Letting housing association tenants buy their homes at a discount will be disastrous for rural communities, according to a leading academic.
Government plans to extend the “right to buy” will make an existing housing shortage worse, said Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal.
And the problem will be particularly bad in rural areas – where house prices are highest, he said.
But the policy was welcomed by North East MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick, who said funds raised from the sell-off would be used to allow councils and housing associations to build more homes.
It comes as a senior civil servant criticised the policy, which was one of the Conservative Party’s flagship manifesto promises during the general election campaign.
The Government is to extend the right to buy their home at a discount, which currently applies to council tenants, to 1.3 million housing association tenants.
But Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service who was the most senior official at the Department of Communities and Local Government until February, has warned that the plan will do nothing to address the housing shortage.
He said: “I think it’s wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and it won’t help tackle the urgent need to build more housing and more affordable housing in this country.”
Under the Conservative plans, 1.3 million tenants in housing association homes in England will be able to buy their properties at discounts of £77,000, or up to £104,000 in London.
Ministers say housing associations will be compensated with money raised by forcing local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing stock as it becomes vacant, ensuring that the affordable properties which are sold are replaced.
However the proposals have been widely criticised by housing associations, with many threatening to sue the Government if they are forced to sell.
Prof Shucksmith said:
“There is already a shortage of affordable housing, especially in rural areas where there is little social housing.
“Rural house prices are on average 26 per cent higher than in urban areas, and the ratio of house prices to local earnings is even worse.
“Disposing of housing association stock, at great cost to the taxpayer, will make the impact on rural communities much more serious.
“We are already seeing those on low and medium incomes, and especially young people, priced out of small towns and villages across the UK. With housing association properties sold off, and unlikely to be replaced in any substantial quantities, the wealth divide in rural communities will deepen even further.”
And he said the policy would hurt employers, by driving the staff they need out of rural areas.
“With rural areas becoming increasingly socially exclusive, local businesses – from farms and shops to accountants and software developers – will find it even harder to attract the young, skilled, ambitious people they need.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Jun 2015
No reporter expects a warm welcome from politicians on the prowl for votes.
Especially not during this election, when the polls are so close that the phrase “squeaky bum time” doesn’t come close to describing the anxiety gnawing away at the heart of most candidates.
That said, the control exerted over the regional press during this time has been alarming.
The North East isn’t exactly the eye of the storm. It is home to some of Labour’s safest seats and that isn’t likely to change after tomorrow’s election.
The party machines calculate, perhaps understandably, it is only worth sending their high-profile folk to marginal constituencies, like Berwick Upon Tweed and Stockton South, where showing a well-known face could make a difference.
It is a state of affairs which has seen not one party leader venture into Tyne and Wear or County Durham since the dissolution of Parliament, bar Ed Miliband reportedly jumping off a train for a quick coffee in Newcastle Central Station.
But here’s an example of what it is like to cover the visit of a big hitter when they do grace us with their presence. On Tuesday, Baileys Cafe, in Alnwick, hosted one George Osborne for tea and cake as the senior Tory sought to drum up support for Berwick candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
A press officer asked me what questions I want to ask. I said I didn’t know (a white lie, told after an experience with the Prime Minister’s PR, which I’ll come to later).
Mr Osborne arrived to the sound of cameras furiously clicking, ordered food and spent 20 minutes dining with a select group of local businessmen, all of whom appeared to be Conservative supporters. I don’t know this for certain, mind, but deduced as much from snippets of the conversation, which included “hopefully with Anne-Marie in Parliament” and lots of warm smiles.
Journalists were invited take pictures of Mr Osborne’s supposedly impromptu encountering of the public, after which he would take our questions.
The Chancellor disappeared for a huddle with his press team while myself and two other local journalists were told to wait at a table – a bit like being sat outside the headmaster’s office when you are caught chewing gum.
When Mr Osborne re-emerged, his press officer barked: “One question each.”
I was last in the go-round so pushed my luck by asking a second question, as did one other reporter, much to the annoyance of his press officer.
Note that these are questions without a follow-up, so in reality you are afforded nothing but the stock party line and little opportunity to get under the skin of what information you get. If I wanted to read a manifesto, I would have stayed in the office and used Google.
Disappointing, to say the least. The press officer said she understood, jotted down her email and told me to send her additional questions, a phone interview having been ruled out, for some reason. This email was not acknowledged until 11.35pm, almost 12 hours after the interview and well past our newspapers’ deadlines.
Another example, in April, David Cameron visited the Icon Plastics factory, in Eaglescliffe, to support Stockton South Tory James Wharton. I was asked to email six questions the night before, then on the day was put in a pool of six reporters and given just two questions. No follow-ups.
I was, again, told to email additional questions. Press officers assured me a week later they were “still trying” to get answers. I gave up.
All parties are guilty of this kind of behaviour, though it has to be said Labour’s Ed Balls and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron found time to give us a phone interview when they visited.
This treatment of the press isn’t unfair on journalists. We’re used to no-one liking us all that much.
It is unfair on the people who read and watch our content; the same people, incidentally, whose vote decides whether or not these rather evasive politicians have this kind of power.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 May 2015
People tempted to vote Labour or Green in Berwick should switch to the Lib Dems in order to keep out the Conservative candidate, a senior politician has said.
Tim Farron, former Lib Dem president and tipped to be the next leader of the party, made the call with less than a week to go before the General Election.
It comes as the polls show Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Lib Dem Julie Porksen locked in a dead heat for electoral victory in the Northumberland constituency.
Mr Farron said:
“We need everybody who is not a Conservative to get behind Julie Porksen.
“If you vote Labour or Green next Thursday, you might wake up and feel good about yourself, but in five years’ time if we have a Conservative Government, they may bitterly regret it.”
> Fuck me ! The arrogance of the man.
The voters of of Berwick voted Lib Dem last time… and in five years time they had a Conservative government, aided and abetted by those very same Lib Dems !
So did the rest of us, and yes, we do bitterly regret it.
He said Lib Dems candidates were winning the ground campaign in their heartlands and are poised to clinch victory in Berwick.
“Lib Dems are made of hardy stuff and there is a reason why people in Berwick and Westmorland have been so kind to us,” he said.
“We have a ruggedness and an industrialism that is reflected in those constituencies.
“We live and breathe community politics. We believe that national politics comes from what happens on the ground, not from focus groups or national opinion-testing.
“We find out what is happening by speaking to people all year round and that is why we will win Berwick.”
But Anne-Marie Trevelyan accused the Lib Dems of negative campaigning. She said:
“Voters should be able to vote for the party they support.
“It’s great to have a Green Party candidate here, especially one as capable and committed to Alnwick as Rachel Roberts.
“If the Lib Dems are worried about their vote share, perhaps they should try offering positive messages rather than running aggressive negative campaining against their rivals.”
Mr Farron, who visited Berwick this week, also criticised the Conservatives’ commitment to offering a referendum on leaving the European Union.
“There are two enormous risks to us leaving the EU,” he said.
“The agricultural policy brings in billions of pounds to the livestock and dairy farming industry, which are mostly in the North of the country.
“People don’t realise that direct and single farming payments from the EU are all that stand between the industry and ruin.”
Mr Farron said while this was a tough campaign for the Liberal Democrats after five years of coalition with the Conservatives, the future had a bright future.
“If we didn’t have a Liberal party, you would have to invent one that would stand up for rural communities; for traditional British civil liberties; for environmental issues; for affordable housing,” he said.
“Historically, there has been no other party that stands for that combination of things. I think the future will be strong for us.”
Mr Farron added the SNP and UKIP were a divisive and dangerous force in British politics, but that politicians of all parties had to respect the choices of the electorate.
“If you are a politician that plays on nationalism and on wrapping your politics in a flag, like Farage does, then you are a dangerous person.
“Nationalism is about excluding other people. Patriots love their country and nationalists hate their neighbours.
“I think it should be worrying to everyone in Scotland but we have to be big enough to accept whatever our neighbours choose on May 7.”
> The message that comes through, I think, is really the same as from Con and Lab… things may be starting to change, and it scares us. Therefore we must try to smear the newcomers, because we feel that political control is somehow our right… we don’t feel we should have to earn it.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015
The ukulele player who shot to stardom this week with a swear-filled serenade for David Cameron has called for political change.
East Londoner Robin Grey, who grew up in Gosforth, spoke out a day after expressing his dissatisfaction for the Prime Minister with an adhoc song in Alnwick, Northumberland.
The 34-year-old folk singer, maths tutor and charity worker was in Alnwick as part of a cycling holiday.
“I was cycling down the hill into Alnwick, having spent a while in Northumberland National Park, and I was cut up by a big blue Conservative Party coach – I couldn’t believe it.
“Then a lot of people got off with balloons and David Cameron was among them. It was so strange because it was just them, and no ordinary people.
“I was gobsmacked and took my bike over to the other side of the road. I thought, ‘what can I do?’ I didn’t have any eggs and didn’t want to get arrested. I could have shouted but that is boring.
“So I grabbed my ukulele and played the first thing that came to me.”
He proceeded to tell the Tory leader, who was attempting to drum up support for the party’s Berwick election candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan with a 15-minute walkabout, to “fuck off back to Eton”.
“I consider myself to be an activist. The more I travel round the country the more I see what people have in common – they want to see change happen.
“I hadn’t rehearsed the song. I am used to picking up by ukulele in primary school and playing, and I have worked at the Edinburgh Festival too so it comes easily.
“I am amazed at how popular the video of my song has been. Looking back I probably could have come up with some better lyrics, like addressing him on the NHS, but at the time I knew I wouldn’t get another chance so I just kept going.”
“A security guard told me not to swear because there were children around so I did a cleaner second verse.”
“Change is needed and as more people start to get their information from less obvious routes and media sources, the ruling elites are losing control and cannot keep telling us what to do.
“After Alnwick, I headed up to Seahouses to my nanna. She was supportive of me making mischief and she knows it comes from a good place.”
With the help of his ukulele, Robin’s causes include the closure of tax breaks for corporations and the super rich, the re-nationalisation of the railways and utility companies, the provision of singing and music lessons for all schoolchildren, scrapping of bedroom tax, and a ban on fracking in the UK.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Apr 2015
Campaigners hoping to turn Northumberland in a Green Party powerbase defied dreary weather to officially launch their election battle.
Natalie Bennett’s party will fight all four Northumberland constituencies at the General Election next month, placing energy, anti-austerity, public services and transport at the heart of their strategy.
Taking shelter under bright green umbrellas, the candidates chose Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, for the event, close to the site of a planned opencast mine, which the Greens are petitioning against amid fears it will damage the environment.
The party’s candidate for Hexham and chairman of the Northumberland Greens Lee Williscroft-Ferris, said:
“Today has been a huge success.
“Despite the poor weather, many Green Party members from across the four Northumberland constituencies have come to Druridge Bay to show their support as their candidates officially launch their general election campaigns.
“Although we are each fighting hard in our own areas, we share similar concerns. These include an urgent need to improve public transport and protect our public services, as well as a mutual objective of fighting against the unsafe exploitation of our natural resources through fracking, open cast mining and underground coal gasification.
“We offer a people and planet-focussed alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics and to the narrative of austerity – the number of people here today proves that there is a genuine appetite for a positive, Green vision of hope here in Northumberland.”
It comes as the Greens celebrate being the third-largest party, in terms of membership, in England as the party enjoys unprecedented exposure in the TV leaders’ debates.
While the Greens are not anticipating victory in Northumberland a surge of support for them could make a decisive difference in the key marginal of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Following the retirement of long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan is neck-and-neck with Lib Dem Julie Porksen, but the Greens’ candidate Rachael Roberts is holding her own.
Dawn Furness is taking on Labour’s Ronnie Campbell – who polled a 6,668 majority in 2010 – in the Blyth Valley constituency while Chris Hedley also faces a tough opponent in Wansbeck where Ian Lavery will stand for Ed Miliband’s party.
The Save Druridge campaign has a petition, which can be found online: http://www.savedruridge.co.uk
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Apr 2015
Berwick constituency, vacant following the retirement of Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem).
►Nigel Revell Coghill-Marshall (Ukip)
►Scott Dickinson (Labour)
►Neil Humphrey (English Democrats)
►Julie Pörksen (Liberal Democrats)
►Rachael Roberts (Green Party)
►Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Conservative)
A would-be MP was left red-faced after apparently parking up on double yellows as she launched her election campaign.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative candidate for Berwick, Northumberland, posed for pictures next to a van bearing a Tory party pre-election advert.
But in a snap taken by a political rival, the van appears to be parked over double yellow lines in the centre of the busy market town of Alnwick.
Mrs Trevelyan has now been reported to the local authority responsible for traffic and parking enforcement.
And Labour opponent for the Berwick seat, Scott Dickinson said:
“I know that Labour on the council have now implemented free parking for towns and now country parks despite opposition from Ms Trevelyan’s Conservative party, but that doesn’t mean she’s able to park her expensive poster van anywhere ignoring the rules that apply to ordinary people.
“She needs to be more careful about where she parks for her photo opportunity and while this must be an embarrassment for her campaign, I’m sure she’ll take it in good grace.”
Mrs Trevelyan had staged a media call outside her party’s Alnwick office last week.
It featured a van bearing a poster carrying the Tories’ campaign slogan “A recovering economy, don’t let Labour wreck it,” designed by international advertising agency network M&C Saatchi.
The van is being taken on a national tour at the outset of the general election campaign.
A Conservative spokesman said:
“We would point out that it was the Conservatives who led the campaign for free parking in Northumberland and just wonder if Scott Dickinson is lining up a new job as a traffic warden for after the election, we would be happy to provide a reference.”
A council spokesman confirmed the authority had been made aware of the incident but said a parking ticket could not be given based on photographic evidence.
“Our civil enforcement officers patrol on and off-street parking across the county.
“In order for enforcement action to be carried out our officers need to observe that a parking contravention is taking place.
“In the case of vehicles parked on double yellow lines an officer must carry out at least two minutes of observation to check if loading or unloading is taking place as this is allowed on a double yellow line.
“If there is no loading or unloading taking place then they will issue a penalty charge notice to the vehicle.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 09 Mar 2015
SNP politician Christine Grahame’s proposal to contest the Berwick constituency at next year’s General Election has been ruled out.
Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale in the Scottish Parliament, had previously expressed her willingness to be a candidate in the English seat currently held by long-serving Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith.
She felt it would secure the SNP leadership a place in any UK-wide television debates to be screened in the run-up to May. That way the SNP could claim to be standing right across the UK because it would have candidates in England as well as Scotland.
However, the idea has been rejected by the SNP executive.
Ms Grahame said:
“I am disappointed but not surprised that the SNP’s governing body has rejected my offer. I, of course, accept the ruling.”
The idea sparked debate among voters on both sides of the border.
The proposal certainly captured the imagination south of the border, with some predicting she could collect a significant numbers of votes from disaffected Berwickers.
While she was never likely to win a seat that is seen as a two-horse race between Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Liberal Democrat Julie Porksen, an SNP candidate might have been able to pick up support from voters disillusioned, most recently, by the failure of the coalition partners to commit to dualling the last 25 miles of the A1 up to Berwick.
Ms Graham’s proposal also received a favourable reaction from the North-East Party, which seeks greater devolution for Berwick and the north east of England generally.
“I have contacted Hilton Dawson, of the North-East Party, offering to assist them in their campaign if they think that would be helpful.
“But to stand in Berwick to promote devolution for the north east and to lay to rest the scare stories about Scotland cutting itself off from England in the event of independence (I am English born) I required approval from my party’s executive.”
Ms Grahame is no stranger to Berwick’s political scene.
In September she took part in the BBC’s pre-referendum ‘Scotland and Us’ debate at The Maltings, arguing that Scotland breaking away from England would be good for the area and would stimulate the case for devolution of powers to the north of England.
And in the run up to the 2008 general election she lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to “return to the fold” although politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 12 Dec 2014
SNP politician Christine Grahame insists that she is serious about contesting the Berwick seat at next year’s General Election and says she has had “loads of supportive messages”.
The level of interest can certainly be verified by the Berwick Advertiser – over 4,500 read the story online in one day and a Facebook link to it received over 3,500 likes.
Ms Grahame initially came up with the idea of contesting the Berwick seat as a possible way to get SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on to the national platform in the run up to the general election and taking part in the televised leader debates.
Last month the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky jointly wrote to David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage inviting them to take part is a series of multi-platform party leader debates. The directors of BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sent out separate invitations to the main political parties in each nation to discuss setting up general election debates.
The Berwick seat is currently held by Sir Alan Beith who is standing down in May. First elected in 1973, he is the longest serving Lib Dem MP and, in 2010, he had a majority of 2,690 over his Conservative rival.
Ms Grahame told the Advertiser:
“I await consideration by the SNP of my proposal which is a serious suggestion to reflect the similarities between the requirements of Berwick and its near neighbours in the Scottish Borders.
“I would, as always, be campaigning to win the seat but would continue in my role as MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.
“I know the good that devolution can do and would fight to bring this to Berwick and the north of England. In addition I believe we need to ensure that good cross border relations continue.
“My focus is, as always, on social justice and democracy which, of course, crosses borders.”
The Conservatives have the Berwick seat in their sights with the retirement of Sir Alan, and their candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said this week:
“I believe that all voters should have the opportunity to vote for the person and party of their choice, and I know from my own doorstep canvassing, that there are some Berwick residents whose views resonate most closely with the SNP.”
Liberal Democrat candidate, Julie Porksen, was a little less welcoming of the idea of Ms Grahame as a rival candidate:
“For the SNP to stand a candidate in the Berwick constituency in order to get into the leader’s debates is a publicity stunt and does nothing to improve the lives of those living in north Northumberland.
“The real choice facing people here in the next election is between Lib Dem action on the A1, local health services, jobs and education, or the Tories whose policies, like regional pay, would do great damage to Northumberland.”
Jeremy Purvis, a Berwick native and former MSP who lost his Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat to Ms Grahame in 2011 and now sits in the Lord as Lord Purves of Tweed, said:
“It seems a remarkable move from someone who worked so hard to become a Borders MSP,
“If anyone was looking for evidence that the SNP is an anti-English party, then sending Christine Grahame to Berwick should do the trick.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 27 Nov 2014
> The Northumberland “I’m more local than you are” cat fight rumbles on…
A would-be MP is urging her political opponents to sign a fair-fight pledge after a row over being local.
Election leaflets put out across the Berwick Constituency from Liberal Democrat candidate Julie Pörksen have sparked comment.
The latest leaflet appears to pick on Conservative candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan because she worked in London, and question her status as a Northumbrian.
Ms Trevelyan said: “I am genuinely surprised that the Lib Dems decided to try to pick a fight on my local credentials as I have been fighting for Northumberland and ‘being local,’, for nearly 20 years.
“Whereas their candidate has been working in London for a firm of spin doctors and as a member of Nick Clegg’s team for the last 20 years. She stood as a council candidate for a London council seat recently claiming that she was local to Pimlico, one of the poshest parts of central London, having been there bringing up her kids for 10 years.
“Perhaps the Lib Dems who now seem to be running things locally would like to sign a pledge for a fair-fight campaign. In the last general election, against Sir Alan Beith, we were able to have a civilised campaign where every candidate presented their plans and credentials honestly, without criticism of others.
“I came into politics because I hated all the spin peddled by Tony Blair and hoped I might be able to bring some blunt honesty to representing our patch. Over my eight years as Conservative candidate voters have always said that is what they want, so perhaps the Lib Dem camp could join me and others in signing a fair-fight pledge.”
Ms Pörksen said: “I grew up here in the Berwick constituency – many farming people know my father. One of the reasons I am so passionate about the right for free post-16 transport to college and school is because I used to get the bus to Ponteland High School in the eighties so know first-hand what it’s like growing up in rural Northumberland with poor public transport, dependent on parents – to be able to get to school should be a basic right.
“However, like many Northumbrians, the lack of local jobs forced me to move away. Moving back to Northumberland was the best thing I could ever do for my children. I want to represent the area where I grew up and which I love in Parliament to make sure future generations aren’t forced to make the same decisions I had to, that there are well paid jobs and decent opportunities here for our young people.”
> The locality question doesn’t appear to have touched Alan Beith, the current MP, who was born in Cheshire.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 08 Aug 2014