May You Live in Interesting Times – Part 1

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If someone had said to you this time last year that;

  • Britain would vote to leave the European Union
  • David Cameron would resign a little over a year after his surprise General Election victory
  • Jeremy Corbyn would not only survive the mass resignation of his shadow cabinet but be re-elected with a bigger mandate
  • Boris – sorry – Mr Johnson would be appointed Foreign Secretary and survive in post for more than six months
  • Britain would come second in the medal table at Rio
  • Diane Abbot would be appointed shadow Home Secretary
  • Trump would be elected as the next President of America
  • Leicester City FC were to win the Premier League

You would be forgiven for thinking the world was going slightly mad. 2016 has been an extraordinary year for Great Britain and 2017 may be just as interesting.

Many of the political events highlighted above can be linked to the political elite becoming increasingly remote from the wider populace and not delivering the radical reforms our country so desperately needs.

Housing remains one of those issues, despite the reforms introduced several years ago resulting in almost record planning permissions being granted and a cross party consensus that much remains to be done to address the housing shortage and affordability issue.  One of the remaining barriers is that local and national politicians are still failing to provide the leadership in their own communities so desperately needed on the issue.

On Tuesday, the Commons debated the second reading of the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. Watchers and listeners would have been surprised at the strength of feeling and passion the issue prompted, with the less than edifying sight of Winston Churchill’s grandson describing the work of developers as unacceptable, unwanted and even worse.  He wasn’t alone but in quite surprising company, several MPs and senior members of the Conservative party had surprisingly robust views on the ‘evils’ of developers and housebuilders and the need to defend swathes of countryside as if they were last sacrosanct few acres of green and pleasant land when in truth the amount of land developed in the country is barely in double figures.  Even the Prime Minister has form on the latter, on one hand describing the lack of housing and the issue of affordability as one of the great injustices of our age, on the other fiercely resisting proposals for large development in her own constituency.

For too many politicians housing remains the ‘third rail’ in their own backyard.  The research conducted by Shelter may help to break down the deep-seated fear that too often causes councillors and MPs to freeze and fail to provide the community leadership so desperately needed to detoxify development as in issue in their wards and constituencies.  As a company, we are looking at tools and mechanisms to help community leaders in this process further, but maybe a resolution they could consider in the New Year would be to lead more by example on the issue and to be a little more honest on the subject and dial down the rhetoric. 

Who knows, stranger things have happened. 

This article was written by Frank Browne a former leader of Wokingham Borough Council and a member of our non-Executive board.