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Letter: Affordable Housing – It’s Not As Simple As Giving Up Green Belt

Published on: 28 Apr, 2015
Updated on: 28 Apr, 2015

From John Robson

In response to Gordon Bridger’s opinion piece: Affordable Housing Is Vital To Maintain Our Prosperity.

Affordable-Housing 2If the UK’s population has increased by ten million it’s a fair assumption that more people will be in work so I am not sure anyone should wear uncontrolled migration as a badge of honour.

We have no manufacturing base, the Conservatives dismantled it in the eighties. Tebbit told us to get “on our bikes”, we’re still pedalling, and that’s why the South East is now the overcrowded epicentre of England.

Successive Governments have failed to diversify our economy and repair the towns and cities devastated by crass, vindictive economic policies. The net result – we’re unable to withstand our banks catching a cold and thus held to ransom by faceless, unaccountable institutions… Dave’s mates.

If affordable housing is so important to the Lib Dem/Con coalition why have they built so few council houses in the last five years? These are the only truly affordable houses.

If growth and housing is top of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) agenda why did they take Labour Government to court in 2010 to stop them building on the greenbelt? Was housing less critical five years ago than it is now?

If we cannot recruit teachers and nurses due to housing shortages why are our schools and hospitals bursting at the seams, who exactly is staffing these facilities and what will be like with 13-15,000 more houses?

Most people I know who live in the South East commute. This liberal view of the world where people walk, cycle and skip the two miles to work through the garden neighbourhood is pure fantasy, PR spin. Don’t believe the glossy brochures designed with the offshore buy-to-let landlord in mind.

So all of a sudden the green belt is the only option, why now? Why is it ok to sanction the decimation of the greenbelt that was once sacrosanct to our older generation who have seemingly enjoyed the fruits of it but now decide it can be dispensed with?

One word… opportunity. This is what the developers and university have been waiting 30 years for, a chance to maximize their return on what was bought as arable land or green belt, aided and abetted by GBC and anybody who will champion their cause.

With respect, everyone’s entitled to their opinion but the Honorable Alderman appears to be going out of his way in dumbing down the benefits of the green belt in order to satisfy the agenda of property developers and the university, as once again we have the old “89% green belt” argument regurgitated. Say it enough times, they’ll believe it.

Statistics: England has only 13% greenbelt left, once the enormous profits have gone to an offshore hedge fund or into bonuses and pension pots what will we be left with?

Finally, its apparent to me that the developer friendly “economically viable” wording that has been strategically placed into the draft local plan by the developers will ensure they will deliver nowhere near 40% affordable housing and since when did Guildford’s councillors and planning department “negotiate”. If you had a robust local plan, why would you need to?

But the 40% is pure fantasy. GBC know it, that’s why they wrote it, and the developers know it. Once they’ve moved onto detailed design and uncovered some “unforeseen costs” all percentages will be forgotten, so what did you give your gr££nbelt up for?

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Responses to Letter: Affordable Housing – It’s Not As Simple As Giving Up Green Belt

  1. Anthony Cook Reply

    April 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

    What every planning department seems to lack is basic economics. As an A-level student 20+ years ago studying economics we were taught that lower margins = higher turnover.

    The answer to the housing crisis is to squeeze developers to build on lower profit sites or go find another market to be in.

    The less profit they make, the more houses they will build. Conversely, the more houses allowed to be built on cheap green belt, the less houses the developer needs to build to keep himself in business.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    April 29, 2015 at 8:57 am

    This is an accurate and sharp analysis.

    Experience shows that wherever developers have had this get out clause of economic viability, their accountants get to work, and progressively reduce the affordable percentage down to zero.

    The GBC Tories are now saying (again) that the green belt is safe with them, but there are reports of at least one councillor from a town ward telling a hustings that he approves of building on the green belt at Wisley.

    The Onslow Tory candidates are now saying no to Blackwell farm, although they have already voted yes on the publication of the daft Local Plan to build over 3,000 homes there. Can they truly be trusted with the green belt?

  3. Stuart Barnes Reply

    April 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I feel that I must comment that this letter is so sensible that it is a pity that Mr Robson is not standing in the General Election.

  4. Julian Lyon Reply

    April 29, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    There is only 13% of our green belt left in England – this is because vast areas of countryside are afforded adequate protection without being designated green belt.

    DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] statistics show 87.47% of England is green space; on top of this 4.27% is domestic gardens and 2.60% is water.

    Our local figures are absolutely that 89% of our Borough is green belt. More importantly, perhaps, 82.1% is green space and 9.3% is domestic gardens.

    Just thought some facts might help.

  5. John Robson Reply

    April 30, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Thanks for Julian Lyon’s outstanding insight into the political statistics game.

    If as he intends to portray, we live in this lush, green, garden of Eden, why can’t we move?

    If based on his “stats” where we currently “only” have 15,000,000 traffic movements on the A3 per annum, why is the A3 and Town centre constantly gridlocked?

    In this lush, open utopian county why is there the necessity to build bulge classes in our infant schools increasing the head count by 50% but keeping the footprint the same? Is this intended to prepare them for life in the South East? What about hospitals, doctors? You know the rest – more stats needed whilst we while away the hours in A&E.

    The point is when Mr Bridger and the illuminati encircle another 15,000 houses around Guildford’s urban area, how green will our garden be then? Will we be issued binoculars so we can see it?

    I hope he feels free to overwhelm me with more interesting stats that the masses can ponder when going about our daily lives, dealing with reality.

    For the majority of the normal people in Guildford life isn’t about who has the best PowerPoint presentations or flip charts.

    Affordable housing is being used by this council as a Trojan horse in which to reward their developer chums and decimate the fabric of this town. But given the decision makers live in Ash and won’t have to walk the walk, I see the logic.

    And yet it is us in the trenches that stand accused of being “nimbys.”

  6. Julian Lyon Reply

    April 30, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks Mr Robson. I don’t think I was putting a positive or negative spin on the facts – but since you seemed to expect more, here are some facts that may balance things up a bit:

    The UK is the 6th most densely populated country in Europe at 265 people per square kilometre – behind Monaco, Malta, San Marino, Netherlands (at 498/km2) and Belgium (369). Germany is at 231 whilst France is at 120.

    In terms of the rate of growth in density, UK is ahead of all main EU countries at 2.32% from 2010 to 2013 – Norway is the fastest densifying country at 7.69%.

    But taking the UK as a whole is a bit misleading. The South East region is 19,000km2 (of which 84.81% is green space, 6.20% domestic gardens and 2.72% water) The mid 2010 population density for the South East of England (excluding London) was 447 people per km2.

    Another example of the facts that tell differing stories is the A3 past Guildford. The Highways Agency traffic counts between A322 and A31 from 2003 and 2013 show that in ten years average daily traffic counts southbound fell 0.44% from 41,376 to 41,193; and northbound rose 2.5% from 40,376 to 41,379. This does not accord with most people’s experience!

    The average daily traffic north plus south multiplied by 365 shows 30.2m cars per year on the A3.

    The gridlock in town and outside is due to historic infrastructure deficits. Taken with the bulging schools and straining health facilities it is quite easy and rational to conclude that we are full up.

    As we will have to accommodate infrastructure not only from our own growth but also that of our neighbouring boroughs, this issue is not going to go away quickly. Every decision will have consequences – whether we aspire to Hon Alderman Bridger’s growth-led strategy or want to put the ‘No Vacancies’ sign up and lock the door.

    There are loads more statistics but what we need is objective dialogue based more on the facts than the heart but crucially, not ignoring the strong emotional attachment we have to our beautiful surroundings. We absolutely can provide affordable homes but we may need to think in terms of a capital programme which delivers them through the public sector rather than as the left-overs from a developer’s sausage machine.

    My own judgement is that we cannot simply do nothing – this discussion thread shows the infrastructure is breaking already – but we must plan carefully so that our approach stands the test of time and ensures Guildford remains a fantastic place in which to live, work, study and spend leisure time.

    Meanwhile, we can look enviously at Ireland, 88 places behind us in the global population density league at only 67 people per km2.

  7. Harry Eve Reply

    May 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    As I am sure Julian is aware, statistics should never be accepted blindly and he illustrates this with his comments on the A3 AADF stats.

    These give the appearance of accuracy but are far from it as you can verify by simply using a search engine to find out something about how they are calculated. Traffic can fluctuate by far more than 2.5% from day to day but the data collection appears to be limited and there is no guarantee of consistency between years.

    There is an example of three consecutive sections on the A3 where some of the published figures cannot be correct as they are inconsistent. I will leave it to those who like puzzles to work out where that is.

    Statistics are also frequently abused because many people believe them and don’t have time to check. One way to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes is to find a measure that makes the number look small if that is what you want to do.

    An example would be GBC’s 2% of Green Belt which may not sound much – but try converting it into square km.

    Anyway, thanks to Julian for all the extra stats and I am tempted to try to check them – but its Spring and I want to enjoy what is left of our countryside while I still can.

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