Today’s first letter, by our contributor “A Roving Reporter”, addresses the outlook for the EU in the wake of the coming General Elections in various important member states:

Sir,

In my recent article, I drew attention to the parlous state of the Euro, and consequently the EU itself – and we see a succession of planned and possible elections.

There is a critical Dutch general election on 15 March (the Ides!)  We’re told that the far right Party for Freedom is on course to win the most seats, and the colourful Geert Wilders has pledged to quit both the Euro and the EU if he gets into power. While the Netherlands is a tiny state, it was an original member of what is now the EU, and historically has been one of the most ardently pro-European members of it. This is what makes this particular election so exciting.

Then we have two rounds of the Presidential election on 23 April and 7 May to look forward to, and the lady to watch is, of course, the straight-talking Marine Le Pen. She has promised to take France out of the Euro and hold a referendum on EU membership. Her party, the Front National, is also the one to keep an eye on in the French Legislative elections on 11 and 18 June.

On Sunday, 24 September the Germans have their Federal election. What’s to watch out for is the extent to which AfD (Alternative for Germany) impacts on matters, for  that party is heavily anti-Euro, as well.

The final planned election in the EU this year comprises the Portuguese local elections scheduled for some time in the autumn and, of course, there may also be one or two unplanned “snap” elections in Italy and, less probably, in Spain.

In Italy, the big question is the extent to which Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement can gain any sort of influence, for they too are heavily Eurosceptic. The comparable Spanish outfit is Podemos.

Given all this, some commentators are now forecasting the probable demise of the Euro, and maybe even the collapse of the EU itself; both events are indeed perfectly possible. My guess, however, is that the EU will survive in some form but the Euro could evaporate – suddenly and unexpectedly, and at any time . . .

2017 could well prove a very interesting year.

Respectfully, A Roving Reporter

The following letter by our reader Roger Arthur looks at Planning – an issue of importance to all branches fielding candidates in the forthcoming local elections:

Sir,

The Government continues to demand that councils maintain house build-out rates, to match population growth. But of course it is Developers (not councils) who build and they will only do that when they expect there to be enough buyers around with the money.

Indeed, as we have seen, developers often don’t build immediately they get planning permission and at one time (in around 2013) there were around 8,000 dwellings in Horsham District with planning permission, which were not being built.

To counter that (land banking) the Government proposes to have planning permission withdrawn, if developers do not build within a given time. But developers won’t build what is unlikely to be sold quickly and will surely move to a JIT (just-in-time) strategy, deferring planning applications, until market conditions are favorable to them.

As a result, 5 year house building targets in Local Plans will still not be met, leaving unelected Planning Inspectors to find in favour of inappropriate speculative, applications. The UK population may be increasing by around 500,000 pa, but real salaries average little higher than before the recession, in around 2007. Developers are far more interested in that, than in population growth or in “local need”.

So demanding that local councils must meet housing targets driven by population growth is misplaced, when first time buyers are approaching 40 years of age, when average house prices are around 8 times average salary in some areas and when personal debt levels remain high. If councils fail to adjust their targets for such economic factors, then they leave themselves exposed to having decisions overridden.

In the “affordable” range (including social houses) developers typically do not build more than around 35% of the total. That is largely why there are over 400,000 families on UK housing registers, with a 10 year building backlog.

Since it costs many £1,000s pa (around £15,000 pa in Horsham District) to house a homeless family, there must be a better way. Surely we have to find regular capital funding to restore the social housing stock, while seeking to limit the rate of inward migration.

Taking land owned by councils (ie the taxpayer) might provide a short-term fix, but it does not make for a sustainable strategy. Only the direct funding of affordable housing will do that in the long term, but once again Government has side stepped that reality.

Respectfully, Roger Arthur

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