by Frances Haigh on 12 June, 2013
“There is a house famine in the land. Liberals will not be satisfied until there is a separate dwelling for each family at a reasonable rent. This can be achieved only by a completely new approach, applying to housing the same drive as was used to produce aircraft and munitions of war. The responsibility should be placed on a Minister of Housing and no vested interests can be allowed to stand in the way. Local authorities must be enabled to borrow at a low rate of interest, and in no part of the country be allowed to ignore their obligations.” – Liberal Manifesto 1945
The shortage of housing is as true today as it was in 1945. But today local authorities are not enabled to build housing. We identify the need and then we have to wait for the developers to deliver both the market homes and the affordable homes. In effect house buyers pay extra to cover the cost of the affordable homes, and if the market homes do not sell or would not make a profit, then we do not get any affordable homes. This scheme itself is the reason why we do not have enough houses. Recently in Barnes Green, the community proposed a scheme with a developer-funded primary school but no affordable homes whatsoever. After HDC councillors raised objections, it was agreed that there should be just six affordable homes, all of them for shared ownership. This at least gives some families a chance to step on the housing ladder, but it does not provide the housing for people who are in work full time on low salaries. Another proposed development in King’s Road Horsham, was rejected by HDC councillors as it included only 14 houses, five of them five-bedroom homes. This is a publicly-owned, brownfield site, in a sustainable location and should be put to much better use in meeting local housing need.
In the UK, we have been building far too few homes. There is a need for a quarter of a million new homes every year for the next 20 years.
Everyone asks, “Where are all these people living now?” This can be one of the hardest issues for us all to understand. Until you start to think of generation rent. Many young people are still living with their parents until well into their late 20s. Many of the planning applications we see are for loft conversions, extensions and even one where the entire double garage is being converted to provide a home for newly-weds. But this isn’t just because there is nowhere for them to move to, so much as they cannot possibly afford the properties being built. Many properties are being bought by buy-to-let investors, some from overseas, who see housing as a high-yield investment for their money. This is keeping prices high. Alongside the property shortage is austerity with declining pay and zero hour contracts, yet rents are continuing to soar. All the while that rents increase, there is less chance to save for the deposit for buying a house. This situation is unsustainable.
We also know that the numbers of homeless people are rising and that many councils, including Horsham, are having to find temporary accommodation for those in need. In Brighton, they are even converting shipping containers in to modern day pre-fabs to help reduce the numbers sleeping in doorways.
On the other side of the coin, the average household size is 2.3 and this has been reducing for years. In my own ward, one third of households are single person. People are living for much longer and are living alone to such an extent that we have a loneliness epidemic.
So there is a major housing crisis and we need to find solutions. Some of this need could be met by making better use of the property that we have; bringing empty property back in to use, redeveloping office blocks and redundant sites in our town centres, looking at alternative ways of living such as multi-generational homes and more specialised housing for the ageing population so that they are independent, but not isolated. These would all be positive steps, but it is not enough, so we have to look at suitable sites for green-field development.
A key factor if we consider building north of Horsham has to be to provide the infra-structure to support development. Many of the people who live here now and in the future will need to commute. We need to address over-crowding on the trains to London and lack of capacity on this line. A new parkway station with ample parking would be great, and would be welcomed by my ward, but that doesn’t solve the overall problem. Similarly, we need to have a dual carriageway for the A24 from Horsham to the M25, and upgrade the roads to Gatwick.
If a second runway is to be built at Gatwick, something which is again under consideration, this will bring more businesses into the area. Suitable business accommodation will be essential for them, but we already have empty offices in the town. If these offices are no longer considered fit for purpose, then we need to be redeveloping these sites and not leaving them to fester.
Economically, building here may make sense. But if we agree that it should happen, then we should ensure that any development meets the needs for affordable accommodation for generation rent, sociable communities with life-enhancing homes for our ageing population and homes for everyone, a front door not a doorway. To solve this, we need government to empower local authorities, to overhaul the funding system for affordable homes and to recognise that housing, which is a basic human need, is too important to be left to the market.Leave a comment