RAY COBBETT: Everybody agrees there’s a housing crisis

Hampshire Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Ray Cobbett who is concerned about 'unfettered development'
Hampshire Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Ray Cobbett who is concerned about 'unfettered development'

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ALMOST every day there are reports of local residents angry and horrified by major new developments on their doorsteps.

The arguments on both sides are well rehearsed.

The council and government say we are in the midst of a housing crisis and need to build more often on much-loved open land.

Residents reply by challenging the need and numbers, lack of infrastructure and permanent damage to the environment.

Local planners struggle to respond to sometimes thousands of objections while their political masters blame the government.

In Havant, the Local Plan, after years of patient preparation, was formally adopted only two years ago.

In July residents were told the adopted plan would be replaced with 5,000 more houses added mostly on greenfield sites.

So far, 800 people have responded to the draft plan whose site allocations are due to be approved in November.

Pamphlets and roadshows try to explain what’s going on but tell only part of the story.

To find out the rest entails hours of online research through megabytes of reports, data sets and maps.

In 2012 the coalition government published the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a pro-development 50-page replacement for 1,000 pages of policy and guidance.

Before that. neighbourhood forums were introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and were meant to enable communities to shape their environment.

But the reality in Hampshire is that role has been assumed by a cluster of council leaders, developers and ambitious business people leaving fledgling local forums little real scope.

Everybody agrees there is a housing crisis but an unfettered developer-led strategy is not solving it.

Now 2,000 households are waiting for decent accommodation in Havant alone.

The house-price-to-earnings ratio is widening all the time leaving those on modest incomes unlikely to buy the new houses being built in their town.

More efficient use of developed land, the empowerment of local councils to build more affordable housing using the £25bn spent on housing benefit and restrictions on developer land banks might help the heart of the problem which is to re-balance supply with affordability.

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Ray Cobbett, from Emsworth, is the Hampshire co-ordinator of Friends of the Earth