Nuclear powers, spiralling tension – and Kashmir’s fallout in urban Britain

Brokenshire must keep an eye on the potential knock-on from the latest flare-up over terror, reprisals, a captured pilot and the disputed territory.

The community cohesion post at HCLG is viewed as the most junior in the department.  Which is why it was originally siphoned off to Andrew Stunell, the only Liberal Democrat placed in it when the Coalition was formed, while the Conservatives bagged housing, planning and local government finance.  The present holder of the post isn’t even in the Commons: he is Nick Bourne, the former leader of the Welsh Party, now Lord Bourne and re-badged as Minister for Faith.

Given this set-up, it would be well worth James Brokenshire keeping half an eye on the military escalation between India and Pakistan.  The two countries have fought three wars since they were founded over a territory about which both make claims: the former princely state of Kashmir.  In a nutshell, India occupies a part of it, the valley, against the wishes of its inhabitants, and has a long record of committing human rights abuses there; Pakistan, meanwhile, equips, trains and manipulates jihadi terrorists, who cross the line of control to commit atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir and in India itself.

The present flare-up was sparked by an attack on Indian police in the valley which left 40 of them dead.  The Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group was responsible for the assault.  A line of control separates the Indian and Pakistani-occupied parts of Kashmir.  The terrorists will almost certainly have crossed it to carry out the attack.  They would not be able to operate in Pakistani-controlled territory without the protection of the Pakistan Government.

Consequently, India launched retaliatory air strikes.  Unsurprisingly, there are conflicting accounts of who they hit and to what effect, but what is certain is that at least one Indian plane was shot down and at least one pilot captured.  He has duly been paraded on Pakistani television.  That Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, faces an election shortly is inflaming the situation: he must prove to the country’s voters that he won’t go soft on terror.  Imran Khan, his Pakistani counterpart (yes: that Imran Khan), has sought to pour oil on these troubled waters.  There will be more to his motives than meets the eye, but his words are worth pondering none the less.

“With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford a miscalculation?  Shouldn’t we think about what will happen if the situation escalates?” he said, calling for talks.  As we write, Modi, doubtless with that election in view and outraged Indian voters in mind, isn’t willing to take up the offer.  Most likely, the confrontation will simmer down, and the near-70 year old Kashmir dispute duly vanish from the headlines, before duly simmering up again.

But there is always a chance that it will not.  There will now be over 1.5 million people of Indian origin in Britain and at least that many people of Pakistani origin.  Roughly 60 per of these are, strictly speaking, not Pakistanis at all: they originate from the Mirpur area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.  The two populations don’t exactly live side by side, but they do share parts of some cities, such as Birmingham and Leicester.  Local councils will be in the lead when it comes to defusing potential tensions, but national government also has a role – just as it does in relation to the Israel-Palestine dispute, which is more visible, at least to Britain’s white majority.

The Attlee Government may not have handled Britain’s departure from the old imperial India well, but given the country’s communalism there would doubtless have been mass bloodshed in any event.  In a different world, there would be some Northern Ireland-type solution to the Kashmir problem.  But neither India nor Pakistan are remotely, to borrow a phrase that Brokenshire sometimes uses in other contexts, “in that space”.  For the moment, he can only watch, get briefed and plan, but “they also serve who only stand and wait”.

Will Tanner: Nansledan offers an answer to Britain’s housing crisis

By engaging properly with the local community, the developer has won local consent for four times as many homes as originally proposed.

Will Tanner is Director of Onward, which today holds Creating Communities 2019, a major conference in partnership with Create Streets.

You will not have heard of Nansledan, but it might be an answer to Britain’s housing crisis.

The development on the edge of Newquay was planned as the kind of scheme which NIMBY residents are supposed to oppose vociferously: an urban extension of one thousand new houses.

Over the last seven years, the opposite has happened. Instead of building a thousand new homes as originally proposed, the local community now supports four times that number in a mixed-use scheme that will increase the size of the town by 20 per cent.

As a result, the development will serve Newquay’s housing needs for not just five but the next fifty years.

Nansledan turned NIMBYs into YIMBYs by doing something that should be unremarkable but is in fact revolutionary in Britain’s adversarial planning system. They worked with local people to ensure that the development met their needs, not just the short-term interests of developers and landowners.

Instead of imposing plans on the community, the landowner undertook a detailed engagement process with residents. They discovered that local people wanted good design and local jobs. This led to a co-design approach that meant terraced seaside streets planned with the community and its own high street, church, school, and public spaces.

On top of that, the community will create 4,000 jobs for local building and trade firms. It is, as the Director of Planning for Cornwall County Council remarked, about “a comprehensive new place rather than just building houses”.

Nansledan is the exception rather than the rule. True, it has advantages that other sites do not – not least, in the Duchy of Cornwall, a long-term landowner focused squarely on sustainable development. But it nevertheless shows that with the right engagement and a long-term approach, we can build the homes we need and simultaneously improve local trust in the housing market. We must create communities, not just build homes.

Thankfully, the Government is already singing from this hymn sheet. In the reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework set out last year, much greater weight was given to planning by consent and design-led development. The recently announced Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, led by Sir Roger Scruton, will set out ways to go even further. The Secretary of State, who will lead an Onward and Create Streets conference today, talks openly of “ensuring the homes communities need are built, accepted and loved by those who live in and near them”.

The reality is that NIMBYism is more myth than reality. Local communities are objecting to lack of engagement, not the issue of development. A poll last week for Number Cruncher Politics found that 62 per cent of people support building more housing in their local area, double the proportion (30 per cent) who oppose it.

Of those that do oppose, their two biggest concerns were not their views or the impact on green spaces, but related to infrastructure: 47 per cent of people said they worried about increased demands on local services and 45 per cent said increased traffic.

This speaks to one of the greatest problems in our housing and planning system: that we too often fail to use the value generated by planning permission to invest in communities. We currently let 75 per cent of the gains from land value, around £10 billion a year, accrue to landowners and developers. That is money that could be partly used to build local infrastructure like schools, doctors’ surgeries, roads and green parks.

Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) are woefully insufficient: Onward has found that last year more than a quarter of developments between 100 and 999 homes, and seven per cent of developments of over 1,000 homes, paid no Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy at all.

Reform would deliver the homes that Britain needs and the communities to support them. A new approach put forward by Onward last year would refocus the plan-making process away from its current passive and sequential approach – in which landowners choose which land to bring forward, usually on the edge of existing settlements – towards an active policy that starts from the question of which land would be most acceptable to local residents and best for new development for the local area.

This kind of master-planning, which is common in Europe but rare in Britain, would likely favour standalone settlements over piecemeal development on the edge of existing towns and villages, and allow for infrastructure to be installed before new homes. The Netherlands, which takes this approach, captures around 90 per cent of land gains in some cases.

Since the end of the New Towns programme and Docklands Development Corporations, Britain built no significant planned communities. In the last few years, local and central government have started to consider new planned communities, including garden towns and villages across the country, but the sites are still relatively small in number.

This Government has presided over a house-building revolution for which it does not get enough credit. Net housing additions are now at 222,000 – around 100,000 more than the level inherited in 2010-11 – but 78,000 fewer than the Government’s target of 300,000 homes. The vast majority of those are houses not flats, and new builds not conversions. Supply is rising and prices are stabilising.

But in doing this we must ensure that new homes are high quality, that they are loved by their communities, and that they have the infrastructure to make them sustainable for the long-term.

WATCH: Brokenshire – a meaningful vote will take place by February 27

That’s the latest Government timetable for a significant say by the Commons on what happens next.

John Myers: Allow local people to take back control of building design

Should there be a right to extend your house upwards by a floor or two? The residents in each street should be allowed to decide.

John Myers is co-founder of YIMBY Alliance and London YIMBY, campaigns to end the housing crisis with the support of local people.

After years of increasingly bitter and divisive argument, both sides dig in to their positions. They trade insults and then shots. A battle royal begins.

Brexit? No: the Government’s proposal to give you a ‘permitted development’ right to extend your house upwards by a floor or two.

The outrage has soared to heights many times those of the proposed buildings.

Kit Malthouse with his #MoreBetterFaster mantra and Mr Brokenshire’s clever team are determined to augment the nation’s housing stock.

Since 1947, the number of UK homes has never grown at the net percentage rate of the 1830s, let alone the far higher rate of the 1930s. We have failed to build enough high-quality homes for decades. That drives down wages in places with more homes than jobs, and holds people away from better opportunities in places with more jobs than homes. Fixing that would boost fairness, wages, economic growth and opportunity.

Stasis is less controversial but has caused a slowly-mounting human and economic catastrophe. Brokenshire and Malthouse are absolutely right about the need for improvement.

The current proposals are a small step back towards the historic position.

Until the 1940s, you could build nearly anything on your own land. Since London’s Great Fire, simple regulations were written on fire safety and later to guarantee light, air, and back yards at least ten feet deep. After the 14-storey Queen Anne’s Mansions caused a backlash, height limits were reduced in 1894 – to 80 feet.

The current need for discretionary planning permission for almost everything dates from 1947. Few would argue it has engendered the best buildings across the land.

Nearly all of our most-loved heritage – centuries of it – was built before 1940.

And yet one small move back towards clear rules, not dependent on some official’s fiat, has caused an outcry.

Why?

The Royal Town Planning Institute has magisterially weighed in, arguing the proposals will damage “character and amenity”.

Has the current system preserved character and amenity across the land? And if those would be even more jeopardized by simple rules, how were so many stunningly beautiful places built in prior centuries?

We all know that furniture is different. The best pieces appreciate over time, but the banal sinks in price until you must pay to be rid of it.

Back when houses were priced more like furniture, people would pay for good design.

Investors love things guaranteed to get ever scarcer and more expensive – like planning permissions since the new 1947 system. In the South-East, most of the value of a home is the planning permission, not the building, nor the land. Even a concrete box with a door and a window will gain value over time.

Planning permissions have ballooned in value until they now account for some two-fifths of the entire net worth of the nation: around £4 trillion.

Why spend money on design when houses go up in price anyway, and when most new buyers are painfully stretched to afford something their family can just about squeeze into?

Is it surprising that good design has almost disappeared?

Putting the genie back in the bottle will take time. The RTPI is right that new rights to jam on any old storey or two will not give the best results.

Other countries have clear, simple rules with angles and setbacks to preserve light for neighbours, as we once did. That would help, but how can we avoid a forest of concrete excrescences?

There is one proven way to get higher quality buildings: a design code.

True, some of our prettiest places were built without such codes: the Cotswolds, or Hampstead.

But in many others – Edinburgh’s New Town or Bath’s Royal Crescent – a single landowner set standards for high quality.

That, then, is an obvious way to allow more housing that almost everyone can support. Happily, the consultation has given hints in that direction.

Who should write those codes? I suspect Sir Roger Scruton, chair of the new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, would agree that it should not be the housing Ministry.

Even setting good design rules across a single county, town or borough is almost impossible – a Herculean task given the range of existing buildings, even before the great style debate begins.

What’s more, many places simply don’t want change.

But there are plenty of others where the locals would be delighted to take back control and pick designs that would allow them to add rooms for growing families or an additional flat for a grandparent or adult offspring.

We already have neighbourhood planning, but it works best in small villages where people know each other. Good luck getting ten thousand people in a borough to agree.

Smaller is better. In existing towns or cities, the simplest decision unit that makes sense is the single street – with limits and rules to protect neighbours on other streets.

What is missing, then, is a simple way for the residents of single street to choose their own designs and vote by, say, a two-thirds majority to permit the extensions that make sense for them.

How can we expect the layperson to come up with high-quality design? With a great British institution that worked for centuries: the pattern book. Architects can compete to offer designs over the internet. Picking a design that makes sense for your street should be easy. The designs that give the best results – and the best prices on sale – will soon become known.

The way forward is to learn from how our favourite heritage was built. Design and quality are key. The best results come when local people have the power to improve their own communities and homes.

Hunt loses pole position in our Cabinet League Table as overall ratings languish

The Chief Whip has enjoyed something of a boost from last month’s victories on crucial votes, but the overall picture reflects a settled disenchantment.

Our last survey of 2018 revealed a Cabinet whose standing with the membership had scarcely recovered from the previous month, where we recorded our lowest-ever results since we started posing this question.

Has the New Year ushered in any re-appraisals or revivals of fortune? Alas, no.

  • Still 14 ministers with negative scores… And no change in the membership of that unhappy band, either: the Cabinet’s Remainers continue to predominate at the lower end of the table.
  • …but Smith almost breaks out. That the Chief Whip remains in the red doesn’t completely eclipse an impressive rebound, from -34.4 to just -3.8. Perhaps this is an outworking of the Government’s unexpectedly strong performance in those crucial Brexit votes – let’s see how this score fares after Valentine’s Day.
  • The rise of Leadsom continues. Last month we suggested that the Leader of the House’s big leap up the ranks might be a product of our readers’ loathing for John Bercow. If so, that well runs deep as she is up almost nine points and breaks into the top three.
  • Cox takes the top spot… But he does so whilst going backwards. Last time he was second-ranked with over 55 per cent, today he scoops the gold with less than 49.
  • Hunt loses his place on the podium. The Foreign Secretary records a serious fall, from over 60 to less than 42. We suspect this may be related to his becoming one of the most senior Cabinet members to float the idea of an Article 50 extension.
  • Javid falls into the mid-table. A loss of ten points takes the Home Secretary out of contention for the top three, reducing him to eighth place.
  • Are the non-Cabinet posts a barometer? Interestingly, both Paul Davies and Ruth Davidson have suffered some decline in their scores, despite neither featuring in any major stories and indeed the latter being on maternity leave.

Gary Porter: It wouldn’t be Christmas…without the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement

It contained a number of positive announcements. The New Homes Bonus is particularly significant for shire districts.

Lord Porter is the Chairman of the Local Government Association.

Alongside the usual seasonal festivities, local government experiences another Christmas tradition each year: the publication of the Provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.

Whilst it is fair to say that, due to the very technical nature of the Settlement and the many other distractions at this time of year, this receives relatively little attention beyond the local government sector, it is of course immensely important for councils across the country.

This year’s Settlement, which was presented to the House of Commons last week, contained a number of positive announcements, including extra funding for some councils in 2019/2020 to cancel the “negative Revenue Support Grant” adjustment to tariffs and top-ups, £180 million of surplus on the levy account being distributed to all councils, and an extra fifteen authorities from across the country being selected to pilot 75% business rates retention in 2019/20.

In addition to the above, I am particularly pleased that the Government has decided not to increase the New Homes Bonus (NHB) threshold next year. This is important since the NHB represents a significant source of funding for many councils, particularly shire districts, as well as encouraging sustainable development that has the support of local communities.

I also strongly welcomed the provision of £16 million in additional funding for rural authorities to reflect the particular challenges they face in delivering services to sparsely populated areas.

As important as the Settlement is for councils, it also needs to be viewed in the context of the recent Budget which showed that the Government is listening to the Local Government Association’s (LGA) call for investment in services, with key announcements including an extra £410 million in 2019/20 for adults and children’s social care, £420 million to tackle potholes, £400 million for schools to spend on equipment and facilities, £675 million for a Future High Streets Fund, and a further £500 million for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to unlock 650,000 new homes.

The extra funding across a variety of policy areas that was announced in both the Budget and the Local Government Finance Settlement represents significant lobbying wins for the LGA.

I would like to take this opportunity to place on record my thanks to James Brokenshire and his Ministerial team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities for listening to our concerns.

Whilst welcoming the additional funding, the LGA will be responding to the consultation on the Provisional Settlement by stressing the significant pressures that councils still face whilst also continuing our lobbying work in relation to the long anticipated Social Care Green Paper, which we hope will be published very soon, and the critically important Spending Review in 2019.

The Green Paper and the Spending Review both have the potential to put local government finance on a truly sustainable long-term footing, and I will continue to press the case that local government is an integral part of the solution to many of the challenges that the country faces.

ConHome’s Cabinet League Table. Everyone’s rating is down – and half of the top table is now in negative territory. Worst ever results.

Not for the faint-hearted. Contains intense violence, blood and gore, strong language and Philip Hammond.

 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The aftermath of Chequers saw the ratings of every single Cabinet member fall. It was its worst collective performance to date.  But it is a measure of how shocking our latest monthly results are that those members would be justified in tumbling to their knees – and begging for those post-Chequers results to be resurrected.

Then, six Cabinet Ministers were in negative territory: Brandon Lewis, Greg Clark, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond…and Theresa May.

Now, they are joined by Jeremy Wright, David Gauke, Claire Perry, David Lidington, Liam Fox, Amber Rudd – on her return to the top table – Caroline Nokes, Andrea Leadsom, Karen Bradley and, on his debut, by Steve Barclay. Unsweet sixteen.

Yes, that’s sixteen Ministers in the red, rather than six – outnumbering the 13 of its members who get into the black, some of them by tiny margins.  No fewer than seven ministers have positive ratings of lower than ten points: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, David Mundell, Alan Cairns, Damian Hinds and, yes, the mighty Michael Gove, who topped the table as recently as June.

Geoffrey Cox led the pack with a 67.5 approval rating last month.  He is still top, but his rating is down by about a third.  Ditto, roughly, the table’s other top performers, if that label can be used in the same sentence as this dismal return.

And never mind the ratings – look at the falls.  Liam Fox was at 35, but is now in negative territory.  Andrea Leadsom’s score follows a similar pattern.  Penny Mordaunt hasn’t publicly defended the deal. Maybe that’s why she’s still in the black. Just about.

So is there any good news for anyone at all?  It depends what you mean.  Theresa May’s rating was actually lower after Chequers, but her scores are still horrible: – 48.1 then, – 42 this month (she was – 42.3 last month, since you ask).  However, Philip Hammond is at -46.7, which must be a new low, even for him.

Ruth Davidson would have cause to think, as she gives Baby Finn a cuddle: what’s the point of coming back?

WATCH: Brokenshire insists that no-deal preparations continue “firmly, and at pace”

The Housing Secretary tells Sophy Ridge how the Government has spent over £4 billion, and issued 106 technical notices, against that eventuality.

William Shawcross: May and Brokenshire must not let Scruton be hounded from his post

His long career evinces both a real understanding of issues such as antisemitism and a philospher’s willingness to change his mind.

William Shawcross is a former head of the Charity Commission and and official biographer of the Queen MOther.

When Sir Roger Scruton was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2016, the official announcement said he was “often described as Britain’s foremost philosopher”. He is that and much more.

His knighthood was for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”. It could just as well have been for his courageous work during the 1980s, when he travelled repeatedly – and at considerable risk – to communist Central Europe, forging links with dissident academics and students in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.

For those activities, he was in June 1985 detained, expelled from Czechoslovakia, and placed on the communist government’s “Index of Undesirable Persons” – a badge of honour that saw him feted by Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism.

Yesterday a little-known blog and a few tweeters – including, alas, a couple of Labour MPs who should have known better – tried to place him on their own “index of undesirable persons”. Their reasons for doing so were feeble and their evidence scant. But it seems to be mainly because of a speech that he gave in Hungary in 2016, the same year as his knighthood.

The key passage – which is being selectively quoted – is as follows:

“Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros Empire. People in these networks include many who are rightly suspicious of nationalism, regard nationalism as the major cause of the tragedy of Central Europe in the 20th Century, and do not distinguish nationalism from the kind of national loyalty that I have defended in this talk. Moreover, as the world knows, indigenous anti-Semitism still plays a part in Hungarian society and politics, and presents an obstacle to the emergence of a shared national loyalty among ethnic Hungarians and Jews.”

For this, he is accused of being someone who “peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories”. His accusers demand that the Prime Minister and James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government who on Saturday appointed him to lead the new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, drop him. That would be grossly wrong.

The hunt is now on, it seems, to find incriminating remarks in his life’s work. He is the author of more than 50 books on philosophy, politics, the arts and more. He has written thousands of essays and articles and given countless interviews (including those in which he has recanted previously asserted beliefs). For example, one article published yesterday afternoon accused him of “controversial comments” about Islamophobia and homosexuality. These former comments are worth quoting:

“Muslims in our society are often victims of prejudice, abuse, and assault, and this is a distressing situation that the law strives to remedy. But when people invent a phobia to explain all criticism of Islam, it is not that kind of abuse that they have in mind. They wish to hide the truth, to shout ‘lies!’ in the face of criticism, and to silence any attempt at discussion. In my view, however, it is time to bring the truth into the open.”

Some may disagree with these views, but must Sir Roger be silenced for holding them? He seems to be alert to the problem of anti-Muslim hatred, but sceptical about the definition of Islamophobia. That may irritate some, but if philosophers cannot think, write and speak freely, what is the point of them?

Similarly, on homophobia, it is clear that he has revised his views. As he told The Guardian in 2010, referring to an earlier essay about homophobia, “I wouldn’t stand by what I said then.” People’s views – especially if they are philosophers, one hopes – change over time and this is perfectly normal. It is also worth noting that his appointment by the Government relates to the design and style of buildings, a fact which risks getting lost in a blizzard of confected outrage.

Three things are worth adding on the subject of antisemitism – and quickly, because as the saying goes, “falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it”.

First, I have known Sir Roger for many years and do not believe for a moment that he has an antisemitic bone in his body. Indeed, as the final sentence of the above quotation demonstrates, he is acutely aware of the problem of antisemitism in Hungary. Moreover, as his autobiography movingly explains, he is of German-Jewish ancestry himself.

Secondly, Sir Roger is not guilty by association simply for having travelled to Hungary and for knowing Viktor Orban. The facts are that he helped Orban and others set up an independent law school, the Jogusz-Szakkollegium, in the days of communism. He lectured in the school, as part of his mission to encourage young people to work for the liberation of their countries. The school played a significant role in the collapse of the regime.

Another overlooked fact: Sir Roger also personally lobbied Orban’s government not to close down the Central European University in Budapest, founded by Soros. He is not uncritical of Orban and, like many people in the UK, approves of some his policies and disapproves of others.

The third and final point. Antisemitism is a serious problem in countries like Hungary – but also in supposedly more enlightened places like our own, particularly these days on the left of politics. It is a virus that mutates from generation to generation, and must be dealt with vigorously wherever it emerges. No one should accuse anyone else of antisemitism frivolously or for mere political gain. It is a very serious charge and in this case it is entirely without merit.

WATCH: Brokenshire claims “it’s wrong to say that there’s been a delay” with gambling machine policy

In response to questioning over Crouch’s resignation, the housing secretary says, “We want to see this introduced properly and effectively”.