We all know we are short of housing. Causes include smaller households, the increase in population, but perhaps most importantly all those purchases made via offshore companies in Panama. The result of those is that London is both the money laundering capital of the world and the preferred spot for speculative property investment.
Rather than stop this by introducing penalties for leaving properties empty, or for failing to pay council tax (One Hyde Park flats pay zero council tax because the cost of pursuing the offshore owners completely outweighs any sum due), the government claims that the problem is that there too many constraints on the free market are are tearing up pretty much any planning regulations.
This will mean a rash of nasty building which is bad enough. But it also means that slums are being built as we watch. Building regulations – rules to ensure that housing is safe and of a decent standard – are now no longer enforceable with big developers. Freeing up the market meant that under the Blair government private building regs. inspectors were introduced. Their standards are not at all the same as the local council ones, and they are answerable only to the client who pays their fee, so they do as the client asks.
However, until a couple of years ago there were still standards that even a private inspector would enforce – but no more. The government said that coversion of offices to private housing would be considered ‘permitted development’ ie no planning permission required. That turns out to mean that building regulations are suspended too.
There are no longer any lower size limits and flats are being created no more than three metres wide with the kitchen sink against one wall and the bed against the other.
The government continues happy that these are marketed off plan to places like Singapore. We will have to live with the mental and physical health problems caused by this sudden collapse in housing standards. By that stage, as ever, the developers and their facilitators in government will be long gone. Nothing new there.