Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Regeneration: MP invites major private sector developer to Woodnook

Last Friday I invited a major private sector developer, Mark Hines and associates to Woodnook to discuss potential plans.

Having discussed Woodnook previously, this visit further pushed the discussions on to opportunities for the area. Whilst in early stages, it was helpful to see the regeneration of the area through private sector eyes. It is clear that part of any private sector regeneration is desirability rather than just refurbishment and this sets a whole new, far more ambitious agenda.

Particular emphasis being on sustainability and making the area a premier neighbourhood to live. Clearly major changes must occur for this to happen and Mark Hines plans do match those ambitions.

In order to secure profitability it is necessary and it is Council's lack of accountability to the market which has been the undermining factor in housing market renewal. Markets equally distort negatively housing and balance which Mark Hines and Co respect, must be struck.

From my perspective desirability, marketability, contemporary, ground breaking, energy efficient, community linked and yes after all that, bang for buck should be the backbone of such ambition. Otherwise cost overruns will equate to inevitably more public subsidy.

A key concern was the Council's current master plan which lacks ambition and stability for such an investment with the likelihood of a change of Council leadership come May's elections.

Clearly Mark Hines recognises these fault lines and the housing offer, if he manages to get it to market will be second to none.

Woodnook offers advantages over other sites the developers have visited.

It's all a long way off but every effort must be made to rid this Borough of the decrepit, substandard, unhealthy housing that blights the lives of our fellow citizens.

Westminster: School Sports Partnership - Cameron does a u-turn

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commenting on the partial u-turn by the Conservative-led Government on school sport, said:

"David Cameron and Michael Gove have spent weeks seeking to justify a bad decision with dodgy statistics. Gove's overruling by the Prime Minister is a victory for thousands of young people, teachers and athletes, and is a warning to this Tory-led Government that it cannot simply do what it likes. But this package from the Conservative-led Government, after weeks of scrabbling round for funding to save something it branded a "complete failure", only raises one cheer at best.

"So today, in conceding the success of Labour's School Sports Partnerships, the Government has nevertheless failed to put in place a proper funding package that will allow us to capitalise on the excitement of the 2012 Games. We are still looking at the prospect of fewer children playing sport in the run up to the Olympics, and no answer on what will happen to school sport following the Games."

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Empty Properties: Why the Government will fail at the expense of Haslingden and Hyndburn

I have much scepticism about recent housing proposals put forward by the Government.

On balance they will have a negligible impact on the total number of 738,000 empty properties there currently is.

The recent and much trumpeted New Homes Bonus is a mechanism designed to deal with under supply. Its affect in under supply housing areas will be negative on housing. Council's have been top sliced to fund this and housing growth will be greatest in the greater South East, in areas that do not need extra government funding.

The money being removed from northern and urban areas where new build will not be as required and the payments significantly less.

The scheme undermines further these areas with its criteria. It deducts (short term) demolitions from total new build.  However long term voids/vacants demolished are exempt and produce no net change. However there are few areas with a continuum of long term voids and any regeneration programme would be hampered by deductions for occupied and short term vacant.

It encourages the abandonement of long term voids.
The use of national average Council Tax bands is a regressive North to South shift of finance, the south having a higher proportion of Band D+ plus properties. Areas which incidently have the least problems and isolates housing solutions from broader issues. Giving areas with high numbers of Band A properties less is likely to increase sub regional poverty and increase the residulisation of welfare and dependency.

In the North oversupply will at its core, negate new build. Stagnant or declining populationsin certain twons and cities and more specifially in low demand and undesireable areas will put the skids under new additional housing.

The incentives in the NHB are insignificant set against the cost of bringing empty properties back in to use, all against a backdrop of declining populations.

Innovative two in to ones or three into one conversions and small scale clearance by private sector companies looking to seize on small site and corner plot locations for example. Regeneration schemes tend not only to deal with empties (long term voids) but short term voids and occupied properties, the latter two being a deduction from the new homes bonus.

There is no clarity on whether new homes brought back into use will attract the £350 (paid for affordability) or any other top up payment. In any case, the same issue that blights EDMO’s, the upfront cost of making a place habitable being the barrier to use.

The £100million is for just 3,000 houses at £33,000 each and was until recently only available to RSL’s.

There has been no roll up of complex legislation and scrapping the national landlords register will have an adverse effect. As well relaxing HMO licensing. The Coalition are also looking at removing second charging for values under £25,000 which could make ineffective blight laws (T and C Planning Act) and other measures leveraged by enforced sale.

EDMO’s have proved fruitless with only a handful of LA’s using them odd occasions averaging nationally around 20 per year. Hardly a breakthrough with 738,000 empties.

Housing market renewal has been scrapped and changes to Housing Benefit will increase sofa surfing and hidden homelessness correspondingly increasing vacants.

Hyndburn’s population has declined by around 50 units per year so as a LA it starts at minus 50 as far as NHB is concerned.

In summary it is likely that long term voids will increase and stock condition will fall depreciably.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Woodnook: More Council broken promises

Back in 2003 The Council were told they would receive almost £10million every year to regenerate 9 areas including Woodnook, Peel, Spring Hill, Church.

None of these have received a penny up to last year.

Back in 2003 Woodnook councillors were on show with fancy plans of new houses and tree lined streets with a display of dazzling displays of new plans presented to residents on Sandy Lane at Accrington College.

Since then: nothing but empty and broken promises. No fight. No lobbying. Just approval for every penny to spent (and some schemes involved huge waste) in one area; Blackburn Road. That area could have seen more generation for less money had the money been spent wisely.

It is not the officers who are to blame. It is the Councillors who have voted to waste £millions. I note cabinet member Peter Clarke's letter dated the 6th December 2010 to Councillor Wendy Dwyer which states
"despite a significant cut
in our funding (all funding has been cut), we will still proceed with the masterplan albeit at a much slower pace (laughable)" and
"the emphaiss on the (Regional Growth) fund is creating new jobs and funding if secured, will be significantly less than housing market renewal."
Broken promises to Woodnook;
- Guaranteed investment of tens of £millions,
- Development plans as early as 2004,
- Personal promises claiming 'pressure on the Council leadership
- Guarantee that it will all start in 2010 and Woodnook would get around £30million

False claims;
- Claims of involvement in HomeFront Lottery scheme
- Totally false claims of Government interference
- Claims that The Council had been told to do just one area at once (when ELEVATE colleagues Pendle, Burnley, Blackburn are doing 3 at once)

Today we see Woodnook councillors issuing future broken promises in a Council leaflet;
1. The Council remains committed to completing phase 1 of the Woodnook masterplan within existing resources.
Phase 1 requires £30million to be completed. This Conservative Government has cancelled that £30million. There is no money and Phase 1 will never mind be completed, very little will happen. See question 7. 
2. We will buy and demolish four terraced blocks 2 - 24 Booth St, 53 - 85, Boyds St, 54 - 86 Royds St, 1 - 33 Augusta St.
Using the £1.5million of the last £7.7million given the Council. Has the Council spoken with the opposition who look likely to take over in May?

3. We will treat and protect the resulting cleared site with well planned environmental works
When was this ever consulted on and is this the best use of resources. See question 7.

4. We will acquire in full 2 - 32 Augusta St, refurbish and bring it back into use for affordable housing
Owned by whom? Has the Council discussed what residents want? Has the Council spoken with the opposition who look likely to take over in May or are residents to be let down again?

5. We will face lift adjacent terraces i.e Clement and Hudson St
6. We will also seek further funding to proceed with the Woodnook masterplan including bids from the new Regional Growth fund, the New Home Bonus and Empty Property funding from the Homes and Communities Agency
Regional Growth Fund does not allow for housing regeneration bids. The New Homes Bonus is nothing to do with Woodnook AND in the first few years will raise very little money. Any demolitions will reduce that income stream too. The Empty Property Fund is £100m for the whole of the UK and for Registered Social Landlords only.
7. Discussions have already started with partners from the private sector and Housing Associations to bring in additional resources.
No discussions have taken place between the Council and a major private sector investor. That has happened via myself last Friday. The truth is this sort of investment is a million miles away and should not be part of any promise.  

Notably however, should they invest, they do not like The Council’s master plan and would redraw it throwing doubt over just what the Council itself is proposing.
Housing Associations are stretched having had their income cut.
Below is the letter the Council wrote to residents regarding acquisitions and demolitions in the area.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

Pennine Reach "Alive and Well" LCC announce.

Lancashire County Council cabinet member just confirmed Pennine Reach Bus scheme in Hyndburn is 'alive and well' and LCC fully behind new bid.

Lancashire Telegraph

There are three issues with the Pennine Reach scheme; bus stops and stations, public information, a more timely service.

There is a consensus that Accrington needs a new bus station and that improved 'real time' GPS bus stops and satellite bus terminus's would improved the service and bring it into the new millennia.

The controversial issue surrounds a more timely service. Pennine Reach being a business led bid, an effort to improve transport in this part of East Lancashire.

Whilst bus lanes would improve times they would remove private on street car parking and remove car parking for passing retail trade to shops particularly in Oswaldtwistle.

Smart pre paid cards would have a greater effect, removing cash many payments getting on the bus's. Having just bus lanes at traffic lights and roundabouts gaining priority where possible would also contribute to significant time saving.

Thirdly revamping Traveline which is 50% owned by the County Council would help. It is a marvellous service but lack's real time, is not user friendly and only works on large screen PC's.

GPS trackers on buses should not only provide real time info at stops but also facilitate easy live information on smart phones.

Traveline currently tells you how to get between property A and property B in Lancashire. The nearest bus stop to you, where to change and what bus's to catch where with arrival several time options. See Londons journey planner here.

This needs real time GPS adding to a new smart phone interface like Trainline or the National Rail app.

Fourthly and not something that Pennine Reach aims to tackle but which will make a difference to a belief in bus services; a reliable timetable with improved services. The current de-regulated free-for-all serves no-one.

I have encouraged the County and they happy to work across Party on re-regulating bus services by bus franchising. Where local people set the timetable's and auction bundled timetables, such as services that are peak but include perhaps an axed off peak service.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Pensioners and young children living in freezing conditions

GRAHAM JONES WARNS AGAINST COMPLACENCY THIS WINTER
LOCAL MP HIGHLIGHTS THE PROBLEM OF RISING FUEL POVERTY

Recent research by the government has shown that fuel poverty is still on the rise, with National Energy Action – a fuel poverty charity – estimating that in the UK there are over 5.4 million households living in unacceptable conditions. Hyndburn has a particularly high concentration of problem housing, with low levels of insulation and 39% of houses not meeting the government’s Decent Homes Standard.

“With the housing situation the way it is in Hyndburn, it is vital that we do not get complacent this winter. Fuel poverty causes misery and can aggravate health problems, so we must do everything we can to protect those vulnerable members of society who cannot afford to properly heat their homes. Pensioners trapped at home and young children living in freezing private rented accommodation causes me deep worry.”

Fuel poverty is defined as the need for a family to spend more than 10% of their total income on heating their home.

This week saw a rogue landlord in Rossendale charged with leaving a tenant in fuel poverty. Joseph Heyworth was prosecuted after environmental health inspectors described the flat as “barely habitable”. Excess cold is classed as a category 1 hazard – the most severe category – under the Environmental Protection Act. 38.6% of houses in Hyndburn contain hazards of this kind.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Hardest hit list: Councils losing 8.9% for two consequetive years

Ashfield
Great Yarmouth
Barrow-in-Furness
Hastings
Bolsover
Hyndburn
Burnley
Pendle
Chesterfield
Preston
Copeland
Thanet

Source: Dept of Communities

Supporting the Warm Homes Campaign 2010

I am backing the National Energy Action’s Warm Homes Campaign 2010 which is stressing that a national energy efficiency drive is vital in combating rising levels of fuel poverty.

The support comes after recent Government statistics revealed that the numbers of households in fuel poverty is continuing to escalate, with NEA estimating that the figure in England and Wales has reached over 4.1 million.

In Hyndburn fuel poverty levels are high with poor levels of insulation and 39% of homes not meeting the Decent Homes Standard. In the private rented sector the statistics are chronic with many poor people, familes and particularly children facing freezing conditions in costly and inadequate housing where incomes do not allow for energy saving measures.

This is a hugely imporant issue to me.

The Warm Homes Campaign highlights that there are still millions of people who are simply struggling to keep their homes warm and protect their families from the ill effects of the cold. Fuel-poor households experience a number of detrimental health impacts and reductions in general wellbeing as a result of cold, damp living conditions. Whilst this is unacceptable, the campaign also demonstrates how help is available. It also underlines how important it is that future government schemes are able to target support for the most vulnerable households effectively.

The most important message this year is that there is help out there for vulnerable households. I urge everyone to contact the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 to get help and advice on staying warm in their home this winter without the fear of fuel debt and ill health.

Accrington Bus Station - Pennine Reach 'not dead yet' part 2

I wrote in October about the misundertsanding that existed over Accrington Bus Station project which is wrapped up the wider Pennine Reach funding bid to Government.

That it has not been scrapped but put in a reserve pool awaiting a revised bid from Lancashire County Council.

The County Council have stated this week in response to land issues on the site:

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Woodnook Regeneration - Let's think again about the way forward given the government savage cuts

Sent via Mobile
The Government have surprisingly axed all housing market renewal funding (HMR) just as Woodnook was about to begin a six year £40million facelift.

A decision that has caught everyone out as it had been anticipated since the election HMR would have faced reductions.

The Housing Minster had talked positively about the scheme and the Prime Minster had stated in a series of speeches and visits that people in areas of urban regeneration would in future turn confidently towards the Conservative Party.

Locally the Council Leader boasted of correspondence he had received giving assurances that funding would not be cut. That letter was never released and is not available to be scrutinised.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A Sad Day For The Future of This Country

This evening the division bell rang out across the Parliamentary estate calling MPs to the lobbies to vote on the highly controversial measures to treble tuition fees. For some MPs I imagine the division bell sounded more like a death toll.

After their decision to back such an incredible blow to young people across the UK I cannot see any other way for Liberal Democrats other than down. Down in the estimation of those people who voted for them in the general election and down in the estimation of those students that the Lib Dems pledged to support.

Over the past weeks and months we have seen waves of reforms across all departments introducing some of the deepest cuts we have seen in generations. The issue of Tuition Fees has without doubt been the most contested of them all and today saw students protesting outside the House of Commons in Parliament Square in a final attempt to make both Lib Dem and Conservative MPs see sense on this issue.

All around Westminster the audible pleas of this country’s future generation of scientists, artists, engineers and doctors could be heard from most MPs offices. As the division was called Government MPs called just as forcefully in the Commons in support of their proposals that will act as nothing more than a disincentive to thousands of students across the UK to pursuing further study. Today I spoke with a student who told me they had hoped to be able to go on to study at university but that they now felt that they simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Optimism for a Pennine Lancashire LEP

Yesterday I spoke with ministers and feel confident that a Pennine Lancashire LEP will be given the green light.

It has become clear that Pendle, Hyndburn, Blackburn and Burnley Councils are opposed to the incomplete Lancashire County Council LEP proposal.

The minister has always expressed concerns over a lack of agreement and the coverage of the whole of Lancashire. In absence of any leadership at Hyndburn Council, The Mayor has written the Minister confirming Hyndburn Council's position.

Though a 'reaffirm vote' was defeated by the 17 Conservatives, the absence of indeopndent members opposed to a LCC's proposals still leaves it difficult for Hyndburn Council to get through a vote to reverse the Councils position adopted earlier this year in favour of Pennine Lancashire LEP.

There is a question that given such vociferous opposition to the LCC proposal whether any support, financial or otherwise, would be given to a wider Lancashire LEP.

I have lobbied continually in Parliament to ensure that we have a sensible two LEP solution. Hyndburn's best interests in my view lie with a local Pennine Lancashire LEP.

Things look very encouraging.

More job cuts at BAe systems

This a disaster for the employee’s and their families. The Coalition’s plans for growth are a shambles designed to trick ordinary people.

The Tories can give money for Irish banks but not defence contracts to support British workers and British companies. Osborne’s defence cuts put over a thousand highly skilled engineers out on dole in October and now a further 1,300 of skilled people will be put on out of work benefits.
The cuts in the Harrier programme mean will aircraft carriers with no aircraft on until 2020. There are many highly advanced engineering local and regional companies who will affected by the knock on consequences.

The government has no policy for growth and the cuts are too fast and too deep. Unemployment will result in the deficit growing, not shrinking. Worryingly the loss of Saudi Arabian contracts adding to the job losses blows a hole in the Government’s of building up high skilled manufacturing and exporting our way of the deficit to offset the 500,000 public sector job cuts.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Pennine Lancashire LEP looking more likely

Today was the final day for resubmissions of LEP bids for Lancashire. Speaking to both ministers responsible tonight there have been two. Pennine and Lancashire County Council.

Pennine Lancashire's proposal is the only one that covers the whole of Lancashire with a complete two LEP solution, comprehensively covering all the people in Lancashire unlike the County's proposal.

The minister was troubled by the level of opposition to the County's bid and the rumours of 'skullduggery' and political meetings reported in the press seem to have hampered the LCC bid.

Today the minister received representation from Hyndburn Council via the mayor's office, Blackburn and Burnley Council' making the case for a Pennine LEP. Pendle, like Hyndburn, has confirmed that that is its position despite a minority Conservative adminsitration's change of political view.

Public outrage at being sold down 'the river of political gai'n has surfaced in response to the article in the Lancashire Telegraph. I am confident that if the County cannot find an agreeable and acceptable solution with the East Lancashire M65 authorities, then the a two LEP solution is the way forward.

I am very confident we will have a Pennine Lancashire LEP.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tuition Fee's - I will vote against unfair tuition fees

This week parliament will vote on proposals to treble tuition fees for students – making them the highest of any public university system in the industrialised world. Labour will be campaigning more than ever to oppose them. I will vote against the Government on Thursday because their plans are not necessary, not fair, and not good for higher education.

Such high fees are not necessary. They are going up so much because the Government has chosen to cut funding for university teaching by 80% - when other public services are being cut much less. Labour would not make such big cuts to Higher Education teaching grants.
The government’s decision to shift the burden of funding higher education onto students is driven by ideology and not economic necessity. The need to get the deficit down does not justify a long term change in higher education funding which will be bad for universities and not save any public money.

These high fees are not fair because graduates will now have to pay much more over a longer period with middle income earners hit hardest. Graduates will be forced to pay the whole cost of most degrees (to replace the cut in funding), instead of sharing the costs with the state. As a result, graduates will pay much more overall, and pay back for up to 30 years.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Home Heat Helpline

Despite tough economic times and the cold weather, millions of people are missing out on free help with their energy bills because they don’t think the assistance on offer is meant for ‘people like me’, new research commissioned by the Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) has shown.

According to the research, published by the New Policy Institute (NPI) on behalf of the Home Heat Helpline, there are 5.2 million households across the country that could claim free insulation grants and reduced tariffs from their energy companies. But despite the fact that people could typically save £260 a year on their energy bills, only 12% have actually claimed free help.

The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) is a free, not for profit phone line set up by Britain’s energy companies to help customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills and keep warm.

Constituents can also access the service online by visiting www.homeheathelpline.org.uk.

The Helpline is managed by the Energy Retail Association and paid for by contributions from Britain’s major energy companies. The service is backed by a range of support organisations including Age UK; Citizens Advice; National Energy Action; Energy Saving Trust; Counsel and Care and Gingerbread.

The Helpline’s trained advisers can provide eligible customers with access to one or more of the following services:

Grants for free cavity wall and loft insulation;
Reduced or ‘social’ tariffs;
The Priority Service Register which provides extra services for people who are elderly or disabled including bills in large text or Braille, security passwords and an annual gas safety check ;
Flexible payment options for customers in fuel debt;
Benefits entitlement checks.

If you would like further information about the Home Heat Helpline and the services that it can provide for your firends or family then feel free to contact them.

http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/

Thursday, 2 December 2010

PCSOs are more important than the government is giving them credit for

At the moment, PCSOs are currently 75% funded by the Home Office; because this money is a ring fenced ‘neighbourhood policing grant’, police constables must spend this money on visible policing in the form of PCSOs . This ring fence will expire in March 2011, when the government must decide to whether it wants to renew it or not.

If it does not, and the neighbourhood policing grant becomes is merged into the annual policing budget, the government’s cuts to policing are going to become a real problem. If the Home Office plans go ahead, then the annual police grant is going to be cut by 20%. If this happens then the first thing to go with be the PCSOs, and the second will be the public’s sense of confidence in the police. Remember, the Chief Constable of West Midlands police said that cuts to the police grant of more than 12% would mean “radical” changes to the way neighbourhood are policed.

Policing is an example of the government saving money in the wrong places. The fact is, the public don’t want it, and neither does anyone who seriously looks at the issue. The report of the Home Affairs Select Committee in March this year commended what the previous Labour government were doing with policing, noting in particular the efforts made to “maximise frontline and visible policing”. While the facts have stood still the world has moved around them. While visible policing is still a priority for the public, it is apparently no longer for this government.

Supporting the Campaign for an AIDS Free Generation.

To mark World AIDS day on the 1st of December, I took part in a charity football match to raise awareness of the campaign to end mother to child transmission of AIDS by 2015. Mother to child transmission of AIDS afflicts 500 000 babies each year, but it can be prevented by easily available and low cost drugs.