Will Cllr Ward, lauded for recent political manoeuvring, continue John Clancy’s good housing initiatives?

A Bournville reader has drawn attention to a Guardian article which says falling house prices are not disastrous, ever-rising house prices are a curse, because they are:

  • bad for social mobility,
  • bad for young people
  • and bad for the economy.

The author, Larry Elliott, adds that the billions spent pushing up property prices –  for example the latest move, Help to Buy – could be more productively invested elsewhere. He recommends making the tax system less biased and starting a mass public-sector housebuilding programme.

The extensive work on promoting affordable social and privately rented housing done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) may be seen here.

JRF’s written evidence, submitted to the Treasury in 2011, focussed on reform of housing taxation in the UK. Its recommendations included a tax and subsidy system, with new instruments targeted on housing supply intended for lower income households.

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Many readers will remember Pat Conaty, noted for his co-founding of the Aston Reinvestment Trust with Adrian Cadbury and the Debt Advice Centre at the Birmingham Settlement. He moved to Wales where he is promoting community housing and community land trusts (CLTs).

His work with others includes the building of a partnership between the Welsh government, co-op housing activists and non-profit housing developers to run a national demonstration project on CLTs and other forms of democratic housing including co-op rental, co-op shared equity, community self-build and co-housing.  He comments that such partnerships have long been established in Scandinavia where co-op housing is commonplace, continuing:

“As affordable housing both to own and to rent has vanished since 2010, community led-housing solutions have been emerging against the odds. Community Land Trusts in rural and urban areas, co-housing and student housing co-ops have been bootstrapped by activists . . .

“In Wales and South West England partnerships with government and local authorities and housing associations are showing how to develop effective public-social partnerships with local activists to increase the diversity of democratic housing provision and solutions”.

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The New Economics Foundation (NEF) advocates community-led housing on public land, as selling off public land to the highest bidder is making the housing crisis worse.  

Though the UK is facing a major housing affordability problem, the Government is continuing to pursue its policy of selling off land owned by Government departments, to stimulate the development of 160,000 new private homes by 2020. The NEF guide (above), by Alice Martin and Adrian Bua, aims to help groups to build community-led, affordable homes. It explains existing regulations, how to compete with private developers and provides an accessible guide to existing studies providing evidence of the benefits of community-led housing.

Surplus public land provides a resource which could kickstart community-led, affordable development, but all too often it is sold to the highest bidder, not community groups.

Legislation such as the ‘best consideration’ requirement (contract law) can be seen as a barrier to community-led housing, but the study shows how it can be challenged.

Community-led housing developments have individual and collective benefits. A few of these are listed below:

  • Wellbeing value for tenants: increased security and safety; reduced isolation; increased sense of self-worth and confidence (mainly through collective activities that build social capital);
  • Financial value for tenants: reduced expense of residential care provision;
  • Value to local authorities: reduced expense of residential care provision; reduced expense in social services and social care,
  • Benefits for the public purse;
  • Community building and social capital generation.

As Pat Conaty emphasises: “To expedite the potential they need more support and, most importantly, help to access sites”.

 

 

 

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Dr. Ian Maidment of Aston University has co-authored a significant piece of medical research published recently in the British Medical Journal: Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study

It found that routine medicines, including common antidepressants, bladder drugs and anti-Parkinson’s medication (others noted on BBC report), taken by hundreds of thousands of people, increase their risk of dementia by up to a third.

These medicines account for tens of thousands of cases of dementia and doctors need to use them more sparingly.

This comprehensive study adds weight to the 2014 research findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, that cumulative anticholinergic use is associated with an increased risk for dementia.

Dr. Maidment said: “In the last 20 years the number of older individuals taking five or more medicines has quadrupled. Many of these medicines will have some anticholinergic activity and, in the light of today’s findings, we have to consider whether the risks of dementia outweigh the benefits from taking a cocktail of prescribed drugs.”

He added that the focus should be on “de-prescribing”, adding: “Doctors, nurses and pharmacists need to work with older people and their carers to ensure that they take medication only if the benefits clearly outweigh the harms.”

See the BBC News reports here.

Note also years of research findings on the effects of anticholinergic insecticides/pesticides on human health. See a free report in Toxicological Sciences, Volume 94 (OUP).

 

 

 

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A Kings Norton reader draws attention to the events of 2015, when a coalition of self-styled independents, united by the belief that democracy needs to be revived, were elected to Frome’s town council and continue to serve the town.

Frome councillors

Arlesey’s town council is now run by Independents for Arlesey, who won 14 of its 15 seats. Its founders were alerted to the flatpack democracy idea via Facebook and decided to shake up the politics of a Bedfordshire town that had got used to uncontested elections and a council run by old-school independents.

In Buckfastleigh in Devon, the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. “This isn’t an affluent community,” says the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett. “It’s a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” Fired up by the possibilities of localism and their experience of fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents resolved to stand for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”.

Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats in Alderley Edge in Cheshire to a new group called Alderley Edge First, which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council. Its town council has been solidly Tory, but dissent was brewing – a result of such controversies as the council’s plan to replace long-established allotments with a car park. One newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

Our Kings Norton reader sent a link to the Birmingham Post, which reported in February that a People Power Brum campaign aims to put local power in the hands of citizens by entering independent citizen candidates in this year’s city council elections, in an attempt to work outside the political party system.

Organiser Sunny Sangha said:

“Many people are disaffected with politics, at all levels. It’s telling that the usual turnout at Birmingham City Council elections is around 30%. We believe Birmingham is ready for this idea, and the challenge of scaling it to our own city of 1.1m people is really exciting.

If successful, Birmingham would really take its place as a global pioneer in a new form of people-powered politics.” 

 

 

 

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‘We Are Balsall Heath’ Street Festival on Sunday brought together the diverse communities of Balsall Heath.

The Moseley Road was closed until 7pm and people enjoyed artists performances, a food hub representing dishes from all communities, street stalls, open doors to community buildings, heritage trails, games and much more.

Photograph: John Newson

The organisers had stalls along the route – above: the Friends of Moseley Road Baths stall in front of Moseley Road Baths. 

 

 

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MELA social enterprise’s new ‘We Are’ neighbourhood campaign will start with ‘We Are Balsall Heath’ Street Festival on Sunday April 22 bringing together the diverse communities of Balsall Heath.

On Sunday 22nd April, Moseley Road will be closed between 8am and 7pm for the “We Are Balsall Heath” Mela. There will be 8 artist performances and installations, a food hub representing dishes from all communities, street stalls, open doors to community buildings, heritage trails, games and much more for a family fun day out. Please join us! https://www.facebook.com/weareBHMELA/

The organisers will have stalls all along the route and the Friends of MRB will be in front of Moseley Road Baths. From the stall Friends of MRB will be arranging some short tours of the building, bearing in mind that Pool 2 will in use until 1:30pm. The Gala Pool will still be out of bounds, unfortunately, but we can show you other unseen areas of the Grade II* listed building. Don’t forget that Moseley Road Baths has now reopened for swimming and is being run by a charity set up by volunteers from the local community.

On Sunday 22nd April there will be two Be Active sessions in the morning, both for public swimming – 10:00-11:00am and then 11:15-12:15 – so remember to bring your swimming costume to the Mela!

 

 

 

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The People’s Weapons Inspectors blockaded the gates of Anglo-French arms manufacturer Roxel in the West Midlands on 7 April. The company makes and supplies several countries with propulsion systems and related equipments for all types of rockets and tactical and cruise missiles for air, sea and ground forces. 

The protestors attempted to inspect the Hartlebury site because they believe it is supplying weapons components, including the Brimstone air-to-surface missile, to be used by the Saudi Arabian military in its war in Yemen.

Some protestors blocked the gates by locking their arms together inside fortified drainage pipes and one who entered the site despite the large police presence, aiming to question Roxel’s directors, said:

‘By licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the British government is escalating the conflict. ‘We felt compelled to act. We call upon the British government to refuse applications to licence further arms sales to Saudi Arabia.’

Wyre Forest Labour’s Stephen Brown, known for his voluntary work in Birmingham, visited the site during the protest and backed the group’s actions. He said:

“The protestors raised a very important issue that deserves wider attention. Labour has called for the U.K. Government to be held accountable as it is supplying arms and personnel helping the Saudis. We have seen civilian infrastructure hit resulting in thousands dead and injured including children. This is morally reprehensible and many view it as war crimes.”

 

Main source: http://www.kidderminstershuttle.co.uk/news/16152530.Anti_war_demonstrators_blockade_Hartlebury_rocket_factory/

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Date: Thursday 26th April, 5pm-7pm

Carol Martin who will be opening this session, will do a brief introduction. She has circulated notes to members of the group. An extract: 

I believe that Council Tax is no longer fit for purpose. I propose a Land Value Tax based on the 1948 Town & Country Planning Act. It would not be linked to the old rates system which was based on a “notional” rental value of that property. People rent/buy where they can afford to.  They consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, shops, places of worship, transportation links.

In large cities such as London, but especially in South Birmingham, it throws up some bizarre rents. The rental on a 3 bedroom property in the inner City can be as high as in the suburbs . . .  

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

Anyone not on the mailing list who wishes to receive Carol’s notes beforehand should contact comments on the WMNEG website.

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the launch of Labour’s Housing Green Paper.

 

He opened by referring to the sky-high rents and house prices, luxury flats proliferating across our big cities, while social housing is starved of investment and a million are on housing waiting lists. Tens of thousands of children are in temporary accommodation and homelessness is up by 50% since 2010.

Housing has become a means of speculation for a wealthy few, leaving many unable to access a decent, secure home.

Labour’s plan to turn this around involves two simple steps:

  • build enough housing
  • and make sure that housing is affordable to those who need it.

The promise: the next Labour Government will deliver one million genuinely affordable homes over ten years, the majority of which will be for social rent.

Fifty years ago, local authorities were responsible for nearly half of all new housing completions. Nowadays it is just 2%. Private housebuilders openly acknowledge that it is simply not profitable for them to build houses for the less well-off. We need to do it ourselves.

At the beginning of the Thatcher years, nearly a third of housing in this country was for social rent. That figure is now less than 20%. Council building has been in decline since the Right to Buy was introduced and councils were prohibited from using the proceeds to replace the houses sold.

Sadiq Khan has announced that the number of affordable homes and the number of homes for social rent started in London in the last year, is higher than in any year since the GLA was given control of affordable housing funding in the capital.

That is the difference Labour can make in Office. But Sadiq and his team are starting from an extremely low base and working within the crippling constraints imposed by this Government, cutting social housing grants time and time again, redefining affordable housing so that it’s no such thing and forcing councils to sell their best stock.

This Green Paper sets out many of the radical measures needed to transform the planning system:

  • ending the “viability” loophole so that commercial developers aren’t let off the hook;
  • giving councils new powers to acquire land to build on and better use land the public already owns;
  • and the financial backing to actually deliver, which means the ability to borrow to build restored to all councils; and extra support from central government too.

When the post-war Labour government built hundreds of thousands of council houses in a single term in office, they transformed the lives of millions of people who emerged from six years of brutal war to be lifted out of over-crowded and unhygienic slums into high quality new homes and introduced to hitherto unknown luxuries such as indoor toilets and their own gardens.

Setting new benchmarks in size and energy efficiency, something that old council stock still does to this day council housing was not a last resort but a place where people were proud to live.

In the Green Paper it was good to see an emphasis on retrofitting the housing stock and hopefully bringing back the thousands of empty houses back into use.

Having previously blocked and voted down Labour legislation to give tenants the right, the Government now say they support the basic legal right for tenants to take a landlord to court if they fail to make or maintain their home ‘fit for human habitation’, a right included in MP Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill.

A Labour Government would introduce and fast-track this legislation, if the current Government fails to ensure it is enacted before the next Election.

The next Labour Government would launch a new programme to complete the job – Decent Homes 2. Following the Grenfell Tower fire it would update regulations to include fire safety measures and consult on a new fire safety standard to add to the existing four Decent Homes criteria, including retro-fitting sprinklers in high-rise blocks.

A Labour Government will deliver a new era of social housing, in which councils are once again the major deliverers of social and genuinely affordable housing and set the benchmark for the highest size and environmental standards.

The full text: https://labourlist.org/2018/04/a-decent-home-is-not-a-privilege-for-the-few-but-a-right-owed-to-all-corbyns-full-speech-on-housing

 

 

 

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The West Midlands New Economics blog draws attention to a message from Nancy Platts, a Labour Party councillor, who has worked for London Fire Brigade, Daycare Trust and Consumer Focus. 

She points out that under the proposed new boundaries, the problem of ‘electoral bias’ means the Conservatives will only need a lead of 1.6% per cent to win a majority (less than they won by in 2017) – while Labour will need a lead of more than 8%.

One of the main reasons for this is a total lack of proportionality: under first-past-the-post, seats do not match votes – it is where those votes are cast that really matters. Huge Labour majorities do not equal more representation: instead, millions of votes are thrown on the electoral scrapheap. ‘Losing big and winning small’ is rewarded.

Westminster’s voting system splits the left vote, but projections by the Electoral Reform Society show Labour would now be Westminster’s largest party under the preferential STV system (used for local elections in Scotland).

A new report on the benefits of the case for fair votes makes clear that the experience of councils in Scotland as well as governments across Europe shows that proportional voting systems – where every vote counts – help to foster ‘consensual’ politics, where unions and civil society are included as key players.

Democracies with more consensual structures are more progressive, with larger welfare states and lower rates of prison incarceration and lower economic equality.

EU countries which have proportional representation have embedded trade union rights, high union density and extensive collective bargaining coverage use proportional electoral systems.

Nancy ends “There is increasing momentum for change both in unions and the Labour Party. It’s time to replace Westminster’s broken set-up and extend the progressive voting systems we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland into Westminster.

“When every vote counts – with seats matching how people really vote – parties don’t just pander to wealthier swing seats and a handful of influential voters. They have to win support across the board”.

 

 

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