Steve Richards’ concern over the mounting housing crisis (16 December) raises questions about our society’s objectives.
Does Britain really need a new railway between London and Birmingham and an extra London airport runway more than it needs to build more homes? The compulsory purchase of land is taken for granted for infrastructure projects. Perhaps the country should be extending the same acquisition processes to appropriate small areas of land for new social and affordable homes?
The economics of the current planning process are hugely biased in favour of the lucky landowner who receives such a hugely inflated price for land that his personal bonanza can add £50,000 to the cost of each modest, desperately needed home, before a single brick has been laid.
This burden on hard-pressed private buyers, housing associations and other providers of affordable new housing could be dramatically reduced by allowing local communities to identify the need for low-cost housing and its optimum location. All that is needed is for local authorities to have the right to use such land, just as though it were for another “public good” like a new road, HS2 or Heathrow and pay the owner equally fair compensation.
Unless something along these lines is done, the provision of homes for “hard-working families” will never escape the transfer of their earnings to the wealthy few who happen to own land.
Ed Miliband’s attack on developers demonstrates the political posturing and housebuilder-baiting that has blighted the sector for decades, and is the primary reason why we have a such a chronic shortage of homes in this country.
It’s an area which has attracted all the wrong type of political interference at both local and national level, and consequently this has hindered supply, restricted innovation and squeezed profitability. It has done so to such an extent that the vast majority of the instances of land-hoarding Mr Miliband refers to, exist only because the development of these sites has been made economically unviable by the financial demands and bureaucratic burdens imposed by local councils.
The key to increasing housebuilding is improving supply by simplifying the planning process. The clue to our industry is in the word “housebuilding”, and of course this is what we want to do. But we can only grow and generate employment if we are allowed to build the houses our country so desperately needs
Chairman and Chief Executive, Weston Homes plc, Takeley, Essex
ARTS OUTSIDE LONDON STARVED OF CASH
On 17 December you reported that the Serpentine Gallery has been given 12 National Lottery awards totalling £6.8m. Recently, the Royal Academy was given £12.7m and Tate Britain £45m, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Today I also received news that the wonderful, but struggling, Gladstone Gallery in Stoke is so starved of funds that its very survival is now threatened.
Why has the glaring imbalance in funding, both from central government and bodies such as the Arts Council, been allowed to continue unchallenged? We are at risk of losing precious and irreplaceable parts of our cultural heritage while London gobbles up a wholly disproportionate share of the money.
Who makes these choices and who can be held accountable, and most importantly will those holding the purse strings act now before it is too late?
NO LIFE FOR A CHILD
I wholeheartedly concur with Imogen Thompson (Letters, 20 December). I have worked in primary schools where some children as young as four were left with child minders at 7.30am and collected after their parents finished work. This is no life for a child.
So many reception class children miss out on Mum or Dad being able to collect them from school. I would urge any parent to think very hard before putting their baby or young child in someone else’s care all day. Your child is precious and needs you.
CYCLISTS AREN’T THE WORST
I’m not surprised that Lesley Smith (letter, 14 December) has been put off cycling – even in Oxford, which seems a very cyclist-aware city.
I am not a cyclist, but the number of letters pointing out that some cyclists ignore red lights and other traffic regulations seem astonishing to me. Plenty of car drivers slip through changing lights, even fail to stop at zebra crossings, and appear to feel they have a right to travel at whatever speed they like, especially through built-up areas. Ignoring 30mph signs is not only dangerous to pedestrians, other drivers and cyclists, but extremely unpleasant for those who live nearby.
Unlit bicycles and foolish behaviour by cyclists certainly can be dangerous, but most accidents are caused by irresponsible and dangerous motorists.
ADDICTION AND RETREAT FROM MORALITY
Matthew Norman (23 December) writes that I believe drug “addiction” is a “sign of moral fecklessness”. No I don’t. I think the expression has no consistent meaning and that it does not describe any objectively discoverable or measurable physical condition. The concept of “addiction” is currently popular because it seems to validate our general retreat from morality and justice based on free will and personal responsibility.