Sinking the Unsinkable, Chapter 2

The second part of my epic tale of the voyage of the RMS Torytanic. The story so far: A shortage of berths has prompted Captain Cameron to promise nothing less than an ‘accommodation revolution’ on the back of the ‘affordable ticket’ scheme dreamed up by his assistant purser, Mr Shipps. It will be iceberg season by the time the Torytanic completes its maiden voyage but fortunately for them she is designed to be unsinkable.

Ship’s journal of Captain D Cameron, Esq, Sunday October 16: The crossing is proving much slower going than my chief engineer, Mr Osborne, promised when we set sail. There are murmurings of discontent from passengers all over the ship and I’m not sure how much longer I can get away with telling them that they are better off than they would be on RMS Labour under Captain Brown or his replacement Mr Miliband. Fortunately, the loud parties organised by our Greek and Italian passengers have given them something else to moan about.

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Rearranging the seats

So the people in Range Rovers in Barbours appear to have beaten the people in Range Rovers in pinstripe suits. But it remains to be seen how much difference the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will make to new housing in general and new affordable housing in particular.

After the final version of the document was published on Tuesday, The Telegraph was quick out of the blocks to claim victory for the Barbours and its Hands Off Our Land campaign. It cited explicit protection for the green belt and encouragement for local authorities to use brownfield land first. The National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England both said the government had listened to their concerns (not surprising when documents released at the same time as the NPPF revealed that planning minister Greg Clark met them five times and had another seven meetings with other environmental organisations to discuss planning between July and September).

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Happy returns

Can anyone seriously imagine the bankers and super-rich of today following the example of George Peabody?

Today is the 150th anniversary of the announcement in The Times that the American banker was donating £150,000 to form the Peabody Trust ‘to ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy’ in London.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.

Sinking the Unsinkable, Chapter 1

The story so far: Rummaging through a collection of books at a car boot sale, I came across this remarkable journal of a ship’s captain telling the story of a perilous voyage on the high seas. Originally published in five chapters in 24Housing magazine, I’ll be running it in five blogs here over the next three weeks. The story begins one fine September day last year…

Ship’s journal of Captain D Cameron, Esq, Sunday September 18: A spell off the bridge leaving my vessel in the less than capable hands of my first lieutenant, Mr Clegg, and officers from our sister ship RMS Libdem. Thanks to the ingenuity of my chief engineer, Mr Osborne, I will be able to listen in through the ship’s communication system to check if anything is seriously awry.

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Council Housed and Violent

Has anyone watched the video for ill Manors yet? Or heard the song on the radio? If not, you should.

If you need enlightening, ill Manors is the new single from the rap and soul star Plan B that is officially released next Monday ahead of a film of the same name that is due out soon.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.

The black comedy of property taxation

Why is it that so few chancellors ever consider the effect of their decisions on taxation on housing?

The obvious answers are political ones: housing is near the bottom of the list of priorities; no chancellor can afford to alienate the homeowning majority; and any changes to the tax system inevitably create losers as well as winners.

As George Osborne puts the finishing touches to the Budget, speculation continues about several measures that could have a huge impact: a long-overdue clampdown on stamp duty avoidance (Osborne has already committed to this – see my blog for Inside Housing here); extra council tax bands (a distinct possibility); and a mansion tax (advocated by the Lib Dems but supposedly ruled out for now by David Cameron). Yet all of the ideas are about raising revenue for tax cuts elsewhere. There is no suggestion of the more general reform of property taxation that is so badly needed.

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Rubber stamp

So George Osborne will come down ‘like a ton of bricks’ on people who avoid stamp duty by buying homes through offshore companies. What took so long?

The chancellor confirmed in TV interviews over the weekend that the loophole beloved of celebrities, rock stars and the global super-rich will be closed in the Budget on Wednesday.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.

The really ideal home show

There was some really good news at Earl’s Court this week. But it had nothing to do with the opening of the Ideal Home Show or the fact that Prince Charles was there and everything to do with the future of the exhibition hall and the surrounding area.

The good news came from an unlikely source too: housing minister Grant Shapps and a DCLG consultation on ‘helping tenants take control’. The plans include a ‘right to transfer’ that will allow tenants to ask that that the ownership of their homes be transferred from the council to a housing association. At the moment they can ask for a transfer but the council has no obligation to consider the idea. Under the consultation, the council would be obliged to work with them.

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Rhetoric and reality

There is rhetoric. David Cameron kicked off this week by declaring that ‘strong families and stable communities are built from good homes’. Grant Shapps added that ‘we want to help everyone achieve their ambitions, and feel the pride of home ownership’.

And then there is reality. Also this week, a report from Shelter looks at the 3.6 million households who are renting privately. They include one million families with children – double the number five years ago. Some may benefit from the NewBuy Guarantee that Cameron and Shapps launched on Monday, others may make it on to the housing ladder in other ways, some will be renting by choice, but almost three million adults expect to be renting privately for five years or more, including 40 per cent of families with children and a third of those in full-time work. With six- and 12-month tenancies the norm in the private rented sector, where are these strong families to find stable communities, good homes and pride?

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I’m never quite sure about those ‘buy one, get one free’ offers in the supermarket. So can I really believe in ‘buy one, build one free’?

My local Shapps & Cameron hyperstore is offering me a ‘rebooted’ right to buy. Is it like it sounds – a desperate attempt of a 21st century marketeer to rebrand a tired old product from the 1980s as something exciting and new – or is there something in it?

Read the rest of this post on my blog at Inside Housing.