Monday 29 July 2019

Environment Monday - Solving the housing crisis in London

Brent Cross - One of Barnets mega schemes
There is a myth being perpetrated, mostly by developers and their stooges, that the answer to Londons housing crisis is to allow developers to build massive tower blocks on every available piece of land, with a designated percentage deemed 'affordable'.  To me, this is an absolutely insane approach. I must say that the whole approach of Sadiq Khan has been less than effective. There is no argument that there is a crisis and there is no argument that this needs addressing. What clearly is ripe for a very big argument is how this problem is addressed.

My solution to this would be to set up a London housing commission. The first task would be to identify what sort of housing we need to address the crisis. The first principles should be

* There is affordable, cheap and decent quality housing for key working people, close to their place of work. So developments near schools should have a designated percentage of units for teachers and other support staff at rents which are affordable, or with schemes to enable the staff to buy at heavy discounts (perhaps with partial ownership etc). The same should be true for hospitals, police stations and other key public industries.

* Large new developments should include a percentage of council housing. The developers should build these and supply them to councils at cost. These would then be available to councils to address the huge waiting lists.

* Councils should be legally obliged to set up hostels and proper support services for London's homeless. I have been a volunteer at several charities for homeless people for many years. I find the comments of some commentators laughable when they talk about luxury housing developments being the solution to these problems. The needs of the homeless are very specialised. Many have issues with substance abuse and mental health issues. The first step on addressing their housing problem is to get them proper medical treatment for such issues.

* Measures to address land banking and the buying of properties for investments, that are left empty. Many developers have bought huge swathes of land and are not developing it, as this ensures that the demand is greater than the supply. This means that large profits are guaranteed. As to the practice of building luxury flats and selling them to offshore investors, who simply leave them empty, this is criminal when people are unable to find accommodation. My solution would be to introduce punitive tax rates to ensure that if land is lying undeveloped or properties are sitting empty, the owners will be highly taxed, to incentivise them to develop the sites or open them up for rental. I would ensure that the income from these taxes was directed into procurement of council housing.

* Creation of a 'London land register'. Local authorities, state industries, developers and other large land owners should be compelled to provide details of all land holdings of over 2 acres. These could then be assessed as to whether they are suitable for development of social housing. A key feature of this should be to also match this with a London Transport plan. It is pointless building homes on places where there is no sensible infrastructure to support the homes. Air quality and other pollution issues must also be considered.

* Allow local authorities to employ their own labour force to build council housing. My brother worked for the GLC when it built the Grahame Park Estate. When Margaret Thatcher became PM, she disbanded the GLC and ended direct labour forces. The passing of the right to buy laws and the forbidding of using cash raised to build more council housing is the root cause of our current crisis.

In short, the answer to the problem is for councils to build decent council housing for young families and key workers. This can either be done in partnership with the private sector or by authorities setting up their own labour forces.

My belief is that by setting up a proper plan for London housing and infrastructure, we could make our city work of the people who live here. Just plonking huge skyscrapers on islands of land surrounded by busy roads, with no local infrastructure to support them is not a fit for purpose solution. Building 'luxury flats' for offshore investors, who won't live in then is, to my mind criminal.

Grenfell - why high rise needs sturdy regulataions
This blog is not anti tower blocks in all cases, but we have many concerns. Perhaps the biggest is that the lessons of Grenfell seem to not be learned. Shoddy building practices resulted in complete death traps being built. What should have happened was that an emergency fund was set up to make every tower safe. The fact that many are still clad in inflammable over two years after the tragedy is criminal. I believe that a moratorium on the building of new Towers should have been called until a full set of building control regulations had been drawn up to ensure that any new towers are completely safe.

The second issue I have with large tower blocks is that they are not places to raise families. Children need space to roam. I see no problems in working people living in high rise flats, but as soon as they have children, they need space. The UK is having a mental health crisis and I believe that a contributing factor is the lack of space to roam safely for children. Garden spaces should be seen as a right for families. The towers that Sadiq Khan passed last week, may be suitable for student accommodation at Middlesex University, assuming the transport issues can be resolved, or for single workers commuting into the city on Thameslink. It is not part of a holistic solution for the housing problems of our city. sThe fact that one in six of the new flats going up in London are being sold to oversees investors shows that the developments are not for Londoners. In sought after areas such as Mill Hill, this percentage is likely to be much higher.

The key questions we should be asking are as follows, before we pass large scale plans.

* Who needs housing in the area and what are their requirements?
* Is the infrastructure in place to support the development?
* Are the developments fit for purpose and safe?
* Are the developments affordable for the people who need them?
* What impact will the development have on the surrounding area and the neighbours?

There will always be compromises, but these should never be on safety and well being. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Property developers making profits and being innovative. But there is also a requirement for social responsibility.  Developers agenda is to make as much money as possible. The responsibility for making sure that the requirement to serve the community is served is down to the Government and the Mayor. It is clear that at the moment both are failing in their duties. Not only do we have a shortage of homes. We have a glut of developments that won't fix the problem.

Sunday 28 July 2019

The Tweets of the week in the London Borough of Barnet - 29/7/2019

So, dear friend,  I am sure that like me you have been fascinated with some of the myriad of rather deranged tweets that the world of twitter has produced in this last week. I am not sure whether it was the heat, the ascent of Boris or a new moon entering Leo, but people seem even more hot and bothered than ever. Whenever I see mad, bad and dangerous tweets, I always feel rather relieved. It is like steam coming out of a pressure cooker. When they are ranting and raging on twitter, they are not kicking their cat (or whatever else they take their anger out on). But I guess that as you are reading this, you are a nice, well balanced and sane, rational person, looking for the best in our community, which is what we always try and include in this column. Here is a small display that we still have nice, sane and rational people in our community, spreading light and love on Twitter. And we introduce a new feature. A special guest Tweet of the week. I was delighted to find that one of my Twitter heroes, Nancy Sinatra followed me this week. I've always loved Nancy and I think she is the best thing on Twitter in the USA at the moment. So she has the honour of having the inaugural Special guest tweet of the week.

Special Guest Tweet of the Week.

1. Mark Amies has been campaigning for the Railway Hotel in Edgware to be restored to its former glory for a very long time. We've supported him for a very long time. Lets hope that sooner or later Barnet Council and Historic England start doing their job and get on the case.

2. I must check out the churchyard at St Mary's in Finchley. This is a wonderful picture

3. And while we're on the subject of places worth a visit in Finchley, Stephens House is well worth a look

4. A massive congratulations to the Finchley Childrens Music Group for their amazing performance at the BBC Proms

5. Here is a really important date for your diary from Mill Hill's oldest family business

6. Happy 100th Birthday for one of Mill Hill's most esteemed figures

7. Fancy getting funky in Colindale? A date for your diary

8. Probably the funniest local tweet of the week! (Although not funny for Ed Holloway)

9. Stiffleaf likes one of our local landmarks! Looks like it needs a lick of paint thoigh

10. Need an environmentally friendly delivery service in London?

Well, that's nearly all folks, but as a special treat for you, as we are big fans of Nancy Sinatra, and she's now following us, here is one of her finest moments

Have a great weekend and don't let the bugs bite!

Saturday 27 July 2019

The Saturday List #225 - My ten favourite pictures of Mill Hill with a difference (Vol 1)

There are many pictures of Mill Hill, many views that you can see on all sorts of websites. There are links to several excellent collections on our friend Richard Wilkinsons website. If you like historical piccies these are well worth checking out. I was  at our studios on Thursday and I happened to be looking for my Brother Laurie. Laurie is a fair bit old than me. He was born in the 1940's and is the only one of my siblings living in Mill Hill. He runs the rather wonderful Bunns Lane Welding Business, which has been a key part of Mill Hill since 1979. Every real old Mill Hillian knows Laurie very well. The thing I like best about Laurie is that his workshop hasn't changed since he started, apart from the new tools. He still employs the great British tradition of a tea break, except that he drinks coffee. Unlike myself, Laurie loves coffee. Older residents of Mill Hill will remember when we had Smiths Coffee roasters in Mill Hill. When they roasted, the whole of Bunns Lane had the aroma of  freshly ground coffee. Smiths moved out in the 1990's, but they still supply Laurie with coffee, and he still sells it for them to their loyal Mill Hill customers. Laurie has many strong local interests. He worked for a while in Sainsbury's when they were in Mill Hill. He worked on the Grahame Park Estate in the construction, as time and motion man for the GLC. He then decided that he wanted to work for himself and started Bunns Lane Welding. He invited me to work with him, but I am far too lazy and have an aversion to getting my hands dirty (and getting burned). He employed several of my ex band mates from the False Dots as welders, but these days is semi retired as a one man band. Laurie is responsible in part for my love of music. Him and his twin Frank are excellent musicians, far better than me, and both inspired a love of guitar. Laurie's record collection contains The Steve Miller Band, The Who and Joni Mitchell and much inspired me. He saw Pink Floyd and Ten years after on a boat on the Mersey whilst at Uni in Liverpool in the 1960's and always encouraged my own love of music.

Anyway, enough rambling. I thought I'd take a few piccies for posterity of his workshop. This inspired me to put together a small collection of other pictures of Mill Hill that are a bit 'different'  to the usual ones.

1. Lets start with Lauries workshop, almost unchanged since 1979

2. Anyone who knows Laurie, knows he has many vices, but only in his professional life!

3. When I was a wee nipper, my Brother would stand me on this. It seemed like the highest point on the planet! Old Mill Hillians will recognise the site!

4. Our family has been associated with the motor trade in Mill Hill since the 1940's. I love garages. I intend to do a full study of them. Some might find this ugly, but I really like the utilitarian functionality of petrol stations

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5. I also rather like to raise my eyes and look at what lies above the shops. Clarence House at Mill Hill Circus is one of my favourites, it always reminded me of a mini NIMR.

6. This is my favourite picture of The Harwood Hall in Mill Hill. This was 1980 and The False Dots were doing a fundraiser for CND in Mill Hill. Guitar legend Boz Boorer is joining us. Spot the ciggie behind his ear. Boz still has local ties. We often have a pint at the Mill Hill services club. There is a painting of Boz's Dad's Beaufighter on a mission in Norway by the door as you enter the club. These men built Mill Hill!

7. This is my favourite puddle in Mill Hill. This will always form after a sharp storm. I rather like this picture of it!

8. This picture was taken at the first ever recording session at Mill Hill Music Complex back in 1979. This is the former drummer of the False Dots, Dav about to play. The studios were originally based in the disused caretakers cottage

9. This is perhaps my favourite modern picture of Bunns Lane works in the modern era. It was taken last Autumn and has (to me) a very 'Exorcist' feel to it.

10. And this is my favourite 'noir' shot of Bunns Lane Works, taken from the other end of estate

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That's all folks.