Transport planning

11th October 2016

Transport and car use

by Trevor Locke

Going to the shops. Something that most adults need to do regularly; some on a daily basis. Back in the 80s there were two cars in our household and we did groceries shopping monthly. We drove to a supermarket and brought home enough produce to feed our family for about four weeks. The supermarket was about four miles away from the house. Petrol was cheap and I had a company car which was provided free of charge by my employer. How times have changed, Now I do not have a car. I take the bus into town to go to the big supermarket; if I need a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread I walk to the local shop. How we shop and where we go to do our shopping raises a number of key issues about how we plan our towns and our urban environments.

Going to the shops

Even when I do what I call a ‘main shop’ I walk around the supermarket with a basket rather than pushing a trolley. Because I have to carry it all home on the bus, I do not purchase more than I can carry – hence the basket. When the basket gets really heavy I stop buying. It’s simple but mainly because I have only myself to feed rather than getting in food for an entire family. And a cat. Apparently there are still many people who get into their car and drive to a shop they could perfectly easily walk to. So I have read. Why? Fear of being on the streets? Idleness? Habit? Who knows; have any surveys ever been done to uncover the facts about this? Which is more pressing as an issue: transport congestion or obesity? Are the British becoming a nation of fat, lazy people? If you agree with that, and many would not, we are lagging far behind the Americans on that score. Walking to the shops is good; it’s a healthy thing to do. It’s an economically healthy thing to do as well. Local shops sustain communities. Someone commented recently that ‘The corner shop has been replaced by the out of town hypermarket and a car became necessary to shop there.’ Prices are higher in local shops than in supermarkets. I know that; I have to take the bus into town to buy food because my local branch (of the same supermarket) charges more for the same products than does its city centre,  bigger branch of the same supermarket chain. Incidentally, I do not pay to use buses; I have a pass that gives me free travel so I do not have to factor in the cost of the bus fare (it would still save money to shop in town even if I did need to pay to get there.)

We all need to get around; whether this is for work, education, shopping, entertainment or visiting people, our choices of how to travel are based on time, money and convenience. Do town planners really see in that way?

What about trams?

In 2015 our local newspaper ran a story about trams. ‘The Big Question: Should Leicester have a tram system?’ reported on a design for a tram network for Leicester. Not the first time this idea has surfaced. As the article pointed out, Leicester had a tram network that closed in 1949. But then there are trams and trams. Today’s trams, like the ones that run in Nottingham, provide clean, comfortable, convenient transport. Great if your destination is near to a tram stop. A poll on the page of the same article indicated that 75% of those who voted said ‘yes’ to having a tram system. The article did not review the case in favour of trams – it just reported that a route map has been designed. Not that anyone was actually planning to start a tram network; it was all hypothetical. The response of the Leicester Mayor – Peter Soulsby – seemed to pour cold water in the idea. The bus service is Leicester is generally quite good; it depends on routes and what time you want to travel but by and large buses run almost everywhere and bus lanes play their part in keeping them moving. They do however burn diesel. That is not good. They can be expensive, in pence per mile compared to alternative forms of transport. Leicester does not suffer from the kind of inner city traffic congestion that we see in many other English cities. I can’t say how they achieve this but we do not see traffic jams much even during peak hours. There are some technical issues with fixed-line transport. Bus lanes and cycle lanes might well have something to do with the difficulty of trying to create the tracks for trams on roads that have for decades been designed for cars. Leicester’s arterial roads tend to be narrower than their equivalents in other cities. This might have something to do with the fact that traffic moves more freely. Single or two lane motorways might allow traffic to move more quickly than three or four lane motorways. It’s a strange thing about road traffic – it does not always work the way you think it would or should.

Centres and suburbs

Leicester is one of the country’s free-standing cities; as the capital of the county of Leicestershire, it is surrounded on all sides by green fields. Not even Nottingham can boast of that. Leicester is a city that sits inside a catchment area of about two million people. That is a statistic of immense importance to the economy of our city. As a key economic and social area within the East Midlands, Leicester depends on the transport infrastructure for the easy movement of people. Our city has various outlying estates and suburbs that house the majority of the resident population. People need access to the city for jobs, entertainment, sport, shopping and culture. They not only have to be able to get into the city but they have to be able to get home again after their visit. As someone who is dependent on buses, I am painfully aware of the importance of a good bus service to the prosperity of the city. With our ageing population, people are increasingly dependent on bus and train services. It’s not just the cost per mile of transport, it is also about the availability of the public transport services. The population of the UK is growing and the older segment of it is increasing, a fact that has important implications for local transport policies and provisions.

One area that has come in for much comment and debate in recent times is the availability of late night buses and trains. Like a lot of cites, Leicester depends on its night-time economy. As a city we have a very vibrant and pluralistic night-time offering, including music, entertainment, sport and culture.

The transport systems do not serve that economy well. As any bus user in this city will tell you, it is easy enough to get into the city during the day but getting home after a show or a festival or a gig is fraught with problems. Buses to outlying suburbs, villages and neighbourhoods often stop at ridiculously early times, making it impossible, for some people, to get into the city and back again. It is one thing to have a catchment area of two million people, it is quite another to make it possible for the majority of that population to make use of Leicester as a destination for entertainment or even for jobs.

Jobs and cars

As the pattern of employment changes, more and more people are becoming dependent on public transport to access employment. The jobs market is offering work but more and more of it is shift work, with the higher-paid jobs being in the evening and overnight. More will need to work beyond the current retirement age and this will increase demand for social transport. Older people may well find it increasingly difficult to run private cars and will become dependent on public transport. The rate of car ownership has been increasing with more families owning more than one car; this has been fuelled by the growth in employment for women and the need to have two cars to be able to cope with both journeys to work and to school.

Congestion is a disease

Trams might well prove to me a positive innovation for Leicester but I doubt we will see them again in my generation’s time. Meanwhile, we have to wrestle with the problem of increasing traffic on the roads for people trying to get into Leicester and those trying to get from it to other parts of the country. Road traffic in England is increasing; it has been going up over the past four years. This, according to the Government, reflects growth in the UK economy and possibly lower fuel prices. Car traffic has been going up. Light goods vehicle traffic has also been increasing; probably, I would guess, due to the increasing use of online purchasing and its consequential need for road delivery.

Over the last twenty years traffic has increased by 17/19% for all vehicle types and for cars has gone up by 12.6% and 70% for light goods vehicles, according to the Government website. Meanwhile, the use of bus services has been going down in the long trend; passenger kilometres have declined by 0.6% since it peaked in 2007. By comparison passenger journeys on light rail systems, such as trams, has reached its higher ever recorded level. The use of buses and coaches has been going down since 2010. In the same time period, the use of cars and taxis has varied by has begun to increase dramatically in recent years.

Living near transport

Access to public transport also affects housing; with the policy of demanding more and more housing in the green belt, provision of adequate transport is of considerable importance. Building housing in the green belt places more pressure on private transport if the provision of buses, trams and commuter trains is not planned to increase. Building houses and flats away from the main employment destinations, inhibits the ability of residents to either walk or cycle to work.

Where city centres have concentrations of work opportunities – particular in retail and hospitality – it make more sense to develop urban accommodation than to hope that people will be able to access affordable housing in the out-lying areas and be still able to get into the city centres to find work.

It is easy for planners and policy-makers to assume that everyone drives their own car and that public transport is just for the poor and disadvantaged. That is a widely held myth, in my experience. Policy-makers want to see a shift away from the car to other forms of transport such as walking and cycling, for environmental reasons. Leicester has pockets of poverty and one that is bound to ensure that they remain is transport poverty.

Transporting the public

Over the next decade and beyond, more people will become dependent on public transport. It is no use providing affordable housing if we fail to provide affordable transport to go with it. Car ownership is not only about being able to afford to buy and car and run it. The cost of owning a house often forces people to stop having their own transport. More and more younger aged people are continuing to live with their parents because it takes them so long to save enough money to afford the deposit for a mortgage. What limit’s their ability to save is owning a car and the costs of having to pay for a car in order to get to work or indeed to get out to do the shopping. So many supermarkets (where the best prices can be had) are situated where only car owners can get to them. Having a transport policy that meets the real needs of urban and outer-urban dwellers must be a key issue for governmental policy-makers and planners. Public transportation needs to address both the availability of buses, trams and taxis and also the fares that are charged. Short distance fares are often more expensive that long-distance ones even where flat-fare tickets are available. One reason why transport issues concerns me is the close connection between the importance of the late-night economy and the availability of transport. The strategy for developing buses services cannot pivot solely on the need for night-time travel but putting this specific issue in a broader context is, in my view, essential.

Planning Leicester

Much of what Leicester is grappling with at present, when it comes to planning and transport policies, is to do with the city centre and, to some extent, the balance of outer-urban and inner-city economics. Our city centre is fairly busy and has managed to avoid some of the problems seen in comparable cities with businesses closing down and high streets shop voids. The shopping area of our city centre is fairly small and compact; it is especially good for pedestrians with its traffic free streets. The distribution of car parking in the centre is probably fairly good – but I am not the best person to know about that because, as I say, I do not drive. If shopping in Leicester’s centre lacks anything it is variety; it is less than good when it comes to the mix of shops and range of goods that are available. Many shoppers, who are looking for something out of the ordinary, travel to other town, such as Nottingham, because they can not find what they are looking for in Leicester. The mix of retail outlets on High Streets is dwindling across the whole country. That goes some way to explaining why so many people are taking to on-line shopping to secure the items they want – small, specialist shops are just not available locally.

Cosmopolitan2016

6th August 2016

Leicester’s Cosmopolitan Carnival

2016

Coming up in August

Cosmopolitan Arts presents – Leicester’s Cosmopolitan Carnival
on Saturday 27th August 2016 – from 2.00 pm to 9.30 pm
Leicester City Centre: Jubilee Square, High Street, Clock Tower, Humberstone Gate and BBC Radio Leicester.

The Cosmopolitan Carnival arts festival is taking over the city centre hosting an impressive line up of live music, dance and art.

Calvin Jeffrey in 2010 Photograph: by Harjinder Ohbi
Calvin Jeffrey in 2010
Photograph: by Harjinder Ohbi

BBC Radio Leicester’s Kevin Ncube and Toni Finney, will compere the main stage in Jubilee Square. Artists include Leicester’s very own The Brandy Thieves, national awarding winning rapper Curtis Clacey, The Orator, UG and the world’s best DJ Jon 1st DMC will be performing an exciting collaboration, rhythmic Afrobeats by Afro-Kubanza, rising soulful star Dominique Brody will be singing, Jesse Wright will wow the crowd with her amazing voice, “Britain’s Got Reggae” stars from across the country will be performing.

London-based band Code Ninety will inject to pop music element to the stage, soothing gospel music from Kaine Mass Choir and the fabulous Illusive Quartet will perform stylish jazz.

A range of free arts workshops will be available including Chinese calligraphy, origami and dragon making and lantern making plus much more.

There will also be a grand finale performance “Cosmocular” in Jubilee Square 8.30pm – 9.30pm, conceived, project managed and artistically directed by Amanda Leandro of Cosmopolitan Arts. This dazzling performance will involve a fantastic large-scale film projection piece by Amanda Leandro, French and English pyrotechnic performances by Pyrox and Select Dance, beautiful lanterns and giant puppets from Same Sky, an amazing live music performance created by Lead Composer & Music Director Richard Everitt and Co-composed by John Berkavitch, Carol Leeming and Miranda Booth.

Astounding spoken word from Leicester’s best wordsmith  John Berkavitch and spectacular vocals from Carol Leeming, of which both have specially written new pieces of work for this performance.

The ensemble includes the best musicians from Leicester: Will Todd from By The Rivers will be playing bass, the highly acclaimed pianist Mike Sole, skillful drummer Malcolm D’Sa, well known jazz saxophonist Marcus Joseph, heavenly harp by Miranda Booth, exceptional tabla by Hari Trivedi and awesome trumpet by Julie Maxwell.

This dazzling and spectacular performance is a unique one off experience, showcasing Leicester’s most talented artists along side national and international artists, this is one not to be missed!

There will be a stage at the Clock Tower compered by well known comedienne Kirsty Munro, hosting a vast array of cultural music, comedy and spoken word, including: Euphoria a seven piece Chinese folk group, Hari Trivedi will perform amazing Tabla and Sitar music, Ian Hall and Lindsay Warnes-Carroll will bring side splitting comedy to the event, The Orator Rhetoric Literary Society Poetry will be present wonderful spoken word, from London AOA will perform a unique blend of hip-hop enthused songs, Billy and Jody’s acoustic experience will inject some fun to the event, Calvin Jeffrey and Deven Stuart will both sing songs that will lift people’s spirits and Mr Shay livens up the crowd with some MC’ing.

Andrea Kenny of The Brandy Thieves at Simon Says... 2015 Photo: Kevin Gaughan
Andrea Kenny of The Brandy Thieves at Simon Says… 2015
Photo: Kevin Gaughan

On the High Street there will be an exciting blend of activities and performances, including an amazing dance performance area hosting every imaginable genre of dance. There will be a humorous street theatre performance, African drumming workshop and activities from Talent Match.

On Humberstone Gate there will be a funky open top bus stage with live reggae and acoustic music and a range of free arts activities, hosted by “The Drinks Bus” and “Britain’s Got Reggae”. There will an art gallery in BBC Radio Leicester and lots of free arts workshops including a DJ master class with Jon 1st, DMC World Champion 2013.

This exciting FREE event has something for everyone and is one not to be missed.

 

EUReferendum

Referendum on the European Union

25th June 2016

This article digests what I made of the debate right up to polling day on 23rd June.

In the last referendum on European membership (on the 5th June 1975), I voted NO after being persuaded by Tony Benn. I am writing this article not because I am in any way an expert on this subject, clearly I am not, but because I like to practice my journalism skills.

Predictions

My predictions are

(a) the turnout for the eligible electorate will not exceed 50% [I got this wrong; I made this prediction early on in the run-up debate when a lot of people seem disinterested in the whole thing.]

(b) the result of the referendum will be a win for the remain campaign though the vote will be close. [Again I got it wrong; even right at the last moment, I still thought that remain would win, though by a narrow majority. I was surprised by the final result.]

The result of the vote

13th July

Brexit means Brexit

As Theresa May unpacks at Downing Street, I look at her election pledge to make withdrawal from the EU a reality. She said “Brexit means Brexit” but it will be up to her to define what this means. It will be up to Ms May and her Cabinet to set the timetable for withdrawal from the EU, if indeed, that it what they plan to do.

Leaving the EU could offer Britain an opportunity to negotiate fundamental changes to the way that the EU is run and the policies and procedures on which it is based.

In the last few days a large posse of lawyers went to some lengths to point out that the result of the referendum is ‘advisory’ and not mandatory. According to press reports, over one thousands barristers (high level lawyers in this country) have concluded that the vote to leave the EU provides the government only with ‘advice.’ [The Guardian, 11th July 2016]

The senior lawyers have advised the government that it should up to Parliament to decide whether Britain should leave the EU. In a letter they argue that the referendum result as only advisory because it was based on “misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered”. The letter, published in full by The Independent on 11th July, said:

‘The European Referendum Act does not make it legally binding. We believe that in order to trigger Article 50, there must first be primary legislation. It is of the utmost importance that the legislative process is informed by an objective understanding as to the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50.’

They continued ‘Since the result was only narrowly in favour of Brexit, it cannot be discounted that the misrepresentations and promises were a decisive or contributory factor in the result. The parliamentary vote must not be similarly affected. The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.’

The question asked in the referendum was simple: do you want to stay in the EU or leave it? It would be up to the government formed this week by the new prime minister Theresa May to work out how they want to handle negations with Brussels over leaving and the timescale within which that will happen.

The barristers concluded that ‘For all of these reasons, it is proposed that the Government establishes, as a matter of urgency, a Royal Commission or an equivalent independent body to receive evidence and report, within a short, fixed timescale, on the benefits, costs and risks of triggering Article 50 to the UK as a whole, and to all of its constituent populations.

The Parliamentary vote should not take place until the Commission has reported. In view of the extremely serious constitutional, economic and legal importance of the vote either way, we believe that there should be a free vote in Parliament.’ [The Independent ]

Meanwhile, Mrs May has floated the idea of a new government department to take day-to-day charge of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU – to be headed by someone who campaigned to leave in the referendum. Chris Grayling, a prominent Brexiteer who supported her leadership bid, acting as her campaign manager, has been touted as a possible candidate for this role. Liam Fox, another Leave supporter who got behind Mrs May, after his own leadership bid failed, will also have hopes of a top job, according to the BBC.

Talk of having a second referendum on the issue of the EU is interesting though largely impractical, not leave because of the cost, estimated to be in excess of £142 million. The big political test for the Government’s policies will come at the time of the next general election. Many commentators would say that an election would return a Conservative government, doubtless with an increased majority, and the political wind is blowing in that direction.

12th July

The fallout from the referendum continues: Theresa May is to replace Cameron as prime minister. Labour is embroiled in a leadership battle. People are talking about a second referendum, hoping that all those who voted LEAVE will see the error of their ways. But the new prime minister is still saying the UK will leave, even though she campaigned to remain. Everyone respects the will of the people and their vote should be upheld. The date of the next general election will be sooner than we think. The issue will come back back again at that time.

Referendum day

On polling day it seems the country was equally divided. On the morning of the vote, a trawl through websites suggested that the result will be too close to call. Towards the end of the run-up campaign, the people became increasingly passionate about the side they had chosen – although a very large proportion had not made up their minds by the eve of the vote.

So if the result was very close, what would that mean for British politics? If there was no overwhelming, landslide victory for one side would the Government be bound to follow the will of the people? I looked at this issue. Some analysts said that the legislation that set up the referendum did not make the result legally binding. Even if Brexit won the vote, Parliament would still have to legislate to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. As far as I can see, pro-Europeans have a majority in the House of Commons. If the vote resulted in a decision to leave – even by a very narrow majority – it would be political suicide for Cameron and his Conservative government to overturn the will of the people.

But then most commentators see a success for Brexit as heralding the end of Cameron’s premiership. There is an interesting scenario: what if Labour managed to force a general election and won it? In the wake of a vote to leave, a general election could be forced through and if a party wins it that is committed to remain that would be put forward as a political mandate. As to whether it is more or less of a political mandate than the referendum is difficult to see. If more people voted in a general election and the gap was wider than for the referendum result, in this scenario, then Parliament could conclude that the referendum had been superseded by the result of a general election.

Early on in the campaign, I predicted that the turnout of voters in the referendum would be less than fifty percent; I still doubt that it will be more than the turnout in a general election. The problem for politicians is, when it comes to determining the will of the people – who do they believe? The referendum vote is simple: two choices – leave or remain. In a general election all constituencies will have multiple choices and even with ‘first-past-the-post’ elections, it is possible that the will of the people will be less than decisive. Only a landslide election victory with a big turnout could overturn the referendum result.

There is however another scenario. Let’s assume that Brexit has won. Parliament votes to leave. The process begins but is set to last for two years before anything really happens. During that time political and popular opinion changes and a majority forms in favour of remaining in the EU. The next general election is set for 2020. It is not unknown for elections to be brought forward. We can imagine a picture in which the leave vote wreaked havoc on the UK economy and ignited a strong change in opinion in favour of remaining. an early general election is fought around the EU question and a remain party wins with a comfortably majority. If that party is not the Conservatives, then Parliament would be in a position to put the whole withdrawal process to the vote. So the UK position would become ‘I know we said we were leaving but actually we have changed our minds and now we want to remain.’

41 years later – has anything changed?

A major decision faces the British people on 23rd June 2016 – possibly. Britons return to the ballot box to decide whether they should in or out of the EU. I say ‘possibly’ because a few people dispute how major this decision actually is and whether it faces the British people, as a whole, depends on which part of it you live in.

Forty years ago the vote was put to the people; it might seen that a lot has changed over that time but has it? In many ways the issue we will face on 23rd June this year is much the same as it was in 1975.

In parliament, the heavyweights have got into position; Cameron said today (February 22nd) that leaving the EU would be “a leap in the dark” and PM contender Boris Johnson has joined the NO campaign, putting his weight behind those who want out. Do they, as they claim, have the nation’s best interests at heart? Or are they just watching their backs, caring more for the future of the Conservative Party and who will fill the PM’s chair at Downing Street, when it becomes vacant. Indeed, if the ‘exits’ have it, many believe that will be the end of Cameron’s premiership.

Meanwhile, the Labour party exhibits a mixed bag of views. Mr Corbyn saw the EU negotiations as a “theatrical sideshow.” He claims that Labour is “overwhelmingly for staying in.” Corbyn might disagree with Cameron on many things but they are united in their belief that the UK should continue to be a member of the EU.

The two major campaigns – ‘stay in’ and ‘leave’ – have started their work of persuading the public which way they should vote. Stronger In, for example, began to drop literature through people’s letterbox in January. Leave.eu has similarly started started to bombard us with their side of the propaganda war. Meanwhile the media has been having a field day with constant news stories about who is saying what and who has done what.

For both sides of the argument, the hymn sheets have been made ready for politicians and business leaders to sing to. Both sides are honing their cases, the positions that claim are the key ones for the voters in June.

How long to get out?

What difference will the vote on 23rd June make? Will the UK suddenly become an ‘independent’ sovereign state on 24th June? Several commentators have said that the decision could be challenged in the European court; even the terms negotiated by Cameron over the weekend will not automatically fall into place, if we believe what the analysts are saying. Even if details of the terms go unchallenged in the courts, it would take two years to finally cut the chains holding our island to the mainland of Europe, I have heard it said. Indeed, some believe that leaving the EU is simply a ploy to get more favourable terms for staying in. Commentators have been saying that Cameron’s tour of the 27 member states was a weak manoeuvre and what he left Brussels with was hardly worth having. What he got and what he asked for, were separated by a gulf wider than the English channel. But if many millions of voters give a resounding OUT that puts the UK in a much more demanding position.

Meanwhile, the scare-mongers are lining up to frighten prospective voters. From the Scots, who are threatening to devolve from the ‘united’ kingdom through to the law, order and security brigade who see 24th June as being the start of Armageddon. What some say they don’t have is the facts; even so, what politicians are not short of is facts, even though many produce figures that are contradictory and hotly contested by others. Members of the public interviewed on the TV vox pop news films seemed to be roundly confused by it all.

An independent England?

It’s not just the Byzantine complexities of the EU; the question of tariffs and barriers and boundaries with the rest of the world is a mire of murky misinformation and misunderstandings. OK so the rest of the world is actually bigger than Europe and even if we did walk away from it, Europe will still be there long after we have voted with our feet. What staggers me is that we got so little support from our European neighbours when the PM sat down to talk. Cameron’s shopping list of ‘demands’ got watered down by the time he left Brussels. What Cameron came away from Brussels with was a feeble set of compromises.

Labour, says Corbyn, will campaign to stay in and he Tweeted his reasons why. Workers rights, paid maternity leave, equal pay and more being seen as the headline benefits conferred by EU membership. ‘Stay in and make it better’ seems to be the Corbyn mantra. He would love to see an end to the kind of austerity measures that embittered Greece. Writing in The Guardian (on 22nd June) Corbyn argued ‘… being part of Europe [sic] has brought Britain investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment.’ He meant to write ‘EU’, surely? He went on to say ‘The prime minister has been negotiating for the wrong goals in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.’

For Corbyn the real issues are about the steel industry, stopping the spread of low pay and insecure jobs and the exploitation of migrant workers. Well he is after all a Labour politician. It’s all a clash of philosophies – free marketism versus social co-operation. His point is a worrying one; he referred to the ‘bonfire of rights’ that could follow a British exit. No longer bridled by Brussels, a Tory government could wipe the slate clean on worker’s rights, pay and equality.

Norway is often paraded as an example of what independence can achieve. The reality is rather different. Travelling between Sweden and Norway you will not encounter a border control or need to show a passport. Even though Norway is not a member of the EU they still have to deal with fish quotas and tariffs but they have no say in how these are set. Norway is a member of EFTA and a member of the European Economic Area (the EEA) along with Iceland and Liechtenstein. Prime minister Erna Solberg said that Norway’s own arrangement would not work for the UK. The Nordic country voted in 1972 against joining and again in 1994, though, in both cases, by a majority of just over half. Norway still contributes a significant amount of money to the EU.

If England leaves the EU, it will still have to negotiate tariff deals. Bear in mind that the economy of Europe is not at its best right now and if and when it began to improve, the position of this country would change and our position might well have to be renegotiated if we leave after the vote.

EU and whose army?

In fact there are many associations and organisations that have a bearing on European countries and their trade – The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) of which the UK has been a member since January 1973. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has had the UK in its membership since 1949. There is a bevy of associations concerned with technologies; for example, the UK joined one that regulates atomic energy.

Britain is surrounded by an army of international bodies, organisations and multilateral treaties. The EU itself operates through a clutch of institutions: the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Justice, to name but a few. That is not forgetting a basket of charters and conventions such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Europe is not something a country can just walk away from. Even two years for a divorce would be highly optimistic. Let’s not forget that the United Kingdom is in membership of the EU; that leaves open the position of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Voting patterns could vary enormously in the countries of the UK. Geography is just one of many dimensions of how this question breaks down.

It was a British prime minister who first thought up the idea of bringing together European countries – Winston Churchill. “We cannot aim at anything less than than the union of Europe as a whole and we look forward with confidence to the day when that union will be achieved” Churchill said when he was in Amsterdam after the end of the war. It was a prophetic statement but it was just tub-thumping, pointing to the way forward without having idea of where to go with it. It was Robert Schuman who joined up the dots. He was, and is regarded as, one of the founding fathers of European Union. Even as early as the 1950s it was always the vision that there would be a federal union and if Britain would not accept that it, then it could not join. We did not join and so we did not invent it and we were not there at the origin, Tony Blair was to say. Back in 1955 the vision was limited to coal and steel until ministers came to together to discuss a wider concept that would harmonise not just economic but also social policies. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 by six states to create the European Community. Britain had therefore played no part in the writing of the rules on which the common market was based. Harold McMillan sent Edward Heath to see how Britain’s trade could be wedged into this new order that had been put together in Brussels. It was in 1963 that De Gaulle effectively vetoed Britain’s entry to the common market, leading McMillan to feel that he had been betrayed by his old wartime ally. In 1971 both major parties were split. Labour MPs broke ranks and joined the Tories in the ‘yes’ lobby. Heath went to Brussels to sign the treaty in 1972 but it still had to be ratified by parliament.

The EU in Leicester

I take Leicester because it is in many ways a microcosm of the wider nation. Localism gets right to the heart of the debate. It’s not just about what might happen to one member state; it’s also about regions and cities, both here and on the continent.

Here in Leicester – one of the most diverse cities in England – the impact of the EU is widely present and easy to see in this city. A thriving Polish community testifies to the success of migration; their shops are everywhere and most large supermarkets now stock products that reflect Polish tastes. The city’s hospitals are staffed by European doctors and nurses and in the streets of the city centre you hear the cacophony of foreign voices amongst the shoppers. Local businesses rely on migrant workers coming in to fill the vacancies left by indigenous workers. They clean our homes and offices. They care for our children and old people. They cook our food and fill our supermarket shelves. They pay taxes but take little or no benefits from the public coffers they enrich. They do however put pressure on our schools; in this city the birth rate is high and the streets are crowded with the pushchairs and prams of migrant workers. Here health and care services are open doors; is there room enough inside for everyone who wants a place? Migration is not itself an issue for most voters; it is the impact of immigration that divides opinion. Closing the borders between England and Europe would almost certainly harm many local businesses – those that depends on the skills provided by migrant labour. Depending, of course, on what border controls remain in force or would be changed by an exit. Even if England left the EU, it is doubtful that cross-country migration would decline, all that much. Let’s not forget that around 125 million Brits go to the Europe to work and/or live.

The issue of migration

It’s very clear that England has, for a very long time, been unable to fill the vast range of vacancies created by the services sector of the economy, let alone hospitals, construction and food production. The EU came into existence, partly, to enable the free flow of workers between its member states. Just as Europeans come here to work, so 125 million of our own people went to Europe in search of jobs or housing. Over three million jobs, it is said, are linked to the UK’s trade with European countries. Over 200,000 UK businesses trade with the EU member states. Without European migrant labour many UK businesses would grind to a halt, as would many of our hospitals. Workers who come to this country pay into public coffers through their taxes; they spend their wages in our shops, they help maintain the productivity of the companies in which they work… but all this depends, in the last analysis, on how you look at it. The one thing I have noticed about the EU debate is that opposing sides are throwing statistics at each other in large numbers.

Immigration is not about numbers but the rate at which people arrive. We must, as a country, as a state and as a community, integrate new arrivals. These comments from campaigners struck a chord with me. Some come, the migration issue is not about the absolute numbers coming into the country but more about what happens to them as they arrive and to the people already here.

Many people see EU membership as taking away migration controls. I am not sure this is correct. Several Brexit campaigners said that leaving the EU would enable the country to make its own arrangements for who it will allow in. Some suggested that we should adopt a points system, similar to that used by Australia.

Why is it that so few people from this country choose to go to Europe to work? I remember it being said that over a million Brits have gone to Europe to work.

The vote should not be decided on a single issue; membership of the EU is not a single issue question. It would be wrong to base one’s vote on the issue of immigration alone.

Its not just the numbers and rate coming into the country as a whole but how they are distributed. Certain towns have been over-run by migrants and clearly are unable to cope, such Ipswich, some commentators argue. It’s not a question solely of border controls; it’s far to do with the qualifications of migrants and what they intend to do when they get here and what work they intend to look for. That varies considerably from one area of the UK to another.

Housing, schools, health… these have to be able to cope with new arrivals. UK should change the way that EU migration happens. A key issue during the campaign was whether incoming migrants should be able to claim state benefits.

Claims that the EU is undemocratic figured widely during the campaign. It probably is, many thought, but then how exactly could it be made democratic? We elect our MEPs in our own country. But we have no vote in which gets the top jobs – which all go to white males. Several commentators and campaigners challenged people to name any of the presidents of the EC. Leave campaigners were often quick to point out that all the presidential office holders were white males.

How the future of the EU could affect Britain.

What if there was a right wing take over of the EU by parties even more right wing than the Tories? What if Turkey joined and created a sudden increase in the influence of Islamic fundamentalists? There are many questions about how future tends in the politics of the EU might affect life in this country. Much was made during the campaign of the desire of some euro-politicians to move towards a federalised Europe. Nigel Lawson argued that there is a movement towards the creation of a European superstate. He clearly does not want Britain to be part of that. Federalism is already in place in various parts of the world. The USA is perhaps the prime example. There are several models of federalism; some tighter than others, some more able to function effectively than others.

Originally, when Britain joined, the European institution was a common market. Since the 1970s, there has been a drift towards ever more political integration. As Lawson said in his article: ‘…That is the creation of a federal European superstate, a United States of Europe. Despite the resonance of the phrase, not one of the conditions that contributed to making a success of the United States of America exists in the case of the EU.’ [Telegraph, 2nd May 2016]

Europeanisation begs the question ‘what is European about?’ This comes into sharp focus when we consider the accession of Turkey to the EU. As it stands today, Turkey is anything but European. The issue calls into question what defines European-ness. The extent to which all 28 member states share the same root political philosophies is open to debate. I suspect that some Americans might be exercised about what the USA American. It could be argued tat across Europe there is an even wider diversity of cultures, values and political philosophies than may be found in north America.

Will the UK be able to govern itself?

Has England ever enjoyed a period of absolute sovereignty? Over the past 500 years, even during the days of monarchical absolute power, we have been hemmed in by external influences both of our foes and our allies. Go back twice as far and you find a country being ruled by the Italians; then it was the Danes; then it was the French… the Victorian era was perhaps the golden age of the British Empire. Even then there was no absolute freedom; our territories and dependencies exerted influences over what the British could or could not do.

Having heard some of the opinions expressed in the media about sovereignty, it appears that plenty of people think we would start governing ourselves on 24th June. Boris Johnson referred to ‘independence day.’ Nothing of the sort. I doubt there ever has been a time when the UK enjoyed absolute sovereignty and leaving the EU will not give us much more power than we already have over our own affairs. After all, the EU affects only part of our governance; it does not reach into things such as taxation, the operation of the NHS, defence… and we will still be members of the commonwealth. And NATO.

Chatham House said, in a paper published from its website

In a world that is more interdependent today than it was when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the notion of ‘absolute’ British sovereignty is illusory. It is also worthless if it limits the ability of future British governments to ensure the security and prosperity of their citizens. Judging from the UK’s experience and its future prospects, the opportunities from remaining in the EU far outweigh the risks of doing so, and the risks of leaving far outweigh the opportunities.

See more.

I liked this statement; it views nation states as being ‘ interdependent’, and sees absolute sovereignty as being an illusion. In my view, the idea that Britain can rule itself autonomously without regard to other countries is not something that is possible in the current world order. Whether or not Britain is in the EU, it will always be a signatory to a variety of international treaties. Each time a country signs a treaty it agrees to forgo some of its powers of self-determination. Trading with other countries and particularly with a regional block always requires some degree of diminution of independence. Referendum campaigners often referred to British law being made in Brussels and found figure to quote that, in their minds, represented the percentage of laws made in Westminster. In fact Brussels give us rules and regulations, not laws. It might well be the case that the EU has imposed hundreds of rules and regulations on us and the most important decisions that affect us have all been made by our own elected politicians sitting in the House of Commons.

We sacrificed some of our sovereignty when we joined the EU but voting to leave will not confer on us a new golden age of complete self-governance. The world is a much too complicated place for any country to enjoy that kind of thing.

Would the EU survive a leave vote?

What if the British decide, in June, to leave the EU? Would it survive? Several commentators suggest that Britain’s withdraw from the EU would be its downfall. Leaving the UK might lead to other countries leaving too. When we last voted on the issue, 40 years ago, Europe was dominated by Germany and France. Today, German is the single most dominant economy in Europe. Some member states worry that a British vote to leave could spark off a series of similar votes around the 28 states that would leave to collapse of the entire EU edifice. Indeed, if the British can re-write the terms its memberships, that would lead others to do the same thing, some politicians in Brussels believe. If enough building blocks are changed, the entire structure ceases to be the same thing that 27 countries thought it was or wanted it to be when they joined.

Do I look bothered?

Are the British people really that bothered about the result of the referendum? There are two sides to this story: one is the vox pop interviewing of random members of the public and the other is the polls? Many voters might be concerned about specific issues – such as border controls and immigration – but appear to be befuddled by the whole thing. What is most worrying is that many voters will mark their ballot papers based on what they believe will be the effect stemming from one or two specific issues rather than having weighed-up the whole case. Ten years ago the French and the Dutch voted NO to the constitutional and Lisbon treaties. It’s not just the voting public who fail to see the wood for the trees. Many of the leaders who have sat together in summits and other get-togethers have become so bogged down in details that they have failed to address the bigger pictures. Even British prime ministers it would seem have failed to grasp the wider issues. Many of the interviews I have seen, read or heard in the media take a single-issue approach to the question. Business leaders look at as though it was about only trading.

Are other members island states?

Cyprus is an island. Malta is an island. Ireland is partly an island. Greece is a country of islands. Denmark has lots of islands. Is there something about being an island that makes a people different to their counterparts who live on the main land? Do the British have an island mentality that makes them think differently to more mainland countries? I like to look back at the time when there was no channel and the landmass of what is now Britain was simply an archipelago on the mainland of the continent we now call Europe. Our ancestors simply walked from their homelands to this country and so, in historical terms, we are all descendants of migrants. Genetically, the British have the DNA of most Europeans and the peoples of North Africa. Being an island did not stop the Victorians from creating an empire. Many of those who are arguing in favour of leaving the EU base their case on opening up new markets in other parts of the world; drawn by the prospect of trading on a much wider footing – they can hardly have an island mentality. Being part of something bigger (Europe or the world) is an idea and whether you are an island or a mainland country, it’s about what you think being part of something bigger will give you.

My referendum diary

24th February

The BBC reported that EU reforms cannot be reversed (by judges) according to Donald Tusk, EU Council president. Tusk told MEPs that the deal negotiated by Cameron was “legally binding and irreversible.” What promoted this was Michael Gove (Justice Secretary) saying that the European Court of Justice could throw out some measures without changes to the treaty. But Downing Street and the Attorney general maintained that the reforms could not be reversed. Gove is one of five cabinet ministers for are for an exit from the EU. Only when the treaties are changed will be European Court be bound by them. If the British people vote to leave, the deal with cease to exist, Mr. Tusk said.

This is not a simple issue; states can express their consent to an agreement in a number of ways; 28 nations have agreed to the deal and intend to be bound by it. Simply agreeing to a deal does not change treaties; any of them could raise the matter with the European Court of Justice. The chances that the court would rule to overturn a measure in the deal is remote.

29th March
In a piece published on the website of the Electoral Reform Society Josiah Mortimer revealed the results of a poll taken to predict the turnout for the EU Referendum. In a poll conducted by BMG research, it reported that
We asked what people thought turnout would be in the referendum – When asked, the average response shows that the public predict turnout will be 57% on June 23rd. What is interesting is that this is broadly in line with non-poll based predictions, particularly amid valid fears about low turnout being a big issue in this referendum. And it certainly links in with the fact that most people do not feel informed about the vote. – See more.

12th April

The government’s controversial booklet about the EU referendum arrived in the post today. Controversial because of the cost of it producing it and it gives only side of the argument and several sources claim it is factually in accurate. As I read through it, here are my thoughts:

The commentary begins with some simple facts:

The UK has not joined the euro
The UK has not joined the Shengan border controls -new rules have been applied to migrants seeking welfare benefits

It reads partly like a public information leaflet put together by civil servants and party like a party manifesto. It some respects it is both. The leading argument is that staying inside the EU will given Britain a stronger economy. This gets to the nub of the whole debate: do we see the future of this country in trading with Europe or with the rest of the world. It is claimed that Europe offers us the world’s biggest single market. Is that true? Would we be better off trading mainly inside the EU or are we thereby missing out on trade with other parts of the world that could offer much more.

According to the brochure, the EU is ‘by far the UK’s biggest trading Partner.’ It goes on to assert that ‘remaining inside the EU guarantees our full access to its Single Market.’ Despite the arguments given in the brochure, business people and industry leaders are divided over the issue; some want to stay in and argue that this is good for business; others want to leave and seek better markets elsewhere. The brochure claims that ‘over 3 million UK job are linked to exports to the EU’, a claim that has been challenged by a variety of commentators and analysts.

Writing in the BBC’s Reality Check Peter Barnes looks at the question of how many UK businesses trade within the EU. He notes that there have been differing claims over how many businesses trade with EU member states. As he points out ‘There are no official figures for the total number of companies that export to and import from the EU. Both numbers are estimates. ‘

Statistics are a minefield and it depends on which sources you choose to believe.

It is little wonder that many of the people interviewed by BBC news reporters feel confused by the welter of conflicting statistics and find it hard to make up their minds given the arguments they have heard about which set of figures are correct.

In the view of the brochure’s authors, leaving in the EU could leave to years of uncertainty, as we unpick our relationship and negotiate a new deal with Europe. As Harold Wilson was once famously quoted as saying “a week is a long time in politics.” Well if a week is a long time, then 20 years is an era. That could be the length of time any exit from the EU could take. We know that David Cameron will not be prime minister for longer than a few years more. Over even ten years, the Conservatives could very well be replaced by another party and the position could change. The result of the vote on 23rd June could well have major repercussions on the outcome of the next general election in 2020. EU membership could become a major plank on which parties contest the next election. Whatever the outcome of the vote on 23rd June, that will not be the end of the story. The parties are very likely to present the next election with post-vote views on how the country should react to what ever result is given.

16th May
Today I received, by post, a copy of The 2016 EU referendum voting guide issued by the Electoral Commission. This leaflet had six sides of text. The headings included: What is the referendum about? Can I vote? Who has produced this booklet? Information from lead campaigners How do I fill in the ballot paper? How do I vote? How do I find out more?
Under the heading Information from lead campaigners the brochures explained that ‘the text two pages’ provide information about the arguments for and against leaving the EU. The content of these two pages was not written by the Electoral Commission. The website addresses of the two campaigns were given.
The brochure provided an informative guide to the process of technicalities of voting. The question was stated as being: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
Two choices were available: Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.
Voters were advised to place a X in only one of the two boxes.
The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament, its website states.

18th May
In article on the BMG research website, it was given that 45% of voters would vote to leave the EU compared with 43% who who would vote to remain with 13% being undecided (data appears to be rounded up.) The shows a fairly unchanged picture from the previous results. Based on political affiliation, the results suggest that Labour voters are more likely to vote to remain. Conservative voters are fairly split with a narrow majority voting to leave. Liberal Democrat voters are likely to vote to remain and UKIP voters overwhelmingly likely to vote to leave.

31st May
What has characterised the debate about the Referendum recently is the battle of claim and counter-claim and the barrage of statistics from either side. Coming under fire has been the £350 million figure claimed to be what the UK pays every week to the EU. This was heavily qualified by those who say it is a gross figure and in fact we get a rebate on that; and those who claim that the real figure is even higher than this. it is understandable therefore that the average prospective voter is caught in the middle of all this, not know which side to believe – if any of them.

I got the idea that the EU will have do, or should have to, work out how the UK will do business with the rest of the world and negotiate with on the tariffs that affect trade outside of the EU membership states. This applies particularly to those countries that do not have trade treaties with the EU. Comments are saying that Britain is the fifth most economically strong country in the world.

Another issue to emerge is that Britain now has one of the highest – if not the highest – levels of minimum wage in Europe. Of course vast numbers of people want to work here because our minimum wage levels are the highest and certainly far higher than in most of the countries that they come from.
The Leavers say that Britain on its own could be great again and able to trade with the rest of the world on its own terms. I simply do not believe this. That does not fit with my idea of world trade.

Another interesting point recently comes from those who say that the EU simply cannot keep up with the pace of change in technology. Its machinery of rule making is far too slow and cumbersome to keep up with the way that technologies are changing.

Someone from Tate and Lyle appeared on TV saying that the EU is imposing tariffs on importers of sugar and using the money from those tariffs to subside beat producers. Similar arguments were made around fishing. But this referendum is not about single issues and it would be completely wrong for voters to make up their minds on issues at this level of scale. It must be about the bigger picture, not about the minutiae. Many of the regulations established by Brussels ensure food safety and have been imposed to protect consumers. Would a post-Brexit government simply wipe them off the books?

Someone claimed that the UK is a relatively low regulation economy; probably one of the least regulated countries in the world. But if we leave the EU and set out sights on trading mostly with the rest of the world it is highly likely that many of those countries with require us to comply with their standards of safety on products and meet their requirements for labelling and testing.

Leaving the UK, it was claimed, would result in short-term pain as the country slides into recession but this is the price we need to pay in order to achieve our long-term gain. Three quarters of our economy is services, not manufacturing. Some are bullish about this and see the rest of Europe as being so dependent on our services, mainly based in the city of London, as being so important they would continue to use those services even if we left the EU. The short-term recession resulting from Brexit would be outweighed by the benefits we would enjoy from trading with the rest of the world, it has been claimed. It is however, a gamble; it is not something that anyone can guarantee.

So, leaving the EU would be very risky; but, some would argue, so would remaining in the EU. The Euro is about to collapse and even though we are not part of it, we would be affected by it. But to exert a tighter control over the eurozone would require countries to work even more closely together.
Both sides have completely opposite views as to the economic consequences of the vote.

The 23rd June is seen as being out ‘independence day.’ Those who take the historical view looked back on the time when the United States declared its independence from Britain. There is no evidence, the historians argue, that the supporters of that move were mainly concerned with the economic consequences of their actions. Fears about commerce and trade might have been present in 1947 when India declared independence but that did not stop them.

Tuesday 7th June
The original deadline to register to vote at the EU referendum was midnight on Tuesday 7 June. Problems with the Government’s registration website during the final hours before the deadline resulted in the UK Parliament passing legislation to extend the registration deadline in Great Britain for 48 hours to midnight on Thursday 9 June. I heard that there was a late surge in registrations.

At around this time I received a leaflet through my door from the Leave campaign. The European union and your family: the facts stated that ‘this document is to help you to make your decision in the referendum… ‘ and went to to state: ‘FACT: Britain’s official bill for EU membership is £19 billion per year or £350 million every week…’. This figure was widely criticism during the later stages of the campaign of being inaccurate and misleading. The BBC’s realitycheck web page reported that this figure was ‘not entirely true’; for one thing it fails to take account of the rebate that we get. As Theo Leggett explained ‘it’s money that never leaves the country.’

Thursday 16th June
News broke of the murder of Jo Cox, MP. Campaigning is temporarily suspended as a mark of respect. Following her death, Jo’s husband told us that she was killed for her political views. Parliament was recalled early and an emotional session was held in Westminster to honour the much respected member. Vigils held around the UK soon spread world-wide as people around the globe gathered to mark her murder and to express their desire for better politics and to voice their concern for the world’s nastiness. No one could have predicted this turn of events but it had a profound impact on the electorate in this country.

Tuesday 21st June
The BBC broadcasts ‘The Great Debate‘ live from the Wembley Arena with an audience of over six thousand. Impressive performances from the speakers especially from Ruth Davidson and Boris Johnson. I watched some of it. The audience was vocal and passionate about the issues. The programme lasted for nearly two hours.

Thursday 23rd June
A record 46,499,537 people are entitled to take part, according to provisional figures from the Electoral Commission. It is only the third nationwide referendum in UK history and comes after a four-month battle for votes between the Leave and Remain campaigns. states the BBC News website.

I voted to remain in the EU.

This was what I wrote before the vote; I will be writing more as the picture unfolds, watching how to issues unravel and how Britain is affected by the impact of the vote.

Housing Policy 5

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke
Part 05

New approaches to house building

Do we have to live in homes made of bricks? Do all homes have to be three-bedroom semi-detached new builds? How important is it to provide housing for two adults with their 2.4 children? Must we live in identikit boxes? Britain is a very low-rise country by comparison to many European and Asiatic countries. British people love their little boxes set in a small piece of garden. Suburbia is the quintessence of the British way of life. Even if we have to stick to the box-like house, need we also have to stick to the brick? This section addresses these questions.

Well, my take on these question is very clear: no. If we can persuade people that there are new ways of building homes that do not require bricks and mortar, then we begin to open up more solutions to increasing the supply of housing. New materials can be manufactured more quickly and cheaply than clay bricks. Wood does not need to be consumed in large quantities – new materials can replace it, that are more friendly to the environment. Wood is good for interior features and furnishings – where its natural beauty can be appreciated – but inside walls and roof spaces (where we cannot see), we do not have to use wood, if cheaper and more ecological materials can replace it. Bricks, likewise, provide a traditional facing for houses but inside walls are frequently made from breeze-blocks. There are new materials that can be used for unseen parts of buildings that cost less to produce than bricks and which can be manufactured with much lower levels of energy.

People have already begun to re-think the idea of a home and have started to construct houses, using radically new ideas about what to build with and how to create living spaces. Our problem is that, to ‘Mr & Mrs Average’, such ‘experiments’ are a bit cranky and certainly not for them. Understandable perhaps but new concepts of what constitutes a home lead to all sorts of beneficial spin-offs. Take heating, for example, as part of the overall use of energy in domestic accommodation. Some of these new, ‘experimental’ homes are seeing anything up to a fifty percent reduction in the cost of energy consumption. The less money required for energy bills, the more money is available to pay for the cost of the home and for its interior furnishings.

People who are on fixed incomes have to balance the cost of their mortgages, leases or rentals against estimated running costs. If they think they are going to be faced with high costs of energy, their calculations of affordability are going to fail to stack up, given all the other costs that are involved. There is still a dire need to provide energy-efficient homes and to reduce heating costs. If we must build new houses, then let us at least build them with new materials that can provide higher levels of insulation than convention clay-based bricks. Roofs can also utilise new materials that have better thermal properties than slates. As I argue above, it is better to replace aged houses with new ones, on the same site.

This suggests that the solution to the housing crisis would be the renewal of existing housing stock on existing land and not on the development of new-builds on green sites.

I would like to see the average family offered financial incentives to at least try something new, when it comes to homes. Today’s house-builders are focused on return on investment and profit margins. That explains why they all want green field sites on which to build profitable, standardised boxes. The supply of housing, particularly in the ‘affordable’ sector is dominated by building companies that have to make a healthy profit margin. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to be in business to make a profit. What I am arguing for is an injection of policy that would make it possible to both build at a profit and to offer something that is different from standardised boxes employing traditional materials.

Knowing demographic trends is vital; we have to have a very firm grasp on how the population is changing, as it ages, as people migrate, as the labour market changes and how this will be reflected in demand for housing. If the supply of housing can be increased then that will reduce property values and rental rates – a trend that will further increase demand. Lower housing costs will mean that people will have more money in their pockets to purchase consumer goods and that, many would agree, is good for the economy.

To increase the supply of homes, building companies can adopt new methods of production of the materials they need and cheaper materials that would help them to achieve their profit targets and get the units up and running more quickly. For those with the time and inclination to get involved in building there are plenty of opportunities.

Television programmes have been stimulating interest in new approaches to house building. Amanda Lamb’s My Flat-Pack Home (Virgin, Sky, UK TV Home channel) follows families who opt for constructing their homes from pre-fabricated flat-packs. Companies are now offering pre-fabricated houses, and some of them are portable. A company called Dan Wood is offering a variety of dwelling houses that, it says, provide ‘customised, turn-key homes with the highest standards of energy efficiency.’ Their website goes on to claim that ‘building your own homes doesn’t have to be a dream.’ This is a company that, it seems, offers pre-designed buildings that can be constructed pretty quickly. [Dan Wood website, 2015] We can be much more flexible and imaginative when it comes to designing homes. Will people be prepared to change their preconceptions about what they can accept as being a home? Will they be impressed by the savings to be secured from increased energy efficiency and green products? Can house buyers be persuaded to accept new approaches to the design of homes? In my view many of the answers to these questions lie in thinking outside of the box.

Thinking outside of the box

Most house-buyers want a finished product that they can move into straight away. The average resident has a pattern of living and working that is based on a standardised approach to the home – one that fits comfortably with the life cycle of starting and bringing up a family. But there are alternatives. The problem is – will people who want homes be prepared to think about alternatives to the standardised box?

If we can tempt house-buyers away from the standardised, magnolia-painted box, then it is much more likely that the housing shortage will be dealt with and dealt with more quickly. OK, it’s not such much about the magnolia. It’s much more to do with whether people need single family accommodation, how they are going to use their home when they get into it and where it is situated relative to shops, schools, surgeries, transport routes and all the other elements that are essential to daily life. Everyone wants a home that will be economical to run; getting the initial money to put down a deposit and move in is difficult enough. The on-going costs are what will either allow people to get started with a property or prevent them from going ahead. New homes in the UK are too expensive; they cost much more than they need to. Far too many people are prevented from getting into the property ladder by the high cost of houses. Those who do have a home of their own are paying far too much to heat it. New homes now have hugely better insulation than ever before but too little has been done to think about what kind of energy to use for heating and what kind of heating systems can be installed. In addition house designers are still stuck with the idea that the average house-buyer wants accommodation for four people. Period. End of story.

Encouraging the use of new materials, changing building regulations to reflect new trends in energy conservation and giving up our obsession with look-alike houses are some of the things, I would argue, that would lead to more people having their own homes in a shorter space of time.

But to make this work, designers and builders have to change their ideas about what constitutes a house for families to live in. Our concept of ‘the home’ has changed little in post-war England. We are beginning to move away from the one-family-one-house model towards multiple-occupancy structures which make far better use of land. In the urban setting, land is expensive but families want their own spaces in which children can play and family pets can run free. Flats are not considered to be an option for the bulk of people who want homes for themselves and their children. The desire for garden space is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. In the sixties, the builders of tower blocks wrongly imagined that children could take the lift down to the ground floor to play in communal areas. How wrong they were. Even childless couples often prefer properties that will provide them with a nice bit of garden.

A home is a place we call our own and most people want homes that are in communities they can relate to, in both urban and rural area. It is that sense of place that drives choice in the selection of where to live. Having a positive sense of place reinforces well being and health and, for many people, place is about having access to transport and employment. Supplying housing should not just be about providing units; it should be about providing communities and the kinds of housing that people want in an area that will give them that sense of place. People who feel at home are healthier than people who feel alienated from their surroundings. Those who design and build accommodation should study the data and see the trends taking place in our society both now and in the foreseeable future. Housing supply must be based on real needs and not comfortable assumptions about what people out to have.

Patterns of demand for housing will change in years to come. These changes will be driven by demography (the ageing population and migration from other cultures) and from rising sea levels. These are trends that planners should be addressing now. The number of people who want homes for more than four people will increase. Homes will be needed for people who will live independent lives for much longer – some up to a hundred years and the fixtures and fittings they will need will change over the decades. In my view, older people will be less likely to move into residential care, independent living will increase and new patterns of accommodation will be needed to meet the social requirements of older people and those on whom they depend. This all has to be planned for now. These are trends that will affect the UK but in other countries much more radical approaches are being tried.

Some architects have designed apartment blocks with gardens; in Sydney, Australia, a programme is underway to provide ‘green apartments.’ In Australia, green homes are being built that use less water and energy; at the Green Strata project ‘We focus solely on helping owners and occupiers of residential multi-unit properties improve the sustainability of their common property and their community of residents’ [Green Strata, 2015]. In Northern Italy, apartment blocks have been constructed that offer people gardens full of trees and shrubs right up to the 27th floor. The Bosco Verticale Towers offer apartments that come with pre-installed gardens on every floor. This project has become known as the ‘forest in the sky’ and represents a totally new concept in multi-layered accommodation. The array of trees and shrubs help to cool the building and provides its own micro-environment. The greenery provides oxygen and humidity, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide and dust particles. It is an exciting and visionary project. The downside is of course the cost; these apartments are much more expensive than those in conventional high-rises. That might change if more of them are built; they tend to be expensive because they are either unique or very rare. The more developers build such blocks the less expensive they will become to construct. Such projects are not the solution to the housing crisis but they can play a part in an overall strategy of accommodation in city areas.

The forest in the sky, Bosco Verticale, in Northern Italy, has become widely celebrated as making a breakthrough in the way that high-rise apartment blocks can be made into ‘vertical forests’, having two 27 floor tower blocks that are home to 730 trees and thousands of shrubs and plants. The amazing amount of vegetation produces oxygen and creates a micro-climate that cools the apartments in summer and moderates heat loss in winter, as well as filtering smog and dust particles from the atmosphere. Each block has as many trees as could be planted in a hectare of forest. The buildings are creating a biological habitat for apartment-dwellers in Milan. ‘Grey water’ from the apartments is used to irrigate the vegetation. These projects are an example of combining architecture with live plants; trees have already been introduced into building design but nearly always inside buildings. These ideas might change the climate and ecology of cities and, providing the costs are within affordable standards, might well revolutionise the urban landscape. [Wikipedia, 2015]

In Nottingham, Professor Philip Oldfield co-ordinates a masters course in sustainable tall buildings. He has been active in researching the potential of high-rise buildings in urban areas and how they can be made more ecologically sustainable and energy efficient. One design envisages ‘gardens in the sky’, in which high-rise structures offer accommodation that comes with plenty of horticulture and leisure amenities not normally found in tall apartment blocks. In crowded cities, where land is at a premium and always in short supply, he sees the solution as building upwards but providing space that replicates the kind of environment usually associated with ground-level lifestyles.

A lot of lessons were learned from the housing disasters of the 1960s. Not that all public housing at that time was based on tower blocks. Councils developed large estates for working people. This was often in tandem with a programme of slum clearance. Outer urban land provided cheap space on which Councils could spread acres of social housing for the poor and needy. These housings estates also had to be supplied with schools, shopping centres, health services and good access to the national transport systems. There was a time when large private sector housing estates were constructed without any of these basic amenities of family life being provided. Planners in the 60s got it badly wrong and approved applications for large housing developments in which there was no planning gain in the form of social amenities, such as schools, shops or health services.

I hope we have got a better approach to planning these days. We got stuck in policy opportunism, that allowed developers to create housing estates rather than communities. I remember going to see large numbers of show-homes in Leicestershire in the 1980s. Although the new-build houses offered every latest comfort and amenity, the estates as a whole were just streets and cul-de-sacs of endless houses. Car-ownership was relatively cheap in those days and it was assumed that everyone, who would buy a new house, would have at least one car and would be able to drive to the shops or take the children to school no matter how far away these facilities were. The architects of these ‘soul-less’ rural or suburban estates were people who clearly lived in immaculate barn-conversions who had lost the notion of community and what constituted family life in villages and city-edge suburbs. These housing estates put profit before people. There were no schools, shops, doctors surgeries or any of the other essential elements of daily life. The estates were all about houses and more houses and that was it.

It took a lot of protest by lobby groups to bring about change to this situation. Hopefully planners, and the politicians who control them, are more enlightened these days. We were lucky – we ended up with a brand new house just five minutes away from a primary school and within easy walking distance of a doctors surgery and a small supermarket. It was a matter of luck – just being in the right place at the right time (in 1992.) Many other families were less fortunate and got themselves stuck in beautifully designed homes that were miles from the nearest shop or school.

The policies that govern urban development must take into account how people actually live and not be focused exclusively on the commercial demands of private sector building companies. We need to think about sustainable communities in which people can live comfortably and happily for several decades, able to adapt to changing economic circumstances. Short-termism is no way to plan urban growth.

The housing supply of the future must cater for people and communities as a whole and must join-up living, jobs and transport.

Where will the future of housing take us?

Governments, both national and local, must face the challenges of improving life in Britain by coming up with credible, joined-up policies that meet the basic living needs of the people who elected them and everyone else. People are slow to change and hard to convince that change to traditional ways of doing things can be better. We all need houses to live in; and most people want houses to live in that allow them to get to work easily and to the shops on which they depend for their groceries. But, do we need houses to be made from traditional clay bricks? We want them to be structurally sound for many years; we want them to be warm but not overly expensive to heat; we want them to be situated within easy access to roads, schools, healthcare centres and shops and we want our enjoyment of them to be secure. That is not something we can leave to the vagaries of private investment and to a free-marketism approach. We need to get to work in order to earn enough money to pay for our homes. We need our children to get to their schools without having to travel long distances. Older people need to have choices about where to live and they need to feel secure in their own homes; they need to be able to live near to their dependants and to the people on whom they depend.

The modern home is, as Le Corbusier famously said, “a machine for living.” Modern homes tend to look like that with all their fitted kitchens and ‘mod cons’ but they are also a reflection of our tastes and cultural values. My hope is that people will become more adventurous in what they will accept as suitable house-building materials; I also hope that people will be more inclined to accept new approaches to designing homes. Our society, as a whole needs to be more willing to experiment with new solutions to the need for living space.

In this book I have analysed current approaches to housing policy; I have also advocated what I believe to be credible solutions to the housing crisis. A lot of this depends on change – both of the attitudes of people who want somewhere to live and of the way policy makers approach the whole business of meeting housing need.

References

Contents of the entire work

Updates

Now this work has been published in its entirety I will update it with notes that following current developments in housing policy and practice. See Notes about housing and housing policy in 2016.

Housing Policy 3

Housing: approaches to policy

by Trevor Locke

Part 3

Housing, employment and transport: why we need joined-up policies

In the previous part of this series, I looked at bricks and other kinds of building materials, and asked if there can be viable alternatives to traditional construction materials. I considered how building design might change to take account of the rise of new materials. I move on, now,  to discuss the kind of policies that are increasingly playing a part in the supply of accommodation.
It is often said that Britain has a housing crisis. The Government hopes to supply a million new homes by 2020 [Guardian, September 2015]. But, over the past four years only 47% of the amount needed in England have been built [BBC news, September 2015]. It is the scale of the housing shortage that leads people to talk of a crisis. The National Housing Federation was quoted as saying that about 245,000 new homes were needed each year in England. Gill Payne, director of policy and external affairs, said: “In some areas, there is a drastic shortage causing prices to soar, putting homes out of the reach of many people” [BBC, September 2015] The BBC’s Inside Out programme on housing, drew attention to the shortfall in housing supply as matched against housing need between 2011 and 2014. The crash of 2008 is often blamed for this shortfall but it is not the only factor. According to the Inside Out programme ‘critics say the change has also made it easier for “inappropriate and unwanted” developments to progress.’ Politicians have criticised the National Planning Policy Framework of 2012, claiming that the said changes to the NPPF were required to ensure “the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension” with “due emphasis on the natural environment”. Clive Betts is quoted as saying “Councils must do more to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by moving quickly to get an adopted local plan in place.” Even The National Trust said the MPs’ report was another indication the NPPF had allowed “streetwise developers” to ignore the wishes of communities [BBC, 2014].
Housing is a minefield of conflicting policies and opinions. In order to navigate a path through this confusion, I set out my agenda of key policy issues: I begin by discussing the need for affordable housing before explaining why I think housing policy is the key to everything. I then look at the issue of renting before considering three interconnected policy areas – housing, employment, unemployment (economic status) and transport. I then discuss how better use can be made of existing housing stock. This agenda is about the need for joined-up policies.

The need for affordable homes

Are people ready to move away from standardisation and established traditions? If the media is to be believed, the average ‘Jess and Joe’ want to get married and start a family and as part of this, they want to own a home of their own. But does ‘Mr & Mrs Average’ want to live only in the traditional house? Through the medium of television, we have seen people who have abandoned the traditional notion of the house and built themselves a home from materials you would not find on the average housing estate – such as blocks of straw. Others have done away with the conventional idea of a slate roof and covered their structures with earth and grass.

Many recent television programmes have shown people restoring old buildings, converting them into family homes often by doing the work themselves. Flat roofs have not been popular but the development of new materials has now made them much more viable. The house-building industry is still providing large quantities of structures based on the traditional idea of two stories with individuals rooms for different purposes: lounge, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. House designers have not moved on in their concept of what constitutes the kind of houses that people want to live in; but then, neither have house-buyers.

In post-war Britain there was a trend to build ‘pre-fabs’ – prefabricated houses built in bits in factories and then assembled on site. Prefabs were cheap, cheerful and provided a quick fix to the shortage of housing after the blitz. The decades of the 1940s through to the 1960s brought us the baby boom and, as those generations grew into adulthood, demand for housing increased. Recently, the lack of access to mortgages, following the financial crash of 2008, has led to an increase in rented properties. Couples and new families, not wanting to be stuck at home with their mums and dads, are going out to find rented accommodation, often because this is the only option open to them. In the urban areas this is fairly easy but in the countryside, it is much more of a problem. House-prices in rural areas are very widely beyond the reach of workers in villages and rural areas.

Today, the baby boomers of the 60s are down-sizing. Having brought up their families, couples find themselves living in houses that are bigger than they need. Couples, aged 60 and over, are moving into smaller properties. Whilst this should be releasing houses for occupation by younger people, the problem is that house prices have increased and the mortgages needed to buy these properties are hard to come by. Recent predictions show that ‘house prices are set to increase by more than previously expected in 2015. The CEBR now expects the price of the average home in the UK to rise by 4.7% – up from its March forecast of 1.5% growth. A chronic lack of properties being put up for sale has pushed up prices in recent months and is one of the reasons behind the upward revision to the forecast’ [Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2015].

The British are wedded to the idea of the single occupancy house as the basis for family life, unlike our continental neighbours, in Europe, for whom the apartment block is the standard form of housing. Single-occupancy houses are more expensive to build and require a lot more land, than is the case for multi-level apartments. House-builders and government policy makers see no need to attempt to change the public’s demands for the typical family unit; they are comfortable with the belief that families know what they want and there is no need to change anything. Political policy is wedded to freedom of choice and not much given to trying to change such choice. Politicians have made a big thing about new-build [Hope, 2016]. To them, housing supply is all about building new houses; it is hardly ever seen as being about the better use of existing housing stock. In order to get supply anywhere near the level of demand for houses, in England today, the solutions are always stated as being about building new homes. Only the more radical politicians give credence to the idea that the supply of housing might also include a wider set of options.
Our notion of affordability, in housing is important but it is strangled by our servitude to traditional ideas – more so now than it was in the previous century. If people really do want affordable housing, I would argue, then they should change their stereotypical ideas about what constitutes a home and the materials used in house-building. In any case ‘affordability’ is a relative concept; it is not just about the price at which houses are offered for sale – it is also about how much money people have to pay for them. Can people afford to buy new houses?

Well, certainly not in London. House prices vary considerably around the UK (as do incomes) and what is affordable in one region might well be too expensive in another. People cannot easily move from a high-price area to one where houses are cheaper, any more then they can easily chase after higher paid jobs in other parts of the country.  Newly elected Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has a policy on housing and in it he begins by saying ‘A secure home is the foundation of a happy life and decent housing for all is the foundation of the good society. For too many people their housing is not a source of security, but a cause for anxiety’ [Corbyn, 2015]. I pick this out, not because I am a fan of this politician, but because he has a neat way of saying things that I too happen to believe, such as, the above quotation. I go some of the way with him but when I read ‘The housing crisis cannot just be solved by building more homes, although this is a major issue that needs to be tackled. It is more complex than that: to tackle the housing crisis we also need to address problems of inequality, regional disparities of income and wealth, taxation policy, the labour market, our social security system and planning regulations’ I begin to part company with him. As I argue in this section, there is a need for joined-up policies but it is a matter for debate just how many policies need to be joined up to make a housing position that is credible and effective. It will take many decades to make an impact on inequality and disparities in wealth and income. These issues referred to by Corbyn are large-scale issues that are important but housing is something that people need today and demands immediate actions that cannot wait for a fairer society to develop. Corbyn goes on to set out a raft of practical measures that will, in his view, solve the housing crisis to which he refers. The challenge that confronts policy makers in housing is which policies can, and should, be joined together to create an effective approach (or strategy) to housing supply. Is it some of these issues that I now go on to discuss.

Housing is the key to everything

If you do not have a home, you cannot get a job. If you do not have a suitable home, you might find it difficult to marry and start a family. Most people who are homeless are also likely to be unemployed. It’s not just a question of being homeless. Often the problem is more about inappropriate housing and unsuitable accommodation and these can be pivoted on poor employment. Energy poverty rides on the back of inappropriate housing; people who live in accommodation that is not suitable are likely to suffer from high energy costs, which will lead either to inadequate heating or people failing to feed themselves properly, in order to keep up with the demands of energy suppliers. Poorly built houses are also likely to suffer from damp, drafts and lack of insulation. This is more likely to be typical of ageing housing stock. Modern housing has to conform to higher standards of building regulations.
Policy requires us to look at housing and employment in one single package; the two things are closely inter-related and you cannot deal with one without, at the same time, addressing the other. I will argue, below, that government policy makers are failing to do this. A population that achieves optimal levels of employment requires optimal levels of housing; that is my position but I fail to see this reflected in the manifestos of political parties or in the policies being issued by the government. Joined-up policies are not characteristic of today’s breed of politicians. This goes some way to explaining why the basis for home ownership or occupation is changing so much. When David Cameron said that he wanted to sweep away planning rules requiring the construction of affordable homes, in favour of first time buyers, did he stop to think what the employment requirements would be for that? The kind of jobs that would be needed to support loans for first-time buyers was not mentioned in his speech to the 2015 Conservative conference. It is pointless planning to build thousands of starter homes for a market that does not have the employment prospects needed for sustainable access to these markets. Coming up with a credible package would need alignments between employment and wages, mortgage lending and construction incentives. Meeting housing need targets does not depend on whether it is about buying or renting or any other form of tenure; it is all about how the employment economy either enables or hinders access to the finances needed for any kind of accommodation. We can only get to grips with the housing crisis once we have locked access to housing into access to jobs and have synchronised both of them. Part of this process involves working with income sectors, seeing how lower-income or middle-income families will fare as homes and jobs are brought together.

Renting a home

It is said that we need 250,000 new homes if we are to keep up with housing demand, [de Castella, 2015]. In that context what do we mean by ‘new?’ Do we mean new build or do we mean more supply of housing stock of all kinds. Around four million people are now renting their homes [Owen, 2014]. In many continental countries, renting is the standard tenancy. Now that house-ownership is so difficult to achieve in England, renting looks like it will become the most frequent approach to securing accommodation. For policy makers, the key issue is one of renting not being as secure, for tenants, as it ought to be.

New residential tenancies had increased 2.5% in the first month of 2015; ‘The figures show the highest growth occurring in the East Midlands, Scotland and East Anglia with rents rising 6.2%, 5.7% and 5% respectively.’ Furthermore, ‘the average rent in the UK is now £889, compared to £867 at the end of 2014, and £799 in January 2014’ [Property Wire, 2015]. This is still more than the equivalent monthly mortgage repayment. Lewis Dean said that ‘rental prices of homes in England and Wales have grown more than house prices for the first time in two years. Rents across England and Wales reached a new record high at £789 in June, 1.4% higher than the £778 recorded in May and up 5.6% since June 2014. The hike means last month was the first since July 2013 where rents rose more quickly than house prices for comparable properties, with this annual rate of house price growth standing at 4.5% over the 12 months ending June 2015.’ [Dean, 2015] Which is rather startling, given that economists are predicting that house prices will rise dramatically in the years ahead.

Since the crash of 2008, availability of residential mortgages has declined; the effect of this is that young people have either continued to live with their parents or have moved into rented accommodation. Added to this, a substantial number of older people have left large family homes and transferred to the rented sector. Renting a house or flat was no longer the preserve of students and people living in an area for a short while. A shortage of new housing has also fuelled this trend. The demand for rented accommodation has grown and this has led to an increase in prices, so much so, that the price of renting has increased faster than house prices. What dogs prospective renters is the requirement to provide a deposit. The majority of rents demand that a tenant must pay a deposit to cover fixtures and fittings. On top of this deposit (which is supposed to be refundable at the end of the tenancy) monthly rents must be paid in advance. It is common for landlords to ask for one months rent in advance. The law requires deposits to be lodged with a tenancy deposit scheme that is backed by the government [Government website, 2015].

If monthly rental payments are higher than for equivalent mortgage repayments, the impact on disposable income can be seen straight away. Disposable income for a large section of the population has been decreasing as accommodation overheads have gone up, both for rents, mortgage repayments and inflated energy costs. This has an impact on the economy as a whole; spending on retail products is lower than it might be, dampening demand and strangling the purchase of goods and services.
Following the general election of 2015, lending for housing purchase increased by nearly thirty percent. That sounds like good news, but the picture is far from optimistic. After declining for a long time, applications for mortgages have picked up. According to the Valuations Office Agency, ‘the median rent recorded between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015 in England was £600’ [Valuations Office Agency, 2015]; still more than the median mortgage repayment.

Predictions of the trends in renting suggest that it will continue to rise and to be a major method of securing accommodation for the foreseeable future. The main problem with this is that renting, in this country, is far from secure. The legal rights of tenants who rent their housing is complicated. If renting is to become the norm for a large sector of the housing market, something needs to be done about security of tenure. Linsey Hanley has argued that ‘There is nothing wrong with long-term renting per se: it’s the norm in most European countries, where the law tends to favour tenants. And so it should: a tenant’s need for secure shelter takes moral precedence over a landlord’s right to safeguard his income’ [Hanley, 2015]. This gets to the nub of the renting issue – that if the Government is to protect housing consumers then it must provide them with security of tenure and sort out the complex mess of legal rights that thwarts the ability of renters to stay in their homes.

As the Civitas report acknowledged, there are a lot of people who are denied access to other housing options, who are dependent on renting but their security of tenure is inadequate, under current law, and something needs to be done about this. The Civitas report argued that ‘A new regulatory framework should be considered that would curb future rent growth and improve security for tenants. This should include indefinite tenancies within which rents (freely negotiated at the outset between landlord and tenant) would only be allowed to rise in line with a measure of inflation’ [Civitas 2015].
The rented sector of housing is not just about private individuals renting out properties; in many large cities apartment blocks are owned by property developers and speculators, drawn into this area of investment by the strong demand for rents and the profits that can be achieved from renting. The tenants rent through local agents and have no relationship with these remote absentee landlords – most of which are anonymous companies often located far away from the properties they control. In the view of the Civitas report ‘In order to encourage investment in new housing, new-build properties would be exempt from this regulation, but landlords would be encouraged to enter voluntary longer-term arrangements with tenants where this is mutually attractive. Institutional investors might be particularly receptive to such a framework’ [Civitas 2015].

The problem facing law-makers, and those who drive political policy, is that they have to achieve a balance between security of tenure for residents and enabling investment in the rented sector for landlords. Moving the balance of rights and responsibilities too far in favour of tenants could deter landlords from bringing new properties into the market or even invite them to move their investments away from housing to other sources of profit. Security of tenure (or lack of it) can be a problem for those who cannot afford to buy houses; in many cases people have no other choice than to rent accommodation simply because they do not have the funds for a deposit on a house or cannot secure a suitable loan for the purchase. The terms and conditions of rented tenancies are often set to deal with problems, such as people who fail to pay their rent or move out without giving adequate notice. In my view, this is a mistake and the terms of rental agreements should address the basic principles of letting to responsible customers and leave it up to the law to sort out situations that go wrong. Giving tenants security is important because flats and houses are not just property – they are homes. Having a secure home is important to people’s health and wellbeing. It is part of a family’s (or individual’s) general security and getting the balance right should be the goal of both landlords and government policy and legislation.
This issue is brought into focus by the measure, announced by The Chancellor, in his summer budget (of 2015), that taxation benefits on buy to let are to be changed. The aim of the measure was to make taxation fairer for individual residential home owners. George Osborne said that his aim was to create a more level playing field between those buying a home to let and those who are buying a place to live in. Be that as it may, analysts and commentators are saying that the disadvantages of this measure will outweigh any benefits that it might confer; some maintain that the effect of the measure will be to raise rental levels and reduce the supply of accommodation. I examine the impact of the measure in my blog [ibid]. The Chancellor had added three cent to stamp duty on buy to let and second homes. This does not apply to properties of up to £40,000 in value. Landlords also face higher taxes on their rental income [This is money, 12th January 2016].

De-regulation of the housing market damages the long-term prospects for tenants and this can have a knock-on effect on the economy generally. Policy makers need to grapple with the relationship between jobs and homes and ensure that people have access to accommodation that offers them security of tenure. Lenders, such as banks and credit companies, do not look favourably on people with multiple addresses, who have moved house many times. They prefer clients who have lived at their current address for four years or more – not always easy to achieve when security of tenure is inadequate. Renters tend to be more mobile than house holders and can clock up several addresses in a relatively short period of time (staying put in one place for an average of 3.5 years.) Even if we discount students (who rent homes whilst they are studying and then move on when they get a job elsewhere) renters move more frequently than house-owners.

Government policy-makers are faced with a variety of tenures; when it comes to forging policy to do with security of tenure, they have to fit it into social housing, council housing, some other less common forms of tenure, as well as the private rented sector. Such policies are subject to moral and ethnic debates that focus on the rights of individuals to security; there is nothing wrong with that but governments are more likely to be concerned with the financial and commercial consequences of the law. Even so, individuals are worried about their security rather than the profitability of property speculation.

For economists there are several issues in all this. The percentage of income that goes into providing somewhere to live (and energy to run it) is a factor determining the outcome of disposable income. The national economy relies on strong consumer demand for products, food and domestic retail consumption. Increasing housing costs are not good for the economy as whole. The strength of the economy has always seen employment rates as being a key factor. Economists are beginning to realise that the cost of housing is a key factor in determining the strength of consumer demand. Housing costs are nearly always the biggest single expense for families and individuals and rising accommodation costs hold down consumer demand for goods and services in the domestic sector. This is true both for mortgages and rents and for energy costs. Building a strong economy involves joining up policies that affect employment, housing and transport.

Housing and employment

Most people in this country need two things: somewhere to live and a job to pay for it. There is a reciprocal relationship between housing and employment. People need a home in order to get and hold down a job; people need jobs in order to be able to fund a home and meet their energy bills. People are locked into this ‘catch22’ cycle of needing two things at once. This works well when times are good but when people lose their job or their homes are put in jeopardy, they find themselves in trouble.

If we are to have policies that work, we must be able to make housing and employment work together in a way that reinforces them both. So, how does the housing market relate to employment? What proportion of the labour market can afford housing?

What people are being paid relates directly to the type of housing they can access. Those with well-paid jobs, that have long-term prospects, will be able to attract mortgages. Mortgage providers are less keen to fund those whose jobs are short-term or occasional – such as those on zero hours contracts. It is not always the level of pay that gives access to mortgages – it is more to do with the long-term prospects for continued employment that will fund a mortgage over its term (typically 25 years.) People who are on zero hour contracts are not good prospects for mortgage providers. Precarious employment arrangements are not good for home-ownership and access to mortgages and leases.

Despite the fact that the UK has a record level of employment – the best since 1971 – home ownership is as low as it was in the 1970s. Can government policies be synchronised so that there is both full employment and a strong supply of housing? Traditional home owners (in terms of their employment status) are becoming a smaller proportion of the labour market. It would be wrong however for policy makers to assume that they need only provide good employment to sort out home ownership and accommodation. You cannot buy security of tenure in the rented sector if it does not exist. You cannot get a mortgage if your income and job prospects are inadequate.

People who have to survive on precarious jobs are finding it more and more difficult to gain access to suitable housing. The Labour Party’s pre-election headlines (of 2015) placed emphasis on increasing the supply of new build housing; but if they do not have synchronised policies for employment, too few people who will be able to buy into that housing and the policy will fail. What people need, to access new-build housing, are jobs that offer long term stability and a predictable income. New build houses are more difficult to secure than rented properties or other forms of accommodation tenure. In some respects new building housing is not the answer – it is actually just part of the problem.

Around 15% of the labour force is now self-employed. There has been a huge increase in people gaining their primary income from a small business. ‘Nowadays, although it is not impossible for someone who is self-employed to secure a mortgage, it can certainly be a difficult process because lenders are far less willing to take what they see as a risk on those with a ‘non-standard’ income’, claims one website [Thisismoney, 2015]. Lenders want to see a history of business success and to be convinced that this will continue over the life of the loan. That immediately places people into age categories. With our ageing population, more and more older people are economically inactive and securing the best (most secure) accommodation is very difficult for people who do not have a secure income. Pensioners might be able to show that their income is secure but, if they are over 55, they will still find it difficult to get mortgages. Lenders are reluctant to provide housing-related loans over short periods.

In 1971, half the population was renting and the other half owned their homes. The number of people in work is now at its highest level since 1971. What proportion of employed people can afford access to housing? We hear a lot about the difficulties that people have in securing a mortgage, especially for those aged 20 to 25. These might be people who are in work but the kind of earnings they have, does not always give them access to housing. If we now have record numbers of people in housing, why are so many not able to get a mortgage or cannot afford to rent suitable homes?

Guy Standing has written about The Precariat, a social class formed by people suffering from ‘precarity’, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security [Standing, 2011]. Many of these are people whose income is precariously based on things like zero-hours contracts. These are casual workers who lack a long-term reliable income, the kind of income which would allow them to secure permanent housing. If your job cannot be relied on to provide you with enough money over a long enough period of time, then you are likely to have difficulties in accessing the kind of housing you desire. Housing requires permanent employment, a stable income over a long period and a level of income that will convince mortgage-providers and people who lease or rent apartments that you are a reasonably safe bet. Zero-hours contracts might offer a handy fix for some people, for some of the time, but in the long term they create disadvantage in terms of housing.

With the growth in unreliable employment and more risky self employment, gaining access to secure accommodation is presenting increasing difficulties. If the retirement age is increased beyond its current levels, this will also have a knock-on effect on housing. The Government’s commitment to increasing the level of the national wage, it is said, will result in large numbers of small businesses failing, including those that are self employed and micro-enterprises [Inman, 2015] That bodes badly for the housing market; mortgage defaults will increase dramatically and the overall level of personal debt will soar. The success of wage increases will be offset by the unintended consequences of failure to meet housing costs. We all thought that the national wage was a good thing; perhaps now we can see its unintended consequences we will have to think again.

Housing and unemployment

Older people are caught in traps with their existing mortgages and their inability to secure loans to fund a settled and secure old age. Older people are in the best position if they have equity locked up in an existing property that they own. However, many wish to pass on their homes to their children, who might find it either difficult or impossible to obtain a mortgage of their own. Where someone has substantial savings, they can offer a suitable level of deposit to secure a mortgage or a lease. Those aged over 60 are in particular trouble because they cannot provide the appropriate length of time needed to pay back a loan. ‘With less time to make the repayments than someone twenty or thirty years younger, the lender will need to know that you will have a sufficient income in retirement to be able to make the repayments and cover the term of the mortgage’ [Sosmart, 2015]. There is evidence that a variety of brokers are now setting out to cater for borrowers aged 55 or over, who do not wish to re-mortgage their existing properties [Eccles 2014] ‘Around 350,000 over 65s still have a home loan according to the Office for National Statistics – and over the next decade the Financial Conduct Authority says 40,000 retired people a year will see deals come to an end so they will have to re-mortgage or repay any remaining debt. With the average mortgage in retirement worth around £30,000 and some older people determined to trade up, not down, the challenges for borrowers are intense’ explains one website [Thisismoney 2015.] Older borrowers, aged 60 or more, find it difficult to secure loans for housing but it is not impossible, however difficult it might be. The additional problem they face is that their initial repayments might be higher than would the case with younger people, because older people have less time to clear the debt. Those aged 65 might be lucky enough to borrow over a 15 or 20 year term. There are few lenders willing to deal with people who are at or have passed retirement age. If the age of retirement is to go up, there will have to be changes to the way that funds are lent for house purchases or leases. This type of borrowing will be sensitive to the government’s long-term plans for state pensions. Even those with private pensions are by no means safe, given the uncertain future of their funds. Raising the retirement age purely for employment reasons will have unintended consequences for housing and hence the need for joined-up policies. Measures such as the national wage and raising of the retirement age need to followed through to see what will be their likely consequences for housing and consumer demand. These could prove to be deflationary measures.

Developing policy concerned with the housing needs of older people is not easy. For one thing, life-expectancy and health risks change, the older the age of the person. Where older people have an existing property, which they own or on which there is an outstanding debt, the options are there, however daunting they might be. But older people with no existing property ownership are in a dire position. Unless their circumstances can be catered for we will see the return of a level of poverty and homelessness in our ageing population that has not been witnessed since Victorian times.

Employment, these days, is far more varied than it ever has been. Gone is the age of the life-time, permanent career. Getting a secure, full-time job with a good salary is increasingly difficult and the labour market is now geared to younger people; employment for people over 50 is a real challenge. Housing choices are dependent on income and if you can’t find paid work and self employment is not an option, then you might be in a precarious position. Jobs might well be available elsewhere but if you cannot afford to move to access those jobs, then you are stuck. Large numbers of people are commuting long distances in order to get jobs not available in their home localities. Older people find it difficult to move because they are tied to the localities in which their dependants live and the families on who they are dependent. Economic migration within the UK is not an easy option for those aged 60 and over.

Employment and transport

Employment is often dependent on transport. Some policy markers have added transport into the housing/employment equation. Some have gone on to put this into a regional context. We can look at England as a whole but when you regionalise the equation, there are areas of the country that need special attention. Some local authorities have developed policies that address the issue of the supply of land as being the key to dealing with meeting housing needs. Policy-making therefore has to balance two sets of supplies: jobs and homes. This approach also needs to consider travel to work areas – the ability of people with jobs to travel to work, to areas away from their homes. This is where transport comes in – if the supply of transport lags behind the supply of housing and the availability of jobs (within a travel-to-work area) then people are going find it difficult to get housing within a reasonable distance of where they want to work. The choice of where to live, for the majority of families, dictates where their work places can be. They have to take into account their relatives (particularly dependants and those on whom they depend) and access to schools and heath care, if they have specific needs in that respect.

Formulating housing policy is a non-starter if not related to employment and education and, I would argue, transport. Joined up policies are the most likely to be credible and effective because they pull together these variables that all depend on each other. If we want our housing policy to succeed we have to make sure that the labour market has a sufficient proportion of employed people who have the kind of income that is required for stable home ownership (whether via mortgages, leases or tenancies.) The more people whose jobs fall into the short-term, precarious, end of the labour market, the more difficult it is going to be to have a robust housing policy. Allowing employers to determine the market for jobs is bad for the economy; it is free-market-ism of the worst kind. Allowing more and more employers to indulge in short-term and zero-hours contracts is also harmful for the economy as a whole. Developing key policies in isolation from each other is a practice that cannot join up jobs, homes, education and transport and for that reason it does the country no good at all. Policies that join up employment, transport and housing supply and more likely to result in a strong economy, than those that are developed piecemeal.

I will now look at some of the issues that affect the supply of housing stock, how we can make better use of land and the possible options for addressing the short-fall in housing supply.

References

Contents of the entire work

Further reading

Bricks and motar as the basis of housing. Article in Arts in Leicester magazine, April 2015.

Part 1 of this series: Policy, practice and history

Part 2: Bricks and mortar

Information Online

On-line information systems:

current trends and future prospects

This paper summarises current approaches to the electronic distribution of information and looks ahead to where things might be going in the future.
This was written as a contribution to the CivicNet conference in 1997.

The current situation

Public information, as far as the Internet is concerned, tends to be passive – i.e. you have to go out and get it. Libraries are passive – you have to go there to find the books and take them out. Electronic information services give more scope for being proactive – like TV news broadcasts, they pump the content out to the user. Some electronic ticker-tape services present a constant flow of news, others are more episodic. The WWW requires the user to search for the desired content and then to type in a URL or link from the results of a search, get into the page, browse through the site, mark the page to get back to it again.

Newsgroups again are passive and required the users to go into them and browse. List servers however are proactive in that they fire e-mails at the users, usually in daily batches but some are more frequent.

Kiosks provide information at the touch of a screen – are always up and running and only require the users to be in the same place as they are to present their content. Some companies provide TV video to customers – like those queuing at the post office. They run their content on looped video tape or CD ROM.

The Internet

The Internet is a world-wide public information system. One of its biggest components is the World Wide Web. The Internet is a network of several million computers all linked together via the world’s telephone and telecommunications links (including the high capacity ISDN lines). Information travels from one computer to another via the same telephone lines as the spoken word and by special channels called backbones. The Internet provides the capability of sending information, electronic mail, transfer of computers files and other electronic data packages.

World Wide Web

The web is a collection of some four million pages of information. A lot of these are linked together where there is related information and many of them are indexed in search engines. By typing keywords into these search engines, these web pages can be located. Web pages can present text, in full colour, still images, moving images and sounds (including speech and music). A variety of functions can be built into web pages such as the ability to send e-mail back to the authors, to fill in and send forms, purchase good or make orders of other kinds.

Intranets

Sometimes organisations or groups want systems that are geared to their needs and will create intra-nets. These use similar technologies to the Internet and also involve linking together networks of computers, but they are limited to defined computers and users who are admitted to the system.

Current methods of distribution

There a several standard packages for transferring information on the Internet. One of the oldest methods is the electronic bulletin board. This enables simple text to be posted and browsed and is usually available to anyone who finds that particular bulletin board. Similar to these are the newsgroups (Usenet groups) on the Internet. There are probably around about 15,000 of these and they tend to be grouped together by broad subject areas. Text is posted to the group and everyone else can read it. Postings need to be read on a regular basis. Most newsgroups can be read using a web browser or by specialised news group readers.

A new method emerging is what are push clients. These send information to the user, as opposed to news groups which you have to go to read. Push clients make information appear on your computer screen in a variety of ways.
Somewhere, between passive newsgroups and highly dynamic push clients, live the list servers. These are systems to which the user subscribes and which send e-mail like postings to the user’s e-mail address box. These postings are written by the other subscribers to that list or by people who are using the list to push out information. The list servers are like electronic mailing lists. Lists can have any number of subscribers and some have hundreds of subscribers. The software needed is an e-mail reader. By and large only simple unformatted text can be sent although a more recently generation of e-mail packages can now handle colour, fonts and text emphasis, like most word processors.

Where the technology seems to be heading in the future

One important development in the field of public information is digital TV. This is a broadcast media which allows TV pictures to be transmitted in a digital format rather than the analogue format we are currently using for most of what we watch on the TV. The significance of digital TV is that a lot of it is likely to be interactive, allow the users to feedback information, have a control over the content of what is being broadcast.

What I think we will see is a convergence of the Internet with broadcast media. The Internet has become increasingly multi-media. It is likely that the world wide web or something like it will be broadcast in the same way that TV pictures are broadcast and will go out over high band width channels either by satellite or optic cable. But the user will have the same level of selection, control and feedback as people current have on the Internet.
The world wide web is still a rather text-based collected of pages even though the technology exists to create totally multimedia web sites. The web can deliver video, sound and three-dimensional images in full colour but this requires to user to have high specification multi-media computing equipment. This is becoming more common.

However, I think there will be major changes in the hardware. the most common piece of electronic equipment in the world is the television. I think that the Internet will migrate over to TV and will put much of the processing power of a standard PC into the television and give people something like the existing remote control pad to navigate around the content. There might be an optional keyboard for those who feel they want it. But for the domestic users, they want to buy a TV and then be able to use the one box for everything – leisure, domestic information, education and games. It is possible that the same equipment will also be integrated with telephone – the Internet phone – and e-mail – ability to send text over the telephone network.

Broadcast media at national or European level might also be complemented by local networks – providing much more localised content rather like local radio does now. This is where the future of the community network lies. Community Networks (CNs) started out on the Internet, allowing small geographic communities to connect together. As the technical specification of the CNs increases, it is likely that they will merge into local broadcasting and information services. Other CNs will serve communities of interest rather geographical communities and this already happens a lot on the Internet. There is little difference between the two: a geographical community is a community of interest where people share information about their locality.

Community Networks and work

Work is about economic, educational or social activities. Being employed, having a job is part of work but so is being self employed, long term volunteering, studying for a qualification. Work has a variety of forms not just or only economic. Hence in the future we need not be concerned with people who are employed or unemployed – that is just a technicality. Most employed people will be on short term contracts, probably working for one or more employers. More and more people will work flexibly so that the public policy concern is about access to work – having the skills to do work, ensuring that there are effective skills registers (equivalent to yesterday’s employment exchanges or job centres), that people who wish to work have access to training, skills enhancement and the means of production – more and more of which needs to be either in the public sector or publicly available from commercial suppliers. As we move more and more into the information age, the means of production will be distributed on public infrastructures. In industrial societies capital was located in places – factories. The capital of the information age is software and that we be accessed through telecommunications channels.

In the past, work was limited by location: people went to work, they traveling from their homes to their factories, workshops, offices. They still have to do this in large numbers but the world has witnessed a growth in remote working or work that is mobile and not dependent on location. Teleworkers now work at home either as small businesses or employees. Home workers using telecommunications as an aid to their work.

In the past, the exchange or transfer of information was slow compared to today’s capacity for fast (almost instantaneous) communication of information and data. There is a danger of information overload and people need to develop information management skills from school age – start teaching kids information skills in primary schools and updating those skills goes on throughout life. I’m offering courses in effective communications and information management skills for people working in charities, community groups and teleworkers. They are proving to be popular.

In the past, the over-riding adage was ‘it is not what you know but who you know that counts.’ Now, in the information age, the converse it true: it very much is what you know that matters. And it’s about know where to find things out, how to get information, where to put information that make people effective communicators.

So, community networks supply the infrastructures for a range of social, political and economic functions – work, leisure, civic activities, voluntary work and activism, education, training, enterprise, family history, LETS schemes, community banking, credit unions, kids clubs…  a great long list of things that become possible once the technologies are made available.

Networks versus stand alone tools

The old work place was a location with tools on site. The trend now is towards networks where the tools are available in the network or are held centrally. The power of the computer is in the network. There is a battle going on between those who want to build ever more powerful stand alone computers and those who want to put all the processing power and tool kits into the networks so that all the user needs is a simple devise for getting into the network and working on-line.

I think the networkers will win. I think that desk top computers will amalgamate with televisions as far as the domestic user is concerned but that there will be a growing emphasis on the power of the network and that people will need computers that will open up the network and provide its facilities. The computer on our desk will need relatively little power.

The old tool box was one that houses tools. The new tool box is one that opens the door to tools that are distributed around a network and that are picked up and used when needed and then put back when that task has been completed.

The commercial challenge for software houses is that traditionally they have relied on selling large numbers of free-standing packages – or site licences. Now a lot of software is available over the Internet with people paying a registration fee to download it and use it. A new approach is for the software package to be houses on a central server and for a number of users to dial in and use it. But that is not any different from a network (LAN) server providing software to clients.

More and more people are working flexibly – from home – from other offices – mobile workers working from hotel rooms. People have begun to carry laptops around but they tend to be more expensive than desk tops. I favour the idea of the Network Computer – with lots of them being publicly available, in Libraries, in schools, colleges, community centres – places where people might want to work in the public arena and with the servers being dialled up from home. Computing power in the network and widely available through relatively cheap hardware and no personal software costs. Community printer banks mean people can get hard copy printed from high quality, high capacity machines and delivered to them by couriers.

Trevor Locke,  © 2nd June 1997

LeicestershireTeleworking

Teleworking today and tomorrow

A talk given by
Trevor Locke, Chairman of Telenet
at John Storer House, Loughborough, on Thursday 5th February 1998.

Summary

Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire and in Europe

What teleworkers do

Nuts and bolts of being a teleworker

How they find work

Future prospects for teleworking in the year 2000

Four year of Telenet in Leicestershire

The impact of the Internet on teleworking

Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire

Teleworkers are people who work mostly at home or from home. OK in some cases they work from a small office but the key factor is that they work for clients who are some distance away – hence the ‘tele’ in telework.
Employees of companies are now [1998] more likely to spend some time working at home and on a more regular basis. Telework is becoming accepted as one of a number of flexible working practices available to large employers.
Traffic congestion is a factor in encouraging the growth of teleworking. Commuting has become a costly practice, both in time and expenses. Traffic congestion is increasing, although here in Leicester the problem is not a very great one. The City is about average for ancient Midlands cities in regard to congestion at peak hours. Parking capacity certainly is fully stretched but not necessarily overburdened. The road network is saturated at peak hours due to single car commuters but there is a computerised parking system. The commuting flow can be traced back to several large employers, most notably the City Council itself, the Inland revenue, the Hospitals, Universities and colleges.

Teleworking is for many firms an option for some white-collar workers on an ad hoc basis (a couple of days a week). LCC does have a home working policy whereby staff who are able to do so may work at home if they need to but the practice is not activity encouraged.

The City Council activity encourages staff to walk, cycle and use public transport. The development of the Town Hall Square Cycle Centre is an example of this as are the building of the cycle routes and bus routes. Much more could be done to encourage home working and this could further reduce regular traffic flows by up to 10 per cent.

Self employment

Most of the teleworkers who join the TCA (the national body for teleworkers) are self-employed and working from home. They tend to be white-collar specialists although there are also a large number of people who are home workers who might have a computer and might use it for work but they are not computing specialists – this is however a point where teleworking merges in with the general field of small business and self employment. Only a small number of teleworkers actually use a computer as their main piece of working capital – e.g. programmers, translators and web authors. Most teleworkers use a computer for word processing, accounts, some database work etc.

Teleworking is on the increase right across Europe and teleworkers are now more able to engage in collaborative projects with other teleworkers.
The Internet and competition amongst telecoms providers has meant that we have seen a decrease in telecommunications costs and an increase in the efficiency of telecoms media.

What do teleworkers do?

Some have described teleworkers as knowledge workers – collecting, repackaging and redistributing knowledge – but in many ways this sounds too vague. Let’s look at the list in Telwebsite: Electronic engineer, Software developer, Secretarial Services, Administration, Engineering consultancy, IT Consultant, Writer, Graphics designer, Journalist, Technical author, Multimedia author, Market researcher, Distance learning consultancy, Technical illustrator, Career management adviser, Psychometric tester, Tax adviser, Book keeper, Trainer.

There are a lot of people who have a computer at home, know how to do a bit on it and then are willing to take on any kind of assignment – loads of general administrators. Some are very vague on what they can do but are full of willingness and enthusiasm. Some have a yen to get into business and end up in those awful MLM schemes. Some just try to sell what ever they can over the phone.

The nuts and bolts of being a teleworker

Over the last four years I have tried to boil down the practice of being a teleworker to certain crucial elements:

(a) Working at home

For me teleworking is about being a home worker – working from home rather than at home – or both. I used to be out of the house most days in the week at one time – now I am spending four out of five days a week at home. That presents it own challenges – the fact that I am alone in the house all day. The fact that the office is in the home and if I cant find anything better to do I will work. I keep funny hours – common to work up to 2 in the morning and fall asleep in the last afternoon. Having two rooms solely devoted to office space is a source of friction.

(b) Finding work

I have multiple clients – up to 10 at any one time. I have constantly to be alert to new customers and I have to be all things at once – salesman, manager, operative, book-keeper.

I don’t make enough profit to employ secretaries, book keepers and salesmen though I ought to if I am to maximise the time I spend managing the business. One day I will get to that break point where I can. But I am beginning to work with other teleworkers – I am not so much a lone star as I used to be. That is very important – being able to find other people to work with and to share enterprise with them. I now have half a dozen associates – some in Leicester – one in the Netherlands. I find I am working with individuals and with larger companies.

(c) Doing the work

The biggest challenge is just shifting the vast pile of work that is always present. Having to keep plates spinning. Having to keep a clear sense of priorities – sadly, I have to say, this does always happen. I tend to do easy work in order to avoid the challenge of the really important and difficult stuff. When you work on your own you have to be able to engage in time management because you do not have anyone on your back tell you what to do.

How do teleworkers find work?

With great difficulty! If a teleworking is a generalist – administrator – portfolio worker – they have to do a lot of advertising. Marketing is all important. Yet a lot of work comes by word of mouth. Cross-fertilisation between clients.
You have to have good communications – customers won’t bother to find you if they can’t get an answer to their phone call. Some teleworkers end up working for agencies because it’s easier – marketing takes time and money.

Future prospects

Teleworking will continue to become easier and will be a greater possibility for more and more white-collar workers. House builders are just beginning to realise that people are working at home and are building houses with offices or studies.

Large companies are beginning to understand the benefits for teleworking. They are training managers to manage outputs. People are moving into the countryside out of the cities – this is a topic for the Government at a time when the Green Belt is under stress.

This only exacerbates commuting pressures and costs. Soon it will be cheaper to work at home because of the high cost of car ownership and travel. More student will spend more time studying at home and that will begin to affect school age children.

Four Years of Telenet

We begin with the East Midlands and have focused down on the county. That is more realistic. But the constant pressures of having to organise meetings is a burden for committee members who are very with their work.

We need to know how many of our members are on the Internet. I wonder if it feasible to run the Association for people who are not on the Internet. The sheer cost of doing mailings in time and postage is too great. E-mail and web pages cost so little – they are so easy to operate – there are none of the overheads of stuffing envelopes – doing printing – licking stamps. Perhaps the time has come to say no more paper based mailings. Do we actually need to meet together face to face.

Well many of us do enjoy seeing each other. I would suggest that we need the chance to meet face-to-face but they the bulk of association activities can be done over Internet and we would achieve more if we decided to go down that route. That might lead us to opening up our membership – to see Telenet as a general vehicle for anyone who is a regular work-related user of the Internet. But perhaps that is putting the cart before the horse.

It would be a loss if there was no longer a body to represent the interests of teleworkers, to promote teleworking, to give talks on the subject, to give advice to people who want to do this.

The impact of the Internet on teleworking

There is no doubt in my mind that the Internet has revolutionised teleworking. It has become a standard tool of the trade. It has opened up endless possibilities. It would be impossible to go back to being without it. Just as we would not want to return to manual typewriters or to having to send all communications by postal services. Once we enjoy a technological development there is no going back. But where are we going forward? What technological advances lie ahead of us?

Document created 6/2/98 © Trevor Locke 1998

NetactivismParticipation

Participation, inclusion, exclusion and netactivism:

How the Internet invents new forms of democratic activity.

by Trevor Locke

Community Networks are developing in the UK, just as they have developed in North America and other parts of Europe. They represent an important departure in the provision of community access to information, telecommunications and IT resources.

Community Networks are described as being people-oriented and place-focussed. In the criteria set by the co-ordinating body UK Communities Online, such networks are characterised by some or all of these features:

  • They offer a diverse range of information – not just ‘official’ material.

  • They seek to involve all sectors of the community in their production and consumption.

  • The offer and encourage some level of interaction, from e-mail feed back through to full-scale conferencing.

Such networks can be run by a local charity or association, a regeneration agency, a private individual or by multiple partners. They often provide training and support to users, free public access through a wide range of venues (such as libraries or community centres) [http://www.communities.org.uk].

It is true that communities of interest can and do exist on the Internet as well as naturally in society. UK Communities Online has oriented itself to geographically bounded communities, even though it recognises that communities of interest will co-exist with these networks. Hence, it regards electronic networks as arising from pre-existing social and economic relationships and are part of the development and regeneration of geographical areas and their communities.

Debbie Ellen has formulated a Charter for Community Internets in which she sets out a number of principles or values that characterise community networks. One of these principles is that of inclusion:

commitment to the principle of social inclusion in the ‘information society’ for all (learn from each other networks that have found ways of providing access to the less well educated elderly people afraid of or uncomfortable with the technology, people on low incomes who cannot afford the hardware..) [Ellen, 1997 http://www.comunities.org.uk%5D

A principle often enshrined by these networks is freedom of access. In order to maximise inclusion, the networks are established in such as way as to allow the users to gain access to them at someone else’s expense. Gaining access to the network is about gaining access to the opportunities that flow from it. Freedom of speech is another widely espoused principle associated with the way the networks are set up and operated.

The networks seek to involve all sectors of the community, allow businesses to stand side by side with charities, the arts, recreation clubs and voluntary social services. It is frequently the users who develop the information that is placed on the network. Network developers, as a matter of principle, enable and encourage local groups and individual users to provide information, news and material for the networks. It is felt to be consistent with the general principles of community development that users should feel a sense of ownership for the networks in which they are involved.

Debbie Ellen sees the outcomes of the networks as including

  • improvement of local democracy, through enhancing access to information and improved communication;

  • improving communications between individuals and groups;

  • improving opportunities for work and business;

  • improving input to local planning and development;

  • strengthening self help initiatives;

  • supporting local organisations such as LETS schemes, credit unions, food co-operatives, volunteering or home working [ibid].

David Miller of Sheffield University has considered community information networks (CINs) which serve the needs of users in a specific geographical area. David pointed out that early electronic information systems tended to be based either on video-text or on networked PCs. These were often under the control of some centralised authority with decisions about content, where points of access should be placed and other key characteristics being made by network managers rather than by the users. He argues that the Internet has allowed users to take control of the content and form of the information which they provide.

David distinguishes three types of network (1) those that are initiated and controlled by the local authority, (2) those initiated and developed by the private sector and (3) those initiated and developed by user populations. There are a great many local information systems on the Internet; an index of web sites maintained by the London Borough of Brent includes 262 entries, the same number as the list maintained by the private sector company Tagish (figures taken in August 1997 – new sites are appearing each week). There are many sites in the UK that provide information about local areas and which are maintained by private sector companies, such as local newspapers.

Even though bounded by a geographical area, these are not community networks because they provide only information about a local area. Community Networks are by their nature interactive, multi-functional, user driven and are a function of some broader regime of community development or regeneration. Whilst information provision might well be a key function of many web sites, it is the involvement of local people that determines that an initiative falls into the remit addressed by this article.

The network can be either a specially engineered intranet or one that is provided through the medium of the Internet. Sometimes, the network involves both of these, with gateways allowing access between the two in a controlled manner. Whilst some networks allow completely free access, some require users to register and thereafter logon to the network even if they do not have to pay a registration fee. Sometimes, there are areas on a network that are confined to local users and screened off from unfettered public access.

As Cisler as argued, in an early study of community networks:

Just as electrical systems began to transform urban and small town America a century ago, community computer networks will do so in the 1990’s. The present situation is that few people are aware of the concept of community computing networks, any more than people understood much at all about electricity in 1890. Most of the attention has been paid to national research networks such as the Internet and the commercial consumer services such as Compuserve, GEnie, Prodigy or business services such as MCIMail or Dialcom. On a local level thousands of electronic bulletin boards have been started by dedicated individual hobbyists, small business people, non-profits, corporations, federal agencies, other governments and educational institutions. What is striking about many of these ventures is that each group is relatively unaware of the activities by the other groups. Database providers such as Dialog and Mead Data stay out of the messaging business except for narrow uses; business mail systems are just beginning to make links to bulletin board networks, and the BBS networks are just learning about the Internet. [Community Computer Networks: Building Electronic Greenbelts, Copyright by Steve Cisler, 6/20/93, Apple Library, US]

Community Networks and Political Participation

Community Networks are creating additional platforms for political participation. The network provides a medium through which public and politicians can communicate, exchange information, consult, debate and gauge each other’s opinions on the issues that confront them. It is a medium which replicates the more traditional face to face interactions and exchanges as well as sometimes creating its own unique versions of political interaction.

It does this to the extent that users bring their issues to the network, seek to influence decision-makers who are online, are willing to use its various platforms for debate or are open to being polled on-line. The Internet – with its email and web sites – is too often just an electronic replication of the printed media. Unlike the printed media, the Internet is fully interactive, speeding up the exchange of views and information from say 24 hours to real time (synchronous) communications through chat, video or audio.

Community Networks have grown around the world. Having been created first in North America and flourishing in Europe, they are now firmly established in the UK. As a reflection of their entry to the UK, Communities Online (COL) has been created to co-ordinate, resource and service the needs of this field. COL has an extensive web site of information about community networking [http://www.communities.org.uk].

It aims to bring groups together, to inform the field and to encourage new Community Networks to come into being. Having secured funding it now has a full time Director (David Wilcox) [as at 1997/98] COL provides a list of about 40 Community Networks in the UK and Eire. One of the largest Community Networks in the UK is Hantsweb which has over a quarter of a million pages of information and a county-wide network that provides both a public media of communication and an Internet intranet for the County Council.

Access and inclusion

We know that only a minority of people have access to computers let alone on-line computing. We also know that access to the Internet is rapidly increasing. It was reported that the number of PCs accessing the Internet in the US increased from 15 million in early 1996 to 31 million in the following 12 months. Most Internet access is made from home PCs, although access from work based PCs is growing, increasing by more than 200 per cent since last year [ISOC Forum, 25.7.97, Vo1.3. No.7.]

Whilst it is true that there has been an exponential rate in the growth of the Internet, as measured by the amount of traffic and the volume of web pages, and a considerable increase in the number of people who access it on a regular basis, it is still by no means a mass media. It is limited to social, educational and economic elites.

The issue of access to technology, of inclusion in access and exclusion from it, is an important issue for politicians and educators alike. A recent report bears witness to this. The report (on ensuring social inclusion in the Information Society) was backed by IBM and strongly endorsed community networking as the way forward.

The Net Result, report of the UK National Working Party on Social Inclusion (INSINC), recommended two linked models to ensure social inclusion – local IT community resource centres and community networks. Between them these initiatives provide well-organised information, access, training, and scope for electronic discussion forums. They enable citizens and community groups to become active participants rather than passive receivers of information. The report was launched on June 24 1997 at the headquarters of IBM UK in London. IBM supported the work of the independent working party, together with the Community Development Foundation.

So what role do these local networks play in distributing the opportunities and benefits of new technology? The aim of community networks is to bring the opportunities offered by ICTs and the benefits they confer to people who would not normally be able to gain access. They are oriented to people who are economically excluded from the personal ownership of such technology, to those who would otherwise be excluded from seeking information and from engaging in public communications.

Community networks have a political implications, not least because they enhance and empower access to information. Already local and central government politicians (and local authority officers) have realised the potential of the Internet for communicating with the public and offering them information. It is estimated (in 1997) that over half of all local authorities have some presence on the world wide web.

In Birmingham, the ASSIST project allowed people to discuss Council policy issues, provide a channel of consultation between public and elected members. It enabled people to gather opinion and and to engage in debate in ways that were entirely new. Some Councils have experimented with their financial planning procedures by making Council Tax and spending plan information available on the Internet. Financial information is ideally suited to Internet communication: there is a lot of it, it is almost entirely documentary and textual, it constantly changes and it benefits from graphical presentation.

From the provider side, community networks are seen as enabling citizens to participate more fully in the formal structures of the national and local state. Paying officers to spend time answering public enquiries is expensive – a very resource hungry service. The more that information can be made available on a self service basis, the more cost-effective it becomes. Expensive resources like staff are better deployed on generating new information, implementing policies and evaluating them rather than answering the telephone to tell Joe Public the same thing for the hundredth time.

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Edinburgh Public Information system was reported to have been “where can I get a refuse sack?” Answering that question has probably cost the local authority hundreds of thousands of pounds in staff time. Placing that information on the Internet and on pubic access terminals released valuable resources to deal with other environmental issues.

Access and inclusion will be aided by both the provision of technology and by the intelligent deployment of that technology in the service of the public. Too often information is set out in a dull, uninviting and unimaginative way. Information producers seems to think they can get away with lifeless presentations of text on computers that would never be allowed on more visual media. Fortunately that is beginning to change. Information is becoming more multimedia, more animated, fun to use, and engaging – making it more likely that the user will come back and use the technology again. Paper based media are available to information providers. They have word processors and photocopies and thus the means of production are under their control on a DIY basis. The web however is a technically elite medium requiring specialised resources in its creation and specialised knowledge and skills to deploy those resources. In this regard it is easy for professionals and technicians to gain a powerful hold on the Internet. Fortunately, there is no shortage of people who want to liberate skills and resources for the benefit of the community.

Netactivism

In the US the Rand Corporation completed a massive and seminal study called “Universal access to e-mail: feasibility and societal implications”. The study considered the feasibility of making e-mail as commonplace as the telephone. In the concluding chapter of the report, the authors considered the policy conclusions and made a series of recommendations.

The authors argued:

We find that use of electronic mail is valuable for individuals, for communities, for the practice and spread of democracy, and for the general development of a viable national information infrastructure. Consequently, the nation should support universal access to e-mail through appropriate public and private policies.

and a little latter they observed:

Individuals’ accessibility to e-mail is hampered by increasing income, education, and racial gaps in the availability of computers and access to network services. Some policy remedies appear to be required. These include creative ways to make terminals cheaper; to have them recycled; to provide access in libraries, community centres, and other public venues; and to provide e-mail ‘vouchers’ or support other forms of cross-subsidies.

Their evidence suggested that email played a central role in the promotion and use of electronic networks. Evidence from the town of Blackburg in the US, where Internet access was said to have reached some 60 percent of the residents, suggested that the most popular function to be provided was e-mail. Residents use of email far outstripped that of surfing the World Wide Web.

The next step up from the e-mail is the bulletin board, newsgroup and list-server. For a few months last year I subscribed to the US list-server, Civic Values, provided by the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. It was a very lively and active list, dropping more postings into my mail box each day than I could easily cope with. It was during my subscription to this list that I became aware of the concept of netactivism, primarily through the work of Ed Schwartz, a leading proponent of the application of the Internet to political activism.

Ed’s book Netactivism: How citizens use the Internet was published in 1997. The book described how:

Electronic networks offer new channels for action from the neighborhood to the national level. Now you can quickly find out what the government really does and organize around a cause or around a community using mailing lists, online debates, and websites.

The flyer for the book astutely observed that

this book is not a paean to the Internet. It deals also with the real world outside the Internet. Schwartz takes a hard look at what contemporary political movements need, whether they be about neighborhood empowerment, ecology, children, or electing candidates to public office. The Internet is not an end in itself, but a tool to wield in the constant job of organizing people. This book discusses the roles of mailing lists, Web sites, and community networks, and their relationship to traditional outlets for activism [ibid]

In would concur with these arguments and believe that the Internet is not an end in itself, it is a medium that is used and moulded like all of other media to suit the ends of the users. It does not depersonalise users; people “en-personalise” the Internet.

Future trends and directions

The emergence in the UK of community networking is in itself a key trend that will influence access to information communications and technology. It is very likely that people will learn to use such facilities just as they have learnt to use the telephone, the broadcast media and computers. What drives users is their agendas, their desires, their anger, values, ambition, lust for power, public spirit, commitment to justice and equality, greed …. all the things that have driven humanity for thousands of years. Technology may have changed since the times of the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians and the Incas, but the underlying motivation and behaviour of its users has remained remarkably constant.

Some might argue that the essence of new technology will radically alter the way that people think and act, that there are inherent properties within the technology that will bring about qualitative changes in human relationships and in social differentiation. It is argued that the Internet is a great leveller – it depersonalises and allows anyone to do anything irrespective of their race, age, sex or class. I doubt this. In fact my experience suggests that this is decidedly not so. In a classic joke of the Internet, a dog (seated at a computer), remarks to another dog that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. My role as a Chat Room Host on AOL [in the 80s and 90s] leads me to suspect that whilst the Internet is a cloaking device, in the final analysis the real person always shines through, if only dimly. As people become more fluent with the language of on-line chat, as they master its capacity for social communication, their real selves become revealed. The dog is soused out; his canine properties finally being detected in his mannerisms, style and attitude. You can pass for a human being and fool some of the people some of time but at the end of the day you are still a dog and subject to doggy ways.

Although this might sound trite, it signifies an important principle for electronically mediated human transactions: the more you use the media, the more fluent you become. It’s the same as speaking a language: the more you speak it, think in it, feel with it and live by it, the more difficult it is to detect that it is not your native tongue. No matter what kind of communications media is used, the more it is used the more fluent become its users. Just as language speakers become fluent in the spoken word, so signers become fluent with their medium of communication.

The Internet is still relatively new and there is still a large proportion of people, even in advanced technological societies, who have not been on it. Television however is a technology that is omniscient: can there be even one sighted person in the UK who has not seen television? How many people hardly ever watch it?. Even people who themselves do not own a TV find they end up watching it at the home of a friend or relative. TV has become the technology that has penetrated everyday life and penetrated it the most deeply. Even more than the telephone.

The advent of digital TV will, in my view, have a far more profound impact on everyday life for the majority of the population than the Internet. It is very likely that the Internet will continue to exist alongside the telephone and the wireless but it will be, I suspect, the preserve of the literati; it will attract the devotions of a dedicated following, like citizen band radio still does following the passing of its hey-day. Digital TV however will replace newspapers and the Internet as the main infrastructure for the delivery of information. It will do everything that the exponents of the Internet claim for their own medium but it will do it better.

The Internet is a wonderful thing but the biggest barrier to its success is that you need a computer to get into it. More precisely, the biggest barrier to mass access to the Internet is the keyboard. The keyboard is the artefact of the literary elite, the technically competent and the highly skilled. The mode of communication of the common person is the voice. Even the mouse is not a universally welcome tool amongst the IT-literati. Most people will cope with the remote control of their TV, providing its doesn’t get too complicated. Within a few years, the keyboard will be as obsolete as the inked ribbon is now as we will learn to communicate with technology via our voices. That will open up technology and will be the most important development in providing access to technology.

TV has up to now been a largely passive device; digital TV, combined with a feedback loop with every box with put access into every home. There is still something a little exclusive about the telephone. If that feedback can travel through the electricity supply, then that would open up interactive TV to universal enfranchisement. It will be possible to allow the individual to vote via their TV, ask questions and publish their opinions with needing specialised technologies. Interactive, digital TV carries enormous power because it gives everyone equal access to the means by which political persuasion is produced.

Even now, the media channels public opinion polling into the political arena. All opinion polls are however long-winded, manual procedures that must, in practical terms, utilise relatively small samples. TVs on the grid, however, will allow universal opinion polling and voting. A national referendum would be a routine event.

If we come back in ten years time to reconsider the impact of technology on democracy, we will hear little of the Internet: it was just a passing technology, like the vinyl record and the audio cassette. It will occupy the same place in the history of technology as citizens band radio. Its force and content will have been taken over by digital TV. Its interactivity and connectivity will find a much fuller life and vigour in the mass audiences of the TV set. Within about ten years, every household in Europe will have one box which will combine together our present domestic technologies of TV, telephone and computer. The implications of that for politics and democracy are quite profound.

© Trevor Locke 1998

Teleworking and the Growth of Community Networks

Teleworking and the Growth of Community Networks.

Paper given the second international conference on Telework held in Amsterdam from 2nd September to 5th September 1997.

Trevor Locke

Let me first of all offer some clarifications of terminology. By ‘telecentre’ I mean a building or location offering facilities which support teleworking. By ‘teleworking’ I mean economic activity that involves the use of ICTs as a core business function. By ‘community networks’ I mean ICT mediated connections among a group of users. ICT means Information and Communications Technologies.

Delegates at the conference reception in 1997
Delegates at the conference reception in 1997

1. Telecentres

If we look at what we might call a ‘classical’ model of a telecentre, we would see a building, probably in a rural area, in which we would find computers, printers, software, most likely a photocopier. IT might also have a scanner and a rack of leaflets and brochures about local business support services, what the council does, where to get advice about tax and so on. In the UK and in some parts of Europe, telecentres are sometimes called ‘telecottages’. In the UK well over half of all the units listed by the Telework and Telecottage Association as being telecentres have names that include neither the word ‘telecentre’ or the work ‘telecottage’ but which are called by some business or community name, for example Adur Resource Centre, BOON Ltd, Colne Valley Trust Business Services. All the TCA listed units have had to pass selection criteria in order to be listed in its directory and hence they can be referred to as telecentres, even if they are not called that.

Telecentres emerged in the mid 80s as a response to the demand for access to IT but at a time when PCs were not as affordable as they are today. The first telecottage to open in the UK was the Moorlands Telecottage near Buxton and it is still there today. The first telecottages in Europe started a few years earlier in Sweden but as a concept they were born in the United States where a range of projects and initiatives began to make computing facilities available to people in local communities.

Now [1997] there are about 160 telecentres in the UK in membership of the Telecottages and Teleworkers Association (the TCA). There are some chains of telecentres such as those being developed in Devon – the RATIO project – designed to put some 40 local centres into place across the county. In Norfolk there are half a dozen telecentres established by partnerships and funded by Europe and similarly Powys has a network of local centres. In general however telecentres in the UK tend to be individual units and the majority of them are supported by public funding to some extent, primarily in their first few years before they make the transition to sustainable business. Many are purely business units but most perform dual business and community roles.
The majority are one off projects created locally by people or groups. Very many of them now offer access to the Internet. They are not Cybercafes – there is also a UK network of independently run Cybercafes that offer access to the Internet. The primary function of the telecentre is to provide a physically accessible location for access to Information Technology and its supporting functions of training, consultancy and maintenance.

A map showing the location of the telecentres across the UK indicates that they range from the Islands of Scotland down to the South West peninsula with a concentration in Wales and perhaps something of a scarcity in the Midlands. Despite its population concentration and its large rural counties, the Midlands is not well served by telecentres.

2. Teleworking

Teleworking is a very varied phenomena. It is a form of economic activity that has very open and permeable boundaries. I would argue however that there are some characteristics of teleworking that are essential to its being a definable activity.

There are three defining characteristics of teleworking: the first is working with Information Technology. Teleworking is largely about knowledge or information based activities. It would be difficult to regard someone who does not use a computer as a teleworker. It is often confused with home working. Many teleworkers do work at home but not all and it is not an essential characteristic. There are many home workers who do not use computers as a prime business function; there are home workers who happen to use computers as do many self-employed people or small businesses and there are home workers who have no computers at all and would never need one. A person who receives work in the post from a remote client, processes it without the use of IT and delivers it back by post could claim to be a teleworker and would indeed fit some of the criteria. Hence my argument that the definition is open and not watertight but I don’t think this what most people would regard as teleworking.

Secondly, teleworking, in essence, involves working over distance, involving some form of telecommunications medium such as e-mail, FTP, ISDN and so on. It is possible to telework with a telephone and a fax machine but this would be a very marginal form of teleworking. The mainstream of telework is computer based and in fact ICT oriented. The ability to send files along telephone lines has always been seen to be an important aspect of teleworking and has been possible for over fifteen years now. Some teleworkers have sent their products by computer disk rather than by file transfer. Some are multi-tasking with a portfolio of clients and their output and mode of delivery might vary from one job to another.

Thirdly, it involves the delivery of work to a remote employer to customer or client. This involves a contractual or management relationship different to that normally associated with face to face work in offices. Teleworkers can be employees, self employed or members of a small business, collective or virtual team. There is no point in talking about getting a job as a teleworker: it is a mistake people make who misunderstand the terminology. I often say to them: would you look for a job as an employee? No, of course not. So no one works as a teleworker. People do teleworking as part of their job or business. Some teleworkers have just one customer (possibly an employer) and others have many customers. The key characteristic is that they are far enough away from each other that the cost of traveling to face to face encounters is more than the cost of telecommuting. Another feature is that the telework owns his own means of production and maintains his own workplace but that on its own is not a sufficient characteristic.

3. Telework and Patterns of Work.

Patterns of work are changing and this has fuelled the recent growth of and interest in teleworking together with other forms of flexible patterns of work. The job for life has disappeared and the full time, permanent job is becoming increasingly rare. Jobs as being replaced by contracts, self employment and piece work. Corporations have downsized and shed tiers of specialists and middle managers as they have adopted flatter management structures and have sub-contracted specialist functions. Increasing investment in technology has reduced the need for technical posts. This has in some areas flooded the market with people who need to replace the full time permanent job with some form of self employment.

Telecentres do support teleworkers but alongside other species of self-employed worker and micro business. They also support volunteers from local communities and provide resources for the employed teleworker. They often perform both business incubation and community support functions.
The number of teleworking employees has grown steadily as large companies have realised the economic benefits to be gained from offer teleworking is one of a number of flexible working practices. This grow has been supported by the market for ICT: costs have reduced comparatively but at the same time the productivity of the technology has increased. Teleworking still remains however a marginal mode of working even within ‘white collar’ and professional occupations. No UK government has yet adopted taxation policies designed to offer incentives to employers to developing teleworking. The increasing costs of transport (especially commuter transport) has also pushed teleworking and as urban traffic congestion increases and the cost per mile of commuting increases, so the pressure towards teleworking will grow.

4. Community Networks (C-Nets)

The 1970s and 80s saw the rise of the low cost personal computer. The last 80s and the 90s have witnesses the mass ownership of PCs. The 90s have seen the phenomenal growth of the Internet. These trends in the IT market have resulted in the development and spread of community networks – C-nets – as ICTs have become more accessible and affordable. Underlying these trends in IT have been fundamental changes in the power and sophistication of telephone networks. There has been a convergence of telephone and computer technologies.

Terrestrial telephone networks have increased in power and sophistication. Teleworking products have been developed for the small office and home office markets. ISDN is becoming less expensive, mobile phone or satellite telephone networks have grown enormously and the traditional copper wire has been replaced by fibre optic and satellite connections over many of the principle trunk routes.

In response to these trends in the technology, C-nets have arisen, driven by economic, education and social agendas. Often these came into being (in the USA) by colleges or libraries reaching out into the community to bring in people who were otherwise unable or unwilling to access the resources they had to offer. The features that distinguish C-Nets from other activities on the Internet are (a) the offer a diverse range of information, (b) they serve all sectors of the community and (c) they offer and encourage levels of interaction from email to synchronous conferencing. But above all they are people-focused and place-oriented. This definition can be found on the web site of UK Communities On-Line, the organisation that acts as the focus for C-Nets in the UK. David Miller of Sheffield University has written a paper discussing types of electronic information networks [commities.org.uk]
David focuses on geographical networks rather than those which function as a community of interest. He argues that C-Nets should be free at the point of access and owned and controlled by the communities served. A comprehensive list of local community networks in the UK can be found communities.org.uk [no longer on this website].

The significance of C-Nets for teleworking is that they perform functions that are similar to telecentres in supporting individual teleworkers. Local C-Nets can act as distributed telecentres, providing teleworkers with many of the functions previously available only at telecentres. C-Nets can support both geographical communities and communities of interest. The Telework Forum at America on Line is a community of interest, being a network mediated group of teleworkers, mainly from the UK but with some from North America and Europe, receiving support and interacting with each other via the Internet.

A street in Amsterdam, 1997
A street in Amsterdam, 1997

5. The World Wide Growth in C-Nets

Freenets came into being in the USA and Canada and then found a foothold in Europe. They have now arrived in the UK having become a world wide phenomenon. The first Freenet was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986 and is now said to be the “largest community network in the world”.
Freenet Finland is an Internet based network for Finnish elementary, secondary and high schools that provides free access to the Internet. It enables the whole community to gain access to learning. It is financed by the National Board for Education and its costs about 95,000 per year and has some 70,000 subscribers.

To take another example, the Seattle Community Network is a free, public computer network run by volunteers. It is committed to running equal access to information for all users. User registration is free and includes an e-mail account. Visitors can read Usenet newsgroups, participate in forums and join some face to face activities including regular general meetings of the users. Many neighbourhoods, environmental groups, arts groups, political parties, schools, health care and social advocates, outdoor clubs and others discuss their activities on this network. The SCN is a non-profit organisation [www.scn.org].

Cheap internet access in the US has in some areas resulted in about half the population being on line on a regular basis. An article in the Washington Post (May 1997) reports that more than 50% of the 37,000 residents of Blacksburg, VA, regularly use the Internet. E-mail is the most popular activity followed by personal web pages and reading on-line news. A recent survey discovered that people often spend as much as an hour a day dealing with e-mail. Some voluntary organisations have reported increased attendance at face to face meetings as a result of publishing notices about them on the Internet.
Community networks offer much more than just information or communications. They offer multiple functions: (a) Information through web pages, e-mailing lists, on-line newsletters, newsgroups (b) Communications through e-mail and chat rooms (c) Training either on line or face to face, formal courses and skills exchange programmes and (d) Access to IT and software through the provisional of kiosks, terminals and resource centres.
Where connectivity is concerned, C-nets can network through the Internet, through cable intranets or through wireless. A full community network is more than just hardware and connectivity: it involves agendas that are about community support and change. They can provide a platform for business incubation, learning, entertainment, debate, net-activism, democracy or youth work. They are infrastructures for the delivery of community development or social action and for the support and maintenance of various forms of economic activity.

C-nets have many features and functions available to them and have the capacity to become information rich. Hence one of the most important features is content. Web sites are becoming ubiquitous and information is becoming available through web browsers as a standard medium for navigation and display. Some of the information systems set up using Teletext are now converting to Internet compatible web browsers. Other information systems rely on touch screen technology which has become very sophisticated in recent years.

The characteristics of community networks therefore include (a) organised providers and users of information, (b) provision of an information rich system generating organised and navigable content, (c) open public access or registered users, (d) connectivity through telephone dialup, cable or wireless, (e) social and community agendas including civic engagement, democracy, citizen empowerment, business support, incubation and regeneration, social and cultural enrichment, a medium for community communication.

These networks grow out of pre-existing communities, providing a medium that will to be some extent replace paper with electronics. The first generation of C-nets were very text based using bulletin board techniques. HTML’s growth allowed more graphical content to develop and content to become livelier and more colourful. Improvements in the technology and software permitted interactive techniques, such as chat to enrich communications.
Local governments are beginning to see the potential for using ICTs to gather feedback from service users. There has always been and no less so now a considerable use of ICTs in the field of education. The voluntary sector is gradually taking up Internet functions but is one of the slowest sectors to move in this direction.

6. Telecenters versus community networks

Telecentres have played their part in providing access to IT but that role is now being challenged as PCs become cheaper, modems become cheaper and more and more computers are being brought on-line. This enables C-nets to provide remote access to facilities such as printers, high spec peripherals and software banks. What I envisage is that telecentres will become smaller and will cease to provide much in the way of access to PCs but will concentrate on providing high specification and high value facilities that can be accessed remotely. They might take on the role of resource and training centres for local communities of self employed people, teleworkers and those running offices at home. They will need to base their business plans not on casual users but on contract users who contribute to subscriptions and sub-contract packages on an annual basis. There will be insufficient demand for access to PCs and mass consumption software to sustain these as viable business units on that function alone.

There will still be demand for access but through existing community channels such as schools, colleges, libraries and community centres rather than through specialist units such as telecentres. Telecentres need to be compared with networks in terms of the access facilities that they provide.
The future pattern of service provision envisaged here is of small resource hubs comprising servers supporting a small amount of direct hands on utilisation but with a much large amount of remote utilisation. High value, high capacity printers will be accessed by remote users and the output couriered or posted back, depending on quality and distance. Some out put might be manually channelled into the postal services. Some units might offer call centre and paper handling services for contract clients. Training, consultancy and maintenance services as part of the service agreements will enhance business viability and sustainability.

Connectivity will be in the form of subscription intranets based on ISDN or fibre optic cabling. These intranets, offering a higher level of content and systems management than the public Internet, will incorporate an array of digital conferencing functions, including white boarding techniques, video conferencing, increasing utilisation of audio platforms and much more sophisticated e-mail. They will enable use of applications similar to Lotus Notes.

All telecentres need staffing of some kind: the majority of telecentres have paid staff to run then though I suspect many depend heavily on volunteers. This imposes costly overheads. In addition the buildings themselves are costly overheads with a range of running expenses. By comparison networks are capital rather than labour intensive. The overheads of C-nets can be spread amongst a much larger number of users; even the largest telecentres probably will not have more than 20 or 30 people using their facilities at peak times. C-Nets can support hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users. The comparisons pose a number of problems of course. In C-nets the working capital involves the users owning their own equipment; in Telecentres, users come in and rent equipment and software. C-net users do not of course use their computers solely for the purpose of accessing the network.

Unit costs of telecentres are likely to be higher than those for C-Nets because overhead costs can be spread amongst a much higher population of users. The producers in telecentres are comparatively few: often only the staff working in them. But in C-Nets all users are potentially producers. Any users who contributes a comment, piece of information or message to the system become one of a multitude of content producers. C-Nets are more likely than are telecentres to have a multiplicity of people and groups involved in information provision, content management, training and advice provision and development functions.

7. The impact of C-Nets on Teleworking

The needs of teleworkers for training and support services will probably not change very much during the growth of C-Nets but the means for meeting these needs will. Teleworkers will access support functions on-line rather than by a visit to a local telecentre. The connectivity of both the local C-Net and the global Internet will generate more and more scope for collaborative working. Teleworkers will have increased potential for working together in teams, exchanging skills, information and knowledge, forming virtual businesses and securing contracts collectively that would be denied to them as individuals.

As markets become increasingly global, so too will producers. C-Nets are both geographical and interest-oriented. It is quite possible for there to be a C-Net for teleworkers at European level and indeed the ETO (European Telework On-Line) is just about there in the range of functions it delivers.

Local C-Nets can and do support teleworkers by meeting those informational, communications and training needs are a best provided on a local basis. C-Nets can help to develop teleworking locally and provide forums and packages for teleworkers. Companies might be more willing to allow employees to telework if they knew that there was a local C-Net which would provide support. The cost of deploying teleworkers would decrease a little if some support services were to be provided by the C-Net rather than the company. Some local governments in the UK are providing teleworking employees with support services through telecentres and neighbourhood offices but there is scope to also provide these services on-line. Both national and local governments should encourage the growth and development of C-Nets as infrastructures for business, education and community needs. There should be a synergy between local C-Nets and the Internet.

8. Conclusions

The growth of ICTs is likely to present a serious challenge to the continuation of telecentres in their present form. There is no reason to conclude that telecentres will become extinct but their role and function is likely to change considerably as C-nets become more and more common. Instead of producing access to computers, C-Nets are likely to radically curtail this service or cease it altogether. If they continue to provide access to software it will be through file transfer, allowing down loading of software files or through client-server use – allowing the user access to software packages on-line. Telecentres in C-net areas are likely to become very much smaller and to operate mainly as part of the C-Net. Their main function will be to provide access to peripherals – high specification and high cost equipment that most users could not afford to own individually and who would use such machines relatively infrequently.

Telecentres as part of C-Nets are likely to offer high specification colour printing, a variety of presentation and graphical technologies, on-line software libraries and a variety of multi-media support facilities. In a nutshell the telecentre will be an on-line facility concentrating on providing access to equipment or software which is either too expensive or too low-use for the individual user to maintain.

C-Nets will lead to much more collaborative working of people within business communities. In fact, the availability of the technology will incubate virtual businesses. This has already begun to happen, with teams and virtual companies already being a familiar aspect of cyberspace. What we are likely to see is the development of knowledge managers, such as professionals with higher degree qualifications being supported by the system, a range of technicians with skills and competencies in various niches of the emergent work market and clerical and administrative support workers covering a range of functions.

Hence what we will see is the replacement of the electronic village hall by the electronic business centre. Facilities previously concentrated in buildings will be invested in networks and distributed over a wider geographical community. Telecentres are likely to experience a transition from being free-standing, independent units to being adjuncts to other community operations. It will become less and less necessary to have dedicated employees running such centres. The new breed of C-Net telesupport hubs are likely to merge with the servers for the C-Nets . Some telecentres might well grasp the nettle and start up C-Nets themselves and replace on-site with on-line users.

The creation and development of C-Nets will have far reaching impacts on work markets (previously called labour markets or job markets). In our vision the word job will become an anachronism. Economic activity will become more varied than in the past, including a wider variety of modes of income creation.

Urban areas will no longer need to provide the main location for economic activity. In the knowledge economy, networking will allow people to live in rural and suburban areas. Transportation will become more diffuse with commuter rush hours diminishing. One area where change is required is education. We need to find ways of stemming the increasing tide of women driving children to school at set times. Schools need to become resource centres.

At present there are intentions of providing schools with internet connections as though this was something experimental with perhaps one computer having a dialup internet account. We think this piecemeal approach should be avoided in favour of a much more strategic approach to community networking.

In order to make C-nets work effectively, there needs to be a coherent and comprehensive telematics strategy at local authority or regional level. This can be achieved through joint public and private investments.

Trevor Locke at 'The Admiral Restaurant', Herengracht
Trevor Locke at ‘The Admiral Restaurant’, Herengracht

Trevor Locke was the Proprietor of Event and Project Services.

Urban transport

24th June 2015

The future of passenger transport in Leicester

It took a bunch of designers to help me find out that a tram system for Leicester will be a non-starter. The designers came up with a schematic for how a possible tramway system might look in Leicester and posted it on social media sites. There were a lot comments about the idea, both for and against. ‘The Future of The Tram in Leicester’ evoked a debate; but it was one that I had seen before. The local paper had run a story on the subject when proposals were put forward in November 2008. The news report suggested that even a basic tram system would cost in the order of £300 million (at 2008 prices.)

Public transport is an important driven for the local economy. Leicester sits within a catchment area of about two million people. Those people can go to Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough, Lincoln or they can go to Leicester. Destination choice is important for jobs, commerce, entertainment, the arts and all the other key aspects of life and economic activity. It is easy to think that the private car is the answer to everything; but, with an ageing population its importance is declining. An increasing proportion of the population will become dependent on public transport. Public transport is, I would argue, a key driver in the economy of cities but it often placed too low down on the priorities of people who plan urban areas.

The trams idea did however get me thinking about what the city might develop to replace its present public transport system – the bus. If buses need replacing. Leicester is a relatively small and compact urban area. What it needs is a way of moving large quantities of people around from the outer suburbs to the inner city. The personalised transport unit – the car – as we know it, cannot last for ever; unless they are all converted to run on electricity. Fossil fuels will not last forever.

The main objection to the tram is that it mixes cars and pedestrians. The next objection is that it just could not work given the physical layout of the buildings and the streets as they are today in Leicester. Trams might work in Nottingham, Manchester or Sheffield, though some local people have disagreed that they are all that wonderful.

What kind of transport system would work given the layout of Leicester’s inner city? A variety of options have already been tried in various cities in this country.

Could we go underground? London, Tyne and Wear, Liverpool and Glasgow has underground with their passenger transport systems. Would this work in Leicester? To answer this we have to look at the geology of what the city stands on. Even with a favourable geological sub-strata, the cost of building an underground system would be prohibitive, in today’s climate of public funding.

Could we go up? That might be a more viable solution. Put your light passenger transportation system on stilts. That presents an option which avoids mixing conventional traffic and pedestrians with a transit system.

The way to go is the Automated People Mover (APM) similar to the elevated monorail systems that run on a single track (as opposed to the twin rails of conventional trains.) Some monorail system are suspended beneath the track and others ride on top of it (straddle-beam and suspended monorails.) To make such systems work, there are a lot of requirements.

Two requirements must be met: the infrastructure costs and the running costs. To build a raised system you have to be able to place the stilts (or piers) in a way that will not interfere with the existing road system. Neither must the resulting structures interfere with light; they must not put existing buildings into their shadow. This suggests some kind of piers that place the trackways in the middle of existing roads using supports that are placed either side of the system on the pedestrian walkways – the pavements. This suggests a shape like an arc, although in wider thoroughfares single piers could be used.

The tracks, if we can call them that, must not be heavy. That means we have to rethink the kind of vehicles that will run on them. The units that run on the raised system must be light enough. That means doing away with two things: wheels and engines. These weigh too much. The wheel is an archaic device for allowing vehicles to be moved along without too much friction. Engines are heavy items; if we can remove them from the wagons, that makes the passenger units much lighter.

A motive method should be electric. There is no point in designing a transit system based on fossil fuels. So out goes anything to do with diesel (a) because that requires heavy engines and (b) because it is a fossil fuel. The future of transport is not about wheels or fossil fuels.

Linear induction does away with wheels and runs on electricity. A maglev (magnetic levitation) system propels wagons (carriages) without the need to have engines to pull them – the movement is caused by magnets on the trackway itself and the carriages float above the tracks – hence no need for wheels. The single beam track carries the electricity supply without the need for cables and is light enough to be supported on single piers. Such systems are also very quiet – no noisy engines, no rumbling wheels and no noisy suspensions. They glide quietly along. People can be moved either in carriages about the size of a conventional single-decker bus or in small units about the size of a conventional large taxi or minibus. The trackways are light enough to require only single pillar support piers.

The carriages must be light. They must be made of materials that are tough, hard-wearing and light. Systems like these require very little maintenance. Units of up to 100 seats should be sturdy enough and light enough to float above the tracks (about one centimetre) above the trackways even when fully loaded with passengers and luggage.

Another advantage of the maglev system is that only the section on which a ‘train’ is running needs to be powered. There is no need to run the carriages at high speeds. Most journeys are going to be over short distances. Between the outer suburbs and the inner city stops, the longest distances are of the order of three to four miles at most. Conventional diesel-powered buses stop every few yards. Most of the energy consumed by transport is speeding up and slowing down. The one thing buses do well is their ability to stop every few yards. This is another reason why the construction of the carriages must be made from very lightweight materials to reduce the energy needed for acceleration.

Having this kind of system is possible because we now have the computing power to run the motors. maglev requires microchip technology that runs at very high processor speeds. That is a feature of how linear induction works. There is constant real-time interplay between sensors and the control mechanisms.

There will have to be two tracks: one for each direction of travel, so that carriages can turn round and go back. It assumes that there will be twin tracks, one for each direction of travel – in bound and out bound – unless it is possible to run the whole thing on loops. This would require routes where single tracks only are needed but where there is in-bound and out-bound directions of travel. Unless each track has only one set of carriages which turn round at the terminus and then travel back.

Would such a system need signalling to avoid carriages running into each other on the same section of track? In a twin track system, carriages pass each other on separate tracks. It should be impossible for two carriages to run in opposite directions on the same track simply because the linear induction would make this impossible – the induction allows only forward motion. Hence the need for a second track to allow carriages travel back in the same direction and to pass carriages coming the other way. In high-speed systems, the tracks have to be far enough apart to prevent air pressure problems when two trains pass each other. Or, the carriages have to be designed to funnel pressurised air away from the gap between passing carriages. But, in an short-journey urban system – a relatively slow-moving system – this would not be a problem.

When we think about the dense inner city environment, we have more problems in designing the supports than we would have on the long, wide thoroughfares of arterial routes. The tracks could be supported, at least in narrow streets, from the buildings on either side. Attach the supports to the walls of buildings – this kind of low-weight engineering should make that possible.

The tracks would need to stand at least as high above street level as a double-decker bus or as high as the tallest van or lorry. Even if the tracks can be placed in the middle of the thoroughfare, would there be enough clearance either wide of the trackway to allow large, high-sided vehicles to run on conventional roads?

To visualise the system, I imagined what the system would look like on some of the existing arterial routes, like London Road, Welford Road, Saffron Lane, Melton Road, Narborough Road, etc. Many of these existing arterial routes are quite wide.

Even in Narborough Road, there is probably enough width to place the trackways in the middle and allow enough clearance either side for conventional vehicles. Some bridges might have to be removed. Pretty much all the Victorian railway tracks have been removed throughout the city; so, there are no disused railway that could be used. One criterion for this kind of system is that it should not require the demolition of buildings. It should be fitted into the existing layout of buildings.

It would be necessary to build the supports from metal (or other strong materials) rather than from concrete. The supporting piers should be constructed from new materials that can take the weight, not rust or deteriorate over time and which can be thin enough not to get in the way of pedestrians. At some points the tracks would have to span wide sections – where the route crosses road junctions for example. I think all this will be possible with good engineering design. Concrete is relatively expensive and has a shorter life-span than new materials based on carbon fibre or plastic materials. Many of the flyovers that were supported on concrete piers have had to be demolished because the materials degraded with age.

Carriages with wheels running on rails are heavy and require concrete trackways and piers to support their weight. Linear induction tracks are much lighter and hence do not need rails (there are no wheels) and would look more like the trackways of rides at funfairs and amusement parks. Wheel-less carriages floating silently on single tracks raised above the level of existing traffic and powered by electricity – this is what I see as being the future of urban passenger transport. Makes the conventional twin-rail tram look archaic.

Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke has a masters degree in Urban Policy Studies