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Mark Andrews on Saturday: Pub party poopers and saving the green belt

By Mark Andrews | Opinions | Published:

Read today's column from Mark Andrews.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, wants new legislation banning bawdy banter, inappropriate jokes and even suggestive facial expressions at after-work visits to the pub.

She has written to 400 companies calling for rules to reduce the ‘risks’ at events outside working hours. She would eventually like to see 'statutory guidance enforceable by law’.

Mrs Hilsenrath says such frivolity is unacceptable, even if 'that is not how it was intended’.

Something tells me there are not many after-work parties at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. And if there are, I bet Mrs Hilsenrath breaks them up pretty quickly by fixing an icy stare at anyone who looks to be having too much fun.

What she does not explain is who decides what constitutes a ‘suggestive look’, and which jokes are acceptable and which are not?

What she really needs, I suppose, is an army of plain-clothes enforcement officers to mingle incognito at such events, listening out for any off-colour jokes or offensive face-pulling. We could call them, I don’t know, secret police, perhaps?

The Government introduces aviation duties to reduce carbon emissions by discouraging people from flying. It does exactly that, putting the airline FlyBe on the brink of administration. So the Government steps in with an aid package to save the airline and keep its planes in the air, negating the cut in carbon emissions the taxes achieved. Still, I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

Why demolish Netherton tower blocks, and then build in the green belt?

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Growing demand for housing, and a shortage of suitable sites in urban areas, represent ‘exceptional circumstances’ which justify building new homes in the green belt sites, according to the draft Black Country Plan.

Sites under threat include the Seven Cornfields, the 284-acre area of farmland which acts as a buffer between Dudley and Wolverhampton, and where a developer wants to build 1,300 homes.

Meanwhile, the same plan reveals Dudley Council intends to demolish up to 2,500 of its own properties, reducing the council housing stock by up to 12 per cent. Among the properties earmarked for the bulldozers are four tower blocks in Netherton, just the sort of built-up urban location where we are told there is no spare capacity.

Just a thought, but wouldn’t it be better to retain much-needed social housing in urban areas, and leave the green belt alone?

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Of course, the decision to demolish the Netherton tower blocks is, like everything these days, about money.

When the plans were first approved in 2016, they caused an outcry among their mainly elderly residents. Some had lived in their homes for more than half a century. But the council was told it would cost £9 million to bring the flats up to date, or £3 million to flatten them.

However, the extra £6 million it would cost to modernise the 200 flats works out at £30,000 per home. Which seems a pretty cheap way of providing affordable housing.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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