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.

Growing traffic & pothole problems vs £5m cuts in roads

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The state of the roads and the growing pothole problem has once again been featured by the national and local media. For decades Shropshire has had a reputation for poor roads, often readily apparent to road users as they crossed the county border.  Yet the Conservatives solution is to make £5m cuts in roads in 2018/19 and in 2019/20!

For Shropshire, they have a colossal road network with some 3,138 miles of road, which has always proven a challenge to maintain. Nearly 3x the bigger the national average and more than double the average for the West Midlands.

 This chart and the ones that follow are based on Government OpenData

One big problem Shropshire Council has is that it doesn’t know the age of its roads!

Every road has a life expectancy – roughly 20-40 years depending on traffic levels. This can be extended by a further 20 years by overlaying or planing off and relaying the top layers. Surface dressing or chipping can extend the life expectancy by 5 years at a time. Eventually, every road needs to be dug up and relayed to reset the clock back to zero. They would need to undertake a massive coring program to have a better idea. So they are stuck in a costly and inefficient cycle of temporary resurfacing. In the short-term re-chipping costs about 1/6th of planing. All of these lifespan numbers vary with traffic volume, axle weights, construction and material quality.
Shropshire hasn’t been great at keeping on top of its road maintenance for years. This shows up most when you compare the condition of the roads across networks with planned work. The % of roads that should have been flagged for maintenance for A roads in Shropshire is about average at 4%. The average in England is 3%. However, for B and C roads is 11% and nearly double the average in England. This shows where Shropshire is spending its maintenance money or more significantly where it is not. 
The trend for England is downwards but the Trend for Shropshire on B and C roads, in particular, is getting worse. Bad when you consider where Shropshire was already worse than England average.

£5m cuts in roads in 2018/19 and 2019/20

The Conservatives on Shropshire Council have a £59m black hole in their budget. One way they decided to fix this was by cutting the roads budget by £5m in 2018/19 and another £5m in 2019/20. Potty, given the state of the roads. All road users in Shropshire can see the steady decline in the condition of our roads.
As traffic volumes increase and road maintenance budget reduces, the roads will decay more quickly and the pothole problem will accelerate. This situation is unsustainable. Delays in fixing our roads will only mean higher maintenance costs in the long run. This has been happening for decades because they don’t know how old our roads are but this situation will only get dramatically worse. This will potentially lead to higher insurance claims and more accidents where the condition of the road is a factor.
Today Shropshire council has announced a grant for the Government of £1.86m for pothole repairs. The government announced They previously announced £1.34m of that last year. The additional money is very welcome. However, it quite literally doesn’t even touch the sides compared to the scale of the cuts being made.
The Government and Shropshire Council needs to take a proper grip of the situation or the bills for repairs will grow exponentially. Compared to Other areas Shropshire like all other central funding has always had a bad deal.

Queens Head Pothole is dangerous

Take the pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile junction as an example:
In March 2009 the pothole was roughly 1/3 of the size it is now.
Google Street view of the pothole in March 2009
Google Street view of the repaired pothole in March 2009
Pothole at Queens Head in March 2009 - Google photo. Previously repair of pothole coloured Green
Another Google view of the repaired pothole – coloured Green

Fast forward 9 years and look at how the pothole has grown!

Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018.
Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018. Green is another previous repair attempt. Orange indicates the area of the old repair that has been scrubbed away exposing the binding layer. Red is the area where the scrubbing is so severe that the sub-base is now exposed.
Substandard maintenance, poor materials, excessive wear from the traffic heading to ABP are all a factor in its growth. This sort of damage doesn’t happen overnight. The damage is so severe that the underlying sub-base is exposed. The sub-base is loose aggregate which can be seen scattered across the road. This presents a danger to all road users and an increased skidding risk. Tear wear increases the damage to the road, as more loose material is dug out, as the wheels spin due to lower traction.
I reported the pothole as dangerous to Shirehall. By the 13th of March, the pothole had been temporarily filled in with compacted loose chippings.
March 13 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair it isn't the best
13th of March 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair, it isn’t the best as the puddles indicate. In this situation that repair will only last for a few days.

 So I went to have another look a few days later and recorded the above video on the 22nd of March.

By the 22nd of March the temporary repair was already being dug out
By the 22nd of March, the temporary repair was already being dug out

Traffic volumes 2000-2016
(2017 data gets added in May/June 2018)


Cars and particularly Vans are trending upwards at an accelerating rate, whilst HGVs are ticking down.

Excluding the cars shows the upward trend in LGV or Vans. HGVs are trending down but there is a small uptick in 2015-16.

Drilling into the HGVs a bit further… HGV with bigger axel numbers are increasing…

Excluding the 2 axle and 3/4 axle articulated lorries we can see that the trend is clearly up for HGVs with the workload of the former now done by Vans

Overall this shows is the impact of online shopping on journeys and supports what we all know – that retail shops are under severe pressure and that Royal mail delivers many more parcels and fewer letters as more shopping is done online. 

What that means for Whittington, West Felton and beyond is worse roads for years to come unless something dramatic happens. Unlikely without a change at local and national level. More expenditure that is out of control and more costly insurance claims.

Pothole insurance claims:

  • 2014: 188 pothole claims. 25 claims against Highways insurance amounted to £31,000.
  • 2015: 159 pothole claims. There were 46 injuries caused by potholes and they paid out £20,721.50 on 6 of those claims.
  • 2016: 179 Pothole claims, 11 of which they accepted liability and paid out over £20,000.
  • 2017: 106 pothole claims.

Update: 2018 Jan – May
Pothole claims shot up by 653% to 798 claims
The total cost of claims rose by staggering 845% to nearly £345,000

Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction in West Felton has grown considerably due to poor roads maintenance and repairs
Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction in West Felton (taken on 25th February 2018)
£m cuts in roads will lead to more pot hole problems. Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.
Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.

Pothole Formation

General wear and tear on roads from increased axle weight, increased traffic volumes, combined with adverse weather conditions – be that too hot or too cold leading to binding tar drying out with age, can all lead to tiny fissures forming in a road surface.

Water penetrated into the surface and freezes. This pushes up the road surface in cold weather. Once this thaws the void below collapse the road when traffic drives across the voids and fissures. Over time the road crumbles or collapses into the voids producing the pothole – initially quite small. Successively this process continues and the hole progressively gets bigger.  Once a weakness has formed as standing water in it will explode outwards under compression by a tyre further accelerating the growth of the hole through explosive percussion. Once the pothole is formed the surface with be loose and present a skidding risk as well as a hazard for all road users.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

 

Vince Cable’s new year message

Yesterday Vince Cable released his new year message:

If we want 2018 to be better than 2017, then we need a big team, pulling together and fighting for our party’s values.

Watch @VinceCable’s New Year message now – then join our team for 2018: https://libdems.org.uk/2018

Now more than ever as Brexit’s wheels fall off we need to stand together to fix an increasingly broken and divided Britain. Not so long ago Britain was at its most united during the London 2012 Olympics. We have fallen a long way since then as Britain now stands on the brink of being broken up by ‘Unionists’, weaker than it has ever been.

We now know that Brexit is a train crash in slow motion. Brexit means Wrexit.

Membership of the Liberal Democrats nationally and in Shropshire is at record levels. As we move into 2018 it is to time stand up and make noise.

 

 

 

Education march against Conservative cuts

David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts

This month I have been on two marches organised to defend local services from Conservatives cuts. Strangely, no Conservative MPs were present at the march. Conservative Councillors were in short supply too.

David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts
David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts
David Walker discussing cuts with BBC reporter, and Lib Dems, including Susan Lockwood, Councillor Heather Kidd and Whittington Councillor, Romer Hoseason
David Walker discussing cuts with BBC reporter, and Lib Dems, including Susan Lockwood, Councillor Heather Kidd and Whittington Councillor, Romer Hoseason

On the 11th I was on the march against £13.4m cuts to schools funding in Shropshire. I joined hundreds of parents, children teachers & concerned members of the public in a March against Conservative school cuts.

As a former Shropshire County Councillor who held an Education Portfolio in the Cabinet, I know how important good education is.

Having a good education is vital for our children’s future life choices. It is the foundation of our economy. We need a well-educated population to improve overall productivity, create wealth and jobs. In the new post-Brexit world this will be even more important!

Schools serving Whittington & West Felton are going to lose nearly £1m by 2020 and Shropshire faces losing £13.4m across the county. These figures have been estimated by the NUT.

Shropshire needs fair funding. I made this call a decade ago when I was a councillor. Other areas like ours have consistently received more money than Shropshire for a long time. Despite reviews claiming to bring fair funding Shropshire always misses out. With Conservatives controlling the Government and Shirehall,  you would think they would work together and get this issue sorted out. If we got anything like the money Cornwall gets we wouldn’t see anything like the funding problems we do now.

Shropshire Conservatives cost schools extra – over £1m

The Conservative Government are also cutting over £500,000 from our schools. This is on top of the £13.4m. From April our schools are being forced to pay the Apprenticeship Levy. Shropshire Lib Dems asked the Tory Administration to lobby the government to exempt schools but they voted against it.

The Conservative government have scrapped the Educational Support Grant worth £1.2m – local Conservatives councillors voted down a budget amendment from the Lib Dems to scrap £643,000 of local cuts by using money from the Council’s large computing budget.

I am really angry that the Conservatives are clawing back, even more money from our local schools. Money is tight as it is. On top of all this, schools are also seeing rises in the farcical Business Rate changes coming next April. Whittington Primary school rates are going up 22% & West Felton Primary school rates are going up 15%. I imagine the business rate rises will get covered somewhere, so the schools don’t pay it directly, but somebody has to pay it. Schools should be zero rated.

The definition of a false economy.

Traffic figures show alarming jump

David Walker at looking at the traffic at Queens Head Junction
David Walker at looking at the traffic at Queens Head Junction
The Queens Head junction continues to be a concern. As traffic levels rise, the need for action is becoming more urgent all the time.

The latest available Road Traffic Accident data was released last October. The data for Whittington and West Felton Parishes broadly follows the trend shown in increasing traffic numbers across the country. However, the provisional data to June 2016 shows a potentially worrying spike. The last column on the right shows that the first half of 2016 had nearly eclipsed the annual total of the year before. If that trend continued through the rest of 2016 then 2016 would have had double the accidents of the year before and of the average since 2008.

The last column on the right shows that the first half of 2016 had nearly eclipsed the annual total in 2015 and matched the average of the years before (13 accidents.)

Whittington and West Felton Crash Statistics
Whittington and West Felton Crash Statistics

If that trend continued through the rest of 2016, then 2016 would have had double the accidents of the average since 2008. If there were no more accidents in the rest of 2016 then the figures would be on average. The later would be welcome but not a reason for complacency. Odds are that it is the former.

Residents have expressed concern about the A5 and the traffic growth for years. Some have called for the A5 to be converted to a dual carriageway and others have called for the addition of round-a-bouts at Queens Head and at Shotatton crossroads. The original design of this junction was questionable. It is clear to everybody who uses these junctions, on a daily basis, that the potential for serious problems is of growing concern. Far better to sort out these inadequate junctions before something serious happens. Over to you Highways England….

Crashmaps.co.uk is a useful site for seeing the location and details of reported road traffic accidents. The full 2016 figures will be made available by the department of transport next June

Crash map showing the range of incidents around the Queens Head junction from 2009 to June 2016

Lib Dems Gain two seats and one council

Another Thursday and another set of fabulous council by-election results for the Liberal Democrats – a weekly occurrence for the Liberal Democrats in 2016 after making 28 net gains. That trend is already off to a barn-storming start to 2017.

Tonight the Liberal Democrats have taken two seats (both of tonight’s by-elections) one from the Conservatives in Three Rivers and one from Labour in Sunderland. Both with big swings to the Lib Dems.

In the week of Jeremy Corbyn’s big, disastrous, relaunch, labour lost in Sunderland with a 36% swing. It looked on paper to be a LAB/UKIP contest with the Lib Dems in 4th with 4.5% only last May. In the referendum a month later 61% voted LEAVE on June 23rd.

In Three Rivers the Lib Dems gained the seat with a swing of 23% from Conservatives to the Lib Dems. 51% voted LEAVE here during the referendum. Yet the Lib Dems stormed to victory GAINED the seat and took overall control of Three Rivers Council in the process.

Another altogether excellent day for the Liberal Democrats.

2016 – a year of contrasts

2016 has been an interesting year, full of contrasts and 2017 looks like being the same.

On a personal level, I have found happiness again with a relationship that has shifted my thinking considerably, caused me to turn my eyes away from my hometown of Bridgnorth towards North Shropshire again and West Felton in particular. Of these shifts is my decision to hitch my Wagon to Sandra and West Felton at the beginning of the year has resulted in another decision to stand for Shropshire Council for Whittington Ward in next May’s Elections. It is now over a decade since I was a County Councillor and my life has changed beyond recognition. Losing my seat by 38 votes & going through the wringer, several times over, in my personal life certainly changes your priorities and your perspective. Losing your wife 1 month before your 1st Wedding Aniversary and being made redundant does teach you life lessons most of us could do without learning but eventually have to. However, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and I am a much stronger person than I have ever been before.

On a political front, we have had Brexit tear up all of the accepted political norms of left and right. The spectrum of Libertarian, freedom and openness versus Authoritarian, centralised and closed has now taken a much bigger profile in the public mood. The political establishment, both the Conservatives and Labour, are deeply divided. The polarisation through the Brexit prism will certainly make the next set of elections very interesting. To top it all off the new World Leader is a nut cluster who will only make the world a less safe place.

For the Liberal Democrats, the year has seen their star rise once more, winning a host of council by-elections in 2016, a parliamentary by-election in Richmond park and two cracking results for the Lib Dems in both Whitney and Sleaford.  So the Lib Dems have 28 Net Gains in Council by-elections with swings of over 20%. In Westmister terms, their average vote share has gone up by nearly 20% to over 30%.

Above all else lets hope 2017 is a great year and that we all can find hope and happiness again.

The future is bright, the future is… Liberal

Interesting couple of articles that illustrate the challenge ahead in today’s politics following the 2015 General Election. A Threat for Labour that conversely has presented an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.

1 The Practical Guide to Centre Left schisms

2 The strange death of Labour Britain has a worrying precedent

Both articles explain how a party can fall far from grace in a short time. The Liberals in the Former and potentially Labour in the latter.

Despite the drubbing in the 2015 election the Liberal Democrats are on fire and rejuvenated. How is this possible?? To understand this you need to understand the context of British Politics today.

Society has changed beyond recognition over the last twenty years and the pace of change is faster and more dynamic than the ability of political parties to change.

The fragmentation of politics has become very pronounced where once it was a simple left and right. The big two parties of the modern era are but shadows of their former selves, leaving the ground open for other parties and for single issue campaign groups.

This isn’t just being felt by Politics. The Internet and technological changes are allowing people to interact in unimaginable ways just 10 years ago. The media faces some of the biggest challenges, more often than not having to reinvent themselves or die.

Household institutions across the board are being similarly tested. Many who stay true to what they were and carry on like they always have, have withered and died in the face of upstart competition that has adapted to today’s consumers.

The most effective and successful party in the modern arena will be the one best able to adapt and work with the natural flow and not stick to old habits that mean they are working across the public grain.

A century ago, the Liberals fragmented when they couldn’t adapt quick enough to the changes in society. Changes in society initiated by the industrial revolution and the Victorian era, fanned by the flames of the Great War and trouble in Ireland, through to the labour movement and votes for Women, were all unprecedented. Yet the Liberals changed little, failed to adapt and ultimately perished as a party of government.

Many commentators lampooned the Lib Dems immediately after the election, claiming that the Liberal Democrats had suffered a similar fate to their Liberal predecessors, destined for obscurity for a generation of more.

However, this overly simplistic narrative forgets that politics is driven by the society of the day, the effects of which can not be immediately felt or seen.

So quite perversely, some might say, the Liberal Democrats may now be in the best place to make changes and adapt their party the quickest to today’s society.

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country

YouGov-Left-Right

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country that has enshrined fairness and freedom in its values for generations. A recent poll by YouGov shows just how much the middle ground of politics has opened up for the Lib Dems. British values are generally Liberal values. Yet the electorate have for decades been presented by a simplistic choice of left and right when really most people are in the centre, in the same space that they believe the Lib Dems to exist.

Today’s society believes in a less over bearing state, individual freedom and choice, fairness and compassion, tolerance etc. These are all Liberal values.

Liberals believe in individual freedom, a less interfering or oppressive state, fairness for all – empowering everybody to be the best they can be, whilst ensuring this is applied to everybody… not just the many and most definitely not just a lucky few.

Liberalism needs reuniting. Liberalism needs reiterating and explaining.

The Lib Dems through their enforced rebirth now have a golden opportunity to win over hearts and minds of the British Electorate. No small task but recent by-election wins and the rapid surge in membership and shown the field is open for the Lib  Dems to permanently break the mold of British Politics. Lib Dems across the country now have new hope. Hope that they must enshrine through the country.

Bridgnorth Lib Dems launch new website

Bridgnorth Liberal Democrats have launched a new website at http://bridgnorthlibdems.uk/

Despite a drubbing at the General Election last May, the Lib Dems have seen a massive surge in membership, both nationally and locally. Between the Election and the close of registration to vote for the new Lib Dem Leader, there was over a 34% rise in membership – the vast majority of which had never been a Lib Dem before or been politically active. Over 18,000 have now joined the Lib Dems. Click here if you would like to join the Lib Dems and the #libdemfightback

Last week the Lib Dems elected their new Leader – Tim Farron MP – watch Tim’s first speech following his victory:

The Lib Dems are going from strength to strength at the moment. Despite only having 8 MP’s, they have already galvanised opposition blocked Conservative Legislation in the Commons and will use their strength in the Lords to do more of the same. Labour so far have been divided and weak. Since May the Lib Dems have had several by-election wins – gaining seats from the Conservatives and Labour (3 last week alone).

With renewed energy and hope the Lib Dems will be rebuilding at quite a pace.

Election Leaflet hits doormats

With the elections for Shropshire Council in full swing and postal votes imminent for those who have opted to vote that way, our elections leaflets are hitting the doormats over the next few days.

Here is Helen Howell’s and my first leaflet currently being delivered: