Friday, 2 January 2015

Something is rotten…

It used to be so good
On 25 October 2014, an article entitled Report gives a snapshot of life in the district appeared in the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, discussing the State of District 2014 Report, presented to Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC) on 20 October.

Two of the sections in Preston Witts’ summary piqued my curiosity – one on employment; and one on population…

There has been a drop of more than 5,000 jobs in the Stratford district between 2006 – before the recession – and 2014. Figures presented to Stratford district councillors… showed that eight years ago the number of jobs in the district stood at 71,495. At the end of June this year it was 66,161, a fall of 7.5 per cent.

The projected population for the district in 2037 is 134,500, an increase of 11.5 per cent in the 25-year period from 2012.

…and one just made me laugh (as I banged my head repeatedly against the keyboard, in continuing desperation):

At least one statement in the report has triggered political controversy. This is the claim that the district council’s planning core strategy has been “delivered to timetable”.

No doubt I must have frowned
Being a wannabe investigative reporter, I decided to get hold of the complete document – as I couldn’t (unusually) find it on the council website (and still can’t…) – and eventually got in touch with Simon Purfield, Consultation & Insight Manager in the Chief Executive’s Unit: who was the Lead Officer for the report. (And, no, I don’t think I really understand that job title, either.)

The full report he kindly sent me contains expanded data for the predicted population growth…

The Quality of Life in Warwickshire 2013/2014 Key Messages, plus other reports from the Warwickshire Observatory had concluded that: The estimated population for Stratford District in mid-2013 was 120,767. Stratford-on-Avon was the only district to see deaths exceed births, largely due to its older population structure. Population growth here is therefore accounted for by net in-migration. The projected population for Stratford-on-Avon in 2037 is 134,500, which represents an increase of 11.5% from 2012 to 2037.

… as well as this paragraph on housing affordability:

The ratio of lower quartile house prices to lower quartile earnings reflects housing affordability, (25% of all house prices are below the lower quartile, likewise lower quartile earnings are those of the lowest paid 25%). In 2011, the lower quartile property price was on average 6.8 [9.8] times the lower quartile annual wage for a full time employee working in Warwickshire; but significantly, the ratio for the Stratford-on-Avon District in 2011 was 9.6 [13.54] – in 2001, the ratio for the Stratford-on-Avon District was 6.55.

(Some of these numbers were revised downwards in an addendum supplied with the report – “as the source of the data cannot be verified” – and the original figures are therefore in [square brackets].)

There is also information in the report on poverty and “fuel poverty” that may well bring tears (of sadness) to your eyes; as well as a blank statement that “The rate of road injuries and deaths is worse than the England average” – but no indication as to how this could, or would, be remedied.

Additionally, feedback from “The Stratford-on-Avon District Customer Satisfaction Index undertaken in March/April 2014” concludes that, for residents of the district, three of the five “Top priorities for improvement for the Council” are all, unsurprisingly, to do with planning – explanation of a decision made; the amount of information the Council provides on the future development of the District; and keeping promises and commitments. (Please stop laughing. Now.)

In a rich man’s world
So, taking this all into account – and shortly after the over-optimistic crystal-ball gazing that led the SDC Cabinet to be told on 2 December 2014 that there should be an “increase [in] the figures for housing supply in the Core Strategy from 10,800 to 11,300” – you do wonder if any of those present had actually read this State of the District report, and taken note of (or cared for) its implications; or had any knowledge of (or cared for) the wider world – especially when you consider that the act of buying a house (or renting a flat at a legally-defined ‘affordable’ rent) is becoming increasingly difficult (if not impossible) for a large portion of our society – especially locally (as the numbers above demonstrate).

As it said in The Guardian, earlier this week: “British workers may have to wait a decade to see their pay recover to pre-crisis levels”:

Wages are now rising faster than inflation for the first time in six years, according to official data, but the TUC – the umbrella body for Britain’s trade union movement – is warning that workers will have to wait until 2024 before they make up lost ground.
     Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “What is clear is that it will take a decade for wages to catch up in real terms to where they were before the crash. There are a lot of people who are now dipping into their savings – or, worse, getting into debt, to try to maintain a standard of living.”
     TUC research says the real value of the average full-time employee wage fell by £487 in 2014 and has fallen by £2,509 since 2010 – a decline of about £50 a week.

The gods may throw a dice
Now, let’s lob another – important – number into the mix. According to the Office for National Statistics, at the last census (2011), “The average household size in the UK was 2.3 people per household, compared to 2.4 in 2001.”

Therefore – even if you assume that this occupancy figure carries on falling to as low, say, as 2.0 during the period of the Core Strategy (or slightly longer) – if the population growth in the State of the District report is as accurate as it can be (and, remember, this is for six years beyond the remit of the Core Strategy: 2037 vs. 2031) – these 13,733 ‘new’ people will only need just under 7,000 houses: many fewer than SDC’s guesstimation; and yet very much in line with the conclusion of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) of “6,000 at most” (which I keep coming back to – but at least I now understand, and can justify, its origins).

In light of this, I would so love to see the justifications (and original(?!) calculations) of the “developers [who] claim the figure should be over 20,000”. I can only assume that they have special greed-incorporating devices which multiply any sensible and logical result by some special X (for excess) factor – a lesser (or perhaps hand-me-down) model being in the hands of our local district councillors.

And, of course, we mustn’t forget that there are several hundred empty homes in the district: which should reduce the total build requirement even further…. You would think that SDC would have an incentive to make these available as quickly as possible: as, according to the State of the District report, “the [net] average cost (staff time and any grant awards) of returning each of all [33, this year] (BVPI 64 qualifying and other lower level intervention) empty properties to use” is only £423.02; and yet the “Income generated by new homes bonus as a result of empty properties being brought back into use [over a six-year period] is £2,304,624” – an average profit of over £11,000 per house for the council (and that’s just using a bog-standard calculator…). Multiply that by the 543 that had been empty for over six months, as of last March, and you get over £6 milllion. If that isn’t an “incentive”, then I’m not sure what is.

The loser standing small
The sad thing, of course, is that none of this matters one jot if local people don’t have the jobs and incomes that enable them to buy or rent in the first place… (and the properties they require and desire haven’t been snaffled by the inbound, asset-rich retirees: whose numbers probably compensate(?!) for the loss of offspring from the district, as they disappear on a quest for property they can afford…). A situation that will not be improved in the austere dystopia that will overtake us if the current Government is re-elected later this year; and continues with its objective of plunging us back into the Dark Ages.

No more champagne
And the fireworks are through
Here we are, me and you
Feeling lost and feeling blue
It’s the end of the party
And the morning seems so grey
So unlike yesterday
Now’s the time for us to say…

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

Sometimes I see
How the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives
In the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool
And he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay
Never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

Seems to me now
That the dreams we had before
Are all dead, nothing more
Than confetti on the floor
It’s the end of a decade
In another ten years time
Who can say what we’ll find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of eighty-nine…

Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbour is a friend
Happy new year
Happy new year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I
– Abba: Happy New Year

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