” moving home.

In addition, housing is being built in the wrong places. According to the CPRE, there are currently 460,000 homes planned on Green Belt land. These developments lack affordable homes, are not near services, are car dependent and require new infrastructure. They are truly unsustainable.

My constituency of the beautiful Isle of Wight reflects this national problem. We are being told to build too many homes, in the wrong places, and they will not be for Islanders.

So how do we build better, whilst treading carefully in our countryside? Below are ten ideas.

First, Stamp Duty is killing the market. It’s too high. Evidence from over two dozen prominent voices including the Adam Smith Institute, IPPR and IFS indicates that Stamp Duty is blocking 45,000 property purchases a year, preventing young and old from moving. We should scrap it or reduce it.

Second, utilise our current property stock better. Some 634,453 dwellings were vacant in England on 1st October 2018. Some of those were properties over shops. A UK-wide flats-over-the-shop capital allowance scheme (Flat Conversion Allowance) was repealed in 2012. We should open it again and simplify the system to encourage investment in town and city centres. Let’s make undeveloped spaces above shops economically attractive to live in, but economically painful to sit on.

Third, introduce a multi-million pound ‘bungalow fund’ to convert bungalows into two or more housing units. This would encourage housing associations and councils to buy up bungalows with assumed planning consent for adding a storey to create two properties. Thus, we gently increase density in towns and villages, where there are already services.

Fourth, we should reduce or scrap VAT on all renovations – and consider adding VAT on green belt and green field development. A study on the effects of reducing VAT for renovation and repair from 20 percent to five percent for the years from 2015-2020 projected a total stimulus effect of more than £15.1 billion and 42,050 extra full-time equivalent construction jobs by the end of 2020. It also found a potential saving of up to 237,128 tonnes of CO2 as homes are improved. This is yet another example where lower tax leads to overall economic gain.

Fifth, help smaller councils and housing associations to bid for the £9 billion available to establish a new generation of Council/Starter/Key Worker Housing. This funding should be available to all councils and housing associations, not just some as is currently the case. My council on the Isle of Wight, if it was allowed access to government cash, would build community housing more quickly than developers. The Government should also seek to pass land held by its departments to councils more quickly. It has taken 12 years for Homes England and its predecessor to release land for housing and jobs in East Cowes on the Island; unacceptable!

Sixth, increase community involvement in housing and strengthen local democracy. Give parish and town councils statutory consultee status. Make neighbourhood plans easier to develop. Encourage councils to develop housing strategies for local need rather than just plans which meet government targets. Extend time to oppose planning applications and prevent manipulative developers from gaming the system. Ensure that councils get infrastructure money from developments – known as Section 106 cash – even if they oppose the development. Allow councils – and MPs – to apply to withdraw planning permission.

Seventh, give housing associations greater power to evict anti-social tenants.

Eighth, scrap the automatic Right To Buy and find more cost-effective ways to support home ownership. For example, rent-to-buy schemes. These schemes support homeowning aspirations by allowing young renters to pay below market rates for housing with a chunk of their money going to a house deposit. For one rent-to-buy policy, over a million people could move into home ownership.

Ninth, build beautiful. Local planning should include clear local design and style guidelines. On the Island, we have a beautiful cottage and brickwork style, unique to us. It is painfully ironic that over 100 years ago we were building better housing for the poorest people in our society than we are now.

Finally, give leeway to local councils to chose a different methodology for assessing housing need, and allow councils, provided they behave responsibly, to assess their own housing requirement.

To sum up, let’s introduce a sustainable, recycling model for housing and land use. Get housing right and we deliver lots of social and economic good – and please old and new electoral constituencies. Get it wrong and we alienate our core voters without winning over new ones. It should be an easy choice.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrew Carter: An urban manifesto for the next Prime Minister

Andrew Carter is the Chief Executive of Centre for Cities

The race to be our next Prime Minister is almost at an end.

His legacy will inevitably hinge on his ability – or lack of – to deliver Brexit. But he must not allow this to distract him from the important domestic issues that have been allowed to fall by the wayside since the referendum. Social care, housing, education, and infrastructure are all in urgent need of attention.

Cities are central to addressing these issues. Despite accounting for just nine per cent of UK land, cities are home to 54 per cet of people, 60 per cent of jobs, and 62 per cent of Gross Value Added. The Conservative Party’s heartlands may be out in the leafy shires, but anybody hoping to govern as a One Nation Prime Minister must have a programme for government for Britain’s thirty six million city-dwellers.

Doing this will have an additional national benefit; studies have shown that the prosperity of Britain’s towns is intrinsically linked to the economic performance of their nearest cities, where many town dwellers work.

To improve the lives of people living in both cities and towns, here is what he should do:

Fix the council funding crisis

A decade of spending cuts has been hard on councils. Despite being home to just over half of the population, urban councils have shouldered almost three quarters of local government cuts. This works out as a £386 cut in services for every city resident, compared to just £172 per person elsewhere.

Some of these cuts have made councils leaner and more efficient. But they are now limiting their ability to deliver public services or support economic growth. Their social care responsibilities are also making a bad problem worse as councils are cutting non-statutory services to pay for care.

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson have both pledged to spend more money on public services; this must also apply to local government. But councils’ funding problems are not just about money – they are also about power. Currently, local authorities have limited discretion in how they raise and spend money. The next Prime Minister should give them more freedom to manage their finances. This includes giving them the power to levy new charges such as tourist taxes, and allowing them to set multi-year budgets.

Improve urban transport

The transport debate is dominated by plans to better connect cities: HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and a third runway at Heathrow all serve this purpose.

These are important projects, but 85% of people working in England’s largest conurbations also live in them. Their commutes are all too often expensive, uncomfortable and congested; a reality that should not be overlooked by the next Prime Minister.

Franchising buses, bringing suburban rail networks under metro mayoral control, and simplifying fares may not offer politicians their high-vis and hard hat photo opportunity, but they are essential steps to improving the commute for millions of people. Getting more people out of their cars and onto public transport will also improve cities’ air quality.

Target housebuilding where it is needed

The next Prime Minister should understand that the housing crisis is not a ‘national’ challenge, and plan new homes accordingly. The cost of living is relatively affordable in many parts of the country. But several high-demand cities have been unresponsive to the influx of new residents.

To address this problem, the next Prime Minister should overhaul the planning process and move towards a flexible zonal system, similar to that used in Japan. This will remove unnecessary bureaucracy and silence many of the Nimbys holding back the building of much-needed homes in high-demand areas.

He should also reassess the Government’s commitment to mass homeownership. I know that this will be a difficult pill for many Conservatives to swallow, but measures to subsidise homeownership, such as Help to Buy, are inflating demand and pushing up housing costs. It is time to step up efforts to build more affordable, secured, rented accommodation in high-demand places such as London, Bristol, Cambridge, and Brighton.

Sell cities as global destinations for investment

A final thing that the next Prime Minister must do to improve the lives of people living and working in cities is to champion them as world-leading places to invest and do business.

He should take advantage of the world-leading status of cities, such as London, Cambridge, and Oxford, and make clear that all of Britain’s cities are open to overseas investment – especially cities outside the South East. Encouraging more private investment into cities across the country will be vital if we are to solve Britain’s productivity problem. Currently just two cities outside the South East boast productivity above the national average. Supporting more investment in high-skill jobs and firms will help address this, and will deliver on the ‘Global Britain’ we have been promised.

It is ironic that, at the same time as Brexit distracted Westminster from the domestic agenda, this Government’s enthusiasm for devolution of domestic issues dried up. Encouragingly, both leadership contenders have confirmed their support for more devolution, and for the first time in history, the likely next prime minister is a former elected mayor.

Boris Johnson’s time as London Mayor gives us some clues about his plans for devolution: he was a vocal supporter of the need for greater fiscal devolution to councils. He should not forget this if he gets the keys to Number 10.

Irrespective of who wins this leadership race, the next occupant of Downing Street has a big to-do list waiting. If he champions devolution as part of the solution, then the challenge of dealing with it does not have to fall just to him – he should seize it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Jeremy Hutton: There are 6,047 empty council-owned commercial properties in the UK – what a shocking waste

Jeremy Hutton is a policy analyst for the Taxpayers Alliance.

At the TaxPayers’ Alliance, we spend a lot of time exposing waste by government departments. Vanity projects like HS2, the extraordinarily high foreign aid budget, and the £40bn public sector pensions liability come to mind. But some of our most rewarding and important work is at the local level, travelling around the country with activists to hold local councils to account. Many ConservativeHome readers will know us for our annual Town Hall Rich Lists, which have become the bane of council officers everywhere. But we also believe in congratulating and promoting best practice, as there are undoubtedly councillors out there really making a difference and doing their best to represent taxpayers.

Over the past few months, we’ve received several tip offs from activists concerned about their local council investing in private sector ventures and property portfolios, putting their hard earned money at risk. Of course, the question of whether councils should be doing this, in principle, is complex. Some local authorities argued this investment provided alternative revenue streams, protecting residents from painful council tax rises. As Councillor Ferris Cowper argued at our panel discussion on the topic (which you can view here), this represents a new frontier for public finances in local government. But investing in property, assets or ventures presents risks as well as opportunities, and taxpayers are right to be concerned about the experience and ability of those in the public sector making investments with their money.

Putting that debate to one side, these practices generate more immediate issues. The obvious question is how local authorities will handle these buildings when they’re not being utilised, for commercial purposes or service provision. Nobody would begrudge a council for using an owned property to assist with the delivery of essential services, like social care provision, or even providing a space for a youth centre or sports facility. Alternatively, councils could rent these properties out to local businesses, providing a steady cash flow for the council and promoting economic activity in the local area.

But what if a local council leaves a property entirely vacant, awaiting these opportunities? It’s this limbo which we explored in our recent paper, Hollow High Streets.

We were surprised to discover, after sending a freedom of information request to every council in the country, that at least 6,047 council-owned commercial properties were declared vacant between January 2016 and December 2017. The total cost to taxpayers of providing security, insurance, maintenance and renovation of these properties was £74,022,381. The most expensive vacant property was the renovation of Aberdeen Art Gallery, which has been plagued by delays amid fears costs have spiralled beyond its £30 million budget. The delayed opening has reportedly cost Aberdeen City Council hundreds of thousands in lost revenues alone.

The vast majority of councils in the UK confirmed they owned commercial properties which were being left vacant. Many of the responses we received did not include details of precisely why these properties were being left unused, but we did try to be fair in our reporting by making it clear there may be valid explanations. Only 21 councils confirmed with the TPA that they didn’t own any vacant property, and they are highlighted in our report: Castle Point, South Bucks, Stafford and Watford, to name a few.

Per person, Scotland and Wales were found to be the areas with the highest number of empty municipal commercial properties. Conversely, the areas with the least empty commercial properties per person were London and Northern Ireland, perhaps indicating a greater sense of urgency for housing and pressure on councils to use up all the space available.

Of course, there may be valid explanations for some of these properties, for example if renovations are taking place to improve the value of the property. As one councillor in Swindon pointed out, that council’s property portfolio generated a net profit with empty properties only costing an average £25 each per month. This ensures they can remain preserved for future use when they might start generating profit. Inverclyde council made clear that substantial renovations sometimes were simply necessary to keep distinctive buildings in use, as was the case with the James Watt memorial college.

But this report did highlight some cases of empty properties on high streets which could be sold at a profit for the council, and put to far better use. With a high demand for housing, especially housing located close to train stations and public transport, vacant properties on high streets could be converted into housing.  As Shelter Scotland made clear in their response, councils should be taking a “strategic approach” to bringing empty properties into use to increase housing supply. Alternatively, this space could be made available for local start ups and businesses.

There is no one size fits all approach for councils when investing in property, but we do hope that our research has helped start a conversation in some local areas where vacant properties could be put to better use.


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Wigan Council is seeking to be the servant not the master of its residents

It is estimated that public spending this financial year will be £840.7 billion. That is an increase of 3.6 per cent of the total of £811.8 billion in 2018-19. As inflation is currently 1.9 per cent, that means we are likely to see an increase in “real terms”. In 2009/10, the total level public spending was £634 billion. If we allow for inflation to get the “real terms” figure, that would be £835 billion for last year. The upshot is that state spending continues at roughly the equivalant level of extravagance that we had under Gordon Brown – all the talk of “austerity” is nonsense. At least that is for central Government. Within the total, there is some variation. If we look at items of state spending for 2009 and for the current year, we can see some have risen very sharply. Debt interest is up from £31 billion to £52 billion. Then we have “net expenditure transfers to the EU” up from £6.4 billion to £15 billion – no austerity there. Some other areas have seen significant “real” increases – pensions (mostly as there are more pensioners), the NHS, overseas aid…

For councils, it is a bit different. Total local government expenditure this year is due to be £182 billion. In 2009/10, it was £162 billion. If it had been increased in line with inflation, it would have reached £213 billion by last year. There is lots of complexity beneath those figures, but I think it is fair to summarise that overall, central government has not had spending cuts, while local government has. I am the first to say that we stll have vast sums of wasteful and extravagant municipal spending. But let’s also throw the occasional bouquet. Savings have been found while the satisfaction rate with local services has generally held up pretty well.

Voting Conservative is generally a rather good idea if you want the mission to achieve value for money to be pursued in your town hall. But in general the response from councils, of all parties, to finding they have less money to spend has been positive. Some have just shrugged, cut front line services, and blamed central Government. However, most have risen to the challenge to be innovative, to find efficiencies, to reform the way they operate and reflect on what they do and what they achieve.

In this context I was pleased to see a report from the King’s Fund regarding Wigan Council. It says:

“Over a period of six years, public services in Wigan have been through a major process of transformation, based on the idea of building a different relationship with local people. The new approach to delivering services has become known as the ‘Wigan Deal’….The Wigan Deal is an example of ‘asset-based’ working, in which public services seek to build on the strengths and assets of individuals and communities to improve outcomes. Although other areas have explored similar approaches, Wigan is notable for the scale and consistency with which these ideas have been applied….a key part of the process has been closer working with the NHS, voluntary sector organisations and others to establish a common approach. A citizen-led approach to health and care…Wigan’s journey shows it is possible to achieve substantial savings while protecting or improving outcomes, but only if services are genuinely transformed and upfront investment is available to help bring about new ways of working.”

The Council employs a thousand fewer people than it did in 2010. Some of the changes have been politically senstive. For instance, the report says that the “deal” involved closing day centres, providing a better alternative. The savings for adult social care were as follows:

  • “Reassessing all care packages to identify opportunities to deliver care in a more cost-effective way, making better use of individual assets and tailoring care to personal needs.
  • Moving away from a building-based model of day care support, which has meant that the number of day centres that the council operates has reduced from 14 to 4, with the council instead investing in community organisations providing a more diverse range of alternatives at less cost.
  • Redesigning supported accommodation based on multiple-occupancy housing, with care and support shared across several tenants, strengthened community connections and investment in assistive technology.”

While spending has gone down, the quality of the services provided has gone up:

“Healthy life expectancy has increased significantly, bucking the trend for stagnation seen in the England-wide figures. Care Quality Commission assessments indicate that the quality of social care services in Wigan has improved, and Wigan performs well compared with national and regional benchmarks at supporting people to leave hospital and to remain in the community rather than in long-term residential care.”

The Council has switched from “a transactional commissioning model to a more collaborative one in which voluntary and community sector organisations are seen more as partners than service providers and are actively supported to develop and improve.” The approach is “to allow families to progressively take greater control over their lives, with professionals working as facilitators, helping participants to make their own plans and to strengthen their capabilities – including their ability to build positive relationships, to work, to be part of a community and to live a healthy life.” The staff feel they have “permission to innovate”. One social care manager was quoted as saying:

“It is having the freedom to work in a way that makes it better for our residents in Wigan. I have got freedom to work in a different way.”

James Winterbottom, the Director of Children’s Services for Wigan Council, gives a sense of the change with reference to case conferences in child protection. “In the past, case conferences were dominated by large groups of professionals meeting with parents, each taking their turn to describe their concerns about the family, ” says the report. “Everyone started to describe how terrible this family was… At the end of the meeting, everyone agreed the need for a child protection plan, and ideally the family would understand what this meant from being involved, but they did not have a clue what had happened to them.” Now we have fewer social workers and better outcomes:

“A similar meeting today might involve eight members of the child’s extended family and only two social care professionals….The answer is here in this family – how can we help you to resolve these issues? They own the issues. The whole family wanted to come to a solution. In the old model, that child could well have ended up in care.”

Innovation was applied to ensure enough foster care was available:

“The council on at least one occasion has offered to pay for an established foster carer to have their home extended because the family were willing to accommodate more children but could not do so because of space limitations. The council calculated that the cost of building an extension would be less than the cost of placing a child with an independent foster carer out of the area, and that this solution would also be better for the child. Interviewees told us that there is a culture of being open to trying out bold ideas like this where a case can be made for them.”

Red tape was cut:

“There was also a recognition that staff needed to be freed up to work differently, spending more time working directly with residents and service users. The bureaucratic burden needed to be reduced so that less time was spent on processes and procedures that did not directly contribute to improving outcomes. The intention has been to build a culture in which the ideas for improvement come from the front line, with managers then enabling changes to take place.”

Margaret Thatcher once described her aim for Britain “the State as servant and not as master”. Wigan might  be run by Labour councillors. But it strikes me that is the principle they are seeking to apply. It is greatly to be welcomed.

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How can the nation’s beauty be regained?

The Building Better Building Beautiful Commission has published its interim report. Until April, the Commission was chaired by Sir Roger Scruton – who was ousted after being scandalously misrepresented by the New Statesman. The magazine has belatedly apologised. Since then The Commission’s Chairman has been Nicholas Boys Smith, the founder of Create Streets. The most obvious part of its mission is to challenge the defeatist assumption that new buildings must inevitably be ugly. Given the extent of the devastation to so many of our towns and cities since the Second World War that sense of defeatism is understandable. As the report says:

“Self-consciously and deliberately twentieth century planners and architects rejected the traditional town with its clear centre, composed facades, mix of uses and its walkable density. We have encountered in our evidence much consternation at the injuries done to older settlements though much of the twentieth century by buildings’ scale, nature and positioning.”

Despite that strong sense of gloom, it is wrong to despair. The Princes Foundation recently brought out a report with pictures of some wonderful development projects.

However, the Commission makes clear that beautiful buildings are not enough:

“Beauty is not just what buildings look like (though it does include this) but the wider ‘spirit of the place’, our overall settlement patterns and their interaction with nature. This entails both the beauty of our streets and squares, what makes them distinct and also the wider patterns of how we live and the demands we make on our natural environment and the planet.”

“What is civilisation?” asked Kenneth Clark in his 1969 television series Civilisation. “I don’t know… but I think I can recognise it when I see it and I’m looking at it now. ” As he spoke he turned to look at Notre-Dame cathedral. Defining beauty might pose similar difficulties. But what is hard to dispute is that a vast number of the concrete slabs, blocks, and towers constructed in recent decades lack it. Not even the architects responsible for disfiguring our country claim their aim was beauty. For them “brutalism” is not an insult but their life’s work.

Nonetheless to declare that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” offers a convenient excuse to give up on the cause. But the report argues:

“That beauty might be subjective, purely a ‘matter of taste’ (if that is indeed the case) is a very bad reason to dismiss it. So much in our social, cultural and political lives is subjective. Feeling is what moves most of us more than reason. Public disenchantment with so much of what has been built since the war cannot be adequately captured in facts and numbers; it is a powerful and present feeling of loss. Some argue that to talk of beauty when we are in midst of a housing crisis is a distraction. Such an argument is based on the fallacy that somehow one precludes the other – that quality and quantity are at odds.”

By the way, Sir Roger, who was a professor of aesthetics at Birkbeck College, would not concede that it is subjective. The report acknowledges this case by adding:

“Beauty is not a veneer that is laid on top of utility. It is the most important part of utility, since it is what makes buildings and settlements into fit places to live. This is revealed in the adaptability of beautiful buildings and the disposal nature of ugliness. And this is why there are good philosophical reasons for rejecting the idea that beauty is a matter of subjective opinion, without foundation in human nature or in our desire to live at peace with our neighbours.”

It comes down to how the decisions are made:

“Currently judgements about beauty are being made covertly. Places and buildings look and feel the way they do not by accident but by choice. The problem is that that most people do not have access to the discussion about the choices or don’t feel that their voices and opinions matter.”

It is one thing to agree the planning system is at fault. Quite another to resolve what is the matter with it:

“Some believe the problem is too much planning. Some believe that it is too little. We have to understand the dynamic of different perspectives, and to get beyond them where we can. Our planning process is criticised from nearly all sides as ‘broken’, and those charged with maintaining and implementing it seem often to be de-moralised. But planning for the public good should be a noble and exciting profession. And there is much that is precious in our approach: civic involvement and the trust that this has engendered, to say nothing of the protection of many beautiful landscapes and historic buildings. So this loss of trust is a serious derogation from our inheritance. How do we win trust back whilst building enough beautiful and popular homes in the right places and in the ‘gentle density’ sustainable settlement patterns which we know are better for residents and for the environment?”

One of the Commission’s recommendations is illegal. The proposal is to have zero VAT for the renovation of buildings. Perversely VAT is charged for that but not for new building. The Commission says:

“As awareness of the benefits of a ‘circular economy’ approach to the environment and the economy increases, we should look at ways to incentivise re-use of existing buildings to prevent new build being the default ‘easier’ option. For example, we would like Government to consider the alignment of VAT treatment of repair and maintenance work for existing buildings with construction of new buildings.”

The Government would be breaking EU rules to do so. But if Brexit takes place at some stage, as some of us are hoping, that would be an entirely legal and eminently sensible reform. That is not just about bring homes back into use. There are a lot of empty derelict buildings around that could be adapted for housing even though they were originally built for other reasons. Greater flexibility of the planning rules would also help. As the report says:

“Retail planning used to be divided into ‘convenience’ (essentially food) and ‘comparison’ (non-food). These were divided into ‘bulk’ (weekly supermarket shop/buying a dishwasher) and ‘top up’ (daily or ad hoc). Then there was ‘local’ (small parades and centres of small settlements) and ‘higher order’ (city centres to which people from neighbouring settlements travel). Put simply, internet shopping and delivery has rendered this model obsolete. Landlords are therefore sitting on property held at a book value that the potential rental income no longer supports. However, it is often hard to support change of use to lower rent commercial or other uses due to rates liability. Sometimes change of use is also not permitted. Thus, too many high streets are not evolving as they need to do.” 

But what the new homes look like remains the key controversy. The Commission feels that the public – rather than planners or architects – should decide. That is the way for beauty to win. They make the recommendation sound as dull as possible:

“There is greater scope to encourage the use of deliberative engagement and design processes to facilitate wider community engagement in design solutions at all levels of scale. Consideration needs to be given to how this might be better resourced whether through public / private partnership arrangements or neighbourhood planning; by adopting protocols for community and stakeholder engagement in the production of detailed visual design briefs for important sites; and through the use of ‘enquiry by design’ or similar techniques to assist the master planning of strategic and sensitive sites. There should be much greater weight placed in planning applications on the criteria set out within the Statement of Community Involvement to demonstrate how proposals have evolved as a result of local feedback. The Commission is concerned with the quality and breadth of public engagement with the plan making (as opposed to the development control) process. This needs to be systemically improved and is critical. We need to move the democracy forwards to an earlier point in the process.”

If that was given teeth it would be very powerful. Local design codes reflecting popular wishes would probably mean the end of tower blocks and a huge revival for neo-classicism. There would actually be a great advantage for developers in that there would be greater certainty in what would be approved. The long delay and costs in legal fees would be reduced.

Some imagine that the profit motive explains the failure to provide beauty. But ugly buildings can be more expensive. Anna Mansfield of the public realm consultancy, told the Commission:

“I was working on a PFI project ten years ago, and we were told by the contractor to put in a more expensive material that looked cheaper because there was real sensitivity about anything in the NHS looking expensive.” 

That greater simplicity of design codes would also mean a reduced burden on the planning system. Yet the Royal Town Planning Institute, the planning officers trade union, has had the nerve to demand “more resources” if this approach was adopted. Not a hint of contrition for the harm its members have inflicted on us. Just a demand for more money. It would be naive to imagine that spending more money would do any good. The great majority of planning officers know that the public have a different view. The planning officers are convinced the public is wrong. Just giving planning officers a pay rise will not convert them to the cause of beauty.

The challenge is not money but political will. I am reminded of the failure of Michael Gove to reduce the number of children in care by persuading the social workers to be more favourable towards adoption. The social workers were not to be persuaded as they were ideologically opposed. Nor will the planners or architects by persuaded that neo-classicism is the way forward. For that change to come it would need to be forced through. That can’t be fudged. It is a battle between the planners and the people. The Government has to take sides.

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Stephanos Ioannou: Overdevelopment means the traditional London suburbs are under threat

Cllr Stephanos Ioannou is a councillor for Southgate in Enfield. He is studying Public Policy at Kings College London.

It’s not every day you would hear a young person who has hopes of soon getting on to the property ladder, echoing concerns about overdevelopment in one of the most expensive and sought after capitals in the world. But this statement is slowly creeping into the reality of what is happening in our capital, and overdevelopment is beginning to seriously change the suburban parts of London.

The majority of applications I see coming through Enfield Council’s planning department have the justified intent of elaborating and improving the current situation that families find themselves in. Whether it be a simple loft conversion, rear or back extension, or even the garage conversion, I mostly see these applications as positive contributions to the Southgate area, where more and more families are moving to reap the benefits of great schools and local services. However, where things begin to get complex is with the applications that involve changing the whole character of an area, and therefore setting a blueprint for future developments in the area.

I am talking specifically about an application that was received to build a 17 storey building in the heart of Southgate, that will bring with it 200 new homes for families and professionals. At first glance, I was positive about these proposals but realised that residents in the community, and particularly neighbouring residents would be quite negative towards these proposals. This is because of the skyline effect, and most importantly the impact on local services and local infrastructure for the Southgate area. In taking another case, we have in neighbouring Barnet and Finchley Central the plans outlined by Transport for London and the Mayor of London of a new development that will involve 600 new homes, and a twenty-seven storey building that will change the face of central Finchley for good. Finally, we can bear witness to the ‘Save West Hampstead’ campaign that is focusing on stopping council led over-development by bringing together residents association across the borough to fight against high tower block plans.

With the examples given, it’s clear there is a correlation happening across the London boroughs with overdevelopment. Unlike before, councils with the assistance of developers are more willing to start plans with an extraordinary level of floors attached to tower blocks, essentially going in ‘high and tough’ and slowly but gently reducing the number of floors, still to a level that is mostly unacceptable to most existing residents in the community.

Buildings in cities should not be designed in isolation, but in relation to the places in which they are set, whether these are views to and from world heritage sites or the fabric of adjoining streets. Together with its present and future neighbours, new development should make accessible public spaces that are a pleasure to inhabit – the effects of tall buildings are as important at ground level as they are in the sky. And the larger and more prominently placed a building is, the greater the care that should be taken over its design.

Nobody could go to the places already being shaped by towers – Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall or Stratford High Street, a discus-throw from the Olympic Park – and say that these are great places to linger, or that the tall buildings now rising there enhance the experience. Images of these places in the future, when further skyscrapers will jostle for attention, suggest more of the same. New urban zones are being created with no overall idea of how the parts contribute to the whole, of the places that are being made at their base.

Rather, new London tower design tends to go out of its way to be as assertive and architecturally antisocial as possible. Strata SE1 in Elephant and Castle, with its slashed rooftop, randomised aluminium cladding patterns and bulbous form, seems to be setting out to be as hostile as possible to any future neighbour. In Stratford the fashion is for arbitrary clashing colours – another idea that kills the prospect of making coherent public places.
Nor, when you get close to a building such as St George’s Tower in Vauxhall, would you say that you are in the presence of quality. Its details clash and its cladding looks cheap and plasticky. There is no great reason to believe that these surfaces will age well. Images of proposed future projects, such as the Quill in Bermondsey and 1 Merchant Square in Paddington, suggest little improvement in the future.

Combined with frantic attempts at individuality is a profound sameness. These projects tend to use the same type of cladding and floor layouts. It is sometimes said that London needs skyscrapers to make an “iconic” statement on the world stage, but these developments make it look less distinctive. And if the city tries to engage in the global race for height, it can only lose. It is outpaced by the likes of Shanghai and Dubai, the height of whose Burj Khalifa is 2.7 times that of the Shard.

Overall, the point here is that tall buildings do not define nor improve an area just by simply being constructed. The traditional semi-detached houses of north London and the leafy suburbs are things you cannot achieve as much as you try with tall tower blocks.

Conservation areas are areas of ‘special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’. This imposes a duty on the council, in exercising its planning powers, to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the area.

However what is said will happen on paper is different from the reality taking place across parts of suburban north London. Take for example the neglect by Tfl over Southgate Tube Station, where the 1930’s structure of Christopher Holden has been left to rust and decay over the years and still no work has taken place to preserve this heritage. Take also the neglect by Enfield Council to preserve existing areas around Southgate Green. I am sure that this is happening across other London boroughs too and I would invite other councillors to explain the situation in their parts- but overall my message is that we should be preserving our areas of heritage and not succumb to the overdevelopment that some parties are trying to push through rigorously.

In preserving heritage, councils can take action by educating local school pupils about points of interest in their areas, or even driving investment in local heritage sites. Research published by Historic England shows that, in 2015, domestic and international heritage-related visits generated £16.4 billion in expenditure in England, contributing £2 billion to the Exchequer in tax revenue. It seems logical therefore that councils should weigh up the impact and consequences of building dense tower block housing, or investing in existing conservation areas thus boosting the local economy.

Slowly we will see changes to the leafy suburban parts of London, being replaced by tall ten-plus storey blocks of flats that will be branded as ‘affordable’ so they say, but in reality are a quick buck for developers and the council who will generate council tax revenue, with no guarantee they will be reinvested back into that specific community.

Here in Enfield, all Section 106 funds that are generated from developments across the borough and being streamlined into the Meridian Water scheme, instead of being reinvested directly back into the communities that have seen these extraordinary developments. With that said, the planning department are trying to reassure us councillors that funds will be requested from the developers further than just for Meridian Water, but this will only be voluntary on their behalf. I am sure that developers would rather retain as much profit as possible, in comparison to giving more funds-especially voluntary ones.

London and its landscape are changing, and with that communities are battling against a change to their once characteristic neighbourhoods. Councils and developers have scant regard for the existing residents, and more so for the conservation areas they are situated in.

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