House-builders lead national housing policy

In the past year we joined many others in challenging the government’s new approach to planning, which was written by developers (as exposed by the Daily Telegraph).

The government shaved our national planning policies from 1,300 to 52 pages, cutting many safeguards. In doing so it changed the priority of planning from managing development according to nationally agreed policies to providing what the market wants.

Now the government is removing our Regional Plans. The Conservatives argued that the reason was to end the regional housing targets imposed by Labour. But they have failed to introduce any national plan for where development should go instead. They simply want to let the market decide.

The government will allow the market to provide housing where prices are highest rather than help equalise property values by creating the jobs and enterprises needed elsewhere in the UK, followed by the homes to support these.

The government is actually supporting this by giving more money to Councils that support more house-building, such as Reigate and Banstead. So they are encouraging plans that lead to building on the Green Belt while sacrificing the chance of creating sustainable communities elsewhere.

There is no meaningful national plan to prioritise development on vacant sites which could support up to 1.5 million homes, including empty buildings right across the UK.

Reigate and Banstead – Surrey’s biggest builder

Reigate and Banstead Council’s proposed housing numbers are just what the local ‘market need’ is – which we are told is what the Inspector who approves our Core Strategy will check our housing targets against.

So, because we are already the fastest growing and biggest Borough in Surrey we have the highest target. Our new target of 460 new homes each year is lower than the earlier target of 500, as we have built more than this over the last few years, but is still massive compared to the average of 240 across the other ten Surrey districts.

Deepening the North-South divide

The lack of a national plan may well result in a net migration of population to London and the South East, rather than equalising economic development across the UK. This is likely to mean more plans to build on the Green Belt can be expected.

As market forces dictate where houses are built, they won’t be built where the social need is, or where is most environmentally sustainable. We need to focus development where there is urban dereliction and a shortage of jobs first.

The government’s approach means that the more we build, the more we will be required to build: which could go on, and on, and on.

And it assumes there is no limit on the capacity for our (or any) area to support more and more homes.

East Surrey Hospital (on a constrained site in the Green Belt itself) is bursting at the seams, school provision already lags behind housing provision and the local plan has no requirement to build community centres, or even pubs. The new developments risk being housing-only commuter dormitories but are described as ‘sustainable urban extensions’.

London Borough of Reigate and Banstead 2063?

The Green Belt was created to stop urban sprawl paving over our countryside and in recognition of limits to our water supply, local food and resources. London already consumes more resources than produced by the whole of England, and as a country we now import over 40% of our food.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the old Borough of Reigate and Redhill. It is not hard to imagine what this Borough will look like in 50, let alone 150 years time with the current approach.

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