Developers say it’s not their fault

The link below is to the PAS website and continues the debate started by RIBA, on the issue of the shoebox homes we now provide in this country.

There is a very revealing comment from a building industry bigwig at the end of the article. Side stepping completely the accusation that his industry is indeed shoe horning families in to smaller and smaller dwellings at ever increasing prices, he points the finger at – you’ve guessed it, the planning system and then land availability followed by viability. What a sad reflection that is on the priorities of those who are supposed to be providing good quality homes for the British people.

As long as greedy landowners, who have done nothing other than get their piece of land designated as suitable for development via the planning system, are allowed to make millions from what was worth only thousands and developers willing to pay throughout the nose, we are always going to have this problem.

Given that government keeps telling us there’s virtually no land left for building on, now would be a perfect time to set in process a price control mechanism, combined with a minimum size and build quality standard for all future housing to follow. Indeed, if landowners tried to strangle off the supply in the hope that a change of government would see a return to the old ways of maximum price for minimum efforts, an updated version of the compulsory purchase process could be introduced to allow councils to acquire the land needed at a sensible price. I can just hear all the capitalist turning in their graves!

Actions required not just fine words Mr Clark

Greg Clark gets more than his fair share of column inches in today’s Daily Telegraph, continuing to promote his already much criticised National Planning Policy Framework.

The minister demonstrates his myopic view of this issue with comments like, ‘I can’t think of a single place I’ve been to where they don’t want housing’. What he doesn’t tell us is where he is getting these rose coloured views from. My suspicion is, that it was either the Party faithful, who would never dare to question the minister who has honoured them with a visit. Alternatively, it was through orchestrated meetings with local landowners and developers, who already see him as the second coming and think the NPPF is his version of the Holy Bible.

Mr Clark is obviously a very clever man, but his naivety with regards with the public’s attitude to large scale development is writ large by the statements he makes on the subject. Although he has been elected and must therefore have a regular postbag with at least some of this correspondence relating to development proposals, it’s clear from his CV that he has never been a local councillor and therefore has never been at the sharpest end of the planning process. Also, his CV shows little in the way of proper jobs, with all of his ‘working life’ being spent in the rarified world of politics. A spell with the BBC as some sort of policy wonk hardly qualifies.

If Mr Clark had spent any time as a local councillor, he would of come face to face with ordinary local people, those who don’t own land or build houses, expressing real concerns, something he dismisses as NIMBYism, about the impact a development could have on their community. I don’t believe there’s anything unique about my experience of the less than enthusiastic public response when a new housing development is proposed. That response is magnified six-fold when that development is for affordable or social housing, just the thing Clark is claiming will be promoted by his policies and our communities are supposedly so desperate to see happen.

Having passionately promoted the merits of localism and how important it is for communities to take back control of how their area develops, Mr Clark goes on to reveal the actual limits of localism when it comes to the development process. Apparently, where a local council, having listened to the local people and written a local plan to reflect these views, attempt to avoid large scale housing development, they will be ‘directed’ to think again, as per the Eric Pickles’s version of ‘guided Localism’ no doubt.

There are however a couple of comments attributed to Clark that, if true, would offer me some hope, if only they were clearly refelcted in the NPPF. He talks of better design, greater individuality and, most significantly, a drive to eliminate the shoe box sized houses foisted on the British public, by our greedy development industry, since the second world war.

Unfortunately, his fine words do not appear to be supported by anything substantive in the NPPF. If my own local planning authority were to produce a policy requiring room sizes to return to their pre-war dimensions, would it gain the support of the planning inspectorate the first time this was challenged by a developer?

Mr Clark, If you want the public, not just the landowners and the developers, to turn your naive words into reality, you need to confirm to us that the quality of new housing is just as important to you as the quantity.

Shoe box Britain

Did you know that we allow our house builders to build houses with the smallest room sizes in western Europe? Well you do now! I was reminded of this horrifying fact by the Channel 4 series The Secret Life Of Buildings. Even Denmark, a smaller country than ours, managers to treat it’s people like human beings, not battery hens, by having some of the best room sizes in Europe and only slightly below those in Australia. Wait until you see what damage the NPPF does!