Sir Peter Tapsell "keeping his seat warm for Boris"

The Father of the House would apparently be willing to give up his safe seat to allow Boris to return to the Commons.

The "Boris for Tory leader" mutterings continue in today's Sunday Telegraph, where Patrick Hennessy and Robert Watts report that Sir Peter Tapsell has apparently been overhead by Tory MPs telling David Cameron that he would be prepared to give up his seat to allow Boris Johnson to return to the House of Commons.

Tapsell, who is 83, holds the constituency of Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire with a majority of 13,871. He's also the longest continuously-serving MP in Parliament, having been in the Commons non-stop since 1966 as well as having served from 1959 to 1964.

The Sunday Telegraph says:

Last night the MP denied being part of any Boris “camp” and said his Louth and Horncastle constituency in Lincolnshire, where his majority is nearly 14,000, could be too far from London to suit Mr Johnson. However, he said the Mayor would be an “excellent” leader of the Opposition and “perhaps” a good prime minister.

It's probably wise not to give too much credence to Tapsell's remarks - after all, over the past few years there have been a number of rumours about how Boris is going to get back into Parliament - his brother Jo Johnson, Richard Ottaway and Zac Goldsmith have all been said at one time or another to be willing to step aside to allow him an eventual shot at the Tory leadership. Tapsell might be willing to resign, but whether Boris is as keen to take his place is another matter. As George observed earlier this week, he's keen to succeed Cameron, but playing a long, safe game.

It's less clear whether Boris would even want to return to Parliament at this juncture - after all, being Mayor of London is a far more high-profile position from which to audition as a potential leader of your party. Barring accidents, I, for one, would doubt that we'll see him departing from City Hall before his term is up in 2016.

 

Boris Johnson. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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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