Archive for June 8th, 2010

Why I’m in favour of scrapping regional housing targets

Those who are now criticising the new Government’s plans to scrap the current system of top-down regional housing targets in favour of more local ones are missing a very important point – the current system has failed spectacularly to deliver and at the same time has alienated local communities who quite rightly want a say in what gets built in their neighbourhood.

The figures are very telling. The rate of house building since 1997 has dropped by almost 24,000 homes a year – to around 147,000 – compared to the levels under the previous Conservative government. Over the same period of time, house prices have gone through the roof, pricing many people – especially first time buyers – out of the market. Partly as a result of this, the number of people on council housing waiting lists has increased by 50% over this period to around 1.6 million people nationally.

And, because of this top-down, target driven approach, even the houses that have been built have not significantly helped to meet the needs of local communities. For example, the proportion of new homes built since 1997 that are flats has more than trebled. In places such as Brighton & Hove, which has a dire shortage of larger family housing, this trend has been nothing short of disastrous. And with the regional housing targets still in place, this trend has been very difficult for us to reverse.

What the new Government is proposing is a different approach – giving local councils and local communities incentives for building new housing, not imposing central targets and then penalising them for not meeting them. How often have you heard people say that they would be more than happy to have new housing in their communities if the necessary infrastructure – schools, GP surgeries, roads etc. – were in place? Allowing local authorities to keep the council tax receipts from new housing and for this to be spent on benefitting those communities directly affected, should help to achieve that.

Nobody is denying that there is a shortage of good quality housing in Brighton & Hove, as in large parts of the country. Where we differ from the previous Labour Government is how to address this. What I think they failed to recognise is that without local support and buy-in, it is very difficult to get new housing built. Simply saying that you are going to build 3 million new homes and waving a magic wand doesn’t mean that in reality it will happen. I think it is also very unfair to criticise local residents (and the councillors who represent them) as ‘nimbys’ when they are being given precious little say about what happens to the place that they choose to call home.

There is no doubt that it is an incredibly difficult balancing act – providing sufficient land both for business to set up and expand and also to house the workers who will be employed by those businesses. Not to mention protecting our much cherished green spaces and downland. This is especially true in a City such as Brighton & Hove which is severely constrained by the Channel to the south and the Downs to the North. But the point is, we should be able to decide that balance for ourselves, not told what to do by an unelected planning inspector up in London, who has no connection with the City whatsoever.

The top-down target driven approach has failed – it’s time to try something different.

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