Inspiration is hard to come by, but it is there

Seriously back in the swim now. Have laid waste to the in-tray. But I must say I find I am struggling to find inspiration. You sure can keep your Black Fridays and your Cyber Mondays. What a crock of nonsense. I think I might go back on holiday. And I can’t even BEGIN to deal with the election of Donald Trump to be Leader of the Free World, a prospect so bewildering and terrifying that (like most of you I suspect) I have had to lock it up in the same do-not-think-about-it-and-hope-it-goes-away box as Brexit. Certainly these two ghastly developments evince the same “this is all a bad dream” response from anyone at all that I respect. I am just waiting for the jounos to conflate “Brexit” and “Trump” (perhaps “BrexTrump”?) in some dread construct, as manifestation of what is clearly the same phenomenon. The profound worry is that STILL we don’t seem to be listening…

Where is inspiration to be found? Blimey! It is all so depressing. It is more than deeply disappointing and dispiriting to learn that the football world is not immune from the cancer of child abuse. It is sick. And I cannot be alone in finding it more than a bit saddening that a politician of the calibre of Ed Balls can only achieve any public approbation through appearing on Strictly Come Dancing (although hats off to him for being game; it showed a certain humility we didn’t know was there).

And what of our own world on Planet Property? Are we any nearer to cracking the housing crisis? Well, I had great hopes about the Autumn Statement (see blog 14October) although it doesn’t seem to have set the heather alight in the national press. For our sector there were some quiet nuggets: there is to be a new £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) focusing on research, development and innovation in housing, transport, digital communications and R&D. The new NPIF will work alongside the National Infrastructure Commission (which seems to have been given a serious boost) and will implement the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1970s, the largest investment in the railways since Victorian times (there’s hope for my Wisbech people yet) and a resurfacing of 80% of the strategic road network. At the same time, the government will be investing £1.1bn of investment in small local infrastructure schemes particularly focused on improving traffic flow at pinch points (easier said than done, this).

Infrastructure investment is to be focused on schemes which will unlock land for housing with a new £2.3bn infrastructure fund to deliver in areas of high demand. Which explains the explicit big push for the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor, involving both a road and rail link (the “Varsity Express”).

The Housing White Paper may have been delayed until “before the end of the year” (I have to say I have great faith in Gavin Barwell) but the chancellor did announce a £7.2bn package to support the construction of new homes including spending by housing associations and relaxing the grant funding structure to enable providers to deliver more flexible stock specifically focused on “affordable rent” (whatever that is) and “low-cost ownership”. HMG will also invest £1.7bn to speed up building on public sector land. Yet again. Another one that is easier said than done.

Actually the theme of infrastructure seems to have flowed through the whole of the Autumn Statement, which is good news for Andrew Adonis and John Armitt with their National Infrastructure Commission. And in what is rather a shift from previous approaches, the government will also consult on new lending powers for local authorities, enabling up to £1bn of borrowing at a new local infrastructure rate (gilts plus 60 points) for three years to support infrastructure projects. This could significantly empower much greater economic and housing development in local areas where local authorities are keen to push for growth and deliver infrastructure. Good news for the Northern Gateway Development Zone and the delivery of 100,000 new homes predicated on the new HS2 interchange at Crewe and all of the concomitant connectivity.

OK, perhaps there is some inspiration to be had, after all, at least on the infrastructure agenda. I just had to dig around a bit to find it.

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