New Homes Are Urgently Needed. Let's Plan Them Together

Bill Cawse, Managing Director, Linden Homes

House builders are never the most popular guests at parties. Tell someone what you do and they’re quick to describe how they campaigned against new homes in their village. Yet in the next breath they’ll comment on the prices of houses locally and rue the fact that their child has no prospect of ever owning their own home.

Which pretty well sums up the contradiction at the heart of planning policy in England: an appreciation that too few homes is having an acute impact on many people’s lives, but also a real concern when proposals are brought forward to deliver houses on a site nearby. This is something that the Government has set out to tackle with its proposals for Neighbourhood Planning, which I believe are a genuine attempt to draw local communities into the planning process. At Linden Homes we welcome this new approach because, while we invest a lot of our time in consultation – debating, discussing, listening to what local people tell us – it often feels that there is little joined up thinking. We meet a lot of passionate people but rarely is there a co-ordinated plan for us to respond to. We hope that the energy that people undoubtedly have can be channelled into the new Neighbourhood Plans which will really tell us, and other developers, how a community would like to grow sustainably. I think we will also see more people getting involved who appreciate how vital house building is and the contribution it can make to the local and national economy.

So when residents look at Torbay’s Core Strategy, I would hope that their reaction would be to consider ways of getting involved, and of fine tuning proposals for their neighbourhood, rather than dismissing this urgent need out of hand. Because, like it or not, there is a chronic shortage of new homes: the Government estimates that we need to build 250,000 new homes each year for the foreseeable future to address this. Yet last year, just 105,000 homes were built. In Torbay there were almost 2,500 households on the council’s waiting list last year, yet just 40 homes were completed by housing associations and 180 by private developers. Of course there are empty properties across the country which the Government is incentivising councils to bring back into use through the New Homes Bonus. But here’s a fact: if every empty property in England were filled, it would cancel out just three years worth of house building.

So we need new homes to meet demand: to house our growing population and to try to help with affordability. 10 years ago, an average house in Torbay cost about five times the average salary; today it is about eight and a half times (far higher than the average for England). For many people, rental will be the only option.

Something else that house building can do is stimulate the wider economy. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research suggested that if house building were to rise to 300,000 homes a year by 2015 (compared to less than 100,000 last year), over 200,000 extra permanent jobs would be created in the sector, boosting the UK economy by £75 billion. We could certainly take on more people (we employ 155 people in the South West directly already), as could our contractors and we could look to expand our successful apprenticeship scheme. Working with our contractors, we have been able to place over 60 apprentices, helping to skill up young people and plan for the future.  If we could build more homes, we could offer more work to our contractors who would in turn employ more apprentices.

As someone who lives locally and works for a business based in Newton Abbot, I know how we feel about our countryside in the south west. None of what I am advocating here should be seen as a threat to that. The Government has identified three pillars to sustainable growth: economic, social and environmental. While the first two sometimes need spelling out (as I’ve tried to do here), the third rarely does because it is accepted by all of us. But the three have to sit in balance, which is why I say: get involved, use your new powers, plan your neighbourhood, and grow sustainably.

-ENDS-

For further information please contact Anju Sarpal PR Manager for Linden Homes SW on 07918 907773 or email anju.sarpal@lindenhomes.co.uk

10 May 2012

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