A major concern of Lib Dems here in West Berkshire and nationally is that too often, planners, developers and architects concentrate on the physical fabric of what is built rather than the social context in which housing needs to be placed.
This can create ghettoised areas in our towns, where young are separated from old; rich are separated from poor; and in which a post code lottery discriminates against people in terms of both the education and jobs markets.
HOUSING ISSUES IN WEST BERKS:
There are over 300 people ‘sofa surfing’ in West Berks District, while sites which could take hundreds of smaller homes, ideal for single people or couples, lie closed and unused.
Meanwhile, developers have been granted permission to build huge estates on the green-field site at Sandleford, to the south of Newbury. Any sensible person looking at those plans and the local context can see we have insufficient schooling, doctors surgeries, shops houses and roads to serve the number of families that will be coming into the area.
At the same time, we have excellent brownfield sites, perfectly placed for development that stand unused. Some are former industrial areas close to existing housing and accompanying infrastructure (not talking about the Stirling site, here, that’s a well-known, particular case). Some are old housing units, that just need bulldozing to make space for new development – such as Taceham House (pictured), in Thatcham, which has been empty, now, for about 6 years. Local builders need the work, young families need homes. What’s the problem? Why do we have social housing blocks standing unused?
Others brownfield sites are blocks right near the town centre, where, until recently, government offices were housed, such as Elizabeth and Avonbank blocks in West Street. These two were sold to developers in February this year. I look forward to seeing what proposals are put forward (http://www.newburytoday.co.uk/2014/mystery-developer-pays-1-87m-for-west-street-sites). One has to wonder why the Council did not develop the buildings themselves or at least retain a part share instead of selling off our family silver, once again, to developers – but that’s not what this post is about.
BEYOND WEST BERKSHIRE:
In the past, ghettoisation was forced by ‘slum’ clearance in which large areas of densely packed ‘courts’ and ‘terraces’ were placed by new build, often concrete, solutions. In some cases these solutions, built on once low-value land, have become hugely valuable. Today, areas with low land values are often the only places in which reasonable quantities of social or other low-priced housing can be afforded. Areas with high land values attract private development of property types which are most attractive to developers. Or existing landlords simply increase rents dramatically and clear social housing tenants from their homes.
Untrammelled market forces, create ghettos. Better to retain mixed communities and accept the responsibility that comes with being a social housing landlord. The consequent ghettoisation creates a wide range of social and economic problems. Families have been and are forced apart; social mobility is reduced; the concentration of people with problems in some areas creates problem areas in which stigmatised individuals suffer from poor physical and mental health and poor education and employment prospects within stigmatised communities.
Local authorities should provide clear and transparent details of how they calculate housing needs and local people must be fully involved in making choices as to how those needs will be met. For the good of the community they serve, Councils must pay attention to local infrastructure and services, and to creating mixed communities.
The policies I support, strengthen local decision making by rebalancing the relationship between communities, local government, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State. Using brownfield, rather than greenfield sites, makes far the best use of existing facilities, such as shops, roads, and water works. Andrew Haggar, Thames Water wastewater engineer for West Berkshire, told me recently that brownfield sites often come with existing water pipes and drainage, and when this is re-opened and brought back into play, it can improve local drainage for all.
DECENT HOMES FOR ALL: For more information about Lib Dem Housing Policies, please see the full report, below, Decent Homes for All: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2012/attachments/original/1390841965/104_-_Decent_Homes_for_All.pdf?1390841965