Housing shortages and the collapse in public ownership of land

Since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 some 2 million hectares of public land has been sold off, largely to private developers. As this useful FT piece makes clear it is the biggest privatisation we’ve never heard of.

It’s enriched developers and signally failed to encourage housebuilding on anything like the scale the country needs:

Throughout the past four decades, and especially since the global financial crisis, one of Whitehall’s principal justifications for driving the sale of public land has been to enable the private sector to build new homes on it. But it is increasingly clear that the private sector has under-delivered.

Much of the public land released to developers in recent years has not been built on but has instead simply been added to their already engorged land banks. The average number of years of housing supply sitting in the major UK housebuilders’ ‘current’ banks — those containing land that has, or is close to receiving, planning permission — doubled from around three in 2006 to around six a decade later.

Although Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report into landbanking practices was a damp squib, the letter he wrote to Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid midway through his investigations made clear the issue. When developers bank rather than build on land (including ex-public land) they do so not due to the alleged “web of commercial and industrial constraints” but because building too many homes too soon risks ‘disturbing the market price’ of housing. In other words, it hits profits.
— Read on ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/11/08/1541675709000/The-collapse-in-public-ownership-of-land/

Worth reading in full.

Housing shortages and the collapse in public ownership of land

Humpty Dumpty

Jack of Kent (the blog of legal expert and Brexit commentator, David Allen Green) posted this today – after the weekend of the biggest protest against leaving the EU without a second referendum. He doesn’t think it can or should happen and, to my mind, his argument makes sense. This is how he sums up:

So overall: there is not enough time for a referendum, the constitutional opportunities for checking (or slowing) Brexit have already come and gone, there will be no way to choose between competing mandates, the whole thing will be divisive, and it may not get the result its supporters want anyway.

This is not to say that those opposed to departure should give up.  They should carry on opposing with all their might until the very last moment, using any legal or political weapon available.  There is nothing wrong with that.

I would love this Brexit story to have the happy ending so many of you want, with the #PeoplesVote saving the day.   Sadly, however, this is likely to be a Brexit by Quentin Tarantino, and not by Walt Disney.

Five arguments against a #PeoplesVote – Jack of Kent blog:

I like Green because he speaks from a world of order and process when so much of our political life seems to have descended into abuse and ignorance.

My own perspective is that, while leaving the EU is going to be awful, undoing the first referendum before we leave – even if it were possible – would resolve nothing.

On 23 June 2016, like Humpty Dumpty, we fell off our wall. All the cracks and crazing that has disfigured our country for generations – the inequality, the short-termisim and greed, the desperate failure of politics – trapping us beyond nuance and representation in false oppositions – the weakness of our institutions, the poison of our public realm – all burst apart at once.

We are smashed now. The past is irretrievable. The only hope is to start some sober and realistic conversations about the future – if there is any medium or institution left to us where a thoughtful and open debate could be held.

Humpty Dumpty

Bear Hunting

Three tweets, seen over the last two days that seem to me to demonstrate our (and the EU’s) predicament over Brexit.


eu states


Trading needs rules. Trust is regulated not a given. New agreements should not disrupt existing agreements to the detriment of the majority of participants.

fig. 2


Based on existing EU rules the UK’s ‘red lines’ determine the nature of the agreement. What we describe is Korea or Canada. What we ask for is to be friends with benefits beyond what is normally permissible.

If you were the EU would you trust us?

But the UK is important to the EU and the failure to find some accommodation with us will have an impact beyond trade. Hence:

fig. 3


There are real risks on both sides and a real question about the capacity of either to deal effectively with the issue of Brexit. The EU cannot step outside of its rules even to become a more effective actor on the world stage.

My own view – for what it’s worth – is that from the UK’s perspective there is no way back from the referendum. I don’t believe a second would achieve anything other that confirm the deep divisions in our society . We have to go through with this – which is why it’s a bear hunt – because as we all know that, when you are hunting bears, whatever obstacle you face:

‘You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.’


Bear Hunting

Power Up!


Did I mention Sister Corita? We came across her by accident earlier this summer in a visit to the lovely museum of art and craft in Ditchling

We didn’t know there was an exhibition on and had gone there to see works by Edward Johnston, Eric Gill and other craft workers in the Catholic Guild Gill founded in the village.

They were political in their way. Phillip Hagreen’s prints still have power:


and a very characteristic cleanness of line, a modern unfussiness. What they don’t have is pzazz! Sister Corita has. In spades.

The connection between them is catholicism. Sister Corita was an American nun, working on prints and printmaking and, through the 50s, 60s and beyond engaging directly with the radical politics of the day – Vietnam, consumerism, poverty the need to bring christianity into people’s lives.

(from the website)
The ground-breaking work of Corita Kent (1918-1986) comes to Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft this summer. Corita was an artist, a famously charismatic educator and a Roman Catholic nun based in Los Angeles during the 1960s. A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, her vibrant screenprinted banners and posters drew on pop and modern consumer cultures and became increasingly political throughout the decade. Her bright, bold work confronted issues of poverty, racism and war with an aesthetic more aligned with protest movements of the time than traditional religious imagery. Frequently appearing on the streets surrounding the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where she taught, Kent’s imagery aimed to capture the public imagination in order to influence social change.

The effect of walking into a room full of her prints (especially after the restraint and control of those great English craftworkers) is extraordinary.




Power Up!

Reasons for leaving

Dear …

I am writing out of courtesy to advise you that I am resigning from the Labour Party with immediate effect – direct debits and the standing order for the monthly draw cancelled!

I wanted to offer a word of explanation (which you are welcome to ignore) but I thought you might be interested in which particular straw it was that broke this camel’s back.

It wasn’t the anti-semitism stuff. A lot (not all) of the complaints about Corbyn himself do seem overstated – sometimes wildly – and I think Corbyn could make a very credible case for his actions in support of the Palestinian cause if he wished. I’d honour him for it.

It isn’t the Brexit stuff either. I can see why a party might equivocate – the people have spoken etc. – although I do deplore the lack of an authoritative, accessible critique of what the government are attempting and there is a desperate need for a post Brexit vision that is not based on the worst of neo-conservatism.

No, what’s finished it for me is this, from the LGA (Local Government Association) Labour Group:

“The LGA Labour Group is hugely disappointed by the initial report of the Labour Party Democracy Review. We had made a serious and detailed submission to the Review, a few parts of which appear to have been accepted, but the general tone of the Review in relation to local government betrays a general lack of understanding of local government, and an astonishing lack of respect towards Labour Party members who serve as councillors. Given that the original remit of the Democracy Review was to ‘develop the accountability of Labour local authority elected members’, there is no recognition within the document of the current legal and financial frameworks that councillors operate within, nor the fact that councillors are the most accountable – both to the party and to their local community – of all elected representatives. Nor is there any acknowledgement of the significant role that Labour councillors have fulfilled in protecting communities from the worst of austerity, and how Labour in local government will be an essential part of delivering the policy programme of an incoming Labour Government.

The biggest concern is that the Review proposes to ban all councillors from serving on Local Government Committees – effectively downgrading councillors to second-class membership, with no say over decisions relating to local government policy development and campaigning, and excluding those party members who have the deepest knowledge, experience, and responsibilities towards local government, not to mention breadth of campaigning expertise and financial commitment.”

For me Corbyn represented a chance to reset the centre of politics in Britain after the Osborn years. I wanted to resist that rightwards drag that had seemed to suck the Labour Party along with it. I wanted change. Naively perhaps, I wasn’t expecting that his election would open the floodgates to all the purists I’d last come across in the eighties. On top of that I am a local government man through and through and it depresses me beyond measure that the Party, instead of welcoming the best of local action and initiative, seems to be set on denying and disabling it.

We are making ourselves as stupid as the Tories. It’s an achievement of sorts – but not one I am proud of and I have decided to step outside of the party and look around a little to see if there is any one out there who I can support.

Reasons for leaving

The perils of purity

As we fidget on the edge of Autumn and the resumption of what passes for political life in this country this is a thoughtful piece from John Harris about centrism, the damaging rush to ideological purity across the political spectrum and the reasons why politics seems both detached from reality and utterly unable to deal with it:

One big tension defines where British politics has arrived. On both sides, there are a lot of people – from no-deal Brexiteers to the Corbyn hardcore – who seem to think that they are the custodians of their own variety of purity. What we are perhaps discovering is that this mindset may actually deliver the reverse: a polluted politics in which even people in positions of power keep very questionable company, debate tends to look like an indecipherable mess, and the biggest casualty is a national conversation that feels in any way useful.
— Read on www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/27/centrist-path-hardcore-brexiteers-corbynites

The perils of purity