Saturday, 18 September 2010

closing (? and opening) Supermarkets

I've had a conversation with someone from John Lewis about the dearth of stores in the NorthEast. The first was Durham, but they closed it after a couple of years. Apparently its the only store they have opened and then had to close.  The Northern Echo report on the closure is still available as is a blog report  from a trade journal. An unusual failure in a usually successful store .  These reports blame the location - had they been elsewhere in the City Centre they would have been OK 
They managed to sell baked beans , and not much else. Apparently that's all that students buy from an upmarket supermarket.

Its relevant because of the  site that was Osborne Garage.
This is what we have at the moment (a screenshot of the Google Streetview because it will change)

And there is an approved Planning Application to convert it into a store. When it was applied for (Apr-Aug 2009) the rumour has been either a Waitrose or a Sainsbury.

Some competition for Tescos down the road.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Pandering to vested interests

There has been a bit of email traffic recently concerning the Governments'  decision to repeal the legislation that required planning permission for converting a house to a HMO (House in Multiple Occupancy). Here is the Government Press release  .
Some interested parties have issued press releases or written to the papers. 

National HMO Lobby
News Release, 7 September 2010
The 'Big Society' is a Big Con
The coalition government is always to keen to promote 'the big society' - except when it contradicts their libertarian ideology and enthusiasm for the unrestrained market!  The last government acted to protect local communities from exploitation by the Buy-to-Let industry, supporting the Big Society.  But now, in a dictatorial exercise of Big Government, announced today, the Housing Minister has re-opened these communities to further exploitation.
For decades, local communities in a wide range of situations have suffered from exploitation by irresponsible landlords, responding to a range of markets, and buying up family homes, to turn them into lucrative shared houses.  Pack in the tenants, rake in the rents!  They've done it in market towns (with migrant workers), they've done it in seaside towns (with benefit claimants), they've done it in university towns (with students).  As transient tenants moved in, they forced out stable families - undermining any sort of society, big or small.
Organisations like the National HMO Lobby campaigned for years for action.  Last summer, a huge consultation supported new legislation.  At last, after a decade of damage, the last government changed the legislation on houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), so that local councils had some control at last over what was happening to their housing stock.  Specifically, they amended the Use Classes Order, to do so.
But within forty days of the General Election, the new coalition government announced it was going to overturn these measures - even though their alternative was rejected by 99% of the respondents in the consultation in 2009.  The Minister initiated a consultation by invitation.  Even then, the Core Cities, the professionals (Planning Officers, RTPI), the Coastal Communities Alliance, MPs (All-Party Group), the Councillors Campaign for Balanced Communities - not to mention representatives of local communities up and down the country - opposed the new proposals.
All agree they are undemocratic and unworkable.  But Big Government has bulldozed ahead, and dashed the aspirations of all those trying to preserve their communities.  The Minister has introduced measures which revoke the amendments to the Use Classes Order.
It's pretty clear what the 'Con' in 'Conservative' means.
Contact Dr Richard Tyler, C-ordinator, National HMO Lobby, 0113-275 5369
The Lobby's website is at and its response to the Minister's 'consultation.

and from the National Organisation of Residents Associations

Dear Sir

On the 7th September Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, dealt a severe blow to the aspirations of David Cameron’s grand concept of The Big Society. He introduced planning legislation governing the change of a family dwelling to a house of multiple occupancy.(HMO).

For the past ten years resident groups and local planning authorities have fought a long and hard campaign to stem the uncontrolled growth of concentrations of HMOs in university towns and cities lacking adequate student accommodation, in coastal towns housing families on benefit and in market towns housing migrant workers.  Large areas of residential property have been blighted by this change destroying communities and making life miserable for the few residents still remaining in them.

In 2009 the last government finally launched a consultation paper on the problem.  92% of respondents supported a new planning category use of HMOs making it necessary to apply for planning consent to change the use of family homes to HMOs, whilst the option of setting up Article 4 Directions to control HMOs in specified areas, a complex and time-consuming exercise currently used to control the external appearance of valued properties, was supported by only 1% of respondents.  As a result of this overwhelming support for planning consent, on April 6 2010 legislation was implemented to the great relief of large numbers of residents.

Just before the election the Conservatives indicated that this legislation would be repealed at the request of the Landlords Association.  The plan was to replace it with the Article 4 Directions scheme, rejected by nearly all planning authorities as unworkable.  A new consultation paper was issued and again those involved rejected this solution, but to no avail.

David Cameron’s wish to empower local communities so that they decided what was best for them is a laudable concept.  His 2009 Hugo Young lecture proposed removing power from central government and giving it to local government, and for local communities to engage more effectively with local government.  He labelled the community as The Big Society and we looked forward to its coming. This move by the Housing Minister totally undermines this grand idea, by taking a central government decision against the wishes of the community.

As far as this issue of HMOs is concerned, The Big Society is dead.

Ive not  got such grand aspirations - heres my letter to the Newcastle Journal, trying to garner support for the Judicial Review proposed by Milton Keynes .
Residents groups in Newcastle, and elsewhere in the country are dismayed at the Coalition government’s decision to repeal the changes to Use Class Order legislation that gave local councils some control over what happened to housing stock in their area.

For many years local residents have suffered as the Universities have taken in more and more students with scant consideration of where they would live. Landlords bought up houses to convert into HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupancy) and residential areas and communities increasingly suffer from the economic and social disruption caused by excess numbers of students and irresponsible landlords.

Consultations conducted by the previous Government revealed widespread support for giving local councils the powers to address the imbalances that have turned some streets in Newcastle into Student ghettos during term-time and urban deserts through the summer.

By removing from local councils the new power to limit HMOs in existing areas with an excess, it is clear that the Government is going against its own ideas of the ‘Big Society’ that empowers local communities.

Milton Keynes Council is considering applying for Judicial Review of the Housing Ministers’ recent decision. Hopefully Newcastle Council will enthusiastically support Councilors in the south as they try to redress the current unacceptable imbalance.