Lords taking liberties?

The best of the politics blogs brought to you by Paul Evans. This week read about the Geert Wilders

Liberty and Lords

Thursday 12th was an unlucky day for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose absurd hairdo and appalling film-making skills were sent packing at Heathrow.

While few had any time for 'Fitna,' the crude and offensive film that Wilders was hoping to screen in the House of Lords, as a liberty-loving bunch, bloggers were almost universally dismayed by the decision to ban him from entering the UK. The role of Lord Ahmed (a man who merrily hosted the European racist Jöran Jermas) in persuading the Home Office to refused him entry came under particular scrutiny.

On Pickled Politics, Sid contrasted his response with that of the Quilliam Foundation, which: “believes that although many of Wilders’ public statements are bigoted, ill-informed and offensive to people of all faiths, this is not an adequate reason to prevent him from coming to the UK”. He noted:

“Lord Ahmed’s reaction is most certainly a robust denouncement of Wilders. But it resembles too closely for comfort, the ugly gesture of a rabble-rousing feudal oligarch, threatening mob violence against the House of Lords.”

And for Cranmer this was a serious matter indeed. “Lord Ahmed,” he contested, “must be prosescuted for treason”. He sets out the case that Ahmed's indication that he may he rouse a large group of Muslim protestors to prevent the screening of 'Fitna' amounted to the gravest crime in the land:

“There appears to be prima facie evidence of an attempt ‘to intimidate or overawe both Houses or either House of Parliament’ by an ‘overt act or deed’,” he explained.

The Wardman Wire's Carl Gardner also had law on his mind – arguing that the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 have been incorrectly applied, since they refer to the conduct and not the presence of an individual. And on his own blog, Head of Legal, Gardner noted: “I've not heard any comment about this either from Liberty, or from David Davis. Why not? It's a major free speech issue.”

Of the blogs more sympathetic to the government position (and there are precious few), even The Osterley Times could not endorse Wilders' ban, though it accepted that: “...the government were probably concerned about the level of anger he might generate as he did so. So one can find many arguments for and against him being allowed entry”.

The film was screened, despite Wilders' absence.

What have we learned this week?

Much glee from Guido and Dizzy, at David Hencke's revelation that Derek Draper phrased details of his Berkeley education with what appeared to be calculated ambiguity. Draper has now set up his own personal blog to deal exclusively with the endless pisstaking. I wonder whether he was at Wellington with Lord Archer?

Around the World

Lester Ho is a Malaysian student studying in Japan. This week his blog carries photos of a protest in Shinjuku against the economic policies of prime minister Taro Aso. “Back in my country, Protesting is illegal and you need a special permit (which you hardly can obtain one from the government or police),” he writes.

Video of the Week

On Playpolitical you can watch Sky News' head to head between Lords Pearson and Ahmed.

Quote of the Week

“Without open debate, falsehood and bigotry can fester in dark nether-regions, safe from the severe scrutiny of mainstream society. Once subjected to free debate, most of the most odious ideas will wither and die.”

Stephen Farrington.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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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 the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back 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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