Attitudes towards new development soften

There is a broad consensus among politicians, analysts and commentators that Britain needs to build more housing. You can encounter dissent from that view, but it tends to be on the fringes – in deep UKIP anti-migrant territory or the paramilitary wing of the rural lobby.

The debate opens up when we start to examine why Britain is plagued with a relatively unresponsive housing supply system. On the political right and among many economists the problem is seen to lie with the planning system. Full stop. Economists with a more subtle understanding of the issues will argue it is the mismatch between the underlying spatial dynamics of economic growth and the planning system. For the more institutionally inclined, the analysis has to be broadened to encompass not just the planning system but also industrial structure of housebuilding and the concentrated nature of the market for land. Weakening the planning system without attending to the other components of the housing supply system won’t get you very far. It is very likely to lead to anger in local communities as their areas are trampled over by insensitive volume housebuilders throwing up unsympathetic developments which place additional strain on under-resourced local infrastructure.

The attitudes of local communities towards new development in their area is an important part of the equation in encouraging new supply. Because when we refer to “the planning system” it should be seen as a short hand for the way local political preferences are embedded in the systems for controlling spatial development. NIMBYism isn’t such a huge problem unless it has an institutional outlet and can affect what happens on the ground.

The publication today of the results of the 2013 British Social Attitudes survey evidence on attitudes towards new development suggest that things may be changing. [Read more...]

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Why? Five-oh-oh

This is the five hundredth post on this blog. It is, of course, an entirely arbitrary milestone, but it nonetheless causes you to reflect on why you do it. Five hundred posts translates into well over half a million words, at a rate of ten or so posts a month over nearly four years. That’s a lot of words, taking up a lot of time.

I have written before about why I blog. I have blogged on how I got started, and how I reconcile being a political blogger with my other identity as a senior academic. What I wrote then still holds true, although I’m conscious that in recent months my posts have tended not to roam quite so widely as in the past. I have concentrated more on topics that are close to my academic interests and my politics. So I have cycled through posts on housing policy, welfare reform and the tribulations of the Liberal Democrats. I’m not entirely sure why that is, except that when you’re busy elsewhere it is less intellectually demanding to blog on topics you know well.

I’m sure I’ll be looking further afield again some time pretty soon. [Read more...]

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Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax

Well, well, well. It turns out that the bedroom tax isn’t such a good idea after all.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have U-turned on the policy, ostensibly in the light of the (delayed) publication of interim report of the DWP evaluation. The report indicates that the policy largely isn’t achieving the objectives set for it.

Early tabloid headlines announcing that the Liberal Democrats were calling for abolition were misleading. Instead, what Clegg and Alexander would appear to have done is withdraw support for the policy in its current form and adopt a position broadly in line with the motion critical of the bedroom tax passed by Liberal Democrat conference last autumn in Glasgow. To be fair to NC he did state at the time of the Glasgow conference that the independent evaluation would be important in shaping support for the policy. And so, it would appear, it has proved to be. [Read more...]

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Are Mandarins the problem?

The relationship between politicians and civil servants is back in the spotlight. Janan Ganesh in the FT, for example, has argued that civil servants need to be brought to heel more effectively by their political masters. Cries of ‘politicisation’, whenever the prized independence of the civil service is threatened, should be recognized for what they are – an attempt by civil servants to maintain their capacity to undermine democracy by frustrating the will of elected governments.

Giles Wilkes, in contrast, argues that the machinations of a Mandarinate intent on frustrating the will of the people are much less of an issue than this suggests. There are many reasons why Ministers’ pet ideas do not translate into policy. He argues that the independent testing of the feasibility and desirability of proposals delivers better policy. It is rushed policy, that civil servants fail to question or refine sufficiently, that often provides the most egregious examples of policy failure:

… ministers and their advisers frequently do not understand the implications of their policy spasms. Such spasms often stem from a pitifully thin evidence base, and are only subject to scrutiny from a generally tame bunch of close commentator-friends, who will naturally be told, and repeat back to their readers, that the policy idea is sheer, radical genius.

No it isn’t.

I find myself with greater sympathy for the view Giles sets out. [Read more...]

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Liberal Democrats and #DRIP: naïve or nefarious?

The enemies of liberty

The enemies of liberty

The sudden appearance of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill and the proposal to bulldoze it through Parliament in a few days has set off alarm bells for many who care about civil liberties.

Members of the Liberal Democrat leadership and Parliamentary party have been out and about pressing a three stranded argument to try to counter the view that their support for this Bill represents a complete abandonment of the party’s principles.

The three strands are that:

  • The Bill does no more than re-establish the status quo ante, following the adverse ECJ ruling on the legality of the previous legal framework.
  • The Bill therefore does not represent an extension of powers and is in no way comparable to the Snoopers’ Charter that the party rightly opposed only a few months ago.
  • The party has won valuable concessions in terms of constraints on, and oversight of, snooping activity, which would not have happened without hard work on the part of the Liberal Democrats. These concessions include a sunset clause to repeal the Bill in December 2016.

It seems appropriate to make three points in response. [Read more...]

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Is the summer campaign an admission of failure?

I had to read Dan Falchikov’s The new Lib Dem summer campaign is an admission of failure a couple of times to get to grips with the issue. The blogpost topped last week’s LDV Golden Dozen so, presumably, it attracted a decent readership. And so it should.

Dan comments critically on the technocratic and tin-eared nature of the first part of the title of the campaign “A record of delivery”. He rightly argues that it now appears that Clegg and his “frightfully bright” “teenage acolytes” have realized it might be good to tell a better story about the Liberal Democrat agenda for government. Very much as several of his internal critics have been saying he should for the last three years. Better late than never, I guess.

Attention then turns to the second part of the summer campaign: the “Promise of more”. [Read more...]

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The Q#2 quintet, and more

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between April and June 2014:

  1. Uncertain terrain: Issues and challenges facing housing associations (11th May 2013)
  2. Ed’s brave housing proposal (1st May)
  3. Welfare reforms: the evidence mounts (9th April)
  4. Why is Owen Jones so annoying? (4th July 2013)
  5. The government is solving the housing crisis, apparently (31st May)

[Read more...]

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Making the case for the right to housing

There’s plenty happening in the housing world at the moment, and I’m not just Modern Housingtalking about last week’s parallel Manchester gatherings at the CIH annual conference and the HACT House Party.

We’ve seen IPPR launch a fuller version of its proposals for shifting housing subsidy away from housing benefit and back towards bricks and mortar. It attempts to tackle the thorny issue of how to find the money to subsidize new building while still paying housing benefit to those who need it, given that a future government isn’t likely to put a lot more money into housing.

We’ve also seen some high profile housing-related programmes on the television, particular in relation to the less wholesome aspects of private landlordism.

And, perhaps more significant in the short term, Mark Carney has turned talk of macroprudential regulation into some concrete proposals for capping loan-to-value ratios. Quite how that will affect the way the market evolves over the coming months is a tricky question to answer. The industry view would appear to be “not much“. Answering the question is made trickier by the emergence from the red corner of a much stronger set of proposals for a mansion tax. It has been argued that these proposals, coming on top of the well-established support for a mansion tax from the Liberal Democrats, bring such a tax a step nearer and, consequently, are having a chilling effect on the top end of the market in London.

Although the picture is murky, there is a quite a bit of talk at the moment about the market starting to soften. And that is even before interest rates rise. So we could be entering a new phase in the evolution of the market.

For me one of the most interesting developments over the last week or so is the appearance online of a paper by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Bo Bengtsson and Beth Watts entitled Rights to housing: Reviewing the terrain and exploring the way forward (paywalled, unfortunately).

[Read more...]

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Learning implementation lessons

mistakes in setting goalsChris Dillow draws our attention to the issue of policy implementation. He rightly argues that implementation is vitally important, but does not play well in the media. Unless, that is, something goes spectacularly wrong. The media tends to be more interested in the political “soap opera” or in new policy initiatives.

Chris argues that there are reasons for thinking that implementation will be sub-optimal. These include that:

There’s a fetish of “leadership” and “boldness” which encourages a neglect of the unglamorous gruntwork of proper management: tracking progress, achieving small partial targets and overcoming problems. This neglect will be magnified by cognitive biases such as overconfidence and groupthink … Perhaps the most grievous problem, though, is a lack of information.

Chris draws our attention to something very important here. Politicians are mostly, at best, decision makers; they are more rarely doers or managers. In that respect at least the simple division between politics and administration continues to be relevant. In a system that is increasingly populated by professional politicians who have taken the think tank, SpAd, MP route few members of the political classes have much first-hand experience of managing large-scale organisations or delivering successful organisational change before entering politics. [Read more...]

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