There is another housing bubble… it is high-rise and lacks proper amenities


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The Alexander, Richmond Park, Newt & Ferret, Cambridge, Kelly Arms, Swan, Six Bells… all pubs that used to be near my house. Now, all closed and, in most cases, either turned into flats or about to be turned into flats.

To them, can be added the row of shops down the hill, petrol garage, off licence on the corner – made way, or about to make way, for one, two, three -bed apartments. And the old power station, gasworks, strip by the railway – all given over, as the blurb proclaims, to “luxury modern living”.

Around the country, it’s the same: down comes one urban building and in its place, up goes a block of flats. I’ve no objection to much of this. Britain has a housing shortage, and needs must. If, among the penthouses and duplexes for professionals, there is room for homes for those on lower incomes, then all well and good. Except the planners seem to forget that every new development puts pressure on an already creaking system. The residents own cars, throw away rubbish and create sewage. They fall ill and require a doctor. And if they’re a couple, they might produce children.

None of which would be a problem – provided the local planners took the extra strain into account. Alas, they don’t. Where I live, the roads are clogged, the queues for the recycling site are lengthy, the sewers can’t cope (to cap it all, we’ve recently suffered traffic chaos while diggers tried to clear a bus-sized “fatberg”, comprised of food fat blended with wet wipes, beneath one of the main streets).

Schools and doctors’ surgeries are full. There aren’t enough primary school places for the borough’s children.

To this heaving, embattled mix can be added Eric Pickles. Not in person, but in the shape of a change to the planning laws introduced by Pickles, the Communities Secretary, allowing developers to turn offices into residential use without permission. So, a property firm intends a nearby eight-storey office tower to become 28 one-bedroom and 49 two-bedroom flats. In all, my council has received notifications for more than 125 flats – and that’s just since May, when the new law came into effect.

Pickles’ amendment has other knock-on effects. Councils are missing out on the hugely valuable Section 106 deals that see developers put much-needed cash into new educational, social and transport facilities in return for obtaining approval.

The offices used to provide employment, not only directly but also indirectly, for local shops at lunchtimes and in the evenings. Not any more. And councils no longer have offices for businesses wanting to enter the area and create jobs. He relaxed the restrictions for the best possible reason. However, Pickles’ desire to ease the housing crisis by using office buildings does not constitute joined-up thinking. Seventeen local authorities, including the City of London, have been exempted from the reform. Two, Lambeth and Islington, have begun judicial review proceedings to get themselves added to that list.

Elsewhere, chaos reigns. Too much power has been put in the hands of the developers. At the same time, not enough attention has been paid to differing local needs. Indeed, for a Communities Secretary whose mantra was “localism”, Pickles’ move smacks of centralism gone mad.

He should rethink, before it is too late; before, horrible thought, more sewers get their own fatbergs.

Trinity Mirror needs to take a good look at itself over phone hacking

Trinity Mirror’s announcement today that it is under police investigation for phone hacking provokes alarm.

The newspaper publisher has a proud history, a rich pedigree to more than match any of its rivals. But one fact is certain: its pockets are nowhere near as deep as those of News International.

The cost so far to the Murdoch empire of hacking has been extraordinary: one newspaper closed, numerous journalists and executives arrested and charged, hundreds of lawsuits, an astronomical legal bill, and the whole edifice split in two to ring-fence the reputational damage and protect investors. Still, there is the possibility of corporate charges, here and in the US, against senior directors.

Translate that lot to Trinity Mirror, and even if a fraction applies, you have the recipe for financial meltdown. One estimate says News International has spent £300m, which, coincidentally, is about the same as the entire market capitalisation of Trinity Mirror. Which is why the company’s response to the claims was all the more perplexing.

Two years ago, Trinity Mirror said it was satisfied with its existing editorial controls and procedures. There was no mention of inquiring into the past, to see whether any of its journalists had been hacking. If Trinity Mirror thought its statement would put the accusations to bed, it’s been forced to think again. It must now stop behaving in a head-in-the-sand fashion, hold an urgent investigation into former practices, and, if needs be, come clean and fully co-operate with the police.

Even then, it may not be enough. If I was a Trinity Mirror investor, mindful of the pain inflicted on News International, I would still be telling my broker to sell.

Faith in another Hodgson miracle is wearing thin

Watching England labouring in Ukraine the other evening I had a strong sense of déjà vu. There was something about the passing backwards and sideways, the lack of adventure, the unwillingness to  counter-attack, the absence of speed and creativity, that was all too familiar.

Then, an England player kicked the ball back to his own goalkeeper – from the  half-way line, and I realised where I’d seen this type of play before. At Fulham, when Roy Hodgson was manager.

We were prepared to forgive Hodgson his safety-first approach because he kept Fulham in the Premiership when all hope was lost. Because of that miracle, “the Great Escape” as it was known among  supporters, Roy could do anything.

As it was, he went on to take Fulham to the Europa League final, and to the club’s highest-ever Premiership position. But, for the most part, we were still subjected to the careful, ultra-cautious style. Was it Hodgson or was it the occasional flashes of brilliance from our players, possibly  defying his instructions, that won our matches?

We never knew. It was difficult to imagine the taciturn Hodgson driving the team to such heights. During the Great Escape, Fulham played Manchester City away. I was listening to the match on Radio 5 with my son, Barney, in my tennis club car park. Fulham were 2-0 down with 20 minutes left. That was it; our spell in the Premiership was over. We went on court. When we came off, with a heavy heart, we turned on the radio again. Fulham had won 3-2. Incredible. What had Hodgson done to inspire the turnaround? It was impossible to tell. Certainly, if it was his half-time talk, that was over long ago. They won, though, which is all that mattered, and they did so again, 1-0 against Portsmouth on the final day of the season, to ensure survival.

Hodgson, brilliant leader of men and  genius tactician, or plain lucky? I so much want to believe in the former, I really do.

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