Sir: Liam Halligan (‘The house mafia’, 26 June) treats us to an exposé of the shoddy products of the mass housebuilders. In the course of his article, however, he accepts as given that the solution to the housing crisis is to build more houses.
The problem, however, is not one of deficient supply; it is a problem of excess demand, driven by ultra-low interest rates, kept so low for so long that the result has been an out-of-control housing boom.
The young are being prevented from buying a house, not because housebuilders hoard land and refuse to build, but because buyers with access to eye-watering amounts of borrowed money have forced prices so high that they are now out of reach of most. You could cover the entire south-east of England in houses and it would have little impact on house prices, because the demand is, in effect, infinite. However many houses you build, there will be any number of potential buyers outbidding each other to buy them.
Until interest rates are returned to more sustainable levels, and the QE policy is abandoned, building more and more (substandard) housing will have no effect in bringing home ownership within the reach of the vast majority of the young.
Sunbury on Thames, Surrey
Sir: Jessica Douglas-Home is surely correct that in large measure the vote in the Chesham and Amersham by-election was a warning to government (‘Blockheads’, 26 June). Whitehall published two major documents last year concerning planning and the environment. The first was ‘Living with Beauty’, the report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission under the chairmanship of the late Sir Roger Scruton. This was a tour de force of research, analysis and proposals for creating liveable and loveable places, as well as sustainable growth.
The second publication was a white paper, ‘Planning for the Future’. Its purported aim was the reform of the Town and Country Planning Act, first devised in 1947. In essence it would appear to be a housebuilder’s charter, by declaring more land suitable for ‘growth and renewal’. As this white paper applies only to England, and as most of the housebuilders will focus on the rich pickings of the south, the voters of Chesham and Amersham would be correct in believing that this would open the door to free-riders at the expense of existing communities. Until Sir Roger’s report has been given adequate legislative teeth (possibly as part of the forthcoming bill), then voters, particularly in the south of England, are right to be fearful.
Arbiters of taste
Sir: I recently sat on my Borough Council’s Planning Committee for four years and was impressed by the various ways in which members of the public were given the opportunity to object to planning applications, including the provision of a ‘right to speak’ at planning committee meetings. Nevertheless, I despaired of the many who, casting themselves as arbiters of taste, would use the sort of emotive words of which Jessica Douglas-Home approves, (‘atrocity’, ‘eyesore’ etc) to support their battle against what they considered to be ‘ugly’ developments. (I remember one person protesting that the conversion of a small meadow into a village school car park would encourage the practice of ‘dogging’.) While many objectors presented well-informed cases against new developments, I fear that the ultra-conservative and highly subjective posturing of others did more to thwart the careers of latter-day Ernest Gimsons than any planning regime.
Sir Ken Morrison
Sir: Martin Vander Weyer asserts that Sir Ken Morrison was ‘ousted by his own board’ (Any other business, 26 June). As a board member at the time, I can assure him that this was not the case. Ken had bought Safeway — a company twice the size of Morrisons — in 2004 and the acquisition did not go well initially. There were numerous calls for Ken’s resignation. However, his board supported him, and a new team set about recovering the business under his chairmanship. When Ken did retire on results day in March 2008 at the age of 76, he stated: ‘It gives me particular pleasure to be reporting record earnings.’ That evening, at the annual retail dinner at Grosvenor House, Ken received a lifetime achievement award and was cheered to the rafters.
Sir: James Delingpole is three bags short of a nursery rhyme when he describes sheep as ‘stupid’ (Arts, 26 June). I invite your readers to look at Philip Armstrong’s excellent book Sheep, where these creatures emerge as more sheeply than sheepish. Research at the University of Cambridge finds them to be not only very good at being sheep, but also at remembering human faces and solving simple practical problems. Only the latter of these, perhaps, might disqualify them from a life in politics.
Ardross, Easter Ross
Sir: It is disappointing to learn that our recycling efforts are not working as we had imagined (‘Talking rubbish’, 19 June). However, Stewart Dakers should know that more and more people are now recycling their kitchen, garden and even office waste by composting it, saving the cost of buying bags of compost for their garden. Even large amounts of wet cardboard can be layered into compost along with grass cuttings and food waste. Local councils across the country are doing excellent work training people in this kind of recycling.
Master Composter for Norfolk County Council, Poringland, Norwich