Right to Buy not sustainable shock… not

Conservative's Right to Buy unsustainable

A new Study by the LGA (Local Government Association) has warned that Right to Buy is at risk of being unsustainable.  For many, this won’t be a shock at all, and I would argue this policy hasn’t been sustainable from day 1. This flawed policy has largely been responsible for the current crisis in the supply of affordable housing to buy and social housing to rent.

First some history…

In the post-war years, Councils undertook a massive house building program to address the then housing crisis. The large-scale Council House building program after the war was a success.

Larger scale Council House building program after the war was a success. Conservative & Labour Governments after the 1980 successively undermined that success
Above is a picture of my Great Grandfather Arthur Harrison, who was Mayor of Bridgnorth in 1945-46, receiving the ceremonial key to the first council house on Syndey Cottage Drive – which my father still possesses.

The Conservative Flagship policy of Mrs Thatcher that allowed Council Tenants to buy their own homes at a heavily discounted rates was flawed from the start… Not just because of the excessive scale of the discount, but more significantly, the fact that they stopped Councils replacing the houses they lost to Right to Buy. Instead, Councils amassed huge capital receipts when they should have been using to build new council housing.

Large Scale Voluntary Transfer of Council Stock to new Social Landlords became the new norm, again with a large discount, in the hope that Social Landlords would fill the void.  The Labour Government accelerated Right to Buy and encouraged Large Scale Voluntary Transfers whilst raiding the Capital receipts of well run Council Housing Departments. How much of those capital receipts went into building new housing?

Social Housing Crisis

At its peak in the 70s about 400k social houses were being built by Councils and by private enterprise – roughly 50/50 or 200k each. Fast forward to 1995 and the Council house supply of new houses had all but disappeared with private enterprise building about 150k houses a year right through to 2010.

  • Social Landlords haven’t been able to pick up the slack.
  • Private Developers interest is in maintaining a lack of supply, rising prices and profits, not what society needs.
  • Councils haven’t been able to build new houses.
  • The planning system has systematically failed to deliver enough houses in the right places, of the right size or of the right type.
  • The build rate has plummeted.

The result has been a shrinkage in the supply of housing, particularly affordable housing to buy or rent which has driven up rents and house prices. First-time buyers have largely been priced out of the market and forced into renting or relying on the Bank of Mom and Dad.

All too often, those houses that are being built are the wrong sort and in the wrong places.

There are some excellent graphics that illustrate the problem in Social Housing in this Guardian Article: How did the crisis in UK social housing happen?

More on the LGA report: https://news.sky.com/story/flagship-tory-right-to-buy-council-house-scheme-under-threat-11401333

The Solution

To fix this problem there is no need to scrap Right to Buy and the social mobility that scheme can help to provide, but it does need serious reform.

Instead, factor in:

  • Allow councils, with Government support, to borrow money and build new Council Housing where it is needed, or as part of the often muted new garden cities.
  • Allow these houses to be sold to tenants in Rent to Buy schemes and plough the receipts back into building more houses.
  • Fix the problems in the planning system, whilst still protecting the natural and built environment. 
  • Use more environmentally sound construction methods. 

That will better contribute to a balanced and more sustainable housing policy. 

The last 20 years have shown us that the private sector alone can not possibly be relied upon to solve the social housing crisis or the lack of affordable housing to buy.

AirBand & Shropshire Council agree WiFi broadband roll-out deal

David Walker by a BT cabinet in West Felton

Yesterday Shropshire Council announced that they had agreed to a £11.2 million contract with AirBand, a Worcester Broadband company, to help supply Broadband to hard to reach Rural Places.

Given the shockingly slow rollout of Superfast Broadband to rural areas by BT Openreach this is welcome news. Some places are already receiving Ultrafast Broadband and we are still rocking and rolling with basic Broadband or Fibre Broadband Connections. Diversification of the technology and the supply is a welcome addition in terms of consumer choice. Residents can now register their interest in the system here: AirBand Register your interest

As with the previous introduction of new broadband technologies and campaigns that I have been involved in, like the campaign we led in Bridgnorth that ultimately brought broadband to Bridgnorth in 2002, the more people who pre-register their interest in the service then the quicker the service is rolled out in an area.

Currently the only alternative method of getting Broadband into hard to reach areas is to use Satelite Broadband from providers like Tooway. We used Tooway at work at our offices in Upton Magna for a few years and found the service to be good on the whole. Prior to that Upton Magna received broader internet through a Microwave link to the Wrekin. This was later superceded by ISDN. We fumbled along with multiple ISDN lines for a while.

The main downside of Satelite Broadband was the lag as the data/webpage request had to travel via satellite to Italy and back. This produces a perceptible lag which is no good to real-time applications like online gaming. However, for most people and us the delay wasn’t noticeable when browsing or transferring files. The data bandwidth was good so the data travelling in big chunks. So pages loaded instantly, if after a tiny delay. Having said all of that,  once Superfast Broadband came to Upton Magna late in 2015 we dropped it straight away.  We now get 80mbps per line there.

As I was typing this up I heard on Radio 5 about the research that the BBC had been undertaking to open up TV White Space and Microsofts plans to use this technology in Africa. This uses spare analogue UHF TV signal from the digital TV switchover.  This has huge advantages over Microwave technology that Upton Amgna used to get in that it doesn’t need a direct line of sight, is unaffected by adverse weather, obstacles, trees or hills. Carlson Wireless has a very good website explaining the UHF technology.

Hopefully, the AirBand technology will be using the same TV White Space technology to broadcast the signal into the very hardest to reach crevices in the county. If that is the case then this is very welcome news indeed.

 

Oswestry Maternity Unit forced to close overnight

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital

Last week I read with some dismay on the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit Facebook page and subsequently on the Save Bridgnorth Maternity Unit page that the units were going to close because of Staff shortages in Telford. The obvious concern being that this is a cynical strategy to undermine the midwife-led units and soften up protests to the idea of them becoming Birthing Centres. You may recall that Birthing Centres aren’t staffed overnight, where women in Labour must call the units to arrange for them to be opened or place an emergency call for an ambulance to take them A&E, which we all know are facing massive pressures already. Crazy.

The Bridgnorth Group have a meeting set up with Philip Dunn MP who might offer assistance as a Government Health Minister. I hope I am wrong but I expect platitudes and little or no action. Shropshire’s MPs have failed miserably to defend Shropshire’s Corner and ensure Shropshire got it’s fair share under the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) allocation. If Shropshire had received the same STP Allocation as Cornwall then Shropshire’s NHS services would have been better off to the tune of an extra £200m! Cornwall has a similar population to Shropshire but was allocated 24% more money. Shropshire’s Leaders asleep at the wheel it seems.

Shropshire Star article on the closures from last Friday:

Read the Oswestry Advertiser take on the closures below:

 

If you haven’t signed the petitions of the Government website yet here are the links to both petitions:

Save Oswestry Maternity Unit

Save Bridgnorth and Ludlow Maternity Units

Both petitions are currently running at just under 1,500 signatures at the time of writing this.

Foundation Stone Ceremony

Trustees and photographer, Eddie Brown

Today I attended the foundation stone ceremony for Spinners Court, as a Trustee of Bridgnorth Housing Trust. It has been a tremendous effort of the Clerk, the Chairman & all of the Trustees, particularly those including myself on the development committee and on the finance committee.

Spinners Court is the biggest project in the charities 400+ year history. The name Spinners Court was suggested by me to reflect the history of Low Town it, the ‘Spinners’ who worked at the town’s carpet factories and lived in the area and the roots of our charity. Whilst it hasn’t been easy, once the development is finished we will all be able to look back on this site with tremendous satisfaction and pride.

Spinners Court Foundation Stone