Shapps Watch

Our Housing Minister has been a busy boy already this year, issuing press releases every couple of days. I’m concerned he might be turning into a commie pinko hippy though.

Today’s press release and accompanying interviews were promoting self building. Remarkably he praised the Ashley Vale site in Bristol, a very, ummm, middle-class hippy development.

From memory there were a fair amount of disputes between the local community and the self builders there – which I think have now been resolved – about promises to use part of the site for a community building. I’m fairly sure one of the criticisms was the self builders were entirely unaccountable to the local community, somewhat different from Shapps rather rose tinted dreadlocks account.

Shapps also claimed self builders where the second biggest constructors of new homes in the UK. Google isn’t clear on numbers, but page 8 of this report from 2009 indicates about 20,000 a year. Certainly more than I’d expected.

Yesterday’s press release didn’t get Shapps in the news. It announced a rather dull change to conflict of interest rules for local councillors. I admire the sheer excitment of the headline “2011 will be the year councillors become community champions” compared with the tawdry reality of the content.

Shapps seems to have taken a few days off after new year – no doubt lobbying his local councillors to enjoy their new freedoms to champion a self build project in his home village. But on 31 December he made headline news with an appeal to save Ringo Starr’s birthplace from being demolished. Is Shapps really a Beatles fan or is this a sideways attack on Liverpool’s regeneration Pathfinder initiative?

It’s not clear when Shapps gave the interview published in the Observer on 31 December. The main thread was calling for permanently lower house prices. It must be my failing memory but I don’t recall Shapps – or any other Tory – calling for action when the housing bubble inflated back in 2004-05.

Something tells me Shapps won’t be calling for higher interest rates next time a housing bubble starts building. He’ll probably be too busy pushing out press releases to find time.

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