Government deregulation is delivering social cleansing and slums of the future

Local councils cannot manage due to "social dumping".

The government’s obsession with deregulation of housing construction without full planning permission is facilitating social cleansing and new slums.

Comparatively well-off councils are dumping people to poorer areas and exacerbating their social problems.

Deregulation and social cleansing

Due to the march of e-commerce, high shop and office rents, increase in the number of working poor, depletion of people’s purchasing power and austerity, many towns have empty shops, office blocks and warehouses.

Some experts argued that some of the empty spaces, especially those in town centres, need to be converted into residential accommodation for sale or rent. The higher footfall, it is argued, would help to create a night time economy in town centres.

For a long time, people have been able to carry out some property modifications without full planning permission from local councils. These are called “permitted development rights” (PDRs). Good examples are the building of a small porch, extension, installation of solar panels and satellite dishes. 

In 2013, the Conservative and Liberal Democrats coalition government deregulated and disempowered local councils.

In response to pressure from property developers and others, the legislation extended PDRs to enable developers to convert office blocks, agricultural buildings and warehouses into residential properties without full planning permission or forcing them to make hurried decisions. Councils can’t compel developers to provide affordable housing for local residents.

Profit hungry developers and comparatively better-off councils have been buying or leasing empty offices and warehouses, not necessarily in their locality, and converting them to residential accommodation.

Faced with the choice of long waiting lists for housing, temporary accommodation, dilapidated housing, high rents by private landlords, many people have been persuaded to relocate to another area. These include families with children, senior citizens, low-paid, the unemployed, people with special needs and others. 

As part of a social cleansing process, richer councils are dumping people to poorer areas already facing acute economic problems. This enables richer areas to be gentrified, lower the number of people on benefits; reduce unemployment rate and pressures on local schools, hospitals and social infrastructure.

The other side of the coin is that a poorer areas already struggling to cope with acute economic problems now suddenly have to find new jobs, schools, transport, family doctors and hospitals. All this has to be done without prior planning or resources, which may or may not follow at some future date. 

In October 2018, the government promised £675m to “support councils in drawing up formal plans for the transformation of their high streets, to invest in improvements they need and facilitate redevelopment of under-used retail and commercial areas into residential”. But this is to be accompanied by further deregulation.

Slums of the Future

As part of a recent research project, I met council leaders from many poorer areas. They are struggling to cope with the problems caused by deregulation, especially as since 2010 the central government funding to local councils has been cut by 26% in real terms.

The conversion of town centre shops, offices and warehouses to homes means that those traditional spaces cannot be used to create future jobs which will need to be located somewhere else.

Social dumping puts extra pressure on transport, congestion and pollution. Many new arrivals struggle to find family-doctors. Local schools end up with higher staff-pupil ratios and hospitals are barley managing.

The class nature of permitted developments (PD) is evident as there are more PDs in Harrow and Hounslow compared to wealthy Kensington and Chelsea. PD has been a boon for developers. The chief executives of Britain’s 10 biggest housing developers raked in a combined £63.6m last year for building slums which some have called “human warehousing“.

A study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors examined the quality of PD in parts of Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading and its conclusions were as follows:

  • PD has allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed; 
  • PD residential quality was significantly worse than schemes which required planning permission;
  • There was direct evidence of the profitability of conversions for developers and land owners, but little evidence of contribution to the additional public infrastructure required to support the quantity of additional housing seen in the case study authorities.

A study for the London Assembly noted that many PD homes are smaller than the minimum space standards. They are of poor quality and exacerbate the already huge issue of overcrowding. By avoiding the planning system, developers are getting away with not contributing to the provision of affordable housing.

Deregulatory obsession of the Conservative government has facilitated social cleansing and slums of the future. Local councils suffering from unprecedented cuts and economic problems cannot manage the problems created by PDs.

People, especially the younger generation, need affordable housing of good quality, but that has been scuppered by profiteering and lack of planning. Such policies need to be curtailed and local authorities need to be empowered to prevent social dumping and building of new slums.

Prem Sikka is Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at University of Essex. He is a Contributing Editor to LFF and tweets here.

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4 Responses to “Government deregulation is delivering social cleansing and slums of the future”

  1. Tom Sacold

    Housing has always been a class issue. The Conservative Governments of the 1950s built council housing estates and high-rise blocks to destroy the strong working-class communities of the back-to-back terraces.

    The fact that it is still going on now is not surprise. Remember that the same policy was carried on by Blair’s New Labour.

    And all made worse by 25 million immigrants since 1960 requiring housing.

  2. Chrissy H

    Sadly, as with almost everything today, it all comes down to money and profit. Throw in a couple of recessions, changes in society and mismanagement at national/ local government levels and you end up where we are today with everyone playing the ‘blame game.’

    Councils often have no choice but to move families to another borough, however, this creates a knock-on effect and ‘locals’ are then also moved away from hometowns – and so it goes. Everyone is entitled to a suitable, safe and affordable roof over their head and until someone is brave enough to call a halt to the sale of social housing then the downward spiral will continue, homelessness rise and rogue developers and landlords thrive.

    The original plan that led to the sale of council housing was flawed and successive governments were quick to capitalize on that. Now questions need to be asked as to where that funding has gone and a realistic long hard look taken at the current situation nationally, locally, socially and economically. No more plastering over the cracks and moving the problem on, no more ‘finger in the dyke’ local solutions that only scrape the surface. Now is the time for solutions and plans to be drawn up that will take the country and communities forward and not drag us all back to the days of workhouses and slums.

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