Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Another letter from my mate Matt

On 12 May 2015, four days before my 71st birthday, I was called in by my doctor. Here is what I blogged at the time:

Yesterday morning I went to the Derby Road Health Centre and left knowing that a chest x-ray on 8 May had shown 'established lung fibrosis'. The enormity of the news became clear within hours. Whilst I now wait my first appointment at the QMC and tests that will tell me what kind of lung fibrosis I have and how advanced it is, the web has already told me and Susan some things. Most importantly, there is no known treatment, that it will get progressively worse and that average life expectancy after diagnosis is three years... read more...

In the event I went to the City Hospital Lung Assessment Unit five days later, where they picked up that I also had a heart problem, so I ended up having two scans, one of which led to open heart surgery in February 2017. By August 2015 I was diagnosed with 'Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis' (see NHS website). Back then, as I wrote at the time, the average life expectancy following diagnosis was '3 years'. Visiting the NHS website again for the first time since then things have changed and the NHS is more optimistic about the prognosis.

To date I have had no symptoms that I haven't been able to manage and I refuse to be defined by my condition excepting that I haven't been to the theatre or cinema since my diagnosis. I also avoid meetings and know from personal experience what can happen if I allow my vanity to get the better of me — on the two occasions it has I have been ill enough to need antibiotics for a month. Worst of all I have to avoid public transport during the 'flu season and for a bus lover like me this is the hardest thing of all.

There are different types of pulmonary fibrosis and mine includes the word 'idiopathic' because its cause is unknown. I've never smoked or, to the best of my knowledge, worked in conditions where there were lots of particles floating about, except for my first job from 1959 until 1963. I mention this because a BBC News report says people like me are about to be joined by some of those recovering from Coronavirus. I will call it Covid-19 Pulmonary Fibrosis. Anyone going in search of what this means may well see the condition as terminal and it is but there are good grounds for staying positive. I have another blog, the 2minuteclub, in which I write about living with PF and what you can do.

Living in Nottingham we are lucky to have one of the major centres for respiratory disease care and research, thanks, I'm sad to say, to coal mining (the other centres are Sheffield and London). My last blog was in March, just after I got an email from Nottingham City Care, who provide 7 day home support (a service I have yet to use but they stay in touch) for people with a lung condition. As a result I have been in self-isolation with Susan since 12 March 2020, which will be 15 weeks come tomorrow. You can probably understand now why I fall into the 'clinically extremely vulnerable' category and have been 'shielding'.

Today I went out in the car on my own for the first in months (Susan usually drives) to collect a prescription from the pharmacy I use (when did we stop calling them 'chemists'?) despite the fact that it is just a 2 minute walk door-to-door. The problem is that, apart from a few yards, the walk is along a narrow footpath, so we have been driving there instead.

I have seen good neighbours at a distance during the 15 weeks, who have been shopping for us. Hallam's on the High Road and Life Essentials on Wollaton Road close to the Nat West Bank have been fantastic delivering stuff we need. Sainsburys took until 3 weeks ago to accept an order, despite the supermarket's corporate management claiming that folk like us were a priority. 

Today I received a letter about what folk like Susan and me need to continue doing and what we can do differently signed by 'Matt' (Hancock) and a 'Robert Jenrick'. If Matt did come to our house we'd invite him to the garden for a cup of tea and one of my homemade current buns. He's the only Government minister I feel remotely sorry for. He's clearly been set up to be the fall guy. He has managed a shambles, for that is what it has been, to the best of his ability, given that the rest of the Government has been determined to turn the epidemic to its advantage. I am in no doubt that the NHS will be as good as dismantled come the 2024 general election and my generation will have played a large part in bringing it about by giving their votes to the Conservatives. See this link. Here is a table from the YouGov analysis the links to:

I am in the 70+ Group and among 75 and overs (I'm 76) where the Labour vote falls to c.10%. I look at fellow oldies and want to shout 'selfish bloody morons' knowing that 67% of them voted Conservative! The point of all this is that we are stuck with the Conservatives and I will consider myself very lucky if I get to vote in another general election. I will be 80 if I do.

When I was a Young Socialist back in my teens older people would laugh and say 'You'll grow out of it' and the YouGov chart above shows they were right.

I doubt if the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic will teach us anything. Workers across a wide range of activities, as well as the NHS, deserve to be recognised in their pay-packets and we should feel free to spend on public services because the money exists. Austerity was a lie sold to us by the last Labour government and their successors, remembering that Liberals were enthusiastic partners with Conservatives in continuing what Labour started and they will all sell us the same lie again. It will be Labour's big test. Keir Starmer will have to choose sides. Get it wrong and the Party will split again. I seemed to have spent my political life, which began when I joined the YS in 1960 fighting cuts, rejoicing when the tide turned, as it occasionally has.

If the Conservatives look like losing their majority come near the next general election in 2024, they will happily cut Scotland adrift, so Labour will have no allies in the next Parliament. If I was in Scotland I would have voted for independence last time and would do so again. The Labour Party as we know it is past its sell-by date — which is why I support the English Labour Network and their analysis of the Party's future. I will end with this quote from their website. Ponder it. I just hope you recognise the truth when you see it:

The English Labour Network’s response to the Labour Together report into the party’s 2019 election defeat

The English Labour Network welcomes the publication of the Labour Together report on Labour’s defeat at the 2019 General Election, and the inclusion of our submission as an annex. The report rightly identified failures including an abject party leadership presiding over an incoherent Brexit position and a manifesto lacking credibility, while noting Labour’s long term decline in support in towns, from older voters and from people who left education aged 16.

Yet there are some significant omissions in the report, most notably the failure to critically examine the political challenges faced in England and voters who identify clearly as English. The English Labour Network submitted detailed evidence showing how Labour’s defeat and the Tory vote surge took place almost entirely amongst voters who identified as more English than British. Yet the 152 page report makes no acknowledgement of the struggles Labour is having with this group.

These issues should not have been brushed under the carpet. Labour has failed to engage with English identity since devolution to Scotland and Wales, leaving the space to be filled by the right, and has paid the electoral price.

Labour’s response must to be to engage with English people, English identity and English political issues. We should start by saying ‘England’ when we mean England, by delivering an English Manifesto at the next election to sit alongside the Welsh and Scottish manifestos, and by developing a new plan for the governance of England – the most centralised nation in Europe.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

22 days and counting...

I got the message to self-isolate a week earlier than most (because I have pulmonary fibrosis) and enjoyed a final outing (not that I knew it at the time) with Judy Sleath, Chair of Beeston's Civic Society, enjoying a Leek Pastie followed by a slice of Orange & Cardamon Cake in Houlia's DoughMother artisan bakery on Central Avenue in Beeston Fields. I am already missing my weekly visits, where I get to write short stories on paper bags Houlia gives me with my coffee.

There are tens of thousands of others like me blogging and apping about Corvid 19 and how they are managing self-isolation (for the next three months at least in my case). My gut tells me I'll be lucky if I get to hug or kiss my close friends in person this side of October. Susan is self-isolating with me, so I do have good company and we have had years of spending lots of time together, so I won't go mad, of that I am sure.

I see little point in doing a running commentary on self-isolation, so I will limit myself to the occasional comment. Right now I want to share my 'NHS Rainbow' with you, which is up in our front room window:

What we need after this Cov 19 thing is over is a caring society which reflects the values of the NHS across all that we do as a society and a country. 

On Thursday just gone I was taken by the appearance of rainbows in windows and I had no idea as to their significance until they got a mention on the BBC News website, and that the rainbows began with children drawing them as a way of saying 'thank you' to the NHS.

Two of my neighbours had rainbows in their front windows (one a child, the other a grown-up), so I decided to join them with my own creation. I sent it to the Facebook Beeston Update website and they kindly posted it. I implied it wasn't political but of course it is because I have added the words 'A NHS Society' and if we got such a thing it would be as good as a revolutionary change from the corporate capitalist society we have now. I have been a Libertarian Socialist since 1958, when I was 14 and a class discussion, prompted by a book we were all given called Our Democracy. It was written by a Rowland W Purton, as he says in his Preface, 'primarily for the final year of the Secondary Modern School and (for) use as a basic text book for all streams'. Part history, part contemporary, part discussion, it was used to prepare those of us leaving school at 15 for the world outside.


I have decided there will be no continuation of this post. Other things to say instead...

For my 76th birthday I have to submit a new photo for my driving licence. I know one thing to be true in these troubled times. Our bathroom mirror does lie!

A P.S.

Susan wasn't happy with my selfie, so she took another picture of me. I have to admit I look less grumpy, perhaps more resigned to my fate.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Last night the Council, all in a good cause, launched a year long landlord tsunami on Beeston

Last night, Broxtowe Borough Council's Jobs and Economy Committee made the decision to work towards the introduction of a Article 4 (planning) Direction regulating the number of HMOs in all of Beeston Central ward and and parts of the other three Beeston wards (see my Beeston council tax exemptions map below). Click on map to enlarge). 

For Beeston Central ward's two Labour councillors, Lynda and Pat Lally, this was a moment they had been working towards for a good few years and Lynda's concern about the fact that it was going to take a year to do was understandable because she and her husband Pat were only too fully aware of the landlord tsunami they were about to unleash on Beeston. Assuming the Government grants the Article 4 Direction, as from 27 February 2021 ALL HMOs in the mapped area will be regulated and subject to planning permission and in some parts of Beeston no more will be allowed — hence the landlord tsunami as they rush to beat the deadline.

Lynda Lally thanked Beeston Civic Society for their support over the years and it is under their banner that I have done my mapping and report writing. The maps below are maps I have produced for the Civic Society although the opinions expressed are my own.

The Borough's Planning Officer made the point that even though the Jobs and Economy Committee was about to make a momentous decision, there was no guarantee that they would be successful — the Government could decide to reject the Article 4 Direction application because there was evidence which suggested there would be a surplus of student accommodation across Greater Nottingham in four years time as more student accommodation blocks are built. Anyone who lived through Lenton's takeover by private landlords will tell you that this was a story told more than once in Dunkirk and Lenton as the (Labour) City Council delayed and delayed the introduction of an Article 4 Direction. When they did it was too late! 

As another councillor pointed out, it is a pity that the focus is on students when there are a good many non-student HMOs in Beeston. As I have repeatedly said in this blog since February 2015, when I produced and posted my first maps and tables, the data for non-student households doesn't exist. The nearest you can get to tracking them is via the electoral roll. However many overseas nationals, despite having a vote in local elections, choose not to register now that voter registration is voluntary. 

The fact that my registered HMO maps are able to show non-student HMOs is because I cross-reference student council tax exemption postcodes with postcodes listed in Broxtowe's HMO Register against addresses. I know how the Lynda and Pat feel, given the former Conservative led Borough Council showed no interest in what was a problem and this was echoed by the Borough's Planning Office the last time I heard him speak. Last night he was whistling a slightly different tune but his words leave me suspecting his commitment to the task the Jobs and Economy Committee set him last night. We shall see. 

Two of the Conservatives on the Committee abstained, one voted against. I'm afraid I don't know their names but the one who spoke sounded like a spokesman for those landlords who will actively oppose the Article 4 Direction regulation HMOs in Beeston whilst buying up all the properties they can. I suspect the next 12 months will see a good few families leaving Beeston as they take advantage in the house price surge which is hitting Beeston already — my own house has, according to Zoopla, has added over £100,000 to its value since we bought it 5 years ago. Coincidence or what but we are about to get a 6 bed HMO at the entrance to the cut-de-sac on which we live. Once an Article 4 Direction is in place, house prices will fall dramatically, simply because the landlord feeding frenzy will be over. Family homeowners know this. 2020 is going to be the year to sell in Beeston if you want to get a (very) good price.

How do I know all this? Quite simply, I lived in Lenton for 35 years and sold after Nottingham City Council introduced, very belatedly, introduced its own Article 4 Direction regulating all HMOs — which is why I spent the past five years describing the private landlord take over of Beeston as 'Lentonisation' (read my note below).

For now, what happens will be in the capable hands of Liberal Democrat Councillor Tim Hallam, the Jobs and Economy Committee Chair, who was, effectively, given delegated power to oversee the process of ensuring that an Article 4 (HMO) Direction order covering much of Beeston gets Government approval and is introduced a year from now. I am in no doubt that he has a tough fight on his hands. I wish him well.

He also made the point (which I have heard him make before) that Stapleford could well do with a few more students.

For now, here are the 4 pages which made up my note to the Jobs and Economy Committee last night with the support of Beeston & District Civic Society:

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Broxtowe Borough Council and Beeston student council tax exemption data summary based on Council data as at November 2019 and how it relates to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

As some of you will know I have been tracking Broxtowe Borough Council Tax exemption data since 2015, using Freedom of Information requests. The Council have always been helpful, as they have on this occasion. Personal health issues have prevented me from sharing this latest data for 2019 with you earlier and, even now, it is not as detailed as my 2018 maps and tables.

What has prompted me to create new maps is a note I prepared for the Beeston and District Civic Society meeting about Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) on Friday just gone. I do not know the outcome of the meeting. Below is a copy of my note to the meeting, followed by two maps I have since created using data I have extracted from the November 2019 spreadsheet I received from Broxtowe Borough Council. The data includes every postcode in the Borough and this would make a very long list, so if your postcode does not appear in the list below it means that there are no council tax exempt properties shown against your postcode.

It is important to appreciate that each pin on the map represents a postcode location – NOT the number of council tax exemptions. For those you need to check the postcode spreadsheet below the maps. 

NOTE: I screen captured the lists - hence 'reenshot' covering a few postcodes. I have entered the missing postcodes at the bottom of each list page.

Finally, the maps do no more than hint at the extent of HMOs in Broxtowe, especially Beeston. There are many than my maps show. I suggested a methodology to the Council in April 2015 which would have enabled them to compile better estimates than I could, which included using the electoral roll as well as recording ALL HMOs regardless of the number of tenants.

Click on the text, maps and lists below to enlarge:


Students Discounts for single council tax properties will be a mix of lodgers and adult students living with a single parent/relative. Surnames may also be different and there will be some discounts with three different names that are actually families and not HMOs — hence my pointing out that Broxtowe Council is better placed than me to examine this data in more detail than me.

Missing postcode is NG8 2RW.

Missing postcodes are NG9 1AJ and NG9 1AL.

Missing postcode is NG9 1JX.

Missing postcodes are NG9 2EA and NG9 2EF.

Missing postcode is NG9 2JD.

Missing postcode is NG9 2WA.

Missing postcode is NG9 4FH.

Missing postcode is NG9 2LE.

Missing postcode is NG9 8GP.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Beeston and Broxtowe HMOs – what was said for me.

Last there was a meeting about HMOs in Beeston and Broxtowe at the Pearson Centre which I didn't attend but my HMO maps was on display, so I was present, well sort of.  Judy Sleath asked me to write a few words about my maps in case anyone asked. She telephoned this morning to tell me that she had read them out and that I should perhaps share what I gave her on this blog, so vanity appealed to, here is what I wrote:

My apologies for not being able to attend this meeting but I hope the 2 maps I have compiled can speak on my behalf but, just in case, here are a few words I have written to help explain my interest in HMOs and council tax exemptions.

It was back in 2015 that I submitted my first Freedom of Information request to Broxtowe Borough Council for information about HMOs and council tax exemptions.

In 2014 I had attended a meeting at Nether Street School about the growing problem of HMOs on Lower Road. I was invited because I lived in Lenton at the time and well aware of what happens when landlords are allowed to turn family homes into HMOs without any monitoring. The result was the wholesale taking over of neighbouhoods, such as the New Lenton Conservation Area where I lived,

My wife and I moved to Lenton in 1979 and by the time we left for Beeston in November 2014 95% of the 105 houses in the Conservation Area were HMOs and there was an Article 4 Direction in place banning any more HMOs in Lenton.

From conversations with Beeston residents and activists it was clear that, whilst there was concern about what was happening, Broxtowe Borough Council did not see a problem — hence my Freedom of Information request and the subsequent publishing of the data I received.

I repeated the request in 2017, 2018 and quite recently for 2019. I missed 2016 because I was seriously ill. On each occasion Council staff have been attentive and very supportive, and they continue to be.

All the information I have received has been placed in the public domain via my Beeston Week blog and shared with the Civic Society.

I am in no doubt that what I have witnessed over the past five years can best be described as the beginning of 'the Lentonisation of Beeston’ — it begins with neighbours noticing what is happening on their street, then it becomes anecdotal as neighbourhoods share their experiences, then the newly arrived HMOs begin to cluster and extend, before what has become a stream turns into torrent and, apart from a few alert councillors like Lynda and Pat Lally, who try to warn their colleagues of what is happening, the Council wakes up one day to the realisation that a whole community has disappeared beneath a flood of HMOs.

By compiling the maps I hope to persuade Broxtowe Borough Council to collect and share data on all HMOs, not just the large ones, so they can compile maps and monitor what is happening in Beeston and across Broxtowe, with a view to encouraging public discussion about the creation of housing policies which include HMOs and controlling them by the introduction of Article 4 Directions where and when necessary.

For the record I spent 21 years working as a regional and national housing officer, managing and developing supported housing for vulnerable tenants, until I retired in 2006.

Good landlords welcome HMOs, as do their tenants. Housing is too important to be left to self-regulation and chance.

Finally, as you look at the 2 maps, please read the text panels as they explain in some detail how I compiled them.

Robert Howard, 6 November 2019.

JUDY: If asked, you can say I worked for Advance Housing and Support, a registered housing association.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Finalised Beeston and Broxtowe HMO and student Council Tax exemption maps

Here are the two maps I have been updating for several weeks, based on data provided by Broxtowe Borough Council. It has been slow but never tedious and, yes, I'm sure there are errors but they are few. I have spent some time cross-checking the data I have. If anyone does spot any errors please tell me so I can ensure they do not appear in the early-2020 update I have planned once I have updated information from Broxtowe Borough Council.

The next map will have colour coded pins, which will indicate the number of occupants in each recorded property. The map will not include individual addresses or postcodes.

*Both the maps below can be found in their original format elsewhere on BeestonWeek. What these maps have is more detail.

Click on maps to enlarge: