The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sentence First; Verdict Afterwards

The Times of London, in the course of a screed against Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott entitled "The Man Who Broke Britain", states that local councils have saved themselves a bundle by issuing demolition orders before assessing the value of the property to be destroyed:
Cash-hungry councils immediately issued compulsory purchase orders on grids of historic Victorian terraces. This blighted local markets and created the very conditions — rock-bottom property prices and zero demand — that were supposed to trigger the clearances in the first place. Owners were offered compensation at current market rates which, being depressed by the threat of demolition, gave them no hope of affording another house.
This Alice-in-Wonderland practice will, I fear, soon cross the pond. Condemnation first; valuation afterwards.

[Note for American readers: the British system is far less federal than the American, with almost all meaningful powers concentrated in Westminster. In particular, the local "councils" (town governments) have little revenue-generating capacity; the "council tax" on property is trivial compared to American property taxes, and pays mainly for trash collection and street cleaning. One result is that councils have no stake in their own economic growth, so they tend to block disruptive measures like new housing construction whenever possible. Mr. Prescott's office has only the blunt instrument of central-government coercion to break the resulting paralysis.]