David Cameron’s plan for discount 'starter' homes is laughable

 According to Shelter, you need a salary of £50,000 in England and £77,000 in London to be able to afford one of them

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 09 October 2015 18:53
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David Cameron appeals for calm during his conference speech on Wednesday
David Cameron appeals for calm during his conference speech on Wednesday

The Tories have no idea how to solve the housing shortage. Why can’t they just come clean and say the words “we’re not going to spend public money on homes you can rent, so get over it”?

David Cameron’s idea of altering the rules so that developers can build a quota of “starter” homes to be sold at a discount to first-time buyers is laughable. The price of these homes has gone up more than 20 per cent in the past year alone, so this kind of “help” is meaningless. According to Shelter, you need a salary of £50,000 in England and £77,000 in London to be able to afford a “starter” home.

Another example of the Government’s inability to grasp the scale of the problem comes from the mouth of housing minister Brandon Lewis. This bloke is addicted to bungalows. He’s talked about them being the potential solution to the housing crisis before – so often, in fact, I’m starting to think he’s a secret investor in buyabungalow.com.

Lewis announced last week that developers should be building “attractive” bungalows to entice older people to leave their half-empty houses. He’s got a big task: only 300 bungalows were built in 2009, the last year for which figures are available. In reality, bungalows in nice towns and suburbs are being bought by middle-class people who then pull them down to build houses with three or more bedrooms for their families.

I agree that many older people (myself included) are living in homes that are too big. A parliamentary report reckoned that one in three of us has considered downsizing, but less than a quarter actually go through with it. The Liberal Democrats caused outrage last year when it was suggested that the Government should offer cash incentives to older people to nudge them to move, potentially freeing up 25 million bedrooms.

Lewis, meanwhile, says older people have “a psychological barrier” to downsizing, but that’s not true. The fact is, in many areas these smaller flats we’re encouraged to move into are higher priced per square foot than houses. My generation of baby boomers might fancy convenient lateral living, but it will take up a disproportionate amount of our capital. We don’t want sheltered housing in a dreary suburb. We want to be where we are living now, in the same communities but a smaller property – but there’s nothing available.

Instead of burdening us with taxes and charges, why doesn’t the Government create a financial incentive to encourage older people to downsize? Pay for moving costs, perhaps? We’d happily be the new Grey Generation Rent, or even buy short leases, but there’s no such option.

The last thing we want are Brandon’s bloody retirement bungalows out in the suburbs. Who wants to live in a self-contained tiny box with a handkerchief garden in dreary isolation? I want my next home to be in a block of flats, a ready-made community, surrounded by people to say hello to each morning, with cinemas, shops, and culture close by.

If the Tories want to get their hands on all 2.5 million underused houses in Britain, they must come up with a more inspirational and constructive person to find a solution than the half-baked Lewis with his fetish for bungalows.

A patient’s right to know – or not to know – about a doctor

A cardiologist convicted of possessing indecent images of children has received a three-year community order and will remain on the Sex Offender Register for five years. Dr Steven Burn blamed stress and bureaucracy for his actions. He was sacked and suspended from working in the medical profession for a year.

The General Medical Council sought to have Dr Burn struck off for the duration of the time he remains on the Register, but a tribunal disagreed. Outraged patients claim they don’t want someone with a conviction for sex crimes working with their children.

They have a point, but do we have the right to know about doctors’ private lives and brushes with the law? Should they, for example, have to make public any previous convictions for drink, drugs or pornography?

Don’t wait until Frieze to see some excellent art

Two huge new art galleries opened in central London this week, both designed by the architects Caruso St John. Today, Larry Gagosian opens his third London gallery on Grosvenor Hill in Mayfair, 18,000 sq ft of space over an NCP car park, showing the work of the American master Cy Twombly.

South of the Thames, Damien Hirst has put £25m of his money where his mouth is. He has turned a former scenery factory he had been using as a studio into one of London’s most beautiful public spaces to show his private collection. The 37,000 sq ft Newport Street Gallery, a short walk from Waterloo, opens with the work of neglected British abstract painter John Hoyland.

The late Hoyland was a prickly character, but this show, spread over six impressive rooms, really does him justice. There’s a room full of pink monstrosities, which surely happened during a mid-life crisis, but the best work is bold, brave and highly emotional – exactly like Hoyland himself.

Attendances at London’s state-owned galleries have declined slightly – the biggest losers are Tate Britain and the National Gallery – so it will be interesting to see the impact of the growing number of private spaces. Frieze week starts on Tuesday and will attract thousands of collectors and dealers, but the best place to see contemporary art in London today is not in a tent but in one of these new mega-galleries.

Who’s afraid of a little revenge catharsis?

I’ve never been a Bake Off devotee. I know it’s a British institution, but it’s far too nice for my warped tastes. Give me a nasty drama over a gang of people taking sugary buns as seriously as the political situation in Syria; a cake is a cake, after all, even with a sari underneath and jewels on top.

By contrast, the BBC drama Doctor Foster arrived at an inevitably messy and violent conclusion this week, and afterwards I felt drained. It was a modern version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I don’t think television drama has ever given us such an accurate depiction of how badly couples behave when one is having an affair (and I speak from experience). This was revenge of the highest order: nothing Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones) did seemed unreasonable, and I wondered how many women watching would have been shouting encouragement.

What a long way from cryptic Wolf Hall. Very cathartic; a second series, please.

Colin Farrell would be a lobster, I’d be a stoat

Next Friday, one of the weirdest films I’ve seen in a long while, opens in London. The Lobster, a brilliant satire about relationships, is set in a bleak future where single people are forced to find a partner within 45 days or turn into animals, and a tribe of refuseniks is battling to survive, living in the wild.

People who choose to live alone are seen as weird these days – look at the huge success of the Bridget Jones franchise. At times, The Lobster is hard to stomach. Colin Farrell opts to end up as a lobster because “they can live for 100 years”. I’d choose a stoat: a cheeky meat-eater who dances, climbs, swims and is highly territorial. Sound familiar?

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