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Opinion: We Need A SAD Local Plan

From Fiona Curtis

The local plan must be sustainable, achievable and deliverable (SAD), an easy to remember and somewhat ironic acronym.

All of those things are perfectly doable if money is no object, but as the bulk of funding appears to be coming not from the public purse but from developers themselves, we can be sure that the weight of opinion presented to the examing inspector will indeed come from developers (at his request).

Reading through responses to the consultation it is clear that developers will push for higher numbers and more land as they sing, almost in unison that this plan is unsound, on the basis that it cannot achieve the unqualified and unjustified targets at the five-year stage and that it is unviable (as the infrastructure schedule is a glorified wish list). They want more land safeguarded and higher figures to cover the costs of the infrastructure demands.

Developers have deep pockets but they are not bottomless and whilst infrastructure might be a requirement to enable development, affordable housing is (sadly) still dispensable.

Are we building houses to build roads? We may get a few “affordable homes” but there won’t be anywhere near enough and they will be unaffordable to most people and sold for a profit as soon as policy allows.

The additional housing will bring an unprecedented population increase, but are we seeing an unprecedented increase in public spending on vital services? Not on your nelly, that problem will no doubt fall to another government in the not too distant future.

This strategy creates a vicious circle, more houses pay for better roads creates more people, this creates a greater need for hospitals, schools, doctors, sewers, etc which creates, in turn, a need for more houses, and so on, the same all over again.

Here in Guildford, I think many realise that the “crisis” is largely linked to a lack of affordable housing as the gap between average house prices and average salaries is enormous. A slow release media campaign over several years informed us that the crisis was due to a general housing shortage and that building more houses would solve the problem.

This government has not only failed to correct this but they have endorsed this by not considering the long-term impact of this “trajectory” and by uplifting maximum “need” figures (ie planning to over-build) to bring current house prices down (or to use their terminology, improve affordability).

Developers will of course never “over-build” and it can be argued that as long as houses sell they are required, but if this is to investors and second homeowners who rarely if ever set foot in them, then what “need” is being addressed]?

There is no evidence whatsoever to show that the government strategy can work in areas surrounding London and I understand that many councillors and MPs question the validity of this uplift.

I would urge anyone interested to read the attached paper – Solving the Housing Crisis by Daniel Valentine (formerly of the Bow Group, an independent conservative (not Conservative) think tank). For those who find reams of text rather daunting, he has usefully managed to capture his thinking in graphics.

To my mind, he demonstrates how complex the housing market is and how uplift to increase affordability cannot work.

Reproduced with permission of D Rossall Valentine

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