An article sent to Conservative Home on the 23rd Feb 2021 in advance of the Parliamentary debates on who pays to remediate fire safety to encourage Conservative MP's to support the Stephen McPartland & Royston Smith amendment.
Having quit the Conservative Party in February 2020 over a planning issue I was recently asked if I might re-join.
The immediate answer was no, and the first reason that came into my head was the cladding and fire safety debacle that many of my residents are suffering from (although we still do not know how many people are affected which maybe why the political consequences of this are not yet clear).
The government is now only offering financial help for cladding issues in tall towers not for all of the other fire safety related costs like fire barriers, waking watches, delayed home sales and increased insurance costs which have been caused by the same industrial, planning and regulatory failures as the cladding that failed at Grenfell in June 2017. And if your home is less than 18 meters in height you have to pay for any cladding issues via loans (that financial limit exists because nobody can agree a better definition of a tall building). Delays in resolving this issue have already resulted in some home owners declaring bankruptcy.
As a result it cannot be right that through other people’s failures including those of the government to properly regulate that homeowners have to pay to rectify other people’s mistakes as is still the plan for some categories of buildings, some categories of owners and many fire safety issues. They will also pay VAT or Insurance Premium Tax on these additional costs so government also benefits from this financial pain. That strikes me as profoundly unfair and the recent government announcement has attracted almost universal condemnation.
It is true that many of the affected buildings are in Labour areas like mine but I know many of those people affected, some of them would naturally move away and into safer Conservative around the cities over the long term (assuming they can still afford to do so) and probably have families already there. Some Conservatives have done an excellent job in response to this crisis but it strikes me as an unusual decision to inflict financial pain on a category of people who would normally support you electorally rather than developers and other parts of the building industry.
As a reminder according to Ipsos MORI’s figures at the 2019 general election, 57% of voters who owned their home outright voted Conservative, as did 43% of people with mortgages (same % as the Conservative vote share).
This is because the consequences of the fire safety crisis are as much financial as they are the concerns related to building safety and those financial consequences will last decades long after the buildings themselves are made safe.
Failure to resolve this issue will cause political issues for the Conservatives in the coming years, that damage will be at the margins but there will be marginal constituencies which contain affected buildings, or frustrated home-owners or their families who might laugh hollowly if told that the Conservatives are the party of home-owners. I wonder how Labour and the Liberal Democrats will take advantage of this in 2024, because I can hazard a guess.
The additional costs of fixing the cladding and all other historic fire safety issues should come solely from a tax on developer and other industry participants profits. This is not as damaging as some might fear not least because housebuilders have been making good profits in recent years thanks to government schemes like Help to Buy which by 2023 will have helped boost the housing market by £25 billion in loans. According to the Economist magazine property development companies in the UK make twice the operating margins of their peers in America, it is time they took greater responsibility for the problems they caused.
In 2015 Lambeth Council introduced a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO for short) to ban the use and sale of laughing gas also known as NOX. They are the little silver canisters that you will find littering streets all over Tower Hamlets. The canisters also have a legal use in the food industry usually in whipped cream canisters so can be bought legally. They contain a gas nitrous oxide (NOX) which when inhaled usually via a balloon gives the user a short high.
Taking nitrous oxide can cause feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and calmness, fits of giggles and laughter – hence the nickname ‘laughing gas’ and sound distortions and hallucinations. But they can also give you a severe headache, cause dizziness, stop you thinking straight, and cause short-lived but intense feelings of paranoia according to the website Talk to Frank, and can have other negative health impacts.
The reason why they are so many canisters is that users have to keep inhaling them to stay high. Why they don’t then pick them up and put them in a bin remains a mystery.
But six years after Lambeth and more than two years after Cllr Peter Golds
and I introduced a Council motion asking that we follow Lambeth in introducing one, Tower Hamlets Council is now consulting on introducing a Public Spaces Protection Order which will ban their use, the order will state:
a) Person(s) within the Restricted Area will not:
Ingest, inhale, inject, smoke, possess or otherwise use psychoactive substances (e.g. nitrous oxide) and which is causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm, distress, nuisance or annoyance to members of the public.
that consultation ends Monday so please complete it online here.
It is not currently illegal to possess NOX canisters so if the Police turn up and see you using them they cannot do anything (unless you are driving at the same time as some NOX users do). But a PSPO gives the Police and Council enforcement officers the powers to order people to stop these activities and fine them a £100 for each offense which is why we need your help in responding to the consultation.
Public Space Protection Orders were introduced in 2014 by the government and they have to be consulted on first, can only last for three years at a time (but can be renewed) and must set specific rules for a specified local area. PSPO areas can cover a local park or in this case the whole Borough. We know the Police struggle to know where the two other PSPO areas are or what the rules are so they rarely use them, only a Borough-wide PSPO is likely to be usable by the Police.
Tower Hamlets has the highest rates of anti-social behaviour (ASB) in London the Met Police recently confirmed and they are I believe also the highest rates in the country. We are now also the densest Borough in the country so ASB from NOX users often has a negative impact on our communities, especially from the parties that NOX users have in areas close to people’s homes. If NOX users picked up their canisters and found quieter places to enjoy themselves then perhaps we would not need to do this. Please complete the consultation to help give the Police and Council officers more powers to deal with it.