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Comment: We want the right sort of development
3:51pm Thursday 12th July 2012 in Opinion
I am fed up with people portraying the Green Spaces Campaign - a coalition of residents’ groups opposed to plans for 6,000 new homes in South Lakeland - as ‘anti-housing’. This is a travesty.
Our opponents like to parade the needs of the homeless and young people as their main counter-argument.
I support the need for more genuinely affordable housing in this area but the way South Lakeland District Council is seeking to achieve this objective is socially and environmentally unsound.
In its Land Allocations Document (DPD), the council is offering large tracts of unspoiled green field land around our towns and villages to developers in the hope that a third of the houses built will be ‘affordable’. The other two thirds will no doubt be larger properties, which will benefit well-off ‘incomers’ as much as local residents.
The vague term affordable housing does not equate to council housing, as many believe. It is simply providing housing for ownership or rent below the market average and because prices are so high in this region it is unlikely that those in most housing need will benefit at all.
Developers also have a long track record of promising a certain number of ‘affordable’ homes in order to get planning approval and then scaling back the plans because of ‘changed circumstances’.
I have consistently argued that SLDC should be looking at alternatives to provide social and affordable housing: for example by using a much greater proportion of brown field sites, by bringing back into use the large number of empty properties in the district and by encouraging more investment by social housing providers and housing co-operatives.
The council’s plans are, in any event, undeliverable. Their target now requires about 500 new homes to be built every year up to 2025. Since 2003, including some boom years, the average annual completion rate has only averaged around 200 a year against a target of 400.
Their targets cannot be delivered, but the resulting over-supply of green field sites in their Plan will enable developers to cherry-pick the sites that will bring in the highest returns (which will often result in the biggest houses in the most beautiful settings).
Green Spaces also argues that the DPD is unsound as no plans are in place to deliver the necessary infrastructure improvements to accompany all this development. Despite SLDC promising an ‘Infrastructure Delivery Plan’ a year ago, the implications of the DPD for traffic management, utilities provision, school places and healthcare facilities have still not been sorted out.
The next stage in the process is an Independent Evaluation by a Government Inspector. Then, unless the Inspector requires amendments, the Plan will be adopted by SLDC and all future large developments will be judged against it.
Nearly 4,000 people signed our petition calling for a referendum on the DPD, but this attempt to widen the debate and get a genuine reflection of local feeling was rejected out of hand by SLDC. Our campaign goes on: we will give evidence to the Inspector, we will mobilise residents against the Plan’s adoption and then around each cherished green field site as it comes up for development.
The Green Spaces Campaign is about getting the right sort of development for our district, not this ‘developers’ charter.’ Relying solely on the open market to meet housing need will result in a further ring of estates around our towns, with few community facilities, and with more traffic choking up our town centres.
Ask anyone what they like about living here and the green and open landscapes with abundant wildlife will be high on the list of answers.
I don’t want SLDC to destroy all that.
- DENNIS REED, who leads the Green Spaces coalition