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11/02/2016

Blotches on the housing bill won't come out in the wash

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In a severe and unexpected blow to the government's housing policy, the launderette remained in washing mode. Chris Shepley puts the Housing and Planning Bill through the wash and hangs it out to dry.

Chris ShepleyIn a severe and unexpected blow to the government’s housing policy, the launderette remained in washing mode. Ministers’ plans for its conversion to residential use, as a key part of its imaginative approach to meeting housing targets, had come to naught. United Wash Houses had concluded firstly that the smallish machine room, plus Elsie’s tiny office at the rear, could not create a satisfactory unit. Even by modern space standards, which no longer required much actual space. Secondly that it was still infested with washing powder, consequent upon the great Persil explosion of 1996. And thirdly that, as the building was listed, due to the very rare form of mould on the windowsill conversion would be fraught with controversy.

Mr Khan had brought along a new consultation paper about what the government called “ineffective rules and heavy-handed enforcement” that were preventing new housing being built. Summoning Mrs McTavish, who was feeding coins into the dryer, he read from a ministerial statement:

“Issues that the Housing Implementation Taskforce has initially identified as burdens to the industry include road infrastructure for new housing developments, environmental or ecology requirements, and regulations affecting provision of utilities. These issues would be a 'starting point' for the review. Did anyone find that sock I lost last week? Red and purple stripes?”

“And if they’re namby-pamby enough to worry about ecology, I’m not sure they deserve a house anyway”

Sir Bernard Trickledown, owner of United Wash Houses, swept in with a vat of soap. “I don’t know about you,” he said. “But I’ve always thought that these finicky rules which require people to be able to get to their houses, and have things like water and electricity, were quite unnecessary. I can see no reason why, in this day and age, with that austerity that they have now, and the price of a decent little Pinot Grigio going through the roof, people should expect luxuries like this. We’re all in this together, after all, and I would have thought that people could make a contribution by building their own roads, doing a bit of wiring up, and fetching water from the river.”

He strode back to his limo, adding over his shoulder: “And if they’re namby-pamby enough to worry about ecology, I’m not sure they deserve a house anyway.” 

Mrs Braithwaite, on the bench with her embroidery, watched her husband’s vest waving at her through the machine’s porthole. “Not sure I agree with Sir Bernard,” she said. “I remember after the war, when we were really poor, we still had roads and things.” They all longed for the days when houses didn’t just have “utilities”, but were big enough for a wardrobe. Mr Khan said he’d prepare the usual response, when he’d finished with their comments on, among other things, the Housing and Planning Bill, the many proposed changes to it (he recalled that at one time bills had been thought about before, rather than after, publication), major infrastructure, the technical details surrounding Section 106 and CIL, and changes to the NPPF.

The last of these had caused concern around the communal scrubbing brush. Mrs McTavish thought the definition of a transport interchange in para 15 was replete with terminological inexactitude. Mr Khan was more worried about the obsessive concentration on starter homes, and pondered what would happen to local plans when this was no longer flavour of the month. Mrs Braithwaite mused on why it took 28 pages to set out a few changes to the NPPF, the government having loudly boasted that the whole shooting match was only 50 pages long.

“Have you seen the latest?” said Mrs McTavish, changing the subject. “They’re going to let ‘alternative providers’ run development control.” She emptied the dryer. “Do you reckon we could do that while we’re waiting for the delicates to finish?”  

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