[Ben Reeve Lewis is thinking about planning this week and getting excited about new ideas …]
I pick subjects for this newsround quite serendipitously. Sometimes it is prompted by a fan-fared government announcement of the latest new idea, sometimes I just notice a general theme developing in the news based on chit chat floating round between the internet’s housing community, sometimes it is triggered by something that happened in my day job.
This week I am intrigued by arguments about planning permission, a subject of which I admit I know absolutely ‘Jack’.
The inspirational trigger is me cooking meatballs in red wine and tomato sauce whilst listening to an argument on Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme about planning permission v. Nimbyism.
I am hoping that in researching this piece I will educate myself. As usual I have no idea where this post will end up.
Perhaps the reason I sat up and took notice is that the Nimby position was being presented by the brilliant Colonel Bob Stewart, Tory MP for leafy Beckenham, on the south east London edge of Kent, a man for whom I have a lot of time for, or ‘Max Respek’ as the ‘Yoof’ say, with a forward thrusting inclination of the forefinger and thumb.
Politics and the past
Why? I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Tory but I wouldn’t call myself a Socialist anymore either. Lib Dem?……..Possibly but only in the robust form espoused by John Stuart Mill, Octavia Hill etc, not Clegg’s bunch of pathetic 6th form prefects, with their ‘Lets not upset anyone’ policies.
It seems that most of us 80s Lefties from the Hatton/Scargill years find ourselves getting more right wing as we get older. It is as inevitable as hair in the ears and a love of Pink Floyd, although for my part, being a different generation, I can confess that I still have an inexplicable fondness for mashed-up Break-beat, Hard-House and techno.
While I was making a tit of myself in the clubs of the early 1990s, wearing white gloves and brandishing glow sticks, Colonel Bob was honing his moves, negotiating between warring factions in Bosnia. He took his learnt skills a few years later and did a series of excellent TV documentaries called “At war with next door”, teaching negotiation techniques for neighbour disputes.
So I was surprised to hear Bob take this line but I’ll come back to him.
Build our way out or Nimby it to death?
Shapps has taken the odd break from opening fetes to actually address the housing crisis by slackening planning laws. Not new news I know but it is the one area where you can see him espousing reasonably sensible thoughts in his role as housing minister, which I am sure he sees as only an irritating but necessary toilet break on the road to becoming Home Secretary.
The spanner in the works comes from different directions. Despite trumpeting easier planning laws, planning approvals have actually dropped 25% recently.
Village greens and bowling greens
The registering of village greens, which I have written about before, as a route to blocking planning permission has soared since it was introduced, and last week Bowling Greens were given the same legal position, with what any idiot would predict would be the same result.
Why oh why would you announce the relaxing of planning regulations to get us out of this crisis whilst at the same time introducing new methods to block it?
Building for growth?
Inside Housing ran a story this week about how increasing house building projects to 300,000 would boost the economy by a massive £75 billion pounds and in the process reduce rents, because demand would fall and bring rents with them. Also in the process they would boost employment in the denuded building trade.
I seem to recall, in my dim memory that the proposed cuts to housing benefit aimed to save between £17 & £19 billion. If the Centre for Economic and Business research (hardly a loony left think tank) are to be believed, surely expansion is better than contraction? Which points us straight back to John Maynard-Keynes’s arguments.
I am no politician or economist but if it’s true that more money can be generated by growth than cuts, shouldn’t we be doing that?
What the millionaires said
And here is another bit of serendipity. You will know from last week’s newsround that I recently attended a workshop delivered by 3 multi-millionaires, 2 of who were involved in property. They told us all that the worldwide recession had no effect on them at all. They said investment is all about following the movement. It makes no difference to them if the economy moves up or down, they make the same amount of money.
They ventured that belt tightening is a myth to make the public pay while the usual suspects still make shed loads of dosh. Bear in mind this was millionaire investors saying this, not socialists.
This seems to make sense. While housing benefit is being cut and rents are going through the roof bankers are still awarding themselves massive bonuses. Shouldn’t we be investing our way out of this crisis rather than treating out national economy like house-keeping money?
As I learned on last week’s workshop, how much you have isn’t as important as how you manage it.
Churchill famously visited a bombed out East End in 1940, flashing his ‘V’ sign and said “We can take it”, to which a ‘luvable cockernee’ woman shouted back “You aint taking it mister, we are”, a comment conveniently airbrushed out of Churchillian history.
The great and the good of this country can wave the flag of cuts to the economy in a duplicitous attempt to recreate the ‘Blitz spirit’ but where are they taking the financial hits in their lives? They aren’t, we are!
And so back to Bob.
Proponents of Nimbyism cluster around vague ideas about tower blocks being built on cricket pitches, thatched cottages being bull-dozed to make way for an Arndale Centre, the 300 year old George and Dragon becoming a ‘Maccy D’s’ as we call them in my manor, but we can build and convert without doing this.
Colonel Bob pointed this out in his Radio 4 interview. While celebrating his Tory heartland constituency’s leafier environs he did emphasise that there were still areas that could be creatively developed without turning the area into Kidbrooke/Mosside/Skelmersdale (delete as applicable) and I agree heartily with him.
Some exciting projects
Check out the inventive conversion work being done by Knott Architects or the fantastic regeneration projects of Urban Splas turning forgotten and unloved spaces into homes that rebuild communities. Or why not simply put a hut on your roof?
Or check this week’s idea from former Google Engineer Patri Friedman and his design for a floating city
We don’t have to tarmac over forests, or wipe out centuries of history to build our way out of this housing shortage, we have loads of spaces, we just need to get creative about using them. Believe it or not, I actually don’t have a problem with Grant Shapps’s boats idea. I don’t think it will provide anywhere near the amount of homes he suggests but that kind of lateral thinking is actually what we need.
And ‘outside the box’ thinking is very unusual for him. Who knows, maybe back in the 1990s he was ‘Largin it’ next to me, referee’s whistle in mouth with a glow stick in one hand and a bottle of water in the other on the dance floors of the Ministry of Sound, Megatripolis and Club UK and his brain got turned!!!!!! [Steady on … Ed]
Ben Reeve Lewis
Ben has started Home Saving Expert, to share his secrets to defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties and catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.