Empty Homes – A clear part of the solution to the need for more housing

Report identifies 1m unoccupied homes

A new study by the Office for National Statistics has found that the number of unoccupied homes has risen to nearly 1m, at the same time as “people living in poverty are cramming into overcrowded homes”, according to the Independent. The paper says the vast majority of the properties in question are being used as second homes.

Sadly, building on high grade agricultural land and Green Belt, as Sefton Council under its Labour rulers intends to do, remains the Council’s policy!

Brownfield Sites – Is the Penny finally dropping about the foolishness of building on high grade agricultural land and Green Belt?

HOUSING – Pickles promises a better use of brownfield sites

Up to 75,000 homes are to be built in 30 new “housing zones” across England after George Osborne announced £400m of funding. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, writing in the Telegraph, says that there is enough brownfield land in Britain to build 200,000 new homes. He comments that the UK has been facing a serious housing shortage, and supply has got to be increased in line with demand. He explains that he is determined to do so without building unnecessarily on undeveloped land and proposes the better use of brownfield sites. He highlights plans to consult on a package of proposals including converting former warehouse and industrial space into new homes for families, this summer, and to work with councils to get brownfield land ready for housing as soon as possible. James Kirkup, in the paper, says that the focus on brownfield sites has pleased former critics such as the National Trust, however, the Town and Country Planning Association expressed concern at the prospect of councils losing more power over development decisions.

It seems that those of us who have been trying to put the environment first may be getting through to Government but the big test locally is will Labour-led Sefton Council back off from it’s massive Green Belt house building plans?

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.

Brownfield aid required

A study for the Civitas think-tank suggests the UK has enough so-called brownfield space for 2.5m houses to be built, however, the Government has not provided enough incentives for developers. The group suggests tax breaks to help developers absorb the costs of cleaning up brownfield sites and suggests subsequent profits from builders would see an increase in corporation tax flow to the Treasury.

This is an interesting study because, if the conclusions are right, there is a clear pointer towards stopping building on high grade agricultural land such as the Green Belt of Sefton which is predominately made up of it.

I have long argued that environmental and planning policy in the UK are not properly married up (and have not been for generations) and the consequence of this is that high grade agricultural land gets built on when there are undeveloped brownfield sites elsewhere. Surely building needs to take place where the brownfield sites are rather than this daft idea of putting more food growing fields under concrete.

Home extension charges to be scrapped? But what about the environment!

The Government is planning to scrap local authority charges for extensions to family homes and conversions of annexes into granny flats. Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, wants to stop councils imposing “section 106” levies on homeowners. Small builders will also no longer have to pay the charges, which can reach £32,000 for permission to build a two-storey, three-bedroom house. Mr Pickles will begin a consultation this week on abolishing section 106 charges, which are imposed to raise money for affordable housing. Meanwhile, in her column for the Sun, Sarah Beeney says that the planning system should be put out to tender. She suggests that in order to end local authorities’ “absolute monopoly” on the system, people should be able to seek planning permission either from their own local authority or from one of two neighbouring councils.

Above is a story from the LGiU.

Now then, let’s have a think about the implications of what Sarah Beeney is said to be promoting. If you live in Sefton, for example, we are surrounded by just 3 neighbouring Councils i.e. West Lancs, Knowsley and Liverpool. Under what she is suggesting, according to the LGiU, people wishing to build in the Borough could apply for planning permission from 2 of our 3 neighbouring Councils (which would be selected by tender?) as alternatives to applying for such permission from Sefton.

The obvious things that come to mind are:-

* People would select the local authority/service provider that charged the least for an application.
* People would select the Council/service provider that seemingly passed the most applications.
* Planning Officers, who review all applications, based in say Liverpool may not know much at all about say Southport.
* Residents opposing applications may have to try to lobby councillors on a Planning Committee that no one in their council area has elected?

Gaining planning permission can be a hugely contentious process and I would be the very last person to say the present system works well, but would Sarah’s suggestion really be an improvement?

Planning policies, as I have said before on this site, do need reform as they are seriously flawed. Present policies do not, in my view, place enough weight on environmental considerations such as flooding and the utter madness of building on high grade agricultural land. The bottom line is that Planning should not be dominated by economic factors; environmental sustainability should be paramount if we are serious about passing on to future generations places where we would both want to and be able to live sustainably.