Frances Haigh: We need to talk about housing

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As we await the outcome of the Examination into the Horsham District Planning Framework, I want to share with you an issue that was extremely important to the calculation of Horsham’s housing numbers. This is the duty to cooperate.

First though, let us be clear about one thing; which is that none of would choose to lose our countryside.

People from across the District came to the Examination to protect their towns, villages and fields from what they consider to be unnecessary development.

However, the decision before the Inspector was how many homes does Horsham District need, where do we want to build them, are those the right places to build and are we planning to build enough.

The valiant team of HDC officers had to defend the Plan that they had put forward. Throughout the Examination, developers attacked this plan from all angles, as did the communities most likely to be affected by the proposed development.

The decision that we need to build was taken a long time ago. The Government forecasts that the number of households will increase by 232,000 per year up to 2033. The most homes we have built in recent years were 171,000 in 2007/08, and most years there were a lot less. The Government has therefore done everything it can to ensure that homes are built to support the growing and ageing population. This starts with the National Planning Policy Framework which requires Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to plan to build enough homes and to ensure that they have enough sites to provide for five years’ worth of supply, with a buffer of 5%, or 20% where there has been a persistent under delivery of housing.

Nick Herbert MP said at the Examination that he supports the NPPF. He should be fully aware that the objective of the NPPF is to deliver housing (Para 47). The Localism Act took away the need for regional strategies and gave communities the right to decide where to put the housing, but it did not allow them to deliver less than is required. So the LPA has to decide where to build. HDC has chosen to meet this by several strategic sites and by delegating the remainder to Neighbourhood Plans where local communities decide what they need for their area and where they would like them to be built.

HDC has calculated that the number we need to meet our own needs is 560 homes per annum. Many of the developers were arguing that this number was itself too low and did not take enough account of economic growth. Behind the 560 is a complex analytical model that is based on a mass of data about demographics, population trends and household formation. Who knows whether it is a good predictor or not! That is for the Inspector to decide.

The Government also set out in the Localism Act, that LPAs have a duty to co-operate with other LPAs, not just about homes but also about the needs of the economy. HDC assessed that Horsham District can support the building of 650 homes per annum, 560 to meet Horsham’s own needs and 90 to meet Crawley’s needs. However, it was also recognised that Adur, Worthing, Mole Valley, Brighton and Hove, and Lewes all have problems with addressing their needs and may require Horsham District to provide some of their housing.

The Home Builders Federation argued that Horsham should also take a share of London’s unmet need. The combination of Horsham’s own needs and the unmet needs in other LPAs meant that the developers were calling for anything between 730 and 1100 homes per annum.

If we try to unpick this further, we have to look at where people work and where people are coming from to buy the homes currently being built in the Horsham District.

A quick glance at the property pages shows that many of the new developments have prices ranging between £250k and £1m plus. We also know that London prices have rocketed.

If Nick Herbert wants to protect West Sussex from development, he needs to lobby the Cabinet to do something to fix the dysfunctional housing market across the UK, starting with stopping housing being used for investment.

Someone with an average 3 bed-room terrace home in Putney, can sell up for £1.2m, buy a large detached home in Horsham for £800k, possibly leaving capital to spare for a buy- to- let for £300k. Meanwhile, a young Horsham couple would be priced out and have to move to the coast to be able to afford a property. Then we have one family commuting from Horsham to London, and the other commuting from the coast to Horsham.

In an attempt to encourage people to work close to where they live, HDC proposed a business park in North Horsham. However the organisations that pay the higher salaries that pay for the high priced housing are unlikely to move to Horsham. If they thought Horsham was a good place to be located, they would have been here despite the quality of the existing office stock, and the Novartis site would have been snapped up.

As a further example of how Horsham is already meeting the housing needs of London, much of the existing office space is currently gaining permitted development rights for conversion to residential. There are going to be about 200 new flats in Horsham Town. Effectively these are brownfield sites and they add to the windfall numbers in the HDPF.

So Horsham has a major problem about meeting the need for both housing and economic development. Local councillors have to address this problem and arrive at a solution.

HDC proposed one option; in the Lib Dem Alternative Strategy, we offered another. But we all need to be absolutely clear, that saying no to more housing is not an option and it never has been. Anyone who thinks they can waltz in to run Horsham District Council at the elections next May and stop all development across Horsham, will find that not only can they not stop it, but attempts to do so will make Horsham even more vulnerable.

Frances Haigh is leader of the Lib Dem group on Horsham District Council.