Lib Dem PPC for West Worcestershire, Beverley Nielsen, says that the government’s top-down development policies are failing our beautiful county.
She is calling for greater freedoms to give our local councillors the powers to produce a plan that meets our real household needs and not one that is stacked in favour of developers, every step of the way.
Her proposals would see local authorities having the ability to identify sites more proactively and set in place the conditions to meet our own growth plans through a vision for a smarter, greener, fairer place. This would remove the need to comply with the government’s ‘Standard Methodology’ – the same formula used in calculating the ‘new homes need’ in Westminster as in Malvern Hills – and required to ensure a five-year housing supply as part of our Local Plan.
“No sooner do we have a Local Plan in place but we are asked to produce another one. In South Worcestershire the target up to 2030 was 28,400 new homes and now we are being asked to build another 14,000 homes on top of that up to 2041. This comes without the considerable extra funding for sustainable infrastructure, healthcare and education. How does this government expect us to accommodate this degree of growth in house building?
“In addition, we are building the wrong kind of houses resulting in inward migration and young people leaving our county. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment for our area shows that 87.1% of our housing need across the county is for 1 and 2-bed affordable homes, with just 10. 2% of need for 3-beds, and 2.7% for 3-beds and larger homes. However, developers are building 3, 4, and 5-bed homes with an estimated shortfall of at least 391 affordable homes per year, and accounting for just 15% of homes built.
“At present the system is too heavily loaded in favour of the larger developer and insufficiently in favour of local authorities, residents, and even our smaller family developers.
“These larger developers decide where they are going to build. Our Councils can’t make them build anywhere they don’t want to.
“Councils ask them to build a targeted number of affordable homes on sites when planning is granted. But if councils try to insist on affordable homes at target levels developers can claim ‘financial viability’. These ‘financial viability’ tests are shrouded in secrecy, so the figures used to justify reducing affordable homes numbers are rarely disclosed, even to councillors.
“Larger developers are not building sustainable homes because councils don’t have the powers to force them to build to highest environmental standards. With the Climate Emergency and homes making up almost a third of greenhouse gas emissions, we need to build truly environmentally sustainable homes. The Conservative government scrapped the ‘zero carbon homes’ policy, due to come in by 2016, leaving in place outdated building regulations that local councils are unable to challenge.
“The larger developers are able to stockpile land even when they have been given planning permission on it so they don’t build homes until such time as it suits them to build them. And under the Call for Sites system developers have spent millions purchasing land to hold in waiting for the next SWDP cycle.
“In Pershore, for example, this has come to the fore with 450 homes being allocated on the fringes of the ancient, protected woodland of Tiddesley Wood.
“It’s ridiculous that government keeps changing the goal posts even though our population figures have been declining. According to Worcestershire LEP we saw housing growth of 9.4% between 2001 and 2013 which exceeded population growth as household occupancy fell. Latest population figures produced in 2016 showed a decline in the population growth over the 2014 figures. However South Worcestershire Councils were forced to use the 2014 figures.
“Everything is stacked in favour of the developer and the local councils are fairly powerless to do much about it. If they do not vote in favour of the development plan then a local free-for-all ensues giving even more priority to national developers.
“There are precedents for housing need to be determined locally, such as in the case of our National Parks where best information available is used to anticipate changes in households. We need to see a wholesale change in the current system that favours local people, local places and local employers to deliver more home grown opportunities for all.”
For further information contact Beverley Nielsen 07940228818
Liberal Democrats - a Smarter, Greener, Fairer Way