Archives for category: Housing

Tudor Grange House, described in The Victorian as ‘a significant Jacobean style house’, was built in 1887 for Alfred Lovekin, a Birmingham silversmith (background here). It was ‘impressive at the outset and made more so by the 1901 alterations for Sir Alfred Bird’, son of the creator of Bird’s baking and custard powder. Its wood panelling, ornamental ceilings, antique glass and tapestry works led to its listing in 2008 (further detail here).

The house was put on the market by Solihull College in 2016 because it was not being ‘fully utilised by the College and has become too costly to maintain’.

Felix Nobes in the Solihull Observer reported on plans for change of use and alterations submitted by the developer, Octopus Healthcare, to convert Tudor Grange House into a home for the elderly, with 64-bed care home and 44 assisted living units. These were unanimously approved by Solihull borough council’s planning committee, according to the Coventry Telegraph (30th April).

The planning report states that many of the works proposed would preserve and even enhance the ‘designated heritage asset’. It concluded that certain aspects of the scheme – perhaps a reference to the building of additional standalone units and the loss of two ‘veteran trees’ – would cause ‘less than substantial harm’. Elliot Brown took a series of photographs showing trees on the site, including this one:

The comprehensive report by Solihull’s Head of Development Management comments: “In this instance, whilst the loss of the two veteran trees is considered significant, it is considered that this harm would be clearly outweighed by the numerous benefits as set out in this report”.

A separate planning application will go through council with regard to the building’s heritage and listed building consent.

 

 

 

 

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The Times reports that housing developments in Birmingham have benefited from billions of pounds of new investment attracted by the prospect of HS2, the high-speed rail line that is planned to connect London Euston to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds from 2026.

But there is a ‘chronic lack of funding for social housing’ (New Economics Foundation, NEF)

NEF summarises the city planners’ focus on redeveloping the city centre in recent years, at the expense of building much needed affordable housing to replenish its depleting stock. In 2015 Birmingham sold more than twice as many council houses as it was building. NEF continues:

“Decades of central government’s neglect of housing policy, a chronic lack of funding for social housing and gentrification have meant that Birmingham is becoming a harder place to live for low income people and families. In central areas like Aston and Nechells, rent and house prices are increasing: residents are living in overcrowded homes and flats and paying through the nose to do so”.

Though the council has identified 38% of the city’s overall housing requirement as being for affordable housing . . .

NEF asserted that the housing crisis in Birmingham is underpinned by a lack of land for affordable housing in the city, exacerbated by the Government’s current policy of selling off public land. It added that last year its research found scores of sites for sale in Birmingham to plug holes in the budgets for public services, offered by the Department for Health and public bodies including the Local Authority. No reference was given and an online search failed to find the source.

It reported that in Aston, Nechells and the Frankley and Northfield areas, individuals have set up groups with their friends, family and neighbours to start building a community-led response to the housing crisis, developing relationships with housing and planning experts in their city and beyond.

Meanwhile,  the latest NatWest Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index report shows the region as the best performing part of the UK in terms of activity

For the more prosperous, Birmingham’s property market is ‘booming’, according to Britain’s biggest mortgage provider, the Halifax and the data firm IHS Markit. Its associate director said the West Midlands stood out from a market that was cooling because of “affordability constraints” as it had also been buoyed by strong economic growth, with business surveys showing the region as the best performing part of the UK in terms of activity”.

As the “ Drift from the capital”  chart (above) showed in FT Money (July 7), the English city that attracts those who leave London is Birmingham. Richard Batley, Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham, writes: “Those leaving London are heading for Birmingham. A fair comparison of the metropolitan regions would show that the growth of house prices, net foreign immigration, the proportion of the population claiming benefits and “cultural offerings” per 100,000 residents would all move in Birmingham’s favour”.

But in Birmingham and routinely elsewhere, developers are exploiting loopholes in planning regulations to avoid providing affordable housing

Earlier in July, the Mail reported the findings of an editorial partnership between Birmingham Live and HuffPost UK. Figures they obtained in a Freedom of Information request show that of the 4,768 houses approved for development in 2016/17, just 425 approved were lower cost housing. House builders are being allowed to sidestep rules on affordable housing if they can show that providing discounted homes would stop the development making a profit.

2012 graphic drawing on Shelter and the Resolution Foundation figures here.

Meanwhile city residents on lower incomes can’t even get on ‘the first rung of the housing ladder’ or afford rents in the private sector, and those who manage to get on the social housing list face many years’ delay.

 

 

 

 

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In a report published this week, the  Centre for Cities, noting that many high streets are full of boarded-up shops, advises local authorities to ‘reimagine’ the space for offices, homes and leisure:

“These places should focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in. For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in — which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes”.

Centre for Cities describes Birmingham as having a strong city centre but low-skilled suburbs

When true socialist Theresa Stewart became leader of Birmingham council in 1993, acting on her belief that the council should spend its money on education, housing and social services, she backed The Living over the Shop (LOTS) project.

It was set up in 1989 to demonstrate the feasibility of using vacant space above shops and offices and ways in which wasted space can be brought back into use, usually for affordable rented housing and creating a range of employment opportunities. It was estimated that at least 250,000 homes could be created from these vacant areas. This would repopulate urban areas that were often empty and desolate during evenings and at weekends.

Though young occupiers were keen to buy into the new wave of urban living and these flats above shops were, on average, 20% cheaper than equivalent sized homes in buildings without ground floor retail premises, families wanted facilities like schools, play areas, doctors’ surgeries and green spaces. Parking was often a problem.

Home reports that overall, 1 in 7 shops in Britain are now vacant. The internet has acquired a massive slice of our regular spending, supermarkets offer a widening range of products, out of town centres have sprung up and shops are now open for more days each week and more hours every day.


In some cities, such as Sheffield and Bradford, over a quarter of shops are empty in areas where the demand for shop premises will never rebound. Home says that, “With the constant cry of a major housing shortage in this country, it seems obvious that …… these shops should be converted into homes. They generally have good ground floor access that is ideal for any wheelchair users and for babies still in prams and offer a challenge to architects to use the infrastructure of the buildings in a more imaginative way”.

More proactive planning procedures are needed in order to convert these spaces to much-needed housing. Local Development Orders can change the designated uses of buildings. Home continues:

“Shop properties could then provide up to 420,000 new homes in Britain. A double success story by any standards and successes in the housing market are rare finds these days!”

 

 

 

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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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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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Five months after announcing a £2bn fund to build a new generation of council homes, the government has not released the money.

A country that works for everyone

Theresa May promised the state would get “back in the business” of building social housing to address the shortage in a speech at the Conservative party conference in October.

Actions belie words

Andy Bounds in the FT notes that despite this commitment to funding social housing, government regulations have merely required private developers to build or fund so-called affordable housing, with rents at 20% per cent below the market average.

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are delivering the homes our country needs and since 2010 we have built over 357,000 new affordable properties.

Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford, wrote. “We are concerned and frustrated that . . . we still being advised by Homes England and partner registered providers [housing associations] that the guidelines for the allocation of grants to build homes for social rent have not been published, and that no date has been set for when this funding will be made available”. The letter was addressed to Sajid Javid, secretary of state for housing, who has not yet replied.

Councils want to build social housing which would pay for itself over time through rental income and increased property value, but the government currently prevents them from using the proceeds of social housing sales to build replacement homes. It has also restricted councils from borrowing to build houses themselves, although some have used reserves for modest building programmes.

Mr Dennett said that across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, there are 84,000 people in temporary accommodation, with their rent paid for by local authorities: “Our housing bills are going through the roof. The government is making the right noises but we need action now.”

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are determined to do more and we are investing a further £9bn, including £2bn to help councils and housing associations build homes for social rent.”

 

When? And, if built, will they be alienated under the right to buy?

 

 

 

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The photography of Janet Mendelsohn
Presented in association with Flatpack Film Festival
10 March – 28 April 2018

In the late 1960s American filmmaker and photographer Janet Mendelsohn spent several months documenting the everyday life of Balsall Heath, as part of her studies at the University of Birmingham. These images are a vivid record of the community at a time of rapid change, and many of the streets depicted were demolished soon afterwards. The exhibition visually explores a social housing crisis, poverty, migration and the experience of childhood in the area.

Building on a brief pop-up exhibition in summer 2015, Ort Gallery now present a selection of these amazing images in the neighbourhood where they were taken. The exhibition will be supported by a resource room exploring some of the stories behind the pictures, and a programme of events and screenings culminating in the 12th Flatpack Film Festival.

To accompany the exhibition we will run a series of events such as group discussions, film screenings, a ghost walk and more! Find all info here and join the Facebook event to be kept up to date!

This exhibition is made possible with strategic investment by the Arts Council England and support from Arts & Science Festival. Special thanks to the Cadbury Research Library.

Ort Gallery
500-504 Moseley Road
Balsall Heath
B12 9AH

Open Tuesday to Saturday 12-5pm

 

 

 

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oThe stock of secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to buy or rent a home of their own has been progressively reduced by the Right to Buy legislation, passed in the Housing Act 1980. This transferred assets created and owned by local government to individuals at prices below their market value or replacement cost.

The Local Government Association reports that the average discount increased by 132% to more than £60,000 in 2016/17 – selling properties at almost half price.

Councils are warning that this has led to a quadrupling in the number of RTB sales, which they have been unable to replace.

The current Right-to-Buy system only allows councils to keep a third of each RTB receipt to build a replacement home and prevents local authorities from borrowing to make up the shortfall.

These points were forcefully made by Stroud MP David Drew in December’s debate (video link) in the House of Commons. As he ended:

At the moment 70% of money raised for every unit of council owned accommodation sold under the right to buy goes back to central government:

  • We’ve bought the stock
  • We’re trying to do our bit
  • But we’re faced by a borrowing cap
  • How is that fair?

The Labour Party has pledged to scrap the scheme and Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called for a halt to the government’s right-to-buy policy, describing it as the key reason for the “catastrophic shortage of homes” in England.

Scotland and Wales lead the way:

The Scottish Government abolished Right to Buy as a part of the Housing (Scotland) Act from 1 August 2016.

A law to abolish Right to Buy in Wales was passed by the Welsh Assembly in December 2017 and has now come into force.

The stock of social housing in Wales and Scotland will now be protected from further reduction and will provide secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to buy or rent a home of their own.

 

 

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Some time ago West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street travelled to Finland – thought to be the only country in Europe where homelessness is falling.

He said: “We have got to be realistic about this. This can’t be about a sticking plaster. We have got to ask ourselves the question, are we prepared to make a similar commitment?”

Emmaus has the answer to rehabilitation of the long-term homeless, offering both accommodation and work of a socially useful nature.

As its website says, “overcoming homelessness means more than a roof over your head”. Without a purpose formerly homeless people placed in ‘permanent accommodation’ become lonely and still feel like ‘outsiders’ and eventually have to leave because of alcohol, drug or debt problems.

Mayor:  travel to Cambridge Emmaus to see the homeless rehabilitated

The mayor of Birmingham may visit the Coventry Emmaus, probably the nearest, or better still, go the centre in Cambridge, the ideal aimed for by Emmaus, where housing and workshops are on the same site – and also a place where locals can come and buy restored goods at modest prices from restored people.

The secular Emmaus movement flourishes on the continent where it was started in 1945 by a French priest to help homeless ex-servicemen to repair war-damaged houses.

Men and women come off income support, collect, refurbish and repair goods and offer them for sale. In exercising a skill and offering goods at quite a low price they meet a need and know that once more they have a useful role to play.

Those who had an alcohol addiction, go out for a drink but are expected to behave acceptably. Even if they are asked to leave because of bad behaviour they know that they can always return after a while.

The four storey Trinity Centre (a former church, a listed building) in Camp Hill near the city centre, highlighted on this site in 2014, would offer a suitable site, as Emmaus prefers to have the residential, working and retail activities on the same site.. It housed many homeless ex-servicemen and workers displaced by machinery.

The ground floor was a dormitory, with three aisles, like the one below and the centre led up to the chantry altar in which a Sunday service was held each week. All meals were cooked in a splendidly fitted kitchen, there was a recreation room, a visiting library (taken round by the writer) and a rehabilitation flat on the top storey.

When the Centre was put up for sale some local people suggested that this converted four storey Anglican ‘Commissioners’ church and the land nearby would be perfect for an Emmaus Community.

 

Could Trinity Centre become the city’s first Emmaus?

Bishop David Urquhart is a Church Commissioner: should the Mayor contact him?

 

 

 

enquiries@emmauscoventry.org.uk

 

– though in Coventry this has not been possible.

Mayor Andy Street and Bishop David Urquhart could begin to address homelessness

Some time ago West Midlands metro mayor Andy Street travelled to Finland – thought to be the only country in Europe where homelessness is falling.

He said: “We have got to be realistic about this. This can’t be about a sticking plaster. We have got to ask ourselves the question, are we prepared to make a similar commitment?”

Emmaus has the answer to rehabilitation of the long-term homeless, offering both accommodation and work of a socially useful nature.

As its website says, “overcoming homelessness means more than a roof over your head”. Without a purpose formerly homeless people placed in ‘permanent accommodation’ become lonely and still feel like ‘outsiders’ and eventually have to leave because of alcohol, drug or debt problems.

Mayor Andy Street:  travel to Cambridge Emmaus to see the homeless rehabilitated

The mayor of Birmingham may visit the Coventry Emmaus, probably the nearest, or better still, go the centre in Cambridge, the ideal aimed for by Emmaus, where housing and workshops are on the same site – and also a place where locals can come and buy restored goods at modest prices from restored people.

The Emmaus movement flourishes on the continent where it was started in 1945 by a French priest to help homeless ex-servicemen to repair war-damaged houses.

Men and women come off income support, collect, refurbish and repair goods and offer them for sale. In exercising a skill and offering goods at quite a low price they meet a need and know that once more they have a useful role to play.

Those who had an alcohol addiction, go out for a drink but are expected to behave acceptably. Even if they are asked to leave because of bad behaviour they know that they can always return after a while.

The four storey Trinity Centre (a former church, a listed building) in Camp Hill near the city centre, highlighted on this site in 2014, would offer a suitable site, as Emmaus prefers to have the residential, working and retail activities on the same site.. It housed many homeless ex-servicemen and workers displaced by machinery.

The ground floor was a dormitory, with three aisles, like the one below and the centre led up to the chantry altar in which a Sunday service was held each week. All meals were cooked in a splendidly fitted kitchen, there was a recreation room, a visiting library (taken round by the writer) and a rehabilitation flat on the top storey.

When the Centre was put up for sale some local people suggested that this converted four storey Anglican ‘Commissioners’ church and the land nearby would be perfect for an Emmaus Community.

 

Could Trinity Centre become the city’s first Emmaus?

Bishop David Urquhart is a Church Commissioner: should the Mayor contact him?

 

 

 

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Birmingham is described by Cllr Ian Ward, ‘showcasing’ investment opportunities at this year’s global property and real estate show MIPIM, as  ‘a destination of choice’ for international investment and blue-chip occupiers.

Airbrushed: the existence of more than 12,000 people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation, with another 6000 or so on its housing list, which had 17,040 households on its books in April (Mail).

See: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/revealed-shocking-extent-homelessness-birmingham-13228087

John Clancy, as council leader, proved able to balance MIPIM drum-beating with attention to the needs of thousands of Birmingham’s people shown in action: building and maintaining homes.

Where now is news of Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) set up in January 2009 to lead the development of the Council’s new build housing programme and the maintenance team set up to keep council housing in good condition? In 2014/15 the Council built more social rented and affordable homes than all of the housing associations in the city combined.

In 2016 a parliamentary select committee was told projections suggested that Birmingham would need to accommodate a minimum of an additional 150,000 people by 2031, with around 80,000 new homes required to meet this need.

Will MIPIM attendees hear about that?

 

 

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