LIKE the inadequate long-term investment in Britain’s flood defences, it is David Cameron’s misfortune that it also falls to his Government to address this country’s housing shortage and the failure, for varying reasons, of successive administrations to build sufficient new homes.
This is not straight-forward. The UK’s recovery from the recession is still slow; there’s still a reluctance to develop brown field sites and residents are determined to protect Yorkshire’s green belt land where it is easier to build properties in the numbers demanded by Ministers.
Yet, as local authorities begin to finalise their local plans and identify land where new homes can be built over the next decade, this state of affairs is not helped by the number of approved planning applications which have not been activated.
These are not insignificant numbers – this applies to over 475,000 homes nationally and 37,000-plus properties in this region which could ease the pressure on those communities, like North West Leeds, where campaigners say the infrastructure simply cannot cope with the number of new houses allocated to the area.
What should be done? Given that the current rules favour developers – lapsed planning permission can be renewed every three years and there’s no onus on builders to actually complete the construction of new houses – the Government should look to break a logjam which is not conducive to George Osborne’s home ownership agenda. In this regard, the Chancellor should, perhaps, consider imposing the council tax on every home not built within the original three-year timeframe – and making the developer, or their agents, liable. For, if he does not act, developers will continue to follow the example of the major supermarkets and acquire ‘land banks’ which, in turn, undermine the whole planning process and, in part, increase the likelihood of homes being built on flood plains – a policy which should be a non-starter.
False economies: Osborne bullishness disappears
GEORGE OSBORNE is not the first Chancellor to blame global factors for an under-performing domestic economy – Labour’s defence was exactly the same when the banks imploded. However his caution – even pessimism – contrasts with his bullishness six long weeks ago when he delivered his Autumn Statement and highlighted this country’s resilience by proclaiming that “no economy in the G7 has grown faster than Britain”.
Of course, Britain – as a global economic powerhouse – cannot expect to be immune from the instability in the Middle East, the volatility in China and the uncertainty over this country’s future relationship with the European Union. These, and other trends, all have the potential to undermine Mr Osborne’s plans to achieve a budget surplus by the end of the decade – an objective which requires a still sluggish economy to shake off its lethargy and for the Government to implement its efficiency savings which will be no mean feat with such a slender Commons majority and growing concerns about the cash crisis afflicting social care.
Mr Osborne is wise to caution against complacency – only now is this region’s economy returning to pre-recession levels. However there’s still scope for the Chancellor to do more – he needs to finally kickstart his much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse so it starts delivering the anticipated dividends and he also needs to ensure that public money is spent more wisely. After all, a failure to invest in Yorkshire’s flood defences has already proved to be a false economy.
Business as usual: Yorkshire is open to tourists
AS this waterlogged county remains on weather watch, it’s important that Yorkshire is still very much open for business following the floods. Understandably, the focus has been helping those residents – and businesses – who have been enduring a living hell; they continue to be comforted by the kindness of strangers.
Yet it is also important not to forget those tourism and hospitality businesses on dry land, and which have experienced a significant reduction in visitors because families have chosen to stay away from these locations in the mistaken belief that they’re shut.
This is not unexpected – the same knock-on effects were felt in Cumbria – but this county is fortunate that it has a dynamic tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire, which is able to signal that it is business as usual at 99.9 per cent of locations. It can only be hoped that its rallying cry is heeded and families find ways to supports the county’s deflated tourism industry in its hour of need.