The Housing Crisis Weaponised

The government does not intend to solve our housing crisis. Instead it aims to use the housing crisis as a weapon of policy against the beliefs and attitudes that sustain a welfare state.

Much of the attack on the welfare state has been about constructing a new common sense view in which the private market is the only really fair system of distributing goods and rewards. It is seen as unfair when people don’t pay their way – meaning when they don’t pay market prices they seem to get something for nothing.

This common sense says that housing benefit is unfair, we are told, because it allows some people to live in expensive neighbourhoods without paying for it. The message is that if you can’t afford to live in nice places, you shouldn’t live there – it’s as simple as that.  As a result housing benefit has been cut back and capped, and the fairness of the housing market has been reasserted, with house prices fairly keeping the nicest and most expensive areas – and those parts of the country where homes are most in demand – out of the reach of anyone who is not already very well-off.

The Housing and Planning Bill makes that message of fairness even more explicit. Continue reading

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A Passion for Place

Planning scholarship tends to shy away from the emotional realm and planners in practice assert their distance from attachment. The policy of neighbourhood planning in England is unusual in that it addresses people’s emotional commitment to place, or their place attachment.


Human geographers would argue that the relationship with place is largely unconscious and is felt in the bones. Place is not a backdrop or a setting from which we stand distinct; instead emplacement, like embodiment, is a condition of being. Although individuals are confronted with a reality of place ‘out there’, which they may invest in meaning for themselves, places are already imbued with meanings that govern expected behaviour and social interaction. We talk about people being put in their place. Place is tied up with power relations and behavioural norms. Continue reading

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The New Patchwork Politics of Place

Building Sustainable Futures-

Building Sustainable Futures

In a new book ‘Building Sustainable Futures‘ edited by Dastbaz and Strange and published by Springer 2015 I contribute a chapter on neighbourhood planning and sustainable communities.

The concept of sustainable communities has come to define a particular type of governance in which responsibility for ameliorating the impact of economic growth is devolved to place-based voluntary and community associations. The community provides a model of sustainability in which the economics of collective consumption and the politics of community action can be engaged in the planning and stewardship of local development. The strategies of sustainable communities that result combine the market zeal of spatial liberalism with themes of redistributive justice and equality.  In the concept of community they find both a model of resilience and self-reliance and conversely a dynamic of mutual aid and co-operation.

My chapter identifies these competing strands in government strategies for sustainable communities in England and particularly the programme of neighbourhood planning introduced from 2011.  Together with my co-author, David Haigh, I argue that through neighbourhood planning responsibility for achieving environmental and social sustainability was largely abandoned by the state and relegated to the domestic networks of the community.  We explore the definition of sustainability that emerged from communities and their neighbourhood plans, one in which the priorities of environmental quality and the welfare needs of social reproduction were pursued through a Hobson’s choice of economic growth or self-reliance. In attempts by neighbourhood planning groups to establish innovative strategies of participation and community management we evidence the continuance of claims of redistribution and spatial equality in the concept of sustainability and in this unequal geography of community initiatives, we chart the development of a new patchwork politics of place. Building Sustainable Futures chapter_Final

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Neighbourhood plans against developers

The policy intention of neighbourhood planning in England was to overcome community opposition to house-building. It was anticipated that neighbourhood plans would increase the number of sites allocated for housing by giving communities more influence over the shape of development in exchange for their compliance with a pro-growth agenda. By the end of 2015, with over 100 neighbourhood plans in place and a further 1700 underway, the government announced the success of the policy in increasing housing allocations by more than 10 per cent. Continue reading

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Planning workshop helps Leeds neighbourhoods shape their future

Around 40 people from neighbourhood planning groups across Leeds took part in an innovative knowledge exchange workshop organised by Leeds Beckett University’s Planning Network on 7 November.

20 Neighbourhood Planning groups attend workshop

20 Neighbourhood Planning groups attend workshop

The workshop was organised by Leeds Planning Network, a new research cluster set up by the School of the Built Environment and Engineering supported by the Centre for Knowledge Exchange.

Quintin Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Planning at Leeds Beckett University, said: “This workshop is the first in a series of events in which we aim to help local people in Leeds get a real say in the future of their neighbourhoods.” Continue reading

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The new tenants’ movement

Ocropped-rent-stike-film-still-red-skirts-on-clydeside-1984-by-woodly-and-bellamy1ne hundred years since the famous Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915 and we’re still battling the same housing crisis.
One hundred years ago the Glasgow rent strikers won the right to rent regulation and council housing. In the last thirty years we’ve lost those rights. Rent regulation was abolished by the Thatcher government and council housing was decimated by the Right to Buy and is now to be sold off to pay for another right to buy for housing associations.

Today, like then, we see a growing swell of housing protests.  An alliance forged by the austerities of insecure housing, benefit cuts and rocketing housing costs is uniting social housing tenants, private tenants, and homeless people in resistance to eviction, the squatting of empty housing and direct action against property speculators.

img_20150919_135237359Inspiring groups like Focus E15 have crossed the boundaries of tenure between social housing and the private rented sector to campaign for security and affordability for all tenants. Campaign groups like Housing Action for Southwark and Lambeth help resist evictions and advocate on behalf of homeless people seeking council re-housing.

Continue reading

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Pawns in their game? Neighbourhood plans win more powers

Neighbourhood plans in England are creating new lines of political conflict in the relationship between central and local government.

The new Housing and Planning Bill (2015) grants neighbourhood planning areas a right of appeal to the secretary of state in cases of disagreement with the local authority. In addition urban neighbourhoods that have a designated forum will get the right to be consulted over planning applications.

These new powers bear witness to the antagonism that has developed between many neighbourhood planning groups and their local planning authority. The legislation is also evidence of government intention to establish the neighbourhood as a new political identity that can be used to circumvent or circumscribe the power of local councils. The neighbourhood is emerging as the potential ally or pawn of central government in its fractious relationship with local authorities. Continue reading

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Five things the government has done to worsen the housing crisis

1.Wrongly expected the volume builders to deliver for housing need

Volume house builders won't solve the housing crisis

Volume house builders won’t solve the housing crisis

The government expects the volume house builders to deliver the 240,000 extra homes we need each year. And it has cleared every obstacle to ensure the house builders get the land they need and the profits they want.  But the private sector has never built much more than 150,000 in any year and it is against their market interests to increase supply. Continue reading

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That starter homes pledge

Starter homes costing £250000?

Starter homes costing £250000?

So the promise of 200,000 starter homes will be fulfilled by ending affordable rented housing on private developments. Instead the Prime Minister has announced that developers can meet their planning gain obligations (known as S106 agreements) by building discounted homes for market sale.  These so called affordable homes can cost up to 80% of market price up to a cap of £250,000 outside London. Once again the government has demonstrated its complete misunderstanding of the role of the volume house-builders.  These private companies are not in business to meet housing need. Continue reading

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The radical roots of Garden Cities

Garden city plansGarden cities figure prominently in government aspirations for house-building these days. They seem to be the politically acceptable face of New Towns.  While garden cities have establishment support, the only really practical solution to the housing shortage – more council housing – is still political anathema. So it is worth knowing that garden cities and council housing share the same origins and are linked by the same ideals. In this article I report on the utopian movement that created the early garden cities and inspired the first council estates. Continue reading

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