Subjects

Articles I have written

ordered by subject

I have written about a lot of different things. In this list I have created a number of subjects under which I have placed links to pieces that are available on this blog.

This list is work in progress – further items will be added soon

Art

Lord of the Flies, Golding, play review

Business

Working with the web-o-sphere

See also ‘Internet and Web’ below

Economics

The economics of ageing

Films

Reviews of films

Brighton Rock

Finding Richard (2014)

The Black Swan

The Martian

Writing a character profile for a filmscript

History and archaeology

Brain size and evolution

Food in the 21st century

History of music in Leicester

Local music:  does it matter?

Housing

A place to live: a place to work

Buy-to-let schemes

Homelessness

Housing policy

Housing: approaches to policy (book)

What is a home?

Internet and web

Digital democracy re-visited

A place to live, a place to work.

Music

American Idiot (Green Day musical) review

An X-Factor for bands?

Band promotion

Bands and singers

Editorial bias in music journalism

Music education

New bands starting up

Thoughts on singing

What makes a good band?

Politics and policy

Referendum on the EU

Work in the 21st Century

Housing policy

Transport

Transport and cars

Urban transport

See also:

Contents listed alphabetically.

Homelessness

10th October 2016

Homelessness

We all need a place to call home

see below for updates

As series of shows under the moniker Musician Against Homelessness is making me think.

Making me think about what homelessness is. To my way of thinking it is just that: being without a home. Earlier this year I wrote extensively about housing, particularly about housing policy in my book Housing: Approaches to Policy. I also wrote a piece called What is a home? It is that aspect of the topic on which I want now to focus.

Tens of thousands of people are homeless in today’s Britain; and of course in the rest of the world as millions of migrants leave their homes fired by the hope of finding a new place to live in peace and perhaps also prosperity or at least well-being.

A home is a place that provides safety and security. Homes provide the substance of everyday living but above all they should give people a place that is safe, a place in which they can feel secure. Sadly our country neglects that aspect and provides only accommodation for millions of people who are forced to rent because they cannot afford to buy.

Safety and security are essential to an ordered and settled way of life; they are not secondary consequences of having a place in which to live; they are the bedrock of human existence. If accommodation is not safe and if it is not secure then it is not a home. It is simply temporary accommodation and that is what millions of our citizens are forced to accept because the Government has failed them. The UK government has failed to understand that housing is an a state of crisis – a crisis created by government and one which it shows no signs of being able to deal with.

Owning a home – usually the most secure form of living – is now a privilege of the few rather than a right of the many. More and more people in Britain are renting because they cannot get on to the property ladder. This is not good for our society; it is not good because the government has set the rules to favour landlords and has provided inadequate security of tenure for tenants. I won’t reiterate what I have already said about the government failure to create a satisfactory policy on housing.

What I do want to focus on is why having a home is so important to the lives of everyone. A home is what provides us with safety and security; it also provides us with the basic amenities of living – a place to cook food, somewhere to sleep undisturbed, a space in which parents can bring up children; a space in which people can keep their treasured possessions – the things that matter to them; a place that provides comforts that aid rest; a place in which to carry out the daily routines of human life. For some, it is also their place of work. A home is where people can entertain their friends and family; a place where some keep can keep their pets; listen to music; read books; pursue an education; enjoy entertainment… a home is essential to living a civilised life.

Why then is it that the Government treats rented accommodation with such scant regard? It is just because so few politicians live in rented property? Can they really be so unaware of how important rented tenancies are when so many thousands of their constituents must pay rent and bring to them a constant flow of problems arising from the problems they inevitably have with their landlords? Is it because politicians have an ideological obsession with council housing? Is it because politicians have had the concept of new build housing drilled into them as being the right solution to the housing crisis?

Yes all of these things are true. Too often politicians tend to base their policy beliefs on their own personal experiences and if that does not included renting in the private sector then they are only aware of it through what they find in their surgeries. That is not however what being a professional politician is about. Is it not the right to represent people.

The scale of homelessness in Britain has been underestimated because it has not been correctly defined it in the first place. Homelessness is not just having no where to live; it is also about not having the right standard and quality of housing. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in accommodation that does not provide them with a home – either because it is not safe, not secure, lacks basic amenities of living, is available to them only for a limited period of time; is unhealthy; fails to meet their needs where they are old or disabled; provides insufficient space to people who have children; is in a locality or neighbourhood which is not right for them; is not under their personal control because they have to share it other people (often their parents) owing to lack of opportunity to find somewhere better. A home is a space in which its occupants should be able to organise to their own requirements for living (within certain limits.) There are a lot of cultural differences in home-making but the principles are always the same. Most people live in family groups but there are special circumstances where people live alone, for what ever reason – whether through choice or through personal situations. I have already written about the substance of what a home is and should be. in my article What is a home.

In my previous article I touched on choice – asking ‘can we choose where to live?’ Choice of home depends on financial status and income to a large extent. It also depends on government policy and the extent to which law and practice allow choices to be made or not. The way government controls housing – if in fact it does – will either encourage choice or restrict it. It is the way that national and local governments implement their policies on housing that will enable people to have a choice or deny them opportunities. The poorer you are the less choice you have – both in housing and in most other areas of existence. That is due largely to the market; a market that the government is unwilling to regulate.

If we want to have a home that is suited to our circumstances; a home that provides us with the essential elements described above, particularly safety and security, then we must have choice; we cannot find the home that we want, the home that suits us, if our ability to choose is limited, if opportunities are denied that should be allowed. It takes government policy to expand and protect choice.

Housing policy in this country is in a state of crisis; successive governments have failed to make policies at both national and local levels – that can impact the current quantity, supply, quality and distribution of housing; homelessness is increasing; access to the right kinds of housing is diminishing; affordability of housing options is not increasing.

If the authorities that control the housing market in this country are to make any real impact on this crisis they must begin to work on the real world; the world in people actually live; disengage themselves from their own personal circumstances and work with the statistics that are in plentiful supply. They – the various levels of government that make policy and control its implementation – must grasp what it means to have a home and what a home is for the millions of their constituents and voters who are in need of one. They must have a clear sense of what a home is and what it means to have one.

What does the world say about homelessnesses?

Having written the above, I searched on the Internet for articles about ‘homelessness’.

I looked at the website of Shelter, the organisation that provides help, advice and support to people who are homeless. On a page headed ‘What is homelessness’, I read that

You may be homeless if you live in unsuitable housing, don’t have rights to stay where you are or you’re sleeping rough.

The page went on to advise:

Even if you have a roof over your head you can still be homeless, if you don’t have any rights to stay where you live or your home is unsuitable due to severe overcrowding or other reasons.
You might be entitled to help as a homeless person if you are temporarily staying with friends or family or staying in a hostel or night shelter. Even if you have a home, you could be considered homeless if you live in very overcrowded conditions or in poor conditions that affect your health, or you’re at risk of violence or abuse in your home.

As Shelter points out, people become homeless for a variety of reasons; they refer to young people leaving care, offenders leaving prison, women who are expecting a baby, those seeking asylum or who are refugees.

They are include people who are claiming benefits or living in a low income. I would say that having to depend on benefits and having an income that is lower than the average does not of itself create homelessness though of course is if frequently a contributory factor for many people. Having insufficient income to pay for the housing you are currently in, leads to eviction if rental payments are in arrears or, as I discovered recently, if the landlord decides to sell the property or increase the rent to an unaffordable level. Homelessness spirals out of control where governments fail to protect tenants and do not want to make public expenditure available to intervene in the housing market. Doing so has many unintended consequences – the cost of helping people faced with homelessness increases; housing benefit payments go up; dealing with other problems such as criminality, drug addiction and mental health leads to increased public spending which could have been avoided in the first place. Not spending sufficient money on affordable and suitable housing is a false economy and leads to increasing demand for public services.

As the Shelter website points out, you don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered homeless. There situations in which people are homeless even thought they have somewhere to sleep but where that accommodation is inadequate, temporary, unsafe and in fact there are many complicated situations in which people find themselves that may lead local authorities to regarding you as being homeless or about to made homeless. A lot of this is however discretionary; it is up to the processes adopted by a council to decide whether a person is homeless and, if they are, whether they can be helped.

Practice varies widely throughout the country and national government largely leaves it up to the local authorities to make their own arrangements and set their own levels of provision for people who apply to them for housing or housing advice. In many ways that is best; local people know their own area and what is feasible and the conditions of housing supply that exist in their local area.

The problem that we have is that central government create the problem and then expects local government to provide the solutions. Without providing the resources to do the job properly.

Some of the documents I found in my search drew attention to work, to jobs, to enable people to have the money to meet their housing needs. Well, that would seem fairly obvious. When I looked at this issue I brought in transportation; in fact I argued that three things are inseparably linked: employment, transport and housing. They are all linked together and intertwined to the extent that it is impossible to make improvements in one without making connected improvements in the other two. That is true, in my view for the majority of people. For others there are added issues to do with mental health, disability, discrimination, domestic violence, vulnerability, age, literacy, many challenges and needs that are not being met that make their situation more difficult to copy with.

The statistics about housing and homeless in the UK are stark and are getting worse. Despite the blandishments of senior politicians, the government is not moving in the right direction. We see this right across the party political landscape. Politicians might say the right things but the problem is they do not do the right things; and as long as this continues our country will continue to suffer the consequences of the housing crisis.

updates

A news item on the BBC website reported on a statement released by the charity Shelter; among other things the item said:

More than four in 10 homes in Britain do not reach acceptable standards in areas such as cleanliness, safety and space, housing charity Shelter says.

Each of the five elements in the standard is measured according to certain criteria – for example, the essentials of “space” include having sufficient bedrooms for the household and space for the whole household to spend time together in the same room.
Other aspects included having outdoor space, and enough space for children to study and adults to work.

The five elements

Affordability: Factors cited included how much was left for essentials, savings and social activities after paying for rent or mortgage
Decent conditions: Words like “safe”, “warm” and “secure” were among the words used by the public to describe what makes a home meet this criterion
Space: Adequate space was felt to be crucial for wellbeing, especially mental and social wellbeing
Stability: Stability was often described as the extent to which people felt they could make the property they lived in a “home”
Neighbourhood: Living in an area where people felt safe and secure was considered particularly important. People also wanted to be close enough to work, family and friends and the services they need

Nearly one in five, or 18%, of homes failed the criteria for decent conditions, with renters twice as likely as homeowners to live in places which fail on this element of the standard.

On stability, one in four private renters felt they did not have enough control over how long they could stay in their home.
Shelter has called for stable rental contracts that last for five years and protect tenants against unaffordable rent increases.

[Source: BBC]

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.

References

References

to my book Housing: approaches to policy, 2015

These links are provided for the convenience of readers who want to look at an online reference.

Aircrete, 2015, website aircrete.co.uk

Arts in Leicester magazine, 2015, http://www.artsinleicestershire.co.uk

BBC, 2013, Horizon: The age of big data (televised programme)

BBC, 2014, Planning law policy ‘fuels inappropriate development’

BBC, 2015, ‘Million’ new homes aim declared by minister Brandon Lewis

Berg, Nate, 2014, Predicting crime – LAPD-style, The Guardian.

Branson, Adam, 2013, Modern methods of construction: Material change?, Building

Brinkley, Mark, 2015, The best ways to build in Blockwork, Homebuilding & renovating

Byfusion, 2015, company website

Cardiff City Council, 2015, Cardiff Housing Strategy 2012 to 2017

Centre for Economics and Business Research, 2015, House prices to rise 4.7% this year amid supply shortages

Centre for Housing and Support, 2015, Good practice service

Chartered Institute of Housing, 2015, About practice

Civitas, 2015, The Future of private Renting, Shaping a fairer Market for Tenants and Tax Payers, report by David Bently

Corbyn, Jeremy, 2015, Tackling the housing crisis

Dan Wood, 2015, website

Davis, Lindsey, 2014, Blockwork innovations

DCLG, 2015, National Planning Policy Framework.

de Castella, Tom, 2015, Why can’t the UK build 240,000 houses a year?, BBC News magazine

Dean, Lewis, 2015, UK housing market: Rents outgrow house prices in England and Wales amid Summer Budget warning, in International Business Times

DEFRA, 2015, Policy paper: Towards a one nation economy: A 10-point plan for boosting rural productivity

Department for Communities and Local Government, 21 November 2011, Policy paper Laying the foundations: a housing strategy for England. UK Government

Department for Communities and Local Government, 2010, Estimating housing need

Department for Communities and Local Government, May 2015, Policy paper. 2010 to 2015 government policy: rented housing sector. UK Government.

Dorling, Danny, 2015, All That Is Solid. How the Great Housing Disaster Defines Our Times, and What We Can Do About It,. Penguin Books.

DWP, 2013, Guidance: Local Housing Allowance guidance and good practice for local authorities (updated in 2014).

Eccles, Louise, 2014, Over 40? Then you CAN’T have a mortgage: Banks are now rejecting borrowers who would still be paying off loan in retirement, The Daily Mail.

Evans, David, 1992,  Local Area Profiles of Crime: neighbourhood crime patterns in context (Trevor Locke with Norman Davidson, University of Hull), Chapter 3 in: Crime, Policing and Place: Essays in environmental criminology. Edited by David J Evans et al. 1992. Routledge.

Geiger, Owen, 2011, Recycled plastic block houses.

Government website, 2014, Methodology: assessing housing need, What methodological approach should be used?.

Strata, 2015, website.

Guardian, 2015,  The Guardian view on Britain’s choice 2015: housing policy Editorial, Guardian newspaper, 27th April 2015.

Hanley, Lynsey, 2012, Private tenants like me need long-term security, The Guardian.

HMRC, 2015, Policy paper: Restricting finance cost relief for individual landlords.

Inman, Phillip, 2015, The Guardian, Living wage fears sending ‘shockwaves’ through UK labour market.

Institute for Fiscal Studies, July 2015, Summer Post Briefing.

Institute for Government, 2011, Making Policy Better: improving Whitehall’s core business.

Institute for Government, 2014, Political economy of housing in England.

Jenkins, David, 2015, Britain’s modern house revolution, The Telegraph.

Kate Allen, June 2015, in Business & Economy (website).

King, Anthony and Crewe, Ivor, 2014, The blunders of our Governments, One World Publications.

Leggett, Brit, 2010, EcoARK Pavilion made from 1.5 Million Plastic Bottles, Inhabitat.

Locke, Trevor, 1990, New Approaches to crime in the 1990s: planning responses to crime, Longman.

Locke, Trevor, 2015, House Bricks, four articles in Arts in Leicestershire magazine (now defunct)

Locke, Trevor, 2015, Housing policy: The impact of buy-to-let on housing policy, Trevor Locke’s blog.

Lynch, Gerard, 2012, Tudor Brickwork.

NLA, 2015, National Landlords Association.

Office of National Statistics, 2013, A century of home ownership and renting in England.

ONS, 2013, Families and Households 2013.

ONS, 2014, Families and Households, 2014.

Office of the first minister, 2007 updated in 2011,  A practical guide to policy making in Northern Ireland.

Osborne, Hilary, 2015, Powers to bring empty houses into use ‘ignored’, The Guardian, 11th February 2015.

Owen, Jonathan, 2014, More people now rent privately than from councils or housing associations, The Independent.

Planning Advisory Service, 2014, Objectively assessed need and housing targets – technical advice note, 2014.

Property Wire, 2015, UK rental market returns to growth.

Sheffield City Council, 2014, Housing Strategy Action Plan 2013 – 2016.
Sheffield City Council, 2015, Housing strategies and consultations.

Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill 2014-15.

Shelter, 2015, Good practice guides. England.

Sosmart money blog, 2015, Can I get a mortgage if I’m over 55?.

Standing, Guy, 2011, The Precariat – The new dangerous class, Policy Network.

The Brick Industry Association, Why choose brick, USA

Thisismoney, 2014, Blocked by the banks? How to get a mortgage if you are are a small business owner or self-employed, October 2014

Thisismoney, 2015, How to beat lenders’ age discrimination.

Treasury, HM, 2015, Budget 2015, HC1093, March 2015.

UCL, 2014, Demolition or Refurbishment of Social Housing? A review of the evidence, University College London.

Valuations Office Agency, 2015, Private Rental Market Statistics May-2015

Wienerberger, 2015, website.

Wikipedia, 2015, Bosco Verticale.

See also

What Trevor Locke is writing about

Buy to Let

19th September 2015

Housing policy

The impact of buy-to-let on housing policy

In this article I look at the budget measure to change the tax benefits on landlords who buy to let.  This forms part of my series of articles and book on housing policy. It looks at the measure in the Chancellor’s summer budget that proposes to change the way that buy-to-let landlords are taxed.

This article is work in progress; more will come later.

What the measure is about

The Chancellor plans to restrict tax relief on landlords of buy-to-let (BTL) properties [HMRC, 2015]
In the 2015 summer budget, The Chancellor proposed to phase out for current 40% tax relief for buy-to-let landlords resident in the UK. These will be individuals rather then companies.
The restrictions will be phased in from April 2014.
This measure will restrict relief for finance costs on residential properties to the basic rate of Income Tax.  Finance costs includes mortgage interest, interest on loans to buy furnishings and fees incurred when taking out or repaying mortgages or loans. No relief is available for capital repayments of a mortgage or loan. [HMRC, 2015]
Landlords who have higher incomes will no longer receive generous tax reliefs.
At the moment, buy-to-let landlords represent 15% of residential property mortgages. The BTL sector has been booming in recent times.
Buy-to-let landlord enjoy an advantage in the market because they can claim relief on the interest they pay for mortgages against their income. People who are buying their own home, to live in, cannot do this. The more income a landlord has the higher the amount of this relief.
Tax relief on finance costs for buy-to-let landlords is to restricted to the basic rate of tax.
The current allowance is set at 40%.
Rental property is taxed more heavily than owner occupied property.

What the measure tries to achieve

The aim of 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 home to live in.
The restrictions are aimed at individuals, presumably meaning sole traders. Some suggest  that this will lead to more people using companies to engage in buy-to-let. The decrease in Corporation tax might further enhance this trend.
The 2015 budget stated that the government will take forward proposals to improve the market for residential property management services in to make tangible improvements in the market to benefit both leaseholders and landlords [Treasury, 2015
The restrictions will not apply to non-resident  investors.

The impact of the measure

The Chancellor’s proposals will not increase the supply of housing.

The budget red book stated that this means that “the current tax system supports landlords over and above ordinary homeowners” and that it “puts investing in a rental property at an advantage”.  According to one analyst, this line of argument is plain wrong. Rental property is taxed more heavily than owner occupied property. [Institute of Fiscal Studies, July 2015]

According to Bill Dodwell of Deloitte this could lead to losses for investors. Rises in bank rate would exacerbate losses.

Some commentators predict that this arrangements will cause rents to rise and would therefore be inflationary. Analysts see this proposal was leading to a shortage of properties to let or an increase in the rate of rents.

The scheme is likely to affect only one in five individual landlords, those in the higher income sector. hence, it is predicted that wealthier landlords will be hardest hit by these proposals and the wealthier they are the harder they will be hit by them. Professional landlords in the higher tax bracket will suffer losses as a result. According to the National Association of Landlords, the measure will affect 204,000 landlords. They state that ‘Right now it is especially crucial as we try to convince the Treasury to amend its Finance Bill to prevent massive financial harm for landlords throughout the UK.’ [NLA, 2015]

The impact of this measure might be that some BTL landlords will sell off their properties in order to avoid the losses that would be incurred as a result of increased taxation.  However, they might find themselves hit by capital gains tax.

Commentators warn that the measure will make BTL investment less attractive, especially for those using it as an alternative way of providing or supplementing pension income. Rapidly rising house prices have attracted investors into the property market and low interest rates have made property a more attractive option for people who have funds to invest. Trends in the availability of mortgages, especially for first-time buyers, affect the number of people seeking rented accommodation. BTL landlords have top be sure that they are getting an income from their lets and this depends on their mortgage costs being relatively low. BTL landlords have to ensure that they avoid periods when a property is empty and they have to be careful about maintenance and repair costs.

Some might transfer their property holdings to companies.  Some see the measure as leading to a hike in rents. Restrictions to BTL will result in less homes being available and this will push rents.

In fact if bank rate rises happen and savings and investment in funds becomes more attractive, investors might begin to move out of the property market. Many invested in BTL because this promises a higher rate of return than putting money into schemes where interest rates were low. Commentators remain divided on the extent to which this measure will affect property as an investment.

Nearly three quarters of renters considered their rents to be good value for money, says the National Landlords Association. Increasing shortages of mortgages for young people and pensioners has led to a large increase in rented accommodation. The proportion of people in the private rented sector is now larger than for those in council housing or in housing association lets. Those renting their homes increasingly claim housing benefits. Renting in the private sector provides little security of tenure. Last of security is particularly hard for older renters whose income is fixed. If this measure does lead to an increase in rents that will lead to increased poverty and hike the amount local authorities will to pay in housing benefits.

George Osborne’s measure must have seem like a good idea at the time; in the long-term it might have a raft of unintended consequences.

References

Department for Communities and Local Government, May 2015, Policy paper: 2010 to 2015 government policy: rented housing sector. UK Government

Hanley, Lynsey, 2012, Private tenants like me need long-term security, The Guardian.

HMRC, 2015, Policy paper: Restricting finance cost relief for individual landlords.

Institute of Fiscal Studies, July 2015, Summer Post Briefing.
NLA, 2015, National Landlords Association.
Treasury, HM, 2015, Budget 2015, HC1093, March 2015.

See also:

House Bricks: the future of housing in Britain

Housing – new approaches to policy

 

Music Awards

26th March 2014

This is an archive post; it is not current; it’s here for the record.

archive page logo
This page forms part of out archives

LEICESTER MUSIC AWARDS

NB: the idea of the Leicester Music Awards was never followed up and nothing was ever done about it.  This article won an award: Annual Apathy Prize for 2014.

Should awards be given to celebrate the music of Leicester? This article discusses this question.

First, some background. Society in general celebrates and honours achievements in many ways. The Queen confers honours in the form of OBEs, MBEs and CBEs. Awards and prizes are given in the world of sports, the arts, films and television, literature, science, engineering and so forth.

Second, in the world of music, there are several well-known awards, including the Brits, those given by magazines such as NME and Kerrang and others which celebrate popular music generally. ‘The Barclaycard Mercury Prize promotes the best of UK and Irish music and the artists that produce it. This is done primarily through the celebration of the 12 ‘Albums of the Year’.’ Likewise there are awards made to specific genres of music, such as The Urban Music awards which ‘recognise the achievement of urban based artists, producers, club nights, DJ’s , radio stations, record labels and artist from the current Dance/R&B, Hip-hop, Neo Soul, Jazz, and dance music scene.’

There are awards for classical music, music made by young people, opera, choral music, and so forth. Some awards are given by the big national music industry organisations and some are geared to independent music. The company that manufactures Orange Amps sponsors awards in the world of classic rock as it also does for ‘prog’ music.

These are all national-level awards. At the local level, there are far fewer examples but a few do stand out.

The Liverpool Music Awards ‘honours the heroes of the music industry in our city: not only local musicians, but also those behind the scene, who facilitate and inspire others to create and perform on Merseyside. While the scope of the awards provides opportunity to celebrate musical achievements which have gone beyond the borders of our city, at their core the awards are for those who are currently active in Liverpool.’

In Brighton, the BMA is about ‘Celebrating the best independent music from Brighton and across the region.’

The Manchester Musical Awards honours the world of musicals.

In Nottingham, Nusic selects an artist of the month. The Nottingham Music Awards is about ‘Celebrating the vibrant and eclectic Nottingham Music Scene.’ The Nottingham Music Awards – also known as the Notty’s – will look to celebrate the achievements of the great musicians, singers, promoters, managers and others who play a part in what is a boom time for the Nottingham music scene.’

The giving of awards, prizes and honours is a widespread and long established aspect of human life across all fields of human activity.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicestershire published a Band of the Month to highlight the work of local bands and did this from 2008 to 2012. Later Music in Leicester website continued this by publishing a band of the month. Both also published an annual Gigs of The Year article to recognise outstanding live performances.

What would be the benefit to Leicester?

If Leicester was to follow the example set by other local cities and to create its own set of awards for popular music, what might be the benefits?

My stance on this is that there would be two sets of gains: the national and the local. It is possible that local music-markers would enjoy the recognition of receiving a gong for their endeavours and in particular new bands and rising artists could be given a boost and encouragement from such acknowledgements.

More importantly, in my view, there would be benefits for the music community as a whole. The existence of awards for music would boost the notoriety of Leicester as a centre of musical excellence. Many people have commented that music is one of Leicester’s “best kept secrets” and that much more needs to be done to gain acknowledgement of our music at national level.

In principle, such an initiative would confer benefits far beyond the confines of the city. However laudable it might be to recognise and honour musical achievement at the local level, what stands out for me is the celebration of our music at national level.

There are course a lot of dependent factors in this: not least who is selecting and judging the potential winners. Some of the judges would be local people who have followed the various genres of music in the locality but alongside these should be those who bring a wider perspective – people in the East Midlands region and those who know music at a national level. Local people patting themselves on the back might be good but if there is an equally weighted group of people with a wider take on music, who also have a part in honouring the city’s bands and artists, then this gives the whole thing added credibility.

Some awards allow music fans to vote on nominated acts but, in my mind, this counts for less than the judgement of music professionals. At national level, it might well be fine for the public to vote in large numbers for a music artist but at local level voting reduces favour to popularity and the size of an act’s following. That can be fair enough for local competitions, although some have argued that this is inherently unfair because there is no necessary equation of musical ability and local popularity.

If the choice should rest with a panel of industry experts, it is vital that there is a cross-section of backgrounds that reflects the scope of the music scene. If we opt for a generic Music Award (even one that is focussed only on popular music including rock, indie and urban genres and not classical or choral) then the judging panel must draw in those from a wide spread of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As with most Awards, there are likely to be categories and prizes that celebrate specific kinds of music-makers, including bands, singers, rappers, instrumentalists and so on. It is possible that certain kinds of music outputs might also be worth honouring, including best recorded tune or song, best lyrics, best music video, best live performance, etc.

Where general Music Awards are concerned, most would want to honour long-established acts as well as emerging new talent. Some scope also exists to honour the music industry that brings their work into the outside world – venues, promoters, recording studios and so forth.

What I personally do not approve of is a competition in which music acts have to perform in a series of heats and semi-finals in order to gain an award. It think it is much better that judges base their approvals on performance over a period of time, look at the live gigs, recordings and output of the acts, basing their assessments on what an act has achieved over time and not on a single series of live gigs.

Is it worth it?

Any award-making initiative depends, for its success, on a range of factors that must be got right at the very start. Who will be chosen to be the judges is the most important factor, but it is also necessary to factor in elements such as sponsors, backers, financiers, publicists and a plethora of people who can contribute to the whole thing being worthwhile and successful. The kudos of being granted an award might be beneficial in itself but if the awards also confers other forms of value – cash prizes, recording contracts, publicity – then people might see it as being more widely worthwhile.

The potential down-side of sponsorship is corporate domination; independent awards avoid the kick-backs from big commercial organisations using the process for their own agendas.

The critical factors are not just who judges but what criteria they use. This has to be transparent. It’s all very well awarding a prize for the ‘best band’ but the value of that is not obvious unless the criteria is very clearly stated.

The worth of a Leicester awards initiative rests, in my view, on what the music scene as a whole gets out of it. It also has to be an annual process in which its value grows year on year.

Where should we go from here?

13th April 2013

What we planned

This post is part of an exercise to engage with our readers, friends, fans, customers … in order to find out what they value in the work that we do.  As an organisation (ArtsIn Productions) we do a lot of different things – run an arts magazine, put on training courses, represent bands, singers and rappers, provide a publicity service … the scope of our work is wide. The resources we have available however is not.

This consultation is to ask the public to share their thoughts and comments with us about what we do best.  If we should be focusing in,  then what should we concentrate on?

My concern is that we are spreading our resources too thinly across the field of our activities.  If we narrowed down we might achieve more impact.  The problem that I have, as the head honcho around here, is what?   I can see all the things that need doing.   I am well aware of all the things that I like doing. But, it’s not all about me.

What is difficult for me is letting go of some of my pet projects, my passions, my skill-areas; but that is what needs to happen.  ArtsIn Productions involves a number of people – all of them volunteers.    I am the only one that does things on a daily basis. Clearly, far too much lands on my desk and I cannot cope with all of it.

I can delegate some things,  to some people,  some of the time. The more volunteers we get, the more time it takes to train, brief and organise them all. As we say on our web site “Volunteers lie at the heart of all we do.”  Ours is a social enterprise and a constant stream of people apply to join us. That increases our capacity but only to the extent that we can train, en-skill, supervise and motivate them.

I am particularly concerned to get feedback and comment from those in the music community;  music represents the biggest part of our work. After about ten years of working with music, we feel we have made a contribution and we want to continue to do that.

Of all the things that we do for music,   what things are most valuable?   If we had to focus on one or two things that would be of real benefit to bands, singers and rappers, what should they be?

What happened

ArtsIn Productions Limited was closed down.  Having failed to achieve its goals, the company was costing me money to keep going, so I decided to close it.

Having announced that I was going to ‘retire’ in 2014, I have postponed that because I am too busy and have too much work to do.

I am keeping both web sites running Arts in Leicester and Music in Leicester.  I have taken both sites over from the company and am now the sole publisher of them both.

Narrowing down would be nice but, as with many of these things, there are inter-linkages and cross-benefits that make it impossible to remove one card from the house without the whole thing being in danger of falling down.

Comments about both of the websites are as always very welcome.

Please post your comments.

 

Arts news

Today we asked Leicester’s Mayoral Candidates for their views on cutbacks to the arts. We know times are hard but Museums and Art Galleries play a valuable role in supporting young people, students and community members to reach educational and cultural resources. So, we want to find out what the candidates for Mayor of Leicester think about how the city can continue to support the arts.

Why the Digital Economy Bill won’t work

The Digital Economy Bill attempts to outlaw music file sharing; it threatens to take away people’s right to use the Internet if they consistently download music and/or movie files without paying for them. Is this right? Does it protect the rights of musicians and actors whose income is being jeopardised by pirate file sharing on the Internet? The industry is divided on the matter.

Some think it is necessary to protect the creative rights of copyright holders who depend on sales of their work to make a living. There are those who argue that draconian measures are called for to protect the “creative industries” from this large-scale theft and loss of income.

So, is this knee-jerk reaction ‘fair dos?’ Research by the think tank Demos found that people who download music from file sharing sources spend more on average on legitimately purchasing music than those who obtain music only from legitimate sources. The Internet is awash with new music: it has to be. Musicians need to build up a following and get their recordings heard.

Eventually bands and artists get to a point where they want to go full time and to spend their time being creative, making music, writing songs, without the impediment of having to go out and do a job to pay the rent. This is where it becomes difficult. The record labels used to take on new artists and give them a living by signing them up to a contract. This rarely happens these days. Sales of CDs have plummeted; plastic music has been substantially replaced by digital music.

The other thing to note is that the total value of live music sales has now overtaken the total value of sales of recorded music. You can’t download the live experience. Seeing a band and being in an audience with like minded fans is one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences of modern life and far outweighs the value of listening to tracks on an i-Pod. Of course, it’s the pre-recorded music that in all probability has created the demand for the gig tickets and this precisely why the record labels should take the pain of the £200m loss on file sharing, simply because there is a bigger prize to be won from the music loving public.

Bands making new and original music have to give away their music in order to create a following for it. There comes a point however when a band has become established when selling songs becomes a realistic proposition. Many bands these days would say they do not need record labels; they can be their own label and sell their music directly via i-Tunes – they don’t need record labels to do this for them.

Controlling the Internet might not be the solution. The freedom of the Internet has both its winners and its losers. It might well be true that the record industry is loosing £200 million a year from illegal downloads. As Billy Bragg said: “It’s the record labels that are dying on their feet”. They are not dying because of file downloads; they are dying because they do not want to change the way they operate. They are run by old-style conservatives who do not want to change or keep up with the times. Louis Walsh believes that talented musicians need “The Big Machine” to get them on to the mass media. He would say that wouldn’t he – being one of the owners of the x-factor brand. It’s easy to understand the rage there is against that machine.

A lot of these problems will go away when the big corporate machines stop trying to own artists. There are too many corporate suits who want to get rich at the expense of the people they control. Ok this has been the reality of popular music for the past 70 years. Labels have made big money out of artists. The Internet offers a way out of that maze of vested interests. The more you try to control the Internet, the harder people will try to get round the controls. Control solves one problem but immediately creates another.

Surely the better approach is to concentrate on the technology of locking music recordings into highly encrypted packages that only a payment can unlock. Technology exists that is capable of creating an un-copyable CD and an un-hackable digital distribution source. If the government want to help the creative industries to get their money back from their work, let the Government fund the research and technology development that will make digital copyright protection a reality. A reality in which any kind of creative effort can be securely locked into a format which is un-copyable. The Government have got it wrong – it’s not the “creative industries” that are losing money – it’s only the record industry moguls that are having their power taken away. File locking is one thing but there is another way.

The government has never had a problem funding the BBC via a licence fee. Millions have to pay for the BBC to be creative whether they want to watch it or not. Presumably they could fund the creative industries by a tax on Broadband usage, so that those who use the greater bandwidth pay more for it and the money goes to fund the artists they want to listen to. Sounds a much more beneficial approach to me than trying to police the un-policable.

When it comes to the Internet, people should be given what they want. A basic service should be free to those needing only a basis amount of use. Those who want more, should pay. A generation has grown up which places no monetary value on music; all music is free. Kids cannot see that it costs anything to make recorded music. Even 99p is too much to pay to hear a tune. They want to hear the music but they do not want to pay for it. If they are downloading songs from the back catalogue of great bands because they want a musical education, then that is a good thing. We all want to listen to the songs that represent the roots of modern music. But let’s get the file sharing companies to pay for that education. Let’s engage the bit torrenters in educating their users about the economic realities of music and why it is not produced free of charge.

In the old days people would happily put a 10p into a juke-box in a bar and listen to a track being played. People would often spend a pound or two playing their favourite songs. All we need now is the digital equivalent of the juke-box and a micro payments system that will work on the Internet or the mobile phone. That however needs to be backed up with some educational work to help people to understand why it costs money to record music.

On balance I think I side with the musicians like Billy Bragg who reject the government’s solution as being misguided and failing to see the bigger picture. What we need to change is not how people use the Internet but the way that the music industry is organised.