Building an election ploy

THERE CAN be no doubt that the Government’s new scheme to help first-time buyers on to the housing ladder will be helpful in reviving the market. Indeed, they involve changes to the planning system for which this newspaper has been calling for some years.

The cynically minded, however, will question the timing of its introduction. A 20 per cent discount for 100,000 first-time buyers, introduced four months before a General Election – brought forward, in fact, from its original starting date later next year – suggests that the Government’s prime motivation is not so much the desire to ease the nation’s housing crisis, but rather the desperate need to introduce the feelgood factor to Britain’s economic revival ahead of a vote that is far too close to call.

Why, for example, if it is so easy to free brownfield land from planning costs and levies, has this not been done far earlier?

George Osborne’s great success has been a huge increase in jobs, a thousand created for every day that the Government has been in office. But with wages still far lower than before the 2008 crash, this is an economic recovery that very few are feeling good about, particularly when it remains so difficult for so many people to buy a home of their own.

This latest move has to be seen, then, as part of the Chancellor’s answer to this difficulty, an attempt to revive the housing market and provoke activity among builders, thereby further stimulating the economy and buying last-minute votes.

Whether it will succeed in that is open to question. But it is no substitute for a properly thought-out, long-term housing strategy that will provide homes in those areas where they are most needed without stoking up prices to even more unaffordable levels.

Food for thought: Helping the poor out of poverty

THOSE INDULGING in fierce debate over the value of food banks – an argument intensified by the publication of Parliament’s Feeding Britain report last week – will surely be able to unite over the merits of a new initiative aimed not merely at feeding the poor but at eradicating their poverty.

Community Shop, piloted for the past year in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, is now opening the country’s first social supermarket in Lambeth, South London, with the support of anti-poverty campaigners, leading retailers and a wide range of political opinion, including the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Any enterprise capable of uniting such a disparate group of supporters must surely be a worthwhile one. Indeed, as Mr Johnson says, Community Shop is a “sterling example of social enterprise and private organisations working together to create positive outcomes”.

In other words, this Yorkshire success story is a perfect example of David Cameron’s Big Society – a term the Prime Minister now seems reluctant to use – in that it involves community organisations and the private sector coming together to tackle problems that the state cannot, or will not, address.

And Community Shop does this not simply by offering cheap food, but also by offering each of its members their own tailored development programme, involving debt advice, budget training, the teaching of proper cookery skills and practice at CV-writing and job interviews.

Using surplus food from supermarkets, feeding the poor and helping them into work, Community Shop is precisely the type of innovative approach that is needed if Britain is to get more people earning the type of wages that will ultimately make food banks redundant. Indeed, the only drawback is that so few such initiatives exist.

Bittern boom: Protecting our native species

UNLESS WE want to live in a country where wolves and bears once again roam the land, it is perhaps best for a limit to be set on the reintroduction to Britain of its long extinct species, calls for which are growing louder along the wilder shores of environmentalism.

But the re-emergence of birds such as the bittern, which died out in

this country comparatively recently and has continually struggled to re-establish itself, is surely a cause for rejoicing far beyond

the nation’s birdwatching community.

It is ironic, then, that the European Union programme which helped to pay for this and which has lifted the threat hanging over bitterns and other endangered species, is now under threat itself.

That the comparatively simple act of restoring reedbeds can result in the bittern’s booming cry resounding once again in Britain is surely cause enough for preserving the laws which themselves help to preserve our wildlife.