Archives for category: Maldevelopment

Peter Beck wrote to the Birmingham Post on Thursday December 6th 2018:

While agreeing that “the Paradise Project is a fiasco” (no name and address Post letter 29 Nov 2018) I draw a somewhat different conclusion as to who is to blame. I also think that Jonathon Walker’s article (Post 29th Nov) should perhaps have been titled “Council anger with Amey”.  However Carl Jackson’s article (Post 22 Nov 2018) is very revealing and there is so much for us to learn from this disaster of a development.


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It is of course questionable as to whether Birmingham City Council (BCC) should be seeking partnerships with, or to employ the likes of Capita, Carillion, and Amey.  They have proved a very costly exercise. 

And why should we trust Argent, the present managers of this development?  Such companies and unelected organisations such as the LEP and PCLP (mysterious bodies to most of us) are out of BCC control, and unaccountable to the residents of Birmingham.

It does beg the question as to why we continue to demolish perfectly good existing buildings and spaces (offices, hotels, parking spaces, public spaces, shops, restaurants and cafes etc) only to replace them with the same.

After all, this requires a huge amount of embedded energy and contributes to climate change.  A good example is the Central Library. The original plan of architect John Madin for its setting was ignored, it was done on the cheap, and then successive administrations (Tory, Lib Dem and Labour) neglected and failed to maintain it.  Even so, the cost of refurbishing was estimated at £38m while the new one has so far cost more than £100m.

The new one has resulted in a drastic reduction in staff hours with an opening time of 11.00 a.m. – hardly a “world class” facility/service as originally claimed!  Further, it has led to the closure of the unique Brasshouse Languages Centre building and the transfer of its language classes (with the recent loss of English as a Foreign Language classes).  The fee payments are presumably helping to fund the Library but the classrooms do not adequately meet the students’ needs.

Another farcical aspect of the Paradise Project is its treatment of public spaces.  Centenary Square is being dug up yet again but the new version will be quite inferior to its original “gardens” ancestor.

My conclusion is that BCC should avoid private/public joint ventures and it should restrain those senior officers who currently work hand in glove with developers. We should once again give the councils the in-house resources they need to carry out the restoration, reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings. Lots of permanent jobs would then be created. 

 

 

 

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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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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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TUESDAY 13 MARCH from 6.00p.m at Locanta restaurant, Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s Square B3 1EH

All welcome

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Enemy of the People?

Did your grandmother use phrases such as ‘Make do and mend’; or ‘waste not want not’?   In which case she was clearly an enemy of the people.  Why?  To quote Peter York FRSA, “this language is fundamentally anti-growth.   We all know that our future depends on us consuming like mad.  The engine of our economy is property prices and footfall in Next and M&S”. 

Yet on Tuesday our guest, Woody, (Planet Centred Forum), is proposing a 25% reduction in our CONSUMPTION as a counter balance to global population growth.

Woody’s “Population Equivalent” thesis weighs consumption against numbers.  He calculates that 25% of ‘Western’ consumption equates to the global average consumption of 3 billion people.

The thorny issue of population control is dealt with by comparing the environmental impact of different levels of CONSUMPTION rather than focussing simply on numbers.

All very well, but what about the economy? Join us on Tuesday evening at Locanta to find out.

General information on the web page  http://www.greendrinks.org, then go to  http://www.greendrinks.org/West%20Midlands/Birmingham

You don’t have to have a meal in order to join in, but if you do, it helps us to have an idea of meal numbers in advance.  Erkan, provides an excellent menu, plenty of choice, including vegan and vegetarian dishes.  Dishes can be tailored to individual tastes

 

 

 

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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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“100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit”The Observer July 2017.

In the same month, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation study attributed 80% of the recent rise in evictions to the “no fault” process under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. Two months’ written notice is all that private landlords need to do: they don’t need to give any reason when they ask tenants to leave.

It allows the worst landlords to ignore disrepair – tenants who complain are given notice – a process officially recognised under the name retaliatory eviction’.

Read more about retaliatory eviction’ – the subject of Commons Briefing paper SN07015 by Wendy Wilson – published on June 13, 2017.   

 Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue forcefully in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions

His exchange with the Prime Minister may be seen here, courtesy of Steve Walker and the full transcript in Hansard may be seen here.

Mr Corbyn reviewed the government’s record:

  • Homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has doubled. Homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every single year since 2010.
  • Evictions by private landlords have quadrupled since 2010. There is no security in the private rented sector.
  • One-for-one replacement of council housing sold off through the right to buy was promised, but just one in five council homes have been replaced.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are on housing waiting lists.

Shelter is calling for the introduction of a stable rental contract – to become the norm in England.

Campbell Robb, chief executive, said: “With the possibility of eviction with just two months’ notice, and constant worries about when the next rent rise will hit, the current rental market isn’t giving people – particularly families – the stability they need to put down roots. The stable rental contract offers renters a five-year tenancy and gives landlords more confidence in a steady income, all within the existing legal framework”.

Scotland for best practice to date: the Scottish secure tenancy

In Scotland, under Jack McConnell’s Labour government, by an order under section 11 of the 2001 the Housing (Scotland) Act tenants of local authorities, housing associations & tenants who are members of fully mutual co-operative housing associations, from 30 September 2002, became Scottish secure tenants.

Read the excellent terms here. Will a Labour government in this country adopt this Rolls Royce standard model and also introduce a stable rental contract for those in private accommodation? Or will the profit motive win the day?

 

 

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Reading Christian Wolmar’s article: ‘Rail’s dirty secret’, recalled last year’s  question on this site: ‘How many lungs and hearts will be damaged by air pollution before action is taken?’

There is concern about the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central (New Street) platforms experienced by travellers like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system for rail and waterways.

Professor Thorne’s student monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

Research conducted by Professor John Thorne (Birmingham) found almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform.

The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”. Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”. Wolmar writes:

In the Rail Engineer, Malcolm Dobell wrote about a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive he saw four years ago; a team from Birmingham University had designed, constructed and entered a fuel cell powered one-fifth scale locomotive in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway challenge.

He reported that Alstom’s new train, the Coradia iLint (above), which runs on hydrogen power rather than diesel, has had its first successful test run. It is the first low floor passenger train in the world to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen used for the test runs is the by-product of an industrial process, which is reasonably reused as a waste product, but because Germany has invested heavily in wind turbine technology as part of its energy mix, it will also be able to use the energy generated by the wind turbines to make hydrogen when electricity demand is low.

As Dobell mentioned, the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research undertook a cross-disciplinary venture with a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, to design and construct the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  The Centre’s website adds that there will be a requirement for such autonomously powered trains to serve non-electrified lines.

Hydrogen-powered locomotives, cars and boats, emitting only steam and condensed water, Dobell comments, are better for the environment, more pleasant for passengers and less disruptive to communities.

Time for change.

 

 

 

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The Financial Times has reported that John Healey, shadow housing minister, has set out Labour’s plans to tighten a housebuilding loophole introduced by the Conservatives that has been blamed for halving the number of “affordable homes” built in Britain over the past five years by making it too easy for property developers to “dodge their obligations” by being allowed to haggle over the number of social homes they build.

Inside Housing adds that recent research by Shelter covering 11 local authorities found viability assessments had been used to deliver a 79% reduction in affordable housing built, compared to what council policies would demand.

Carol Wilcox Secretary of the Labour Land Campaign, Christchurch, Dorset, commented in the FT that Labour should instead be arguing for Section 106 Agreements to be scrapped rather than reformed.

She cites a study by Oxford Brookes university, which found that the number of affordable homes delivered through Section 106 dropped from 28,972 in 2010-11 to just 16,452 in 2015-16 — contributing to the wider downward trend, continuing:

“The whole system is open to corruption. There are websites that describe, for the amateur, how to negotiate with local authorities to avoid more than just the affordable homes obligation (one here). These agreements, together with their younger sibling, the Community Infrastructure Levy, are in effect just another misguided attempt to capture the uplift in value from change of use to residential”.

Her alternative: a comprehensive land value tax system which could easily finance public investment in goods and services up front and capture the rising land value from the resulting revenue stream. Increased public spending would lead to increased land value, leading to increased land value tax, leading to increased public investment

 — a virtuous circle in fact.

 

 

 

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“DEBT AND ECONOMICS: EDUCATION FOR ACTION” WORKSHOP

The Jubilee Debt Campaign invites all to an interactive, informative, educational day-long workshop from 11 – 16.30 on Saturday 7th October at the Islamic Relief Academy, 22-24 Sampson Road North, Birmingham B11 1BL.

The registration page for this long awaited debt workshop now live. For further details click here  – (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/debt-economics-education-for-action-tickets-36539325105 – or call Clare Walden, JDC on 0207 324 4729.

Most of the buses going towards Solihull and Shirley from the city centre (particularly numbers 37, 6 and 2) stop at the beginning of Stratford Road which is a few minutes’ walk from the IR Academy (below).

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This day-long workshop is totally FREE and is part of a series taking place in cities across the UK, to be delivered by debt expert and facilitator Fanny Malinen.

Inequality and debt are on the rise – eight men now own as much wealth as half the world’s population. The debt payments of impoverished countries are increasing rapidly and are at the highest level for a decade. Closer to home, PFI debt is having a huge impact on NHS finances and students leaving UK universities now face higher average debts than American students, with the average student graduating with more than £44,000 debt.

Come and discuss whether debts should always be paid and understand more about the historical and current connections between debt and inequality. Learn about why Ghana’s debt is higher now than it was in 2005 – even after a large write-off – and how NHS debt is linked to global south debt through Public Private Partnerships. Importantly, come and hear about debt resistance, positive alternatives and how you can be a part of a global and national movement for debt justice!

There will be a one-hour lunchbreak, and smaller breaks during the day. We will provide refreshments throughout the day but please bring your own lunch or money to buy lunch.

If you have any accessibility needs you would like to discuss please get in touch with clare@jubileedebt.org.uk. This venue is wheelchair accessible.

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group meeting:

5-7pm on Thursday 31st August at the John Lewis Community Hub, available to community groups.

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

A draft of the presentation, LOCALISM & REGIONALISM, opens:

“With the gradual yielding of a collective to an individualist social ethos; with the hollowing out of local government power; with the weakening of trade union influence; with the decline of local and community newspapers … both individuals and nuclear families feel powerless before the Westminster run state . . .

“Meanwhile, modern states feel constrained before the imperatives of the neoliberal market. We are told that there is no alternative to ‘growing the economy’ – even though local jobs continue to be lost and goods once produced locally are imported over great distances . . .” 

‘Woody’ Woods, the author, has sent known contacts the draft of the intended presentation. He suggests that a fuller title would be: “Exploring Localism and Regionalism as roads to our empowerment.”  

 

Details of his earlier essay and book are given on the Planet Centred Forum website.

 

 

 

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