WITH leaden predictability, the Sun this morning praises housing secretary Robert Jenrick and nicknames him “Rob the Builder”.
They say you should never trust a skinny chef, so perhaps you should also never trust a housing minister who only owns one measly house. As the owner of three houses, Jenrick is supremely well qualified for his role. The former solicitor has two properties in London – and Eye Manor, a Grade-I listed pile in Herefordshire.
According to a Times report of June 24, Jenrick was denied permission to extend one of his London homes after planning officials objected three times to his plans. The spoilsports said it would damage the character of the conservation area.
At a third try, a Tory councillor living in the same square is said to have intervened on his behalf, and the plans were approved.
The government’s housing plans bring to mind a previously unseen episode of Bob The Builder. In this one, Bob is looking worried because Dom the Wrecking Ball is tired of the view and wants to knock everything down.
As the signature tune almost puts, “Bob the Builder/Can we f*** this up/yes we can…”
In an earlier episode, Bob was worried about being asked to divide an unused office block into tiny flats. Dom the Wrecking Ball, emerging from one of his houses wearing a lopsided straw hat, told him not to worry so much.
“We need to shake things up,” said Dom.
“But you couldn’t swing a cat in those places,” said Bob.
“Ditch the cat then,” said Dom.
“I just worry that you can’t stand to see a thing without wishing to knock it over,” said Bob.
“Have you read the small print in your contract,” said Dom the Destructor.
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s adviser, is surely behind these plans. As Bob the Builder astutely notes, he can’t abide structures put in place by someone else and instinctively wants to knock them all down.
What the government is vowing to do is fast-track the construction of “beautiful” homes across England. And if you believe that, you’ll believe that Boris the Wheelie Bin came up with this idea all by himself.
Saying you wish to remove red tape is always the first step on such occasions. Nobody much likes the sound of red tape, so cutting it is a winner. Until you remember that red tape isn’t necessarily red or tape, but a series of rules and safeguards put in place to protect people and the environment.
You can listen to Rob the Builder, or you can listen to Tony the Town and Country Planner. Tony’s association (TCPA) condemns the proposals as disruptive and rushed, adding that 90% of planning applications are approved, while there are around one million unbuilt planning permissions.
One worry lies in the dilution of democratic oversight, with local authorities having little or no say about what happens on their patch. The shorthand answer to that is that life should be more local, not less local. You might not always like what your local council does, but at least they’re round the corner – not 200 miles away in London. Or scheming up plans in one of their manor houses.
Anyway, all this brings to mind an even older episode of Bob The Builder. This is the one where Margaret the Menace suggests selling off council houses so that the new owners “will become one of us”.
As Bob said at the time: “But Margaret, won’t this lead to all sorts of housing chaos years down the line, as all the council houses will disappear and nothing will be built to replace them?”
“Stop fussing,” said Margaret the Menace. “And finish building that extension or I’ll revoke your licence to build.”
Years later, Bob the Builder saw a photograph of Margaret the Menace in a newspaper. The story was about the lack of council houses caused by selling them off as an electoral bribe. It said that Margaret the Menace started this, and everyone else just followed.
“I told the old witch but she just wouldn’t listen,” said Bob the Builder.