Tom Richmond: Housing plans seem to lack firm foundations

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WHERE are the new houses going to be built? It’s the one question that the Conservatives have not answered after unveiling ambitious plans to extend Margaret Thatcher’s “right-to-buy” revolution to tenants of housing association properties.

As part of this blueprint, David Cameron says the next Government will preside over the construction of 400,000 homes to replace those houses purchased by a new generation of homeowners.

Where?

Judging by the tone of the election paraphernalia being delivered in my part of Leeds – I live in a very marginal seat – both the Tories and Labour are committed to affording greater protection to the green belt. On this, there is common ground, although neither candidate will say so.

On this basis, one must presume that the intention is to build these homes on redundant brownfield sites – those eyesores that blight communities across the region. Fine, but how is the planning process going to be changed to make these sites more enticing for developers and to ensure that social housing providers can afford the land costs?

If sites are not being developed now, it probably means either the site is unsuitable for housing because it is located on an industrial estate or the cost of de-contamination work is prohibitive.

Take Leeds, where work is finally underway on the Kirkstall Forge development that will include over 1,000 homes, offices and a purpose-built railway station because of the site’s proximity to the lines serving Ilkley and Skipton.

It has taken the best part of 10 years to reach this point – and Mr Cameron’s party will need to advance 400 schemes on a similar scale over the next five years to meet its target. I come back to my original question – I can’t see these homes, plus all those set out in local authority development plans, being built without encroaching on the green belt.

PERHAPS a minority government after the election will be no bad thing. The Tories claim that they are the workers’ party while Labour make out that they will be preside over spending restraint with their so-called “triple block”.

With another role reversal on the NHS because the Conservatives intend to spend more than their opponents, perhaps the main parties have far more in common than they let on and that it will be possible for bridges to built.

The problem, however, is the rogue elements that remain. For, despite the Russians deploying a couple of fighter jets for a recce of British air space, I note very little has been heard from Defence Secretary Michael Fallon after his scurrilous attack on the integrity of Ed Miliband over the Trident nuclear deterrent. I wrote on Monday that the likes of Mr Fallon deserved to be sunk without trace because such verbal volleys brought politics into disrepute and it appears that the Tory high-command is finally getting the message.

One Conservative MP seeking re-election in Yorkshire was prepared to admit to me that they had been taken aback by the scale of the public backlash to the Defence Secretary and that it had been a wake-up call to the Tory high command. I hope the truce holds – the future of Trident has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Miliband choosing to stand against his brother in 2010.

FAIR play to the Conservatives for admitting in their manifesto that action needs to be taken on litter, an issue that continues to exercise letter writers to The Yorkshire Post, and that the party is prepared to investigate the case for “higher fixed penalty notices” for offenders.

However there are potentially two flaws. First, it assumes there are street wardens, PCSOs or others who can identify the culprits – but also ensure that they pay their dues to society. Second, it doesn’t place a sufficient onus on all those concerned about the environment to lead by example and help, where possible, to pick up rubbish.

In contrast, there was only a perfunctory mention of countryside issues in Labour’s election manifesto, with a vague commitment to “create a world-leading food, farm and fisheries sector that creates better paid jobs and apprenticeships across the rural economy”. How?

TALKING of the Tory manifesto, the decision to create the slogan “a brighter, more secure, future”, was obviously taken after the party had started distributing leaflets – on the day of David Cameron’s launch event – promising “a better, more secure future”.

Perhaps they, too, are fed up with the negativity and lack of blue-sky thinking.

WHICH system of government offers the best leadership – America’s dynastic politics and the prospect of Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, and George W Bush’s younger brother Jeb vying for the 2016 US presidential election, or Britain where David Cameron and Ed Miliband are battling for power? Discuss.

FAIR play to broadcaster Clare Balding for admitting that she became over-stretched, and tried to undertake too much, after her acclaimed work at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – this correspondent was not popular nearly two years ago when warning of “Balding fatigue syndrome”. Yet this is also symptomatic of the BBC, and others, over-exposing presenters – Adrian Chiles and Matt Baker are two others – with fatuous appearances on dreary game-shows rather than allowing them to excel in their field of expertise.

FAIR play to broadcaster Clare Balding for admitting that she became over-stretched, and tried to undertake too much, after her acclaimed work at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – this correspondent was not popular nearly two years ago when warning of “Balding fatigue syndrome”. Yet this is also symptomatic of the BBC, and others, over-exposing presenters – Adrian Chiles and Matt Baker are two others – with fatuous appearances on dreary game-shows rather than allowing them to excel in their field of expertise.

WATCH out for Suzanne Evans – Ukip’s deputy leader was less abrasive than Nigel Farage at his party’s manifesto launch. She was dominant without being domineering in the Margaret Thatcher mould, and has clearly worked hard on working out the costings of her party’s commitments.

Mark my words, she is the future of Ukip – she went out of her way not to blame immigrants for the need for tighter border controls – and looks primed to be replace Mr Farage if he is not elected.

A FINAL thought for this week. Judging by the mess that Australian strategist Lynton Crosby is making of the Tory campaign, and Sydney-born Natalie Bennett’s underwhelming leadership of the Green Party, I’m not sure that our friends from Down Under appear well-qualified to lead this country.

And then I remembered... I would not be opposed to Jason Gillespie, the Australian fast bowler who has done so much to transform the fortunes of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, becoming the next England coach.

As they say, there should always be one exception to every rule...

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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