Asylum seekers and migrants
The legal battles between government and local authorities on the placement of asylum seekers and migrants continues. This week Braintree District Council has told a High Court judge that the government’s plan to house asylum seekers at a former RAF station is not justified, with barrister Wayne Beglan describing the proposals as “a flagrant breach of planning control”. The Home Office wants to accommodate up to 1,700 adult male migrants at MDP Wethersfield in Essex. The council has applied for an injunction to prevent the development. A judge has adjourned a one-day hearing and said a decision could be reached on Friday.
Last week the Daily Telegraph reported on how West Lindsey District Council is fighting Home Office plans to house asylum seekers at RAF Scampton, the former home of the Dambusters’ squadron and the Red Arrows. The council has designated the site as an “opportunity area” in the new local plan for central Lincolnshire, with the council having negotiated a £300m deal with developers to preserve the base as an aviation and aerospace hub with a new national heritage site – which could leave the Home Office in breach of planning rules if it moves forward.
At the same time the government is planning to use changes to the planning system to allow crown properties such as disused military bases to be used to accommodate asylum seekers without the approval of local planning authorities, and without lengthy legal challenges. A clause in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which heads to the Lords next week, will streamline development on crown land if the Housing Secretary considers it a matter of “national importance” and “urgency”. A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it expects the powers “will be used sparingly and only where there is an urgent need and it is in the wider public interest”.
This week the Telegraph reports that the government is turning hotels into “longer-term”
Finance, the economy and devolution
On Wednesday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that inflation remains at over 10% but has fallen slightly from 10.4% in February to 10.1% in March. The Bank of England predicts that inflation will ease in the coming months. Chief economist Huw Pill said the Bank expects Consumer Price Index inflation to fall in Q2, “as large rises in energy prices from last year drop out of the annual comparison”.
The LGIU England policy round-up for March highlights the trailblazer devolution deals for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands and the English devolution accountability framework.
A new LGIU briefing, focussed on the detail of the Spring Budget, can be read here.
Craig Westwood, director of communications at the Electoral Commission, has told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme that extra polling station staff will be brought in at the local elections to help manage the introduction of the government’s new voter ID rules. While extensive planning has been carried out, Mr Westwood said, public awareness of the new rules – which require voters to show photo ID to vote – currently stands at 76%. “There will be more staff”, he said, “Some polling stations, particularly larger ones where there are more people who will be registered in that area, will have greeters – people outside the polling station who can just make sure people are definitely aware of the ID requirement.”
The LGIU briefing on elections issues for local authorities is here and a briefing on the new voter ID laws can be read here. We’ve also provided international insight on how councils are supporting and recruiting poll workers in the face of rising tensions from voter ID to misinformation.
Lasts month the LGIU launched its series of election support briefings.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the government’s plans to launch a new recycling strategy, unifying waste and recycling collection processes across the country, have been delayed until after the local elections due to fears of a backlash from Conservative voters. While the government is understood to be planning to introduce a new system that will see households expected to sort waste into seven different containers to avoid contaminating recycling, some councils have warned that the plans would be unworkable and lead to an increase in street clutter. A district council source told the paper: “It could be counterproductive. The notion that there are environmental benefits from having potentially seven lorries on the roads whereas there was one previously, is dubious.”
Environment minister Rebecca Pow has announced that grants totalling £775,000 are to be distributed to 21 local authorities to help them develop new schemes to combat fly-tipping. Councils taking part in the grant scheme will have six months to roll out their schemes, and will be expected to share information on how they work in practice and help other local authorities to develop similar schemes.
The Woodland Trust has revealed plans for a decades-long programme to plant 100,000 trees in the Yorkshire Dales, restoring woodland to the 561-hectare valley of Snaizeholme and providing habitats for a range of threatened species, including woodland birds and black grouse.
The House of Lords has narrowly backed a ban on the opening of new coal mines. In a defeat for the government, peers supported the Liberal Democrat-led move by 197 votes to 194. The enforced change to the Energy Bill comes after Communities Secretary Michael Gove approved, in December, what is set to be the first new coal mine in the UK in 30 years on the edge of Whitehaven in Cumbria. The government also suffered a series of other defeats over the bill, including peers demanding steps to increase the energy efficiency of housing and business premises in a drive to curb household bills and meet climate targets. In addition, the upper chamber backed measures aimed at supporting the growth of community and small-scale energy schemes and to force the energy regulator Ofgem to have regard to meeting the UK’s net zero emissions target.
Housing and planning
A new study by the National Housing Federation (NHF) has revealed that more than 2m children in England are living in overcrowded accommodation with little or no personal space, while some 300,0000 share beds with family members. More than a quarter of parents living in overcrowded homes questioned by researchers said they regularly had to sleep in a living room, bathroom, hallway or kitchen. The study also found that ethnic minority households are three times more likely to be overcrowded than white households.
Private landlords in England are being given £1.6bn annually in housing benefit in return for providing “non-decent” homes in what London Mayor Sadiq Khan has described as a scandal. The capital is the worst affected region, with £500m in welfare money going on privately rented homes that are in disrepair, cold, damp, lacking modern facilities or do not meet health and safety standards, according to new analysis by City Hall. The research also says over £250m a year in welfare is being spent on non-decent homes in the North West, and £173m in the East of England. An additional £7.3bn is being paid in private rent annually by tenants to landlords for non-decent homes.
A number of backbench Conservative MPs have criticised plans announced by Michael Gove that will require property owners to seek planning permission to operate holiday lets. Simon Clarke, Mr Gove’s predecessor as Housing Secretary, described the move as “anti-business”, and said too many government interventions in the housing market “stem from our failure to build enough homes”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, talking to GB News, similarly attacked the move as “unnecessarily regulatory”. Elsewhere, the Times notes research finding that, in May last year, one in 67 coastal properties were listed on Airbnb, up from one in 105 in 2019 – with 16,353 active holiday rentals in Cornwall alone, more properties than would be needed to clear Cornwall Council’s entire housing waiting list as of 2021.
A recent LGIU briefing on second homes and holiday lets can be read here.
A recent Global Local briefing on housing shortages can be read here.
Meanwhile, Lloyds Banking Group and homelessness charity Crisis have joined forces to create a not-for-profit lettings agency in a bid to help tackle affordable homes shortages. The two-year partnership will draw on the success of Scotland-based social enterprise lettings agency, Homes for Good, which was founded in 2013 to improve conditions in the private rented sector for tenants and landlords and to support people on low incomes to access quality homes in the private rental sector. The new agency will aim to match and support both tenants and landlords and avoid poor and exclusionary practices – such as asking people who are homeless to provide rent in advance.
Future planning decisions about onshore wind turbines should be taken out of the hands of local authorities in England and Wales, government advisors have said. Instead, onshore wind should be treated as “nationally significant”, the National Infrastructure Commission recommended. This would allow major schemes to bypass local planning requirements. There has been an effective moratorium on onshore wind development since 2016. Guidance on where onshore turbines can be built mean very few new schemes have gained approval, despite the need to shift UK power generation away from fossil fuels and towards renewables to meet 2050 climate targets.
The LGIU housing and planning update for April can be read here.
Children and education
Children’s minister Claire Coutinho has announced £10m of funding that will support short breaks for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and support for thousands of respite care places to give their parents time off. The funding will be distributed to 13 local authorities. Ms Coutinho said the scheme “gives some families who sometimes have very difficult circumstances themselves just that little bit of a break that they need so that they can also keep going”.
A PA news agency survey of local authorities suggests that a higher proportion of children are gaining places at their preferred primary school in many areas of England. As of Monday afternoon, 36 of 60 councils in England, which provided comparable data, saw a rise in the proportion of children securing their preferred school compared with 2022. Meanwhile, 24 councils have seen a decline in the proportion of families securing their top choice. Separate figures collated by London Councils, which represents London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London, show that 88.57% of pupils in the capital received an offer from their first preference, up from 87.93% last year. This was amid a 2.67% drop in applications compared to last year. The councils have warned that the reduction in demand for primary school places could impact funding of individual schools as the majority of school revenue funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis.
The Government’s child safeguarding advisers have urged a “major overhaul” of the system designed to protect severely disabled young people in residential care after “horrific and shocking” abuse revelations at a string of homes run by a private operator. The child safeguarding practice review panel recommendations follow its earlier report on the systematic abuse and neglect of more than 100 young people at three facilities in Doncaster run by the Hesley Group.
According to a survey by the NSPCC and the teaching union NASUWT, more than 90% of UK teachers have seen an increase in pupils suffering neglect or abuse, with as many as 97% stating they had seen an increase in safeguarding concerns since the onset of the pandemic. The survey of 8,329 teachers also found that 87% have seen an increase in neglect referrals, while 84% have seen a rise in emotional abuse referrals. Two-thirds of teachers have seen more physical abuse referrals, while half saw an increase in sexual abuse referrals.
See the LGIU briefing on the latest Ofsted annual report here.
Health and social care
A new report compiled by researchers at Warwick Business School, University College London and the Centre for Health and the Public Interest think tank has found that many care home staff worked extra unpaid hours during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep homes from collapsing – while the government had failed to plan for “highly predictable” damage to the care sector’s viability in the event of a pandemic. While £2.1bn of public money was injected into the care sector at the height of the pandemic, the report found that much of this funding did not reach the front lines and ended in 2022 while, in the first year of the pandemic, 122 large for-profit care home firms increased the dividends paid to their shareholders by 11% compared to the previous year.
A recent LGIU briefing on the role of councils in integrated care systems can be read here:
The latest monthly round-up of health and social care issues can be read here.
Sport, arts and culture
Local authorities are constantly having to balance the social and cultural benefits of hosting events in local parks with the damage that such events can cause to public spaces in the longer term.
The Tough Mudder event has been banned from Finsbury Park in London after locals complained it left grass churned up and tracks imprinted in the ground. Tottenham MP, David Lammy, described the damage as an “environmental disgrace” and The Friends of Finsbury Park charitable trust said it was “devastated”. Haringey Council deputy leader, Mike Hakata, said: “Tough Mudder events have taken place successfully for four years now, enabling thousands of people young and old to enjoy the outdoors and improve their health and wellbeing, at the same time as raising significant funds for charitable causes. The impact of the event this year has caused several weeks’ worth of damage to the park and, as a result, we have had to rethink our approach. To prevent the risk of this repeating, we have decided that this event will not be held in Finsbury Park going forward.”
The new Cultural Sector spring round-up can be read here.
Trevor Holden, managing director of Broadland District Council, stage name T-Dawg, has recorded a rap video, posted to the councils’ social media channels, to remind voters to bring ID to their polling station.
The video is posted on the Broadland District Council Facebook page.