don't just build, be disruptive

Don’t Just Build – Be Disruptive

We have an opportunity to change the economy post-covid. Most people want a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable economy. Vast sums of money is going to have to be built to get the economy moving again. As Boris proclaims ‘build, build, build’ is it time to get disruptive?

There’s no doubt that Boris understands the issues that are affecting people. Unlike previous tories who always go for tax cuts at the top whenever the economy needs a boost. Boris understands that boosting the incomes of the lowest paid is the way to stock the embers of a dying economy.  There’s no trickle down from the top in the Prime Minister’s economy which has been the tory mantra since Margaret Thatcher.

Stoke the economy from the bottom

In the early days of the coronavirus crisis he boosted the personal allowance of universal credit claimants by almost £100 a month for 12 months. You give someone who receives just over £300 a month an extra £100 a month and they will spend it locally, in the local shops and businesses. 

You give someone earning £40k or £50k a year a £100 a month tax cut and they’ll probably not even notice. If they did the money would go into a savings account to pay for a foreign holiday somewhere. That’s no good the the local economy and no good for our balance of payments deficit. 

If you want to stoke an economy you go to the bottom of the income scale where people will spend it and spend it immediately in the local area.

As plans are put in place for the recovery I hope that Rishi Sunak looks to helping those at the bottom. Any government spending will have far greater impact when directly at the bottom of the income scale than when at the top. There’s going to be a lot of young people and older people (over 50) who will be most impacted job wise. They will be relying on part-time low paid work, many will be relying on inconsistent agency work. They may only get 1 or 2 days a week work.  

At the moment universal credit has a taper rate of 63%. Which means for every pound you earn while on universal credit your benefit is reduced by 63p in the £1.00. If you fall into a couple of categories such as having dependant children you are given a work allowance before the taper starts to impact. It’s about £250 a month. But if you have no dependants or are not disabled in any way then there is no allowance and the reductions start from the first pound you earn.

To get money quickly into the economy and help support workers at either end of the age scale a temporary reduction in the taper rate to 49% and a work allowance of £200 a month for everyone regardless of situation will help. People will keep more of the money they earn and even if they only do a couple of hours a week on flexible working they will benefit from that work. 

And with them being on the bottom of the income scale that money will quickly work it’s way into the wider economy rather than being squirrelled away in some dodgy tax scheme.

Where’s your Hoover Dam, Mr Johnson?

But this is an environmental and wildlife blog so less of the economy and more of the ”green potential ahead of us.

We’re at an important crossroads, people don’t want to go back to the old way of things. They want to see a more sustainable and fairer society and economy. It’s time for the government to get disruptive.

Boris’ claim of this being a ‘New Deal’ on the scale of Roosevelt’s is laughable. It’s a pittance and most of it will, judging from British past history, will not even happen. Roosevelt spent 5% or more of the US GDP each year for many years. Many of the grand projects are still making an impact on the economy and american lifestyles today. Boris Johnson plans to spend a total of 0.25% of 1 year GDP and that 0.25% will be spread over a number of years. Where is your Hoover Dam, Mr Johnson?

The reality is there is nothing of interest or noteworthy today when there could have been so much more.

Get disruptive on house building

There’s nothing really new on housing. Mr Johnson said there will be an overhaul of the planning regulations. The tories have been saying that for 40 years but nothing has happened, don’t expect it to happen this time round.

We do need disruptive policies to make housing work again. We need to build a minimum of 350,000 new homes a year for the next 20 years. It would be a lot better if we could build 500,000 new homes a year. The UK needs 280,000 new homes to stand still. It needs at least 1.5 million news homes to clear the current housing shortage backlog.  We then need 3 to 4 million more new homes to replace the slum housing that Bristian has. Most of this is in the private rental sector where landlords are more interesting in rent than in insulation, repairs and heating.

By building on such a large scale we can bring down the cost of new homes and rents. Instead of a person spending over half their wages on rent they will have more free cash in their pocket to spend in the wider economy. With new homes being built there will be extra demand for all the home appliances and furnishings. Again helping to boost the economy. 

But those homes need to be built in a sustainable and green way. We don’t have the skilled builders to deliver that amount of housing. It needs disruptive practices. We need to get on with building timber framed modular homes in factories.

Factory built, timber-framed sustainable housing

Timber framed homes can be good for the climate as they lock up carbon for a 100 years or more. homes built in factories tend to be better quality with fewer faults. They can be better insulated. It’s far easier to get factory built housing to Passivhaus standards than doing it in the field.

Building 350,000 new homes a year would be relatively easy in factories. The cost will also be substantially lower than with traditional methods. Bring timber framed housing into the mainstream in the UK will also boost our forestry industry and expand it. That can help us to replant substantial areas of the country with trees. Having a strong commercially viable forestry industry would be good for wildlife, flooding, recreation and more.

We need to move away from our traditional concrete foundations and look to pile foundations. This helps to protect the soil structure below the housing and can help to design housing to be resilient to flooding. 

We need to design these new housing estates with wildlife and nature in mind. The UK has some of the best urban planners in the world. They have worked on some of the most advanced eco-cities across the world. It’s time for the UK to offer some opportunities for them to put their skills to use here.

From Garden Cities to Nature Neighbourhoods

I remember a few years ago writing a blog on a housing development in the south that was turned down. The reason? 5 miles away there was a wood that had dormice in. The planning committee was worried that someone who bought a house on the new development might own a cat and that the cat may stray 5 miles from home and may catch a dormouse.  This can be overcome very easily.

Not everyone likes cats and dogs. I don’t, I think they’re a pain. There’s plenty like me who would be more than happy to buy or rent a home in a pet-free housing estate, especially if it is built with a nature first design.  

Let’s be disruptive, think out of the box and get those homes built in a sustainable and green manner. A factory-built timber framed house could be a carbon positive build if solar panels and other technologies such as heat exchangers are used. 

We’ve had alternative lifestyle communities living with a peace with the planet since the 1960’s. It’s time to tap into their knowledge and experience. It’s time to bring it into the mainstream.

Be bold on HS2

It’s not just with housing we need to be disruptive it’s with our public transport to. We used to lead the world in railways and heavy engineering. It’s time to stake our place back at the top table. One way is to think again about HS2. Not the need for a high-speed link but the technology we plan to use.

The dual rail technology that HS2 is going to use is 40 years out of date. New high-speed rail will revolve around monorail. We need to join China, Japan and Korea at the top table of monorail development. Let’s change HS2 to monorail.

Monorail are faster, cheaper to operate, less invasive on the environment. They can take tighter turns and deal with steeper gradients than twin tracks. They are also less likely to be held up by wet leaves and snow. 

In areas prone to flooding or snow the rail can be put on pylons. A monorail HS2 would need less trees to be felled. The rail could even go over the tree canopy of some of our rarest woodlands. That’s something which would just be too expensive with a twin track.

The trains will run quieter and quicker. The initial cost will be higher but the ongoing running costs tend to be lower.

Getting our engineers on to designing monorail will put us at the top table for the next era in train travel.

Monorail will be the main highspeed technology in the future. China has plans for a high speed goods railway from China all the way into the heart of Europe. Currently their ‘silk road’ railway is using old twin tracks and it takes about 2 weeks from Beijing to Berlin. China has plans to bring that trip down to 2 days with high speed rail – and it’s going to be a monorail.

The chance of a new sustainable era

We definitely need to build in the UK. For far too long we’ve sat staring into our stomachs and contemplated things. It’s time for action but let’s make that disruptive action. Let’s jump boldly into the next era rather than sit on the side looking at it.

Boris has disruptive people in office, Cummings is known to want to disrupt things, so does Gove. We really shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity to change the way we think and do things.


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