Dear Nanny

Peter Saunders

In England, where I live now, I let a house to a group of students. In 2004, the Blair Labour government passed a new Housing Act which, among other things, required landlords like me to install a hand basin in every bedroom, ‘where practicable.’ This clause is now operative, so just before Christmas, I met at the house with my tenants, a qualified plumber, and an inspector from the local Council to determine whether it was ‘practicable’ to install basins in the five bedrooms.

I admit I wasn’t much in favour of the idea; it is an expensive job and I have visions of drunken students heaving basins off the wall and flooding the whole house. My tenants didn’t like the idea either. They thought basins would take up valuable wall space that could be better occupied by desks, book cases or Che Guevara posters. The man from the Council thought the new rule was ridiculous, too, but his hands were tied. And my plumber had to admit that, with a soil pipe immediately outside two of the windows, it would be quite ‘practicable’ to install basins in two of the five bedrooms.

So we all agreed that in two of the five rooms, basins would have to be installed to comply with the Act, even though it made no sense to do so. The tenants promptly asked me to delay this ‘improvement’ until after they move out.

At the last election, the Tories promised to scrap all unnecessary red tape, so I wrote to my local Conservative MP and suggested that this particular provision of the 2004 Housing Act might be a good place to start. She forwarded my letter to the (Liberal Democrat) Minister responsible for such matters (the Tories are in coalition, remember, and all the boring jobs have been given to Lib Dems). He has just replied to me.

He tells me that the law requiring a hand basin in every room is necessary ‘to ensure that standards are decent.’ The implication seems to be that, unless we are tightly controlled, we avaricious landlords will condemn students to live ‘indecently’ (in my experience, many students manage this quite nicely with no prompting from me).

I have written back to the Minister asking why he thinks a politician in Westminster is a better judge than the landlord who owns the house, the tenants who live in it, and the local council that regulates it, to determine whether or not a bedroom requires a hand basin. I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

Meanwhile, on the same day that I received the Minister’s letter, I had an email from a certain Ben Plowdon, who tells me he is ‘Director of Surface Planning’ at something called ‘Transport for London’. I don’t know Ben, but he seems to know me, for he addresses me personally. He writes: ‘Dear Mr Saunders, I am writing to both drivers and cyclists reminding them to take care on London’s roads.’

I can’t remember the last time I drove or cycled in London. Nevertheless, I was so touched by Ben’s concern for my welfare that I decided to write back immediately:
Dear Mr Plowden,

Thank you for your email telling me to “take care on London’s roads.”

Up until now I did not realise it was necessary to take care when driving in London.

I will do my best to follow your advice in the future – just as soon as I have taught my grandmother to suck eggs.

Yours sincerely

Peter Saunders

PS How many GCSEs do you need to do your job?

SOURCE (GCSEs are a junior High School qualification, well short of a degree)

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