Rules of engagement

The latest hostage situation leaves many wondering how best to approach already complicated relation

The diplomatic stand off that began on March 23 between the Iranian and British governments finally came to an end on April 4, to the delight of everyone involved. Sunny Hundal had a view shared by many who did not believe the increasingly strong publicity rallying behind the British government. He said, “This is not to say Iran’s actions were justified or right but any call for war was just idiotic posturing that the Foreign Office was never going to take seriously.”

It remains to be seen whether or not we will ever find out the true version of events which led to this hostage crisis. Iain Dale said he had “conflicting emotions while watching the conversations between the Navy personnel and the Iranian President after his press conference. I’m sure many of us could say the same. Craig Murray said it was evidence that a "softly, softly" approach could prove effective with Iran.

It is nearly election time again for local councils in England, for the Welsh Assembly and for the Scottish Parliament. Mike Tansey pointed out how there are 16 independent candidates for the Sunderland local election who had submitted their nomination papers by the time nominations closed on Wednesday. And for anyone who missed the drunken antics of a young Lib-Dem candidate in Scotland, the Ridiculous Politics blog has the details.

The Spy blog questions the Government’s latest plans to introduce ‘shouting’ CCTV cameras. This blog hits the nail right on the head. It asks, “The immediate question which springs to mind is why the existing CCTV
surveillance cameras, linked as they must be to a live camera operator in a control room, they have not already eliminated such behaviour? That is the false promise on which hundreds of millions of pounds of Central Government and Local Government funds have been spent on such systems.”

And Ellee Seymour highlighted details of a woman who won an industrial tribunal this week against her employer which sacked her for blogging while at work. Under the pseudonym of La Petite Anglaise, Catherine Sanderson won a year’s salary, plus costs, after the tribunal agreed there was no evidence to prove she had brought disrepute to the company. She had often blogged from work at Dixon Wilson, where she worked as a secretary. She has also won a lucrative book deal in which she tells her story in full.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls.

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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