‘The housing crisis has spread to everybody’, says former boss of Shelter

Isabelle Fraser – 8 JANUARY 2017


From the roof of the east London office of the charity Shelter, you can see the remnants of over a century of the capital’s housing policy. Old terraced houses, turn of the century estates, oppressive Sixties tower blocks, the Modernist grandeur of the Barbican, and the knot of skyscrapers in the City beyond.

Years before he became chief executive of Shelter, Campbell Robb lived in a Peabody estate, much like the one below. Well-built and available at affordable rents, these kinds of homes are increasingly unavailable for London’s burgeoning Generation Rent, which PwC estimated that will increase from 40pc in 2000, to 60pc in 2025.

Downstairs in Robb’s office, there is a poster with ‘Enough is Enough!’ written in big red letters, commissioned for the charity’s 50th anniversary this year. Shelter started life campaigning for the millions of ‘hidden homeless’, who lived in slums; it was the same year as Kathy Come Home, Ken Loach’s famous film about homelessness.

It is now a powerful voice calling for ways to help solve the housing crisis, and ameliorate conditions those renting privately or struggling to find anywhere to live. Recent victories include the Government’s announcement in the Autumn Statement to ban letting fees for tenants; the charity continues to campaign for long tenancies for renters and runs a helpline for homeless people.

Now, Robb is leaving his post after seven years in the top job to head up the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “One of the biggest challenges has been…to get enough people to recognise this was a housing crisis that was beginning to impact every bit of society. People thought it only affected certain kinds of people, the very poorest in slum conditions that Shelter was founded on,” he says. Since he joined, housing has made it way up the public’s priority list. When he arrived in January 2010, housing came in 18th on Ipsos Mori’s survey which finds the “single biggest issue” for Britons. In November 2016, it came fifth.

“The reason for that is affordability,” he says. The housing crisis “has spread to everywhere. It’s not just poor people, or those who are just managing, it’s right up there.” The average house price in the UK has climbed 29.4pc in the last seven years; in London it has soared by 69.6pc, far ahead of wage increases.

As a result, it has become a hot potato. “It’s a political issue that has become real for a lot of people across the country. Not just in Labour seats, but Conservative MPs have people in their constituencies who are saying my children can’t afford to buy,” he says. “We have a group of people who are in their 50s and 60s for the first generation since the Second World War, looking at their children’s housing prospects, and they are worse than their own.”

Not only is there political pressure coming from voters, but also from big companies.

Deloitte and KPMG both bought flats in the capital for their graduates to live in, and Shelter has teamed up with companies such as Starbucks to introduce a rental deposit scheme which workers can pay back, interest free.

It could have been even worse, he says. “In the last seven years, if interest rates had gone up by 2 or 3pc you would have seen a raft of repossessions like those in the 80s. You would have seen a crisis beyond what we already have. So in some ways housing policy has been lucky.”

This affordability crisis has been compounded by a “failure of certain policies”, he says, as well as the financial crisis and the austerity that followed. The previous governments, including New Labour and the coalition, all failed to build enough and put little focus on the supply side, he argues. They all “believed the way to solve the housing crisis was on the home ownership and on demand side, to effectively make money available cheaply through Help to Buy-type products, [which enables first-time buyers to purchase a home with a 5pc deposit] and less so in direct investment in house building.” Help to Buy was a crucial policy after the downturn, designed to get house builders moving again by stimulating demand. But that policy has continued, even while house builders are posting record profits once again.

There’s a problem with this model of solving the housing crisis, says Robb: “it’s broken”. “With the death of public housing and local authorities, the private house builders have had to carry that weight and they can’t,” he says. Part of the problem is due to the land market; the high cost of land forces developers to keep upping prices and making homes smaller. “You can’t criticise them for doing what they were set up to do, they are there to maximise profit for their shareholders,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily translate into the best housing policy for Britain. That’s why you need more small builders, more land available – public and private – and you need public building”.

With the new Government, the rhetoric has changed noticeably. “This is a government that’s got more sense of a failed housing market than any of the previous ones,” he says. It has become more interventionist, even pinching policies from the Labour party’s manifesto, as was the case with banning letting fees. There is less focus on the importance of home ownership, and more money for affordable homes and talk of other types of housing, such as the private rental sector. Now, after seven years, the “house building budget has come back to what it was in 2008,” he says. “So we have seen a very big cycle”.

Part of the policy shift is a recognition that the market has changed remarkably during that time. “Over those seven years there was a massive growth of people in the rental sector, and the Government is finally catching up with the need to regulate that.”

Another change is the recognition of housing being a form of infrastructure, which Robb describes as “a big step”. “It’s never done that – it’s always separated it from roads and transport. They seem to finally recognise that investment will be an improvement to the economy like other types of infrastructure.”

Small movements and policy tweaks such as these are key to making up the deficit of homes that must be built, rather than big, sweeping changes, he argues. “It would be good if the Government had lots of different small things [planned for the upcoming housing white paper] because actually with a bit of investment, and a bit of policy and political will you can make this happen.”

Where others may see as an insurmountable challenge, Robb is hopeful about ending the housing crisis. “I am optimistic that it can be fixed. Having waited seven years, I have a government whose public pronouncements… are more nuanced and thought through than many of the previous governments’,” he says. With a promising Autumn Statement which promised billions to affordable housing, and a housing white paper on the way, “they may be swallows that don’t make a full spring but we can begin to hope that if they follow those things through, we might begin to see a start… I’m optimistic until I’m proven otherwise.”

LandBase – new centre for land based skills in Dorset

LandBase is the new centre for land based skills, based in Dorset. They will provide experience led, affordable, long and short-term courses for motivated landworkers, both current and aspiring.

They are currently working on putting together a number of courses, but will be officially launching in January 2017 at the Oxford Real Farming Conference
LandBase website is at: http://land-base.weebly.com/

Haringey lives torn apart and assets lost: this is what a Labour privatisation would mean

The battle under way in the capital should trouble us all. Proponents call it innovation, but I say it’s an assault on the poor

Aditya Chakrabortty Thursday 19 January 2017

A battle broke out on Tuesday in one of the scruffier parts of north London. It didn’t look much: a few dozen placard wavers outside Haringey civic centre, and a restive public heckling councillors as they debated big plans for their future. But this is a battle that concerns all of us. At its heart is a programme that is among the most audacious I’ve ever seen. Haringey wants to privatise huge swaths of public property: family homes, school buildings, its biggest library. All of it will be stuck in a private fund worth £2bn.

It comes with huge risks. It will demolish precious social housing, turf out families and rip apart communities. It will hand democratic control to a massive private entity. The 20-year plan is ‘unprecedented’, agreed backbench councillors. They voted to slam on the brakes. But if they’re ignored and the plan goes through, it will form a blueprint for an altered capital. London will lurch closer towards becoming a playground for speculators, a dormitory for professionals, and off-limits both to the working class and to public dissent.

This may be the first you’ve heard of it – the Haringey development vehicle has scored barely a mention outside the local and trade press. Odd, given how large it is, and how vital to council leader Claire Kober, who is also chair of the London Councils group.

Having grown up nearby, in Edmonton, I know the problems that fester in parts of Haringey

Kober claims that a joint venture with a mega-developer is the sure route to 5,000 new houses and a sparkling town centre. To which the obvious question is: homes for whom? I’ve been through the paperwork, had dozens of conversations with councillors and locals, and put a series of questions to the council. And it’s clear they won’t be for the 8,000 Haringey families on the waiting list for a council house. If anything, this plan will add to the number who are homeless. Not by accident but by design: the plans are explicit about making accommodation in this London borough even more expensive.

Why would a Labour council even think of doing this to its own voters? Because the hyper-ambitious leadership is still gripped by zombie Blairism and its mania for ‘innovation’. And because Kober and her allies appear to believe the best way to relieve an area of poverty is to kick out the poor people who live there. Or, as they call it, creating ‘mixed and balanced communities’.

Having grown up next door, in Edmonton, I know the problems that fester in parts of Haringey: the death of light industry leading to a jobs drought, and some of the worst deprivation in Britain. There’s a reason Tottenham was ground zero for the 2011 riots. Add to that the impossible municipal maths of delivering year upon year of Westminster-mandated spending cuts while trying not to drown in a historic housing crisis. So many needs, so little money.

Faced with these intractables, Kober and her circle have decided the way to fix Tottenham is to turn it into somewhere else. So they hire Nick Walkley, who at Barnet handed nearly everything his council did to the giant outsourcing company Capita. They throw public money at starchitects to get them to set up a branch in the borough. They blow the annual running cost of a daycare centre on a redesign of the council logo. ‘Haringey London’, it now reads, with an undisguised spatial neediness. This is the kind of regeneration mindset that can’t see a greasy spoon without wishing it were a Starbucks.

And Kober gets cosy with the property industry. Developers spend tens of thousands bringing her and the team over to property fairs in Cannes. And there, among the yachts, the council announces the shortlist of private-sector partners for this development vehicle.

A gorgeous art deco town hall is flogged to Hong Kong investors to turn into a boutique hotel and luxury apartments – with just four affordable homes. Locals are furious, and Labour councillors rebel. The chief whip, Adam Jogee, ticks off colleagues for their ‘entirely unacceptable behaviour’. Jogee, by the way, works for a lobbying firm that represents two of the three corporates on that development vehicle shortlist. That same lobbyist dined Kober and her heads of finance and housing no fewer than 13 times.

Analysis The radical model fighting the housing crisis: property prices based on income

Community land trusts battle gentrification by linking house prices to local wages rather than the market rate. But can this growing movement for ‘permanently affordable’ homes really ease Britain’s housing crisis?

I’m not accusing these politicians of corruption. But they seem to have such a corroded sense of ethics that they can no longer discern inappropriate behaviour.

Then they start on this new development vehicle. The council’s business case for it is too important a job for any local official: a property consultancy is hired in. As one might expect of policy written by the real-estate industry, the document contains hardly a word on social housing. Indeed, the council tells me it has no targets for building social housing through this new venture, just ‘affordable’ units. And as everyone knows, ‘affordable’ means its opposite.

As for the joint venture, only a few councils have ever tried them. That business case doesn’t mention the failures, such as in Croydon, south London. It doesn’t mention how the venture in Tunbridge Wells collapsed, leaving locals to pick up the tab.

Other things not mentioned: democratic accountability and the rights of council tenants. Whole estates will be razed to the ground, and the council confirmed to me that the people who live there are not guaranteed the right to return on the same tenancy contracts.

Not that the tenants know any of this. The first council estate to go into the vehicle will be Northumberland Park: close to the Lea Valley waterways and blessed with good transport links into central London. Such attributes make it far too good for mere council tenants, of course. But last week, when I asked residents if they knew their homes were set to be demolished, some stared at me in wonder.

Haringey’s own consultants admit: ‘There is very little sound knowledge of the proposed regeneration in Northumberland Park.’

I keep thinking about one couple: Sirajul and Moriam Islam. He drives a school bus, she’s an assistant in a nearby special-needs school. They bought their flat from the council 30 years ago and have spent years doing it up. Now they’ll be turfed out with a sum that will not buy them another flat in the area. They talk about seeing out their final years in a strange new town, among people they don’t know. ‘Like living in a prison,’ sighs Moriam. Then Sirajul tells me about his boy who’s training to be a doctor, and his girl who’s about to start as a teacher. ‘I always told them: ‘We might be working-class, but you can do anything.’ The mixed and balanced and ‘aspirational’ community Kober and co are seeking is right under their noses, if only they’d see it.

This has been the story of central London’s transformation over the past decade: clearing of the commons, dismissal of the little people, deference towards developers and the replacement of reality with property-marketing fiction. If Haringey implements these proposals then outer London is next. Which is why I believe this battle is one that the rest of us can’t sit out. Enough of forced gentrification. Enough of privatising public assets. Enough of that rancid New Labour contempt for its own voters. This has to stop.

Thousands sign petition for royal family to pay £369m Buckingham Palace repairs themselves

Thousands sign petition for royal family to pay for Buckingham Palace repairs themselves
Buckingham Palace is set for £370 million renovations 

Almost 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for the royal family to pay for the £369 million repairs to Buckingham Palace.

Yesterday it was announced that the royal residence is to undergo a major 10-year refurbishment.

The hefty bill will come from a 66% increase in the Sovereign Grant – the funding for the monarchy’s official duties – for the 10-year period, with the total works estimated to cost £369 million.

But thousands of people think the royals should foot the bill for Her Maj’s luxury pad.

A petition suggesting The Crown and its estates should pay for the renovations has received just shy of 15,000 backers at time of publishing.

Many think the royals should pay for their own repairs (Picture: Getty)
Many think the royals should pay for their own repairs

Mark Johnson, who set up the petition, said: ‘There is a national housing crisis, the NHS is in crisis, austerity is forcing cuts in many front line services.

‘Now the Royals expect us to dig deeper to refurbish Buckingham Palace. The Crown’s wealth is inestimable. This is, in a word, outrageous.’

It is estimated that the benefits of the upgrade, including longer summer opening hours, more private tours and savings due to the improvements, could be around £3.4 million each year.The refit, described by officials as ‘essential’, will include replacing boilers, and miles of cables, pipes and electrical wires when it begins in April next year, subject to Parliamentary approval.

It is also forecast that the work, taken wing by wing, beginning with the front of the London landmark after essential works are completed in the first two years, will reduce the palace’s carbon footprint by 40% in the future.

The Queen spends around a third of the year hosting garden parties, receptions, investitures and other events at her official home.

The work needed reflects the age of the building, which was first used as a royal palace by Queen Victoria and has not been decorated since 1952, the year the Queen ascended the throne.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales are ‘completely supportive’ of the refit, officials said.

When the work is finished in 2027, the grant is expected to return to its current level of 15%.

To: The Chancellor – Make Royals Pay for Palace Renovation

Campaign created by Mark Johnson

Buckingham Palace is about to be given a £369m refurbishment. Tax payers are paying for it. The Crown and its estates should be made to fund its own renovations.

Why is this important?

There is a national housing crisis, the NHS is in crisis, austerity is forcing cuts in many front line services. Now the Royals expect us to dig deeper to refurbish Buckingham Palace. The Crown’s wealth is inestimable. This is, in a word, outrageous.

Kevin Cahill: “Queen Elizabeth II is the largest landowner on Earth.”

Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of the United Kingdom and of 31 other states and territories, is the legal owner of about 6,600 million acres of land, one sixth of the earth’s non ocean surface.

She is the only person on Earth who owns whole countries, and who owns countries that are not her own domestic territory. This land ownership is separate from her role as head of state and is different from other monarchies where no such claim is made – Norway, Belgium, Denmark etc.

The value of her land holding. £17,600,000,000,000 (approx).

This makes her the richest individual on earth. However, there is no way easily to value her real estate. There is no current market in the land of entire countries. At a rough estimate of $5,000 an acre, and based on the sale of Alaska to the USA by the Tsar, and of Louisiana to the USA by France, the Queen’s land holding is worth a notional $33,000,000,000,000 (Thirty three trillion dollars or about £17,600,000,000,000). Her holding is based on the laws of the countries she owns and her land title is valid in all the countries she owns. Her main holdings are Canada, the 2nd largest country on earth, with 2,467 million acres, Australia, the 7th largest country on earth with 1,900 million acres, the Papua New Guinea with114 million acres, New Zealand with 66 million acres and the UK with 60 million acres.

She is the world’s largest landowner by a significant margin. The next largest landowner is the Russian state, with an overall ownership of 4,219 million acres, and a direct ownership comparable with the Queen’s land holding of 2,447 million acres. The 3rd largest landowner is the Chinese state, which claims all of Chinese land, about 2,365 million acres. The 4th largest landowner on earth is the Federal Government of the United States, which owns about one third of the land of the USA, 760 million acres. The fifth largest landowner on earth is the King of Saudi Arabia with 553 million acres

Largest five personal landowners on EarTh
Queen Elizabeth II 6,600 million acres
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia 553 million acres
King Bhumibol of Thailand 126 million acres
King Mohammed IV of Morocco 113 million acres
Sultan Quaboos of Oman 76 million acres


a landrights campaign for Britain

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