Azara Blog: March 2012 archive complete

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Date published: 2012/03/12

David Cameron completely messes up housing policy (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

People in England are being offered help to climb onto or up the housing ladder as the government's mortgage indemnity scheme launches.

Building firms and taxpayers will be co-guarantors on new homes bought by existing or first-time buyers.

The government hopes the NewBuy scheme - supported by Barclays, NatWest and Nationwide - will help people to borrow up to 95% of the value of new homes.

Critics argue the scheme is just a ruse to help the construction industry.

Under NewBuy, the builder pays 3.5% of the sale price into a special account held by the lending bank for seven years.

Taxpayers will provide additional guarantees of 5.5% but that money will be called upon only in the event of a major property crash.

The scheme is being unveiled on the same day Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the extension of the right-to-buy discount to up to £75,000 for social housing tenants.

Under that scheme, those who have had five years in a council house could receive a 35% discount, with an extra 1% for each added year up to a maximum of £75,000.

Tenants in flats will get 50% off after five years, with 2% added yearly. The government says the cash raised from the sales will be put towards new "affordable homes for rent".

It is Economics 101 that any government subsidy of mortgages (which this guarantee effectively is) will just increase house prices, so that in the end everyone is worse off, except for developers. This mortgage guarantee does not even pretend to be anything else. House prices are damagingly high in the UK and the government needs to find ways to manage a decline, not artificially keep them high.

The council house discounts are far, far worse. The government is saying that rather than buying a flat, people might as well arrange their circumstances so as to be eligible to move into a council flat, and then, hey presto, after only five years rent they have managed to buy a flat for half price. Needless to say, this ought to irritate the hell out of anyone who has had to pay, say, 15 years of a mortgage before half owning a flat. The house discount is not much better. But Cameron has obviously decided to go for the same cynical ploy as Thatcher did all those years ago, where those who benefit from this undeserved free gift are grateful to the Tories, and everyone else (who are in effect paying for it) just shrugs their shoulders. Needless to say, with these huge discounts, there is no way that the government will be able to come even close to replacing the lost social housing, without a huge government injection of extra cash.

Date published: 2012/03/11

Catholic Church in Britain proves once again it is medieval (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The government's plans for gay marriage have been criticised by the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, said the plans were a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right".

He said the idea of redefining marriage, which David Cameron has said he supports, would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world".

He said it was wrong to deliberately deprive a child of a mother or father.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal O'Brien said: "Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

"Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father."

He added: "Imagine for a moment that the government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that 'no one will be forced to keep a slave'.

"Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right?"

O'Brien completely embarrasses himself. His "slave" analogy is as ridiculous as it is offensive. Guess what, slaves are the ones who have their human rights abused, not slave owners if and when they lose the "right" to have slaves. It's not clear if O'Brien is claiming that somehow his human rights would be violated if there was gay marriage, but if so this is just more of the pathetic whining that religious leaders have indulged themselves in lately, trying to portray themselves as victims, and it completely trivialises the phrase "human rights".

The entire civilised world will eventually have some form of "gay marriage" and the idea that Cameron is bringing "shame" to the UK is as ridiculous as it is offensive. Indeed, the UK already has a form of "gay marriage", it is just called something else, civil partnership, to keep religious bigots like O'Brien from becoming hysterical. Funnily enough, the UK is not in a state of shame over civil partnerships.

And civil partnerships already mean that a child does not have to have a (female) mother and a (male) father, not to mention that many children are raised by single parents. So O'Brien's comment about this is again as ridiculous as it is offensive.

The one thing the government should have done differently is just to say that the government will only recognise civil partnerships in future, both for homosexual and heterosexual people, and that marriage will become purely a religious ceremony which will have no legal standing. That way, bigoted organisations like the Catholic Church could continue with their own medieval view of the world, and nobody else would have to care one way or the other.

Cyclists might have to pay a whole pound to park at Cambridge train station (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

A debate has broken out over whether cyclists should pay to use a new £2.5 million bike park at Cambridge station.

Rail operator Greater Anglia yesterday confirmed a 3,000-space bike park would be modelled on the CyclePoint in Leeds, where cyclists pay £1 a day for storage in CCTV-monitored racks.

Monthly and annual tickets are also available for £15 and £120 respectively at the Yorkshire facility, which is run by Greater Anglia's Dutch parent company, Abellio.

Many cyclists predict a similar payment scheme will come into force in Cambridge - although a spokeswoman told the News yesterday that there were "no current plans to charge for cycling parking" here.

Shaun Noble, of St Matthew's Gardens, Petersfield, said introducing any charges would be "outrageous".

Mr Noble, who rides to the station three or four times a week, said: "It's greedy developers hitting eco-friendly travellers.

"The people who park at the station are hard-pressed commuters who are already paying fares way above inflation to travel to London and other places.

Gee whiz, a whole pound.

Cyclists unfortunately believe that the rest of society should subsidise their life style. Cyclists should of course pay for being able to park in this new very expensive special purpose bike park, it would be "outrageous" if anything else happened.

Although travelling the short distance to the train station by cycle can be deemed to be "eco-friendly", travelling by train (or by car) to London is not eco-friendly, and the latter dominates the calculation of the environmental damage that the overall journey represents, no matter how one gets to the train station. Living near where you work is "eco-friendly", living over fifty miles from where you work is not.

The first law of environmentalism is that you should pay for a service you are using, otherwise you are externalising costs onto the rest of society. This should apply not only to cycle parking but also to the (hugely subsidised) train journey.

Robin Page wants to turn the clock back (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Rural campaigner Robin Page has called for a referendum over the development of South Cambridgeshire.

The former presenter of One Man and His Dog, who is chairman of the Barton-based Countryside Restoration Trust, has asked Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, for the poll.

Mr Page said development in the area was "totally unsustainable economically, socially and environmentally".

He added: "The Government boasts that its Localism Bill gives power back to local communities.

"If that is really the case, give the people of South Cambridgeshire a vote, a referendum, on the mayhem that is being imposed on them.

"The green belt is being violated, the quality of life for thousands of people is being destroyed, and the proposed developments of Trumpington Meadows, Hauxton and Northstowe have nothing to do with local need or affordable housing.

"They are being done to meet Government targets - top down Government - the exact opposite of what the Government claims to be doing."

Page is a typical hypocritical NIMBY. It is ok for him to live in low density South Cambs, but it is evidently not ok for anyone else to be allowed in. The Tory government has already unfortunately indicated that it will allow "local" people somehow to decide (possibly just via councils) what development is allowed. This will mean that, surprise, rich people like Page will indeed be able to keep ordinary people out of their rural area, all the while insisting that their life style be subsidised by urban people. The developments that Page is complaining about were already approved under the previous government and it would be stupid beyond belief to stop them in their tracks now. Indeed, the development of Trumpington Meadows has already started. No doubt people like Page will be able to stop future developments in South Cambs, as long as the Tory government continues in its current guise, where rich NIMBYs are allowed to completely control the planning system, even more than they currently do.

George Osborne, the cynical political hack (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Changes to child benefit are "hugely popular" with most voters, a Treasury source has told the BBC.

The government will remove the benefit from households in which someone earns more than £42,475 in January 2013.

The source said only 15% of taxpayers would be hit, and polling suggested 77% of voters backed the move.

What a surprise, the N% are happy for the (100-N)% to lose a subsidy (or equivalently, in effect, to pay more taxes). This is hardly a sane measure of how government policy should be determined. It is unfortunate that the Treasury stoops to such cynical commentary, and it is unfortunate that George Osborne spends all his time tailoring Treasury decision making for short term political headlines, rather than for long term sensible economic planning. The UK is in a serious financial situation, and needs a grown up in charge of the Treasury.

The real problem with the child benefit policy is that it introduces a ridiculous > 100% marginal tax rate at a magic threshold (currently set to be the higher rate tax threshold, although that might change). Everybody knows this is ridiculous, except perhaps George Osborne.

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