Southwark’s housing crisis

Peckham was my first port of call when I moved into London. So it was nice to return there to talk to Southwark Green Party about housing last night.

In 2007 I moved into in a slightly grotty flatshare let out by a negligent landlord, and was eventually evicted after complaining about – among other things – him sending an uncertified mate round to fix our boiler.

At least forty years of failed policies have led us to the point where my experience is commonplace, and not just a personal problem but a political one.

Britain’s housing crisis is usually illustrated with lots of numbers, so I reeled some off at the meeting. In a blog I can put them into two charts, showing two important trends in Southwark unfolding through each General Election:

shc

With each election, house prices rose, and they now stand at an incredible 21 times the local income, pricing all but the richest and wealthiest out of ownership.

With each election, the stock of social housing has fallen as Right to Buy sales and demolitions have outstripped the number of new homes built, leaving people low incomes reliant on expensive and insecure private rents.

With each election, whichever party won, things got worse.

In recent years Labour and the Conservatives have both tried to claim each other is solely to blame. Labour have a particularly ridiculous web site slamming the ‘Tory Housing Crisis‘. But you can see that the crisis has deepened under both Labour and Conservative/Lib Dem governments. The same is true of Southwark, which has seen both red and blue/yellow coalition councils.

Here’s one more number I find quite staggering, which comes back to my personal experience of renting in Southwark:

rents

By “affordable”, I’m using the standard definition that your rent shouldn’t take up more than 35% of your take home pay. Shelter crunched the numbers in their Rent Watch report in 2012.

Speculating in Southwark

One of the problems I touched on in my talk was speculation on property, or as some like to call it, “investment”.

Other political parties tend to say the only solution to our housing crisis is to build more homes. But across London, two thirds of the new homes are sold to investors. They might be a buy-to-letter in Kent, or a cash buyer in Kuala Lumpur, it doesn’t much matter. They cause two big problems:

  1. These speculators are wealthy and willing to bid up prices, because they think prices will keep rising (which is why they bought the home).
  2. If they don’t leave the home empty, they will let it to a private tenant on an insecure, short-term contract with an extremely high rent.

In Southwark, most new homes are marketed like this (yes, it’s from a real advert):

rentalgaThey aren’t selling a home, they’re selling an asset with a guaranteed return on investment and the likelihood of a huge capital gain.

It gets worse, as homes are designed to appeal to the investor market, rather than the needs of local people. This means towers of one and two bed flats, and nothing to put potential investors off:

nosocial

At One The Elephant, a blandly named tower block subsidised by City Hall, the council papers were even honest enough to spell this out. The developers wouldn’t get as much money for the flats if the speculators knew they might have to mix with tenants in social housing, and putting in a separate lift and door would be too expensive, so the Labour councillors voted the application through with no social housing in it at all. They just got a contribution to some “affordable” homes elsewhere in the borough.

Southwark Council has schmoozed and supported the big developers behind these awful schemes for years, and encouraged investor-buyers. The council leader, Peter John, has been wined and dined and flown to a property fair in Cannes by one of them – Lend Lease.

Why? Because investors buy flats off-plan, helping big developers to build more homes – and as we know, building more homes is the solution to our housing crisis, right?

What do we do?

My main message was this: if we say “just build more homes” in this broken housing market, we give big developers an excuse to keep making things worse. We shouldn’t be building new homes at the expense of council tenants, nor getting into bed with speculators to get new homes built.

I talked about some other problems with the “just build more homes” mantra, but I won’t take your time spelling them all out here.

Instead, I’ll cut straight to five solutions that the Green Party is proposing to solve Southwark’s housing crisis as we go into this General Election:

  1. Tax land and property to put off the speculators and stabilise house prices – initially by adding higher council tax bands, and in the long-term by replacing it with a Land Value Tax.
  2. Stop demolishing council estates and support tenant-led refurbishment schemes, which could include new homes being built under the direction of existing tenants.
  3. Build a lot of new social housing with a bigger grant and more borrowing powers for councils, so the stock starts to rise again.
  4. Give private tenants much longer, more secure tenancies with rent controls to at least stabilise prices and stop the cycle of short-term moves and evictions.
  5. Break up the big builder cartel and its cosy relationship with Southwark Council by, for example, only selling public land to custom build projects instead of the likes of Lend Lease.

We will be unveiling further details of these policies, and many more, in our manifesto nearer the 7th May. Our aim is to make housing policy about homes for people, rather than assets for investors.

In the meantime, you can join the Green Party and dozens of campaign groups in calling for radical change at the March for Homes on Saturday 31st January.

A future for Anerley Town Hall

Anerley Town Hall is one of those Victorian projects that provide some of the few civic spaces left for local people. I’ve written to Bromley Council making clear that they need to secure its future, rather than continuing the neglect or flogging it off for a one-off lump of cash.

ath

Here is my letter:

Dear Mr Thompson,

I am writing as a local resident and occasional Anerley Town Hall user to feed in my views on the four options you have circulated regarding the building’s future.

Regrettably, the council took the damaging decision to close the library service. This decision was the council’s, in view of funding cuts and the view – wrong in my opinion – that the new library in Penge made this facility unnecessary. But the library’s closure should not be taken as any indication of the building failing to provide value to the local community.

ath-library

While the business centre is losing money, it is helping to keep 55 people in employment and keep money circulating in the local economy. Closing it now would cut the legs from under the local economy, and could have knock-on consequences for other businesses such as the parade of shops on Anerley Road.

As you note, the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust have succeeded in running a thriving community facility in their part of the building. This shows both that the building itself has a valuable role in the local community, and that the CPCDT have a solid track record.

There are no alternatives to this listed building in the area that offer the same space with a kitchen, toilets and parking. Redevelopment into residential or commercial uses would represent a huge loss to Anerley, an area that is among the most deprived in Bromley but also with potential to thrive given further support for community and business development. I believe that, under the CPCDT’s management, the whole building including the business centre could go from strength to strength, with efficiencies and innovation likely to arise from bringing management into one organisation.

ath2

In view of their success, I would prefer to see the council opt for option 2 – leasing the entire building to the CPCDT. I believe they are best placed to find viable uses for the building.

I believe the council should guarantee payment for the urgent subsidence works, and work with the CPCDT to find the best way to upgrade the telephony systems.

With respect to the car park, I am sympathetic to the idea of selling at least part of the car park for development. But this should be done with care not to affect the viability of the facilities, which will require some parking for loading and disabled access. It should also be accompanied by a transport plan to reduce private car usage in visiting the facilities, and to address any barriers to people taking the bus, walking or cycling to the facility. For example, the council should consider introducing a 20mph speed limit and cycle lanes on Anerley Road, and undertake a survey of current users to discover any holes in bus route coverage, working with TfL to resolve any issues that arise.

Regards,

Tom Chance

The future of Anerley Town Hall speaks to a wider potential for government to empower local people.

Government needn’t always do, it can also facilitate; it needn’t always do these things for local people, it can do things with them. Just as I want to see the council work with local groups to gradually improve Crystal Palace Park, and just as the Upper Norwood Library Trust are seeking council support to run a  community facilities, so I think Bromley Council can work with the CPCDT to do something far more powerful in Anerley.

I don’t support the Conservative vision of a “Big Society” trying (without funding) to fill the hole left by government cuts. Bromley cannot just hand over the keys to the Crystal Palace Community Development Trust, without funding the work to stop the subsidence and upgrade the telephony systems.

But it would be in the spirit of the Victorian age to see Bromley treat Anerley Town Hall not as a council asset to be flogged off, nor a consumer product it delivers for local people, but as a civic space – a focal point in which government and locals work together for the benefit of the community.

Exporting Lewisham and Penge’s poor

Since it came to power, this government has delighted in cutting great big holes in our welfare safety net.

Conservative, Liberal and Labour politicians have jostled to “get tough” on welfare, buying into the idea that most benefit claimants are either cheating the system or sitting on their bums not looking for work, or possibly both.

So they have cut and capped the amount of housing that tenants can claim to cover their rents.

But these cuts have taken their toll, making it increasingly difficult to find somewhere you can afford. So more and more people have had to move somewhere cheaper.

First, this hit central London, and then inner London, and in the past couple of years it has started to hit my constituency of Lewisham West & Penge.

This chart shows the relative change in the number of private tenants claiming housing benefit since January 2011. Westminister started to empty out early on, Lewisham and Penge followed a year or so later, while cheaper places like Thanet remain more or less unaffected.

prs-benefit-claimants

I produced this using the government’s handy but complex statistical analysis tool.

These cuts have certainly been tough, but they haven’t been fair.

Tory ministers and right-wing newspapers might howl about scroungers, but only 15 per cent of private tenant claimants in Lewisham West & Penge are unemployed, while 45 per cent are in work.

With the national minimum wage too little to live off in London and rents obscenely high, thousands of people in Lewisham West and Penge rely on housing benefit to make ends meet.

The way to help them and bring down the benefit bill isn’t through cuts, it’s through fixing our broken economy:

  • Bring in rent controls similar to those enjoyed by tenants in other European countries
  • Make the minimum wage a living wage, so people earn enough to build a life on
  • Build more social housing so people on low incomes can pay low rents (and have secure, comfortable homes)
  • Replace our complex and expensive welfare system with a citizens’ income, guaranteeing everyone enough to meet their basic needs without wasteful means testing

These policies will actually save the government money in the long run. Rent controls stop the housing benefit bill rising; people on higher wages pay more in tax, and need less in benefits; social housing needs up-front investment but pays for itself in rents and lower benefit payments; and a citizens’ income could bring an end to the hugely wasteful and complex benefits system we have today.

These will be the manifesto I will be standing on in May 2015. For a constituency everyone can afford, vote Green.

Saving 25 Church Road, Crystal Palace

I’m not a very regular cinema-goer, so I’ve never felt particularly passionate about the campaign to bring one to Crystal Palace. But I do fully support the Picture Palace campaign in trying to keep 25 Church Road as an assembly/leisure building for the local community, in the face of repeated attempts to turn it into a church.

SAVE-25-CHURCH-ROAD

We have planning rules that designate the building a certain “use class”. This one is D2, which means it is protected for uses like a cinema, dance, concert or bingo hall, gym or skating rink. It’s the only facility of its kind in an area already blessed with lots of fantastic places of worship. This area of planning policy exists to ensure we have a good mix of facilities in the local area, and can be used by councils to prevent communities being overrun with cafes and takeaways, or losing valuable office space. I hope they use this policy to reject the application.

We also suffer from traffic, which snarls up our roads and is responsible for illegal levels of air pollution as you can see from our study. The applicant’s paperwork uses some really misleading figures to try and suggest they will result in less traffic, which is quite unlikely. I hope Bromley Council take their legal obligations to reduce air pollution seriously, and reject the application.

I submitted this detailed response to the consultation run by Bromley Council.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a Bromley resident, and I am writing to object to the following planning application: 14/04557/FULL2 | Change of use from Bingo Hall Class D2 to mixed Class D1 (church) and Class D2 (Assembly and Leisure) use |25 Church Road Anerley London SE19 2TE

I do not support the proposed loss of a community and leisure facility with the D2 use class. This building is the last remaining such facility in the Crystal Palace Area, and is registered with the council as an Asset of Community Value.

The mixed use proposal is disingenuous, as the track record of the applicant and the restrictions mentioned at the consultation events (such as censoring many films incompatible with the applicant’s religious beliefs) mean it would not be a full-time and genuinely open community asset. Were this one of several mixed uses in the locality alongside a genuine D2 facility, such restrictions would not be a problem. The town centre already has a number of other D1 places of worship which provide valuable community spaces with reasonable restrictions on their use. But as the only dedicated D2 venue, to consign it to such a downgraded D2 use would be a significant loss.

This loss would damage the potential commercial vitality of the local town centre. Church Road enjoys lower levels of foot traffic than the two other sides of the ‘Triangle’, largely because it lacks a continuous set of active facades on both sides of the street, an anchor store or venue, and of course narrow pavements alongside a congested and polluted road. The planning application would see the facade of 25 Church Street remain largely inactive for most of the time, bringing no extra footfall to the street, and it would waste the opportunity for a significant anchor venue. Two church services a week, and a number of community events inside the building, may in fact leave the facade largely inactive all week.

Reviving a genuine D2 use in 25 Church Road could not only provide a commercial boost. It would also help to support Crystal Palace as a viable local centre, reducing travel needs and so supporting a more sustainable pattern of development.

The Travel Plan demonstrates the negative impact the proposals would have on the local streets. Even if the interim targets in table 8.1 were met, then with a congregation of 400 people the area would see an influx of 28-64 cars looking for parking in the area where very little is available. Anecdotal evidence from past ‘unlawful’ congregations suggests that it results in the loss of parking bays for local shops, and substantial levels of parking in Crystal Palace Park which may conflict with emerging plans for those facilities.

This increase in traffic also needs to be seen in the context of pollution levels on the local roads. Monitoring by Bromley Council indicates annual mean levels of nitrogen dioxide on Anerley Hill that remain significantly above the legal limit set by the EU. Informal monitoring which I carried out over July 2014 suggested that levels are at a similar, if not higher, level along Church Road and other approach roads such as Crystal Palace Parade, Westow Street and Westow Hill. The projected increase in traffic would further increase pollution levels. The council must make an absolute reduction in traffic levels a planning priority for this area, both to comply with European air quality law and to protect the health of the local population.

The Transport Assessment also makes a very flawed comparison of the applicant’s congregation and cinema-goers. Two of the comparators are surveys undertaken in 1993 and 2001 (the Odeon in Tottenham Court Road is not dated). These dates are long before a significant fall in traffic levels and car ownership, and a very significant rise in public transport and cycling, across Greater London and including the local area. Therefore they will not provide an accurate reference point. The applicant should commission a contemporary study of travel to more local and comparable cinemas such as the Brixton Ritzy and the Beckenham Odeon, and to other potential D2 leisure uses in comparable town centres. Given that the applicant’s congregation will largely be travelling from outside the area to 25 Church Road, while a revived D2 use could see local people no longer making longer trips to town centres such as Brixton and Beckenham, there may even be potential for a D2 use to result in a small net reduction in traffic in the area.

Finally, I should like to urge the council to not only reject this application, but to do so quite firmly. The applicant’s continued attempts to gain permission to change the building’s use, and its continued abuse of the planning conditions through events that are in all probability unlawful, have cast a pall over this local Asset of Community Value, damaging the viability of the town centre. The applicant should be strongly urged to either bring forward a business plan for a genuine D2 community asset, or sell the venue to another party that is willing to do so.

Have your say

I’d encourage you to put in your own response before the deadline – Thursday 15th January.

The application is available on Bromley Council’s planning web site, where you can also register comments.

Picture Palace have detailed guidance and instructions, which is well worth reading whether or not you support their point of view. They also have a petition to sign.

Cut fares with publicly owned railways

Today I helped unveil a new manifesto pledge from the Green Party – we will cut public transport fares by 10 per cent, and bring our railways back into public ownership.

fares-protest

We believe that the railways should be run for the benefit of the people who use them, not for the private profit of people that happen to own them. We need affordable and reliable public transport to help reduce car usage, so reducing our carbon footprint and reducing air pollution that blights most main roads in London.

Here I am introducing our policy at London Bridge, thanks to Let Me Look TV:

This cut in fares would save a commuter in Crystal Palace or Bellingham who bought a zone 1-4 travelcard more than £200 per year, and a bus pass user in Penge or Forest Hill about £75 per year.

We can pay for a 10 per cent cut in fares by reallocating money that the Conservatives and Labour both want to spend building more roads. Their plans will just mean more traffic and more pollution. Politics and budgets are all about choices, and our priority is to make sustainable transport more affordable.

Darren Johnson has documented £28 billion of new road capacity that Boris Johnson wants to build in London. If you read that report, you can also see that there are public transport alternatives to all of the road building schemes Boris proposes:

Boris’ road-building plans for London are the tip of the iceberg when you look at the national plans. When the Tories announced them, all Labour could do was say “more and sooner”.

We don’t just want to cut fares, we also want to bring the railways back into public ownership. Privatisation has created a fragmented, unreliable and expensive system that wastes over £1bn a year. Train companies like Southern Rail line the pockets of their shareholders while fares rise and stations, rolling stock and staff are neglected.

The Green Party would bring all franchises back into public ownership when they expire. For our neck of the woods, that would mean bringing most Southern and Southeastern services within London into TfL, like the London Overground. This wouldn’t be a panacea, but would enable TfL to deliver a more joined-up service and invest in better stations.

If you want lower fares, and agree that public transport should be a priority, vote Green on the 7th May and join all those Green activists who were out this morning making the same point…

Delays, cancellations and anger with Southern

Like many commuters, I’ve been getting increasingly fed up with the delays and cancellations from Southern Railways, and the lack of information when things go wrong.

train-cancelled

So I wrote to the company asking what on earth was going on:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to complain about the standard of your service in recent months. I use your services on a fairly regular basis between Crystal Palace and London Bridge, and other services to get connections from Clapham Junction. It seems that trains are late, delayed or cancelled on a daily basis, causing myself and many other commuters inconvenience and frustration.

It is not just the unreliability of the service, but the information provided. Services are often shown to be on time long after the train was due. This can then change to show the current time, and then that changes again, until it switches to the useless ‘delayed’, and then finally ‘cancelled’ when frustrated passengers are told the driver didn’t turn up. While waiting, people often miss other possible connecting services.

I’d echo one comment on a local Facebook group: “It has been a hellish month on our trains.”

This story from another commuter shows the impact that a consistently poor service has on people’s lives: “It’s only Monday and I’ve already spent almost an hour waiting for Southern Trains this week. I’d quite like their Chief Exec to come along to my work in the morning and attend the meetings I am missing whilst I wait for a train. Then in the evening he/she could arrange for my son to be collected on time from nursery and for someone to spend some quality time with him, whilst I am standing on a platform somewhere waiting for a train. It’s getting beyond a joke at the moment.”

I understand that rebuilding London Bridge station creates challenges for your company. But I cannot understand why there is so much disruption caused by problems with signals, rolling stock and staff shortages.

Can you please explain why the service has been so poor, and what you are doing to improve it in the new year?

Yours faithfully,

Tom Chance
Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham West & Penge

Since I wrote that letter, I’ve seen services get steadily worse. Last night I was on a train that got about 500m out of London Bridge station only to be held due to a points failure, then to slowly rumble back into the station defeated. After I eventually found another train that was running, I got home a full hour later than usual.

Yesterday Southern got back to me with a fairly thorough response:

Dear Tom,

Thank you for contacting us on 9th December 2014 regarding our service. Please accept my apologies for the delay in our response.

I am sorry to hear about your dissatisfaction with our service over the past few months. I understand if you are frustrated. In terms of the ongoing delays and disruptions you’ve been experiencing, unfortunately this is mostly down to problems we’re experiencing at London Bridge, related to the Thameslink works.

We are aware that there have been a number of delays to services and we apologise for the inconvenience this has caused.

As I’m sure you’re aware, by 2018, the £6.5bn government-sponsored Thameslink Programme will deliver major benefits for passengers with new, longer trains, more frequent services and upgraded stations. However, until the programme is complete, short term changes to the infrastructure will have a significant impact on our services.

Currently, by far and away the biggest impact on performance has been delays emanating from London Bridge itself, particularly following the August blockade where we’ve seen a number of issues with the new infrastructure.

The revised track, signalling and platform layout required us to reduce the number of trains into London Bridge in the morning (and we physically cannot fit any more trains in). But even that doesn’t seem to have given enough flexibility to enable us to cope with any delay; so even a minute’s delay on one train can unfortunately have quite a knock on effect on other trains.

Added to this, even where those issues arise elsewhere on our network, we are seeing a rapid snowballing of delay at London Bridge, which quickly affects all service groups.

Therefore your experience does absolutely reflect the fact that we’re finding it very tough to get trains into London Bridge on time at the moment and we do accept that performance has been below par.

However, this does show the trade-off between running as many trains as we can for capacity and the impacts on performance. Our network is more restricted than ever and we are working very hard to come up with fresh approaches to overcome the issues this presents.

Our Managing Director has been spending time with our Head of Train Planning and Head of Current Operations, looking at our current plans again and investigating options for improvement.

As a result, Southern made some minor changes to our train services at the end of September 2014 to improve the performance of trains at London Bridge. We hope these changes will make our train plan more resilient and give us greater flexibility to cope with delays and tackle the snowballing effect that one delay can have on other services.

Of course, we will be monitoring the situation very closely and I would like to assure you that we will do everything within our control to deliver better performance.

As always, you are entitled to claim Delay Repay where you have been delayed in reaching your destination by 30 minutes or more.

Kind regards

Syeda Gul
Southern Customer Services

Hopefully all this work on London Bridge station will make some of these problems worthwhile, in the end. I can accept that the incredibly complicated engineering works going on at that very busy station may lead to problems with our service.

But I find it hard to accept that those engineering works are to blame for staff shortages and broken down trains, which have been the cause of many problems in recent months.

It seems to me that Southern are hiding behind one valid excuse to avoid facing up to their own failures.

On the whole, I find TfL’s London Overground and tube services much more reliable. Is it coincidence that these are publicly owned? I don’t think so. Just as London’s buses are streets ahead of the failed patchwork of privatised nonsense that other parts of the country have to deal with, so our patchwork privatised railways are failing train passengers.

Bringing the railways back into public ownership could save more than £1 billion each year across the UK. That’s money which could be invested in more staff with better terms and conditions, and in better train carriage maintenance. It’s also money that could help bring fares down, instead of increasing them above inflation year after year with no improvement in service.

Govia, Southern’s parent company, are merging this service into a mega-franchise called Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, starting in July 2015. In the first year they expect to pull at least a £33 million profit out of passengers.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, has been promoting a Bill in Parliament which would enable us to bring all rail franchises back into public ownership when they expire.

caroline-on-train

As your MP, I would campaign for the Southern and Southeastern franchises to be brought back into public ownership using this mechanism, bringing metro services into TfL.

Even if London Bridge works disrupt services, we could rest assured that the service is being run for the benefit of passengers, not profit.

Vote Dowd, Get Miliband?

One of the best things about Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, is her independence from party whips.

You can always be sure that she will vote in Parliament for her constituency, for her conscience, and for her Green principles of equality and ecology.

When the anti-Green attack unit set-up by Labour claim that a vote for the Green Party will land you with a Conservative government, it makes me wonder – so what will a vote for Labour get you?

In Lewisham West & Penge, it has delivered us Jim Dowd. He seems like a decent person, but according to the Public Whip web site he has voted loyally for his party line in 99% of the votes. So you can be fairly sure that a vote for Jim Dowd is a vote for whatever programme Ed Miliband leads the party on.

Caroline, pictured below, is a different story, and was named MP of the year for her work.

caroline-commons

Here are some examples of Jim Dowd’s votes on controversial issues, taken from They Work For You. Do you agree with him on these?

He voted for:

  • the Iraq war, and against investigating it
  • replacing the Trident nuclear missiles
  • foundation hospitals, further privatising the NHS
  • tuition fees and top-up fees
  • introducing ID cards and a national database

He voted against:

  • measures to reduce tax avoidance
  • higher duties on flights and petrol
  • reforms to the House of Lords

Lastly, he didn’t even turn up to debate and vote on protections for private tenants against revenge evictions!

Did you oppose the war in Iraq and tuition fees, and do you want serious action on climate change and tax avoidance? You may be tempted to vote for Jim Dowd because Labour are slightly better than the Conservatives on these issues. But will Jim Dowd know those were your reasons? No, he will assume you support his track record, that track record you disagree with? He can carry on voting against your beliefs happy in the knowledge that voters will back him.

If you agree with me that Tony Blair should be investigated for launching an illegal war in Iraq, that we need to reverse decades of privatisation in our NHS, and that private tenants need protection against revenge evictions, then vote for me and the Green Party. It’s the only intelligible choice. Even if Jim Dowd wins, he will at least know where you stand when he goes to vote in the next Parliament.

If everybody voted for policies, not parties, then this web site suggests I would become the first Green MP for Lewisham West and Penge, delivering the change you want for the area and the UK.

How to push up house prices in London

The Chancellor has announced a cut in stamp duty for most people in yesterday’s autumn statement, claiming it will help first-time buyers. Labour’s shadow chancellor quickly supported him, adding that it will “help people on middle and low incomes who are moving homes”.

Given the extremely high prices in London, you sounds like great news! But it could actually make things worse. Let me explain with an example from Anerley.

forsale

Imagine you were a rich enough first-time buyer to go for the average two bed flat in SE20, which according to Nestoria costs £329,000! You’ll now have to pay just over £3,000 less in stamp duty to buy it, which will be welcome news.

But this means you, and every other buyer, now has £3,000 more to bid on the price for the home. The Government’s own economists – the Office for Budget Responsibility – say this will push up house prices. Using Shelter’s estimates as my guide, I’ve estimated that this could mean that two bed flat rising to £335,000, so the stamp duty cut will add another £6,000 to the price.

Now in the short run, this might make it slightly easier for you because stamp duty usually eats into the savings you need for a deposit, while that extra £6k on the house price can be spread over the lifetime of your mortgage.

But over time, all of these policies to “help” first-time buyers with tax cuts and subsidies just push prices up.

That could also make life harder for tenants, who are in the majority in the Lewisham West & Penge constituency and yet got nothing at all out of the autumn statement.

What if the Chancellor had spent his time in office trying to keep house prices stable?

se20-pricesUsing Nestoria’s figures again, you’d stand to pay less than £200,000 for a two bed flat if prices hadn’t risen since 2011.

You can see the incredible – appalling even – rise in house prices in SE20 in the chart on the right.

Under the old stamp duty rules you’d pay something like £2,000 in tax to buy that two bed flat, which is almost £5,000 less than you now have to pay with the new stamp duty rules on the much more expensive flat.

You’d also have to save a much smaller deposit, and pay smaller monthly costs!

We can stabilise prices

Rising house prices aren’t inevitable, they are a political choice that successive governments have made for decades.

House prices have been going up because of flawed policies like this change to stamp duty, and because we aren’t building enough homes, and because the ones we do build in London are mostly bought up by investors speculating on rising prices. I’ve been told by a number of estate agents around Crystal Palace that buy-to-let investors are quite willing to put in silly bids because they think prices will only rise. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and property speculation from all over the world is keeping the London bubble inflated.

So instead of fiddling with stamp duty, the Green Party would replace it with a Land Value Tax, which would take out most of the profit from this speculation and so stop them even trying to buy, leaving people who actually want to live in the homes to bid at prices they can afford. It would make taxes on property – including council tax – much fairer, and focus our minds on housing as a home instead of an asset.

Instead of short-term gimmicks, it would help us to bear down on house prices in the long run.

This policy – along with others like rent controls and a big social housing programme – will be fully unveiled in the Green Party manifesto next year, laying the foundations to fix this housing crisis within a generation.

How private renters are filtered out of democracy

Campaign groups like Generation Rent have been doing a great job of pushing renters up the political agenda. They’re in the Independent today with a story showing that renters will outnumber homeowners in 107 Parliamentary constituencies by 2021.

But political parties will take figures like those with a pinch of salt. Private renters, in particular, are filtered out of the democratic process and so have much less clout than their sheer numbers might suggest.

The first filter is that almost half of private renters aren’t even registered to vote. According to the 2012-2013 English Housing Survey, only 56% of private renting households are registered, compared to 78% of social renters and 87% of homeowners.

This obviously means that political parties will be less interested in chasing their votes.

The second filter is that they won’t then be canvassed on the doorstep. Parties will use the electoral register for this, because it makes sense to prioritise your scarce time by talking to people who can actually vote.

So almost half of private renters are invisible to the party elections campaigns.

Campaigners would do well to follow the example of Waltham Forest Renters, encouraging more private tenants to register to vote. Doing this visibly at a local level may persuade local political parties to take private tenants’ concerns more seriously, and getting more people on the register will naturally mean more private tenants being spoken to by parties and potentially voting.

There’s a third filter, created by private tenants moving around much more often than social tenants and homeowners. According to the English Housing Survey, every year one third of private renting households move, compared to just 4% of homeowners and 10% of social renters.

When local parties canvass door-to-door, they keep records on people they spoke to. They might use this for follow-up visits, targeted letters, or a knock on elections day encouraging you to vote if they think you might support them. But if you move every year, you’re unlikely to be tracked by the local political parties. The two thirds of private tenants who move within three years won’t be tracked between European and General Elections, and in many places between local elections.

So only around one third of private renters are stable enough for political parties to really engage with them.

There’s very little campaigners can do about this third problem, besides change the law so private tenants are more stable and secure in their homes, which makes it a ‘chicken and egg’ problem.

Thankfully, at least three parties in the UK look likely to go into the next General Election with policies to do that, to varying extents – the Green Party, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats.

So all tenants and campaigners can ask their local candidates about renting, putting the issue on the agenda in every local scrap for a Parliamentary seat.

You could also join one of the many fantastic local tenants campaigning organisations popping up around the UK, because while voting is vitally important if you want your interests to be heard, it’s not the only way of engaging with our democracy!

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

I’m leading a Transition Town project to bring Legible London to Crystal Palace. You’ll have noticed these signs around central London, conspicuously absent across most of the rest of the capital:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

At the local Transition Town AGM, somebody suggested we should try to bring these to Crystal Palace.

But why wait on TfL? Using OpenStreetMap and TileMill, we can try to produce our own similar map style and stick them up ourselves!

Here is my prototype for the wide area map:

ll_low_zoom

You’ll notice dark blue lines along the edges of roads and though the park. Those are pavements and footpaths, and indicate where you can walk.

Here’s a prototype for the more detailed map of the local area, with local points of interest, pedestrian crossings and bus stops:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

You’ll notice that some roads don’t show any pavements. Eagle-eyed locals may also spot missing cut-throughs and wonder about missing points of interest.

To that end, this Saturday I’m running a stall at the Crystal Palace Food Market on Haynes Lane from 10.30am-1.30pm where people can help us gather data for footpaths, pavements and other useful features for pedestrians.

I’ll also be getting feedback on the cartography. One idea I’m pondering is producing themed maps. For example, we could omit pavements where air pollution is over legal health limits, or we could draw on political boundaries and colour-shade the infamous five boroughs that meet in the area, or we could add blue plaques.

Any mapping and cartography enthusiasts are welcome! I will have printouts of the local area for people to scribble on and bring back to the stall, or to drop off in a local cafe where I can collect them later in the week.

UPDATE

Robert commented that he has seen Legible London outside of central London. It’s true, I said, they do go further afield to some major town centres. Well, courtesy of the latest evaluation report for the scheme here is a map of their extent:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

Just imagine if that map could be absolutely covered with yellow dots, courtesy of a community-led, low-cost OpenStreetMap solution!