Opinion

Tony Johnson: The broken drum

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If last week’s commentary on housing showed anything, in describing the practice of ‘planning by appeal’ along with the misleading supply measurement process, it demonstrated a need for reform.

But that’s for parliamentarians to worry about later, either when they wake up and recognise the problems, or when they’re encouraged into actually doing something about them.

Owned or Rental, things are mental

One of the reasons why housing costs are sky high is because we’ve not been building enough. But as parliament heard recently, it isn’t only because builders have been slowing down a bit in order to protect prices and profits.

As a nation we haven’t been building enough since 1980 when our Councils were stopped from building houses. Mon dieu! and sacré bleu!! Incroyable!!! Surely the leaderene was infallible, invincible, indispensable even?

Sadly not. Mrs Thatcher’s government reduced the building of council houses to a trickle – less than 5% of what was needed. Central government trousered the cash from the great council house sell off, then mortgaged the future with PFI, PPP, PFI-2 etc. etc. After 35 years of market mismanagement, we’re millions of homes off the pace and ‘Da Bildaaz’ haven’t solved the problem. They’ve been focused on something else.

Little Boxes, Little Boxes

In his 1963 hit record, US folk artist Pete Seeger sang about the houses being made of ticky tacky – such was their poor build quality.

Half a century later, with all pretence of independent quality control removed from Borough Councils by successive central government ‘improvements’ and ‘interventions’ (or just plain old stupidity) and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that houses built in our borough recently haven’t all been quite the full ticket.

At the University of Reading’s long-demolished Sibly Hall, just off Redhatch Drive in Earley, Borough Councillors Pauline and Norman Jorgensen have been fighting on residents’ behalf for over two years to get the builders to fix things. Houses cracking up (literally), pathways choked with weeds, play areas strewn with ankle-turning sharp stones, the list goes on.

Eventually WBC stepped in and issued a planning enforcement notice. Regrettably this isn’t visible on the borough’s website, and you can’t see for yourself what progress WBC’s made.

On the ill-starred Loddon Park site in Woodley, at least one house had well over 200 snaggings with little or no action from the builder, so residents complained to the Reading East MP (Rob Wilson at the time). The intensity of his letters grew and things still didn’t get resolved. After site visits by the MP, the builder’s CEO and then successive press, radio and television staff, eventually work started. Over a year later, and matters still hadn’t been completely fixed. One can’t help wondering if there are some who’ve been unable or unwilling to come forward to get their concerns resolved.

Over in North Wokingham, expectations that developers would cooperate on designing and building the north Wokingham distributor road to get traffic flowing were perhaps a tad optimistic. Today, Town and Borough Councillors are bemused with one builder’s Sustainable Urban Drainage System. It stores excess rainfall to reduce flooding elsewhere, but instead of draining to the west (downhill), it’s draining to the north (uphill). Errr…

Sadly, and despite lobbying claims to the contrary, these examples are all too common in an industry that aspires to quality yet seems unable deliver it consistently to one and all.

And when a builder can’t even get a decent internet connection into a house in 2018, despite WBC’s strenuous efforts to proclaim that we’re best in class for broadband, you know something’s wrong.

Who you gonna call – Ghostbusters?

In responding to the lack of council houses or the quality problems, there’d be no surprise if you just said ‘this doesn’t affect me’. And you’d be right.

As well as short sighted.

Because one day, you (or your children / grandchildren) are going to want to rent or buy one of those homes and you’re going to find either that they aren’t there, or that some of the ‘snaggings’ haven’t quite been fixed yet. And if the fire engines can’t reach your property because the roads are too narrow, then it’ll burn. And the water still won’t flow uphill either.

Worry not – “help” is at hand!!!

A public consultation titled Strengthening consumer redress in the housing market has just been launched by those lovely folk in Whitehall and Westminster with a fabulous foreword from none other than the Right. Honourable. Sajid Javid MP. He is the Secretary of State in the Department for Homelessness, Immunities and Focal Government (that’s 1984 newspeak for DCLG).

Like many public consultations it’s complex and boring, so I won’t recommend that you read it.

Unless you want to find out what it says about the eighteen organisations plus eight ombudsmen; the twelve codes of practice and schemes; the seven acts of parliament; the five activities etc, that are actually meant to do one thing – resolve your complaints. And did I mention that it also describes four of the six cases where there’s no complaints process at all ?

But there is good news, the consultation questions are on SurveyMonkey and if you do as I did, by answering two questions imaginatively, you get to give your opinions on the questions that matter regarding complaints about housing.

The Last Word

You might recall the quality of British cars in the sixties and seventies. Instead of making and selling cars that didn’t come back, to people that did – bosses and unions were busy fighting each other – when they weren’t fighting government that is.

Which is perhaps why the phrase “British Car Industry” is an oxymoron.

For the brave, the consultation is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-consumer-redress-in-housing

For everyone else, the questions are here:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Housingredress  

It’s time to let government know your opinion.

Send your thoughts to caveat.lector@icloud.com

 

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Phil Creighton

Publisher of The Wokingham Paper

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