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. 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…

Read More Saving 25 Church Road, Crystal Palace

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. 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…

Read More How to push up house prices in London

Jim Gleeson has an interesting blog entry about the consequences of making a city more liveable. In short, there is a danger that making an area more liveable can price out lower income people. By reducing air pollution and generally improving the local environment in more deprived areas,  richer people will start to move in displacing the people who should have benefitted. His prescription is more housing supply to accompany environmental improvements. But we need to think a bit more carefully about this to get the medicine right for places like London. As he points out, the economic benefits of making an area more desirable will largely go to existing home owners and landlords as the value of the land, and therefore the rent they can charge, increases. Lower income people will be forced to move, presumably (according to Jim’s argument) to less liveable areas. Council and housing association tenants…

Read More Green doesn’t need to mean gentrification

When I read the New Political Economy Network’s excellent pamphlet called ‘Britain’s Broken Economy’, my first thought was “that sounds just like our election manifesto, like the Green New Deal”. I span that thought out into this article for Bright Green Scotland… have a read and pass on to any Labour folk you happen to know.

Read More Why Ed should take a leaf out of the Green book

Being a Green, I’m not following Labour’s hustings for their Mayor of London candidate too closely. But being a realistic left-of-centre Green, I’m hoping that either Ken or Oona get elected into City Hall in 2012. Oona King hasn’t impressed me much so far. Her candidacy seems very light on detail, her policy pronouncements full of nice language but no specifics. As Martin Hoscik writes, Ken Livingstone is simply rehearsing his 2008 manifesto, with a few innovations (such as borrowing affordable housing money on the bond market) that are basically unfolding behind the scenes in City Hall already. But on the BBC Politics Show on Sunday, King did get one impressive point in. Livingstone is basically gearing up for a re-run of the 1980s, when he battled with Thatcher from the GLC. He wants to fight, fight, fight every cut (transcript here). But as King pointed out, once the Mayor…

Read More Ken vs. Oona – anything new?

The self-appointed TaxPayers’ Alliance have published a shoddy demolition of The Spirit Level, which kicks off by claiming that “the best way of getting rich is by satisfying or anticipating the wants of other people”. Apparently they are ignorant of advertising (shaping and creating the wants of other people), which is projected to reach £531bn globally by next year. That’s roughly the same amount that the UK Government brings home in tax revenue. Or to take a specific example, research from 2008 suggested that American drugs companies spend roughly twice as much on advertising as they do on research – getting rich by promoting cash-cow drugs instead of researching much-needed medicines. Apparently they missed the collapse of the global financial system in the past few years, which was triggered by companies getting rich through risky trading practices far distanced from the wants of people outside the financial services sector. Those…

Read More The CrapAnalysis Alliance strikes again

The chart below shows a breakdown of where my monthly gross income goes. I’m earning in the region of £30k/year, above the London average but not exactly an enormous sum. One of my favourite adages is that British people want Scandinavian public services with American tax levels.  Raising taxes to tackle the deficit is treated as something approaching political suicide. But do we pay all that much in tax? Put aside the fact that at 36% of the UK’s GDP, the current tax level is lower than under Margaret Thatcher (when it dipped to 40%) and much lower than the Swedish level of around 50%. How does tax affect me? Well my income tax and council tax, which pay for all the basic public services, the roads, waste collection, public transport investment, welfare for people in harder circumstances and much more account for less than my rent, which pays for…

Read More Why so concerned about tax?

OK, it isn’t really. But an event at City Hall today threw up some difficult lessons for economists from other academic disciplines. After a massive crisis in the global financial system, which was triggered by and hugely deepened a cyclical recession, it’s a pretty easy time to have a dig. So here they go! Paul Ormerod kicked off with lessons from physics. The big one was: use empirical evidence and discovery to test, falsify and improve theories. In economics, evidence has very little status whilst most theory is developed in ignorance of evidence. His pet example was the work done on networks and effects such as herding (e.g. fashions and fads), which has barely scratched the surface of classical economic theory. Luc Bovens gave a fascinating dissection of the financial crisis using Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics. Who is morally culpable for the crisis, he asked? In the tradition of all good…

Read More Why is economics a load of rubbish?

I came across a shocking statistic today: environmental taxes are decreasing in the UK! The total revenue has risen slower than inflation between 1999 and 2008; from around £32.6bn in 1999 to £38.5bn in 2008. If it had grown with inflation over that period it would have stood at £41.4bn in 2008. As a percentage of GDP over that period it fell from 3.5% to 2.7%. As a percentage of the total taxes and social contributions in the UK, it has also fallen behind. In 99 it peaked at 9.7% of total tax revenue, then fell to 7.2% in 2008. Environmental taxes made up a lower share of our economy and tax revenue than at any time since 1993, when the ONS records begin. So much for shifting the tax burden from income to environmental damage!

Read More Eco taxes going down in the UK!

Can a local community pay for its own regeneration instead of relying on developers with tall blocks of flats and massive government grants? I got thinking about this again after reading a jargon-fuelled paper on urban rights and renewal sent my way by local hero Eileen Conn. The author writes about communities owning, or controlling, their urban environment, and being able to determine how to spend “surplus value” (Marxist terminology for capital that rich people and governments accumulate off our backs). How could local people in Peckham, for example, decide how money is spent in the area? Here are two quick steps that are decidely practical compared to the ivory tower academic paper. First, give people more control over the property and land in Peckham. At the moment you either buy a home and the land it sits on, or you rent from a landlord, or you rent from the…

Read More Can the community regenerate Peckham?