Last week the editorial in this newspaper said that signs have emerged to make us optimistic about 2014. In particular the economy is growing and this is highly desirable.
Another aspect of recent news was that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are being urged to make house building central platforms of their election strategies since advisers believe it would be electorally popular.
Living in Horsham District and reading these points presents us with a certain irony in that both in this newspaper and elsewhere we have heard people saying that we have no need for economic growth locally and that we do not need any more houses – or if we do, these should be elsewhere from where that person lives.
The demand for houses keeps on rising. Families today are more likely to split up and people marry later and live longer. The young and the old are more likely to live alone than they once were. A century ago just five per cent of all homes were for a single person.
Now one in four is a single household. Unless the country starts to build more homes, one of the great political maxims, ‘work hard and you can own your own home’, will be in jeopardy for a new generation. Half of all people under the age of 30 now rent their homes. Someone with a net income of £20,000 p.a. (and there are 11 million of them) would take three decades at current prices to save the deposit. The lower the number of houses, the higher the price.
A good case always needs to be made for using land for building and existing planning rules ask that the benefits of development outweigh loss of the land. It makes sense for development to take place on brownfield sites first. It is however the case that 80 per cent of new homes are already built on brownfield sites.
The number of new homes built in the third quarter of last year was still about 45 per cent below the level reached before the financial crisis of 2008. There is great value in housing and value of a different kind in fields.
The government has to hold the two in balance, respecting the British landscape without ignoring the challenge to provide homes and jobs for our people - particularly the young. The debate over economic growth locally takes several courses.
One view expressed is that we don’t need economic growth in this area as everyone is employed or retired. Another view heard says that firms don’t want to come here and the loss of Novartis and threats to Royal Sun Alliance in Horsham town illustrate this. A third view is that any incoming business should take over existing empty premises. None of these courses are ones that the council can endorse.
We need more houses and it is logical to build them near to centres of work and good communication (motorway/airport). To promote economic prosperity the Government requires us to have both a house building programme and a plan for growth and jobs.
The simple fact is that if we don’t do this then we shall get the houses anyway but in a far less planned way. In future years council income to provide services will be increasingly dependent on business rates.
The County Times says that John Lewis is showing great confidence in Horsham by coming - the fact is that they would not have come if we had insisted that they take existing empty premises. As for houses, most local residents have their own houses (and jobs or pensions) and are quite content.
Can we safely assume that our children will have houses to live in and jobs if we don’t plan for either? Natural growth of just our existing population requires more housing.
As we all get older, if we are also to maintain the percentage of working-age people in the District, we need to offer them somewhere to live too. To do this means more houses need to be built and jobs need to be provided for them.