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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Nine Elms disease: just a local strain of a global virus

So much recently on the impossibility of finding somewhere to live within London's zones 1 -2, unless you happen to be a billionaire plutocrat, oil-rich princeling or premier league football man.  A couple of weeks back BBC Radio London's Robert Elms devoted most of his 3-hour show to what he termed London's current housing crisis.

There were some good expert contributions - notably from the Notting Hill Housing Trust CEO Kate Davies. The upshot seems to be that the problem - that "normal" Londoners can no longer afford to buy even so-called "affordable" new-build housing, let alone those desirable Victorian terraced houses in all those previously "affordable" Zone 2 suburbs - is, ah-hem! damn near-insoluble.

The only hope now, it seem, is either to legislate against the super-rich - to either tax or or regulate their London property investments so much that they go elsewhere - or to kickstart a massive new social housing building programme on what is left of inner London's brownfield sites.

As one listener said, there always seems to be space for new supermarkets - why not new council flats? He railed against selling off of publicly owned land - hospitals, schools, libraries, army barracks - to private developers. I agree.

Another caller made a rather good point, I think - saying that property is hardly taxed at all. I
Rising fast - the new residential towers along the Thames between Vauxhall and Battersea Power STation
n the sense that, if I bought a house in Clapham in 1970 for £12,000 and sold it last week for £1.2million, I would not pay any tax on that profit,

Is that true? Isn't that a capital gain and there fore taxable?

If it is true, then maybe he was on to something - a strong property sales tax might well solve a number of problems, and burst this absurd and useless bubble of property prices in this patch of shoddy houses built on the quivering mudflats of the murderous River Thames.

The whole sad history of London housing is beautifully articulated and  elaborated in a necessarily very long article on the LRB website by the writer and novelist James Meek.

Here is an extract which identifies some of the markers on the way to the current crisis in housing:

"In 1985, housing associations ran only 13 per cent of all social housing. The rest were council houses. By 2007, it was half and half; by 2012, only 1.7 million homes were still in council hands, against 2.4 million owned by housing associations. The housing associations seemed the ideal embodiment of Third Way economics, motivated neither by profit nor by state command, a parallel to academies in education and foundation trusts in health, yet with an old and noble pedigree. At a ceremony marking the handover of 17,000 homes in Tameside in 1999, Tony Blair said stock transfers ‘buried for good the old ideological split between public and private sector’.

And this:

"No wonder Thatcher baulked. Right to Buy violated basic Thatcherite values: that self-reliance was good, state handouts bad. Right to Buy was a massive handout to people who weren’t supposed to need handouts. In fact, that was why they got the handout – because they were the kind of people who didn’t need handouts.​"

His article is much more than opinion, however. He interviews residents on estates in Bethnal Green - who now face the 2014 equivalent of eviction, that is to be re-housed in smaller flats elsewhere. "self-eviction" is the new phrase, following on from this most invidious idea, the bedroom tax.

How marvellous to be reminded of the post-war idealism of the LCC and its architects, especially Lubetkin.

So recent, this history, and yet so distant.

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