Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash warns that Europe risks losing the attention of the US unless it acts as a united force:

[U]nlike during the cold war, the United States is not focused on Europe and does not regard helping to build a strong, united Europe as being among its own vital interests. Europeans may continue to feel that Obama is "one of us"; and in one way he is, but in another way he isn't -- and he certainly won't do our work for us. If we Europeans want to get our act together, we must get our act together.

A leader in the Times calls for Silvio Berlusconi to resign after losing his immunity from prosecution:

Little could have more clearly shown Mr Berlusconi's contempt for the law than his lawyer's Orwellian assertion to the court that the prime minister was no longer "first among equals" but ought to be considered "first above equals" . . . The court case . . . would be a huge distraction from his job as prime minister. He has sought to live above the law; now he will be consumed by it. It is surely time that Mr Berlusconi stop putting his own interests ahead of his country's. He should resign.

The Independent's Robert Fisk argues that the treaty the Armenian president has signed with Turkey betrays the victims of the genocide:

Every year, new evidence emerges about this mass ethnic cleansing, the first holocaust of the last century; and every year, Turkey denies that it ever committed genocide. Yet on Saturday -- to the horror of millions of descendants of Armenian survivors -- the president of Armenia, Serg Sarkissian, plans to agree to a protocol with Turkey to reopen diplomatic relations, which should allow for new trade concessions and oil interests. And he proposes to do this without honouring his most important promise to Armenians abroad -- to demand that Turkey admit it carried out the Armenian genocide in 1915.

In the Daily Telegraph, David Blair says the Conservatives have taken a big risk by offering Sir Richard Dannatt a post:

If a Tory administration starves the armed forces of funds -- and the Ministry of Defence will not be excluded from the public spending cuts envisaged by George Osborne -- General Dannatt can be trusted to speak out in protest. The man who became the scourge of Labour ministers will be just as willing to take on the Conservatives if he believes they are damaging the armed forces.

The Los Angeles Times's Meghan Daum reports on the success of an essay written by a colonel calling for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the US military:

Pointing out that countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada and Israel, which have lifted bans on gays in the military, have seen "no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion or ability to recruit or retain", Prakash writes that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy "forces a compromise in integrity" that is ultimately "damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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