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Letter: Green Belt Development Is Not The Answer

Published on: 14 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 14 Jul, 2014

Draft Local Plan image 1From Susan Parker

This letter is in response to: Letter: Localism Is A Great Idea… But Not For Guildford

Does Pete Knight work for the council? He argues hard for their preferred case. I wonder if he lives here?

I was not aware that we are in desperate need of economic growth in Guildford. I thought we had lower unemployment than most of England, and were relatively more prosperous than most places – so I’m not convinced of the desperate economic need to which he refers.

And if there is pump priming for economic growth there will be even more competition for the houses that he says his generation needs. I’m not sure which generation that is, since most of the “youth of today”, to which he claims to belong, don’t expect to start in a three-bedroom home but he insists on the need for two and three-bedroom houses in the green belt, and insists that those homes must be new build on the green belt: it isn’t quite clear why.

If Mr Knight wants a two and three-bedroom home there are, in fact, 628 such homes in Guildford or within 5 miles, for sale tonight (source: Primelocation), so there isn’t actually a huge problem with supply.

The problem for us, and for the country as a whole, is that the government sees housing as the only industry that can turn the country around, so they are aggressively pushing housing and construction rather than any other sector of industry.

This is unreasonable and, as we know, that strategy for growth can only be successful in the short term, as Ireland, Spain and Cyprus discovered. It has been warmly welcomed, of course, by Guildford Borough Council, who have discovered that the Community Infrastructure Levy and the New Homes Bonus generate lots of money for local councils.

But the absolute national scandal, and one that should be shouted from the rooftops, is that need is not driving this house building campaign. Of course some people need homes. Affordability is something of an issue, although that is more related to market forces other than supply. But people are moving here out of London because they are priced out of London. Why is that? Because London has been bought up by overseas investors.

We need to recognise that many of the homes built this year will be left empty for many years, and that means that the argument for building them is empty too. The building of those houses is the government’s aim, not their use.

Most houses built in London, and increasingly in the South East, are built only in order to generate profit for the builder. Most new homes built in London are left empty, they are not being lived in. This is the absolute scandal that we should all be furious about. And it is this that makes the homes that Mr Knight wants to buy unaffordable.

London is the No. 1 market for overseas property investment. It is a paper investment as far as the buyers are concerned but is keeping our buildings empty. In prime London locations 85 per cent of homes are sold to non-resident investors.

Readers may not believe me. (I didn’t believe that statistic either when I first read it and have checked it three times because it seemed incredible). So let me repeat this. 85 per cent of new homes built in central London are bought by overseas investors.

Most of these homes will not be lived in by anyone. These are not buy to let homes – these are “buy to leave”. If you don’t believe me, this number has been quoted by the BBC.

Please watch this on BBC iPlayer:
See also:

Or this:

Or this:

Those foreign investors, many of whom buy “off plan” from the Far East and never visit Britain, prefer to keep the new homes empty since they are speculative purchases which can more easily be sold if empty, and tenants would make them messy and damage the resale value.

They see London as very cheap, and are not price sensitive. Many middle class overseas investors will buy several homes as long term investments, and they are helped by a relatively weak sterling price. Savills estimate that 85 per cent of homes are not principal residences; other commentators agree.

So, if all the homes in London that are currently empty were made available for sale or rent it would transform the market. We can do this if, for example, we taxed overseas investors like Hong Kong at 23 per cent, or prohibited non-resident buyers like Australia or Switzerland. We could then solve the housing crisis in London and would need fewer homes locally, because there would not be the same financial attraction for London residents to move here.

So please tell our MPs that we need to change our laws about overseas investors before we give up any green belt at all.

And until there are such laws, then I don’t see the arguments for using green belt land here as persuasive.

Susan Parker is an organiser of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG)

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Responses to Letter: Green Belt Development Is Not The Answer

  1. Pete Knight Reply

    July 14, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    In response to Susan Parker…

    No, I do not work for the council and would like to confirm that a resident in Guildford can be pro-development on the green belt without being connected to them.

    In terms of my generation I’m 30, I have successfully completed an undergraduate degree, and masters and now I have become chartered in my profession. I’d say I was on an above average salary and have saved hard towards a decent deposit. Yet even with all of these credentials I have found it almost impossible to purchase a property in the town I live.

    Currently on Rightmove, the leading property portal, I found only 128 two and three-bedroom houses available. The highest of these is priced at £1.25million and only 51 are priced under £,400,000 (over double the average house price in England and Wales). Most are absolutely nowhere near the station (the majority of us commute to London where there are jobs – they are not in Guildford). As Mrs Parker appears to be unaware of the seriously over-heated property market, let me say that houses are typically selling in excess of their asking price with no less than 25 people fighting each other to secure them.

    Why is this? Well Guildford is ideally placed near London and has good schools, countryside and retail but, importantly, it’s also because there is no supply.

    If we built more, demand would be satisfied and prices wouldn’t go up more than our salaries annually as is happening now. Research reveals who is buying in Guildford. Many transactions are from people priced out of London travelling down the A3, meaning my sort don’t stand a chance.

    Furthermore, as land is so scarce developers have stopped building two bedroom houses in favour of cramming a room in the roof making them three beds. This means it’s extremely difficult for my generation to move from two-bedroom flats to small family houses as the next step is a more expensive three-bed.

    So the only option is to build more to satisfy demand and, yes, this means green belt. But not any old green belt, areas with no landscape value like Gosden Hill and Manor Park should be used – not the chantries or Merrow Downs which have been classified as AONB.

    I do however agree with Mrs Parker’s comments on foreign investment. I am equally concerned about the new ‘buy to leave’ purchaser from the Far East but this affects London and I was talking about Guildford.

    Finally I’d suggest Mrs Parker speaks further to residents to see what their views are. My parents live in Warren Road where I grew up; an area has seen constant infilling and subdivision of plots. Burpham in the last few months has seen no less than four applications for multiple houses on gardens. I am sure most people would prefer to save their immediate environs for release of non important green belt which, for the record, surely isn’t even ours but private landowners.

  2. Bernard Parke Reply

    July 15, 2014 at 5:19 am

    I have every sympathy with your correspondent on this matter but all the time we have predatory speculators in the housing market I fear that the concept of affordable housing will not be achieved.

    In the past we once had a Rent Act which kept the price of housing low. Perhaps the time has come to think of such a measure again?
    Our houses should be homes for our young families and not be turned into dormitories for students.

  3. John Robson Reply

    July 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Oh I see, building 2-3,000 homes on Manor/Blackwell Farm, which is adjacent to the Hog’s Back and also an AONB [Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty], means it will remain as one of only 33 AONBs in England does it?

    Mr Knight Wants to be close to the station. Manor Farm is a 40-50 minute walk to the railway station. I believe he, and the other 3,000 car drivers who would live in the new settlement, will drive into Guildford. Of course if this did happen it would be quicker to walk.

    I am sorry but building on the town’s extremities and suffocating the urban area is not the answer. We need a cohesive, strategic approach to re-build Guildford’s housing ladder from the town centre out. Two-bed starter homes, flats, retirement homes, etcetera. The council’s Executive still appear unable to deliver a plan for this.

    As for the point, “If we built more, demand would be satisfied and prices wouldn’t go up more than our salaries annually as is happening now”. Sadly, I believe this just isn’t true. Unfortunately, central government’s economic policy seems to be, “Build it and they will come and they just keep on coming.”

    Like Guildford Borough’s green belt, 90 per cent of Australia’s land mass is undeveloped, but they don’t just throw open the doors do they? They have controlled migration. Why should Guildford be sacrificed in order to meet the shortcomings of central government’s economic policy when, as Mr Knight says, it isn’t the local residents who will benefit?

    Please note, before I am labelled a NIMBY, I have walked the walk. I had to leave my home town in order to be able to work and buy a house, so I do sympathise with Pete Knight’s plight. But sacrificing green belt land, in the vain hope that some cut throat developer will build an “affordable home”, is not the answer.

  4. Mary Bedforth Reply

    July 15, 2014 at 11:23 am

    I ask readers to look at this Daily Telegraph article From September 2011: Conservatives given millions by property developers.

    The Conservative Party has received millions of pounds in donations from property developers who stand to benefit from the Government’s controversial planning reforms.

    This important factor in the equation should not be ignored as a driver for government policy.

  5. David Smith Reply

    July 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I can’t help but agree with some of Mr Knight’s comments.

    Firstly, the proposal of new homes at the land near the university (which is not the Hogs Back) could be subject to a s106 [compensatory payments by developers to the council] to build a new railway station, thus preventing the need for people to commute by car in to central Guildford.

    Secondly Mr Robson says, “build and they will come”. I think they already have come and it’s local people.

    I think the Blackwell Farm site is the most credible of development sites and everyone I speak to seems to agree.

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