City Deals: big news outside London

I’ve been following the news in my car and online today for reaction to the Government’s City Deals announcement, which hands more powers to some of England’s largest metropolitan areas outside London.

These deals for Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester will see them take on new responsibilities and, in some cases, form new bodies which aim to drive growth and create thousands of new jobs in their areas.

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The policy behind the headlines

A new acronym hit the media today, with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF), which doesn’t really trip off the tongue but has set them wagging all the same.

The new system, announced today, sets out proposals to simplify planning, which is seen by the Government as vital in creating sustainable and thriving communities in this country.

It was debated on the radio early this morning as I drove to Hampshire, and on the way home at the end of the day. And it has had a variety of reaction from the Conservative-supporting Telegraph, which has campaigned against elements of the changes, to The Guardian, which has been more sanguine today.

You can read the documents behind the headlines and make up your own mind about it.

Shapps’ speech signals support for ‘self build’

Encouraging support for ‘self builders’ was signalled by the Government today, with Grant Shapps articulating his strong belief that helping more people to build their own homes could be the answer to the country’s housing crisis.

His speech today at ‘Grand Designs Live 2011′ outlined Shapps’ vision for self build (which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘build your own’) to become a mainstream housing option. He wants the Government (and the HCA, as a major landowner) to play a part by making available publicly owned land to people to build their own homes.

He also mentioned a project I am familiar with (and blogged about as being one to watch last year) in Bristol, where the Community Self Build Agency is leading the development of accommodation for homeless ex-servicemen and offering those same people vital training on the construction project. Although this project is not being built on public land, and would not be happening without financial support from the HCA, it remains a fine example of the very best of what the Government wants to achieve.

I blogged recently about considering self build for my family. As I continue to read about the pitfalls and risks involved, announcements like today’s are welcome. It won’t help us get the finance together, find a decent plot or a trusted builder, but it may stabilise the housing market stabilise by bringing a greater number of ‘small time’ builders into the game. This can only be good for those people who can’t get onto the housing ladder.

Besides, I don’t suppose it would be called ‘self build’ if someone else had to do everything for you. But if one of the publicly owned plots the Government releases to self builders happens to be in Temple Cloud, that really would be a bonus.

Is ‘self build’ the answer to our housing headache?

I remember the feeling as a reporter when I wrote about workers who were taking action over what they perceived to be bad wages, and would realise they were paid more than me.

I’m reminded of this today when I hear of measures aimed at helping young families onto the housing ladder and the need to address the country’s housing crisis. I am not debt ridden, or badly paid. But when Grant Shapps talks of young families who are caught in a pincer movement between the paucity of available credit, high housing prices and the substantial deposits needed to get decent mortgages, it feels like he could be talking about me.

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Budget briefings leave little room for surprise

The media briefings orchestrated over the last few days left hardly any surprises to come out of George Osborne’s budget announcement this afternoon.

Driving to work this morning, the country was treated to the news that first time buyers are going to be helped by a £250m fund which will help 10,000 people onto the housing ladder and give the construction industry a boost. A bit premature perhaps, but it was only following up what newspapers reported the previous day.

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Eric Pickles’ spring conference speech in full

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles used the Conservative spring conference yesterday to speak about some of his priorities for local government.

In his speech, he drew an interesting parallel with a Private Members Bill brought forward by Margaret Thatcher more than 50 years ago, which opened up council meetings to the press, and his challenge to authorities to be more open and accountable.

Senior executive pay, town hall secrecy and the publication of council newspapers (or ‘town hall Pravdas’ as his speech writers call them) all featured in the conference address and a number of Labour councils came under fire too. 

A full version of his speech can be found here.