Fringe Box



Letter: Who Is Looking After the Interests of Those Who Wish to Buy Their Own Homes?

Published on: 20 Dec, 2016
Updated on: 20 Dec, 2016

From David Smith

It couldn’t be clearer that Guildford is facing an acute shortage of homes. We have approximately 4,000 people on the housing list, many in desperate need of affordable housing. These people include teachers, medical staff and many key service sector jobs critical for our health and education services to function not to mention our town as a whole.

Currently Guildford is very fortunate to have a bustling town centre and comes in a second place out of Savills’ retail town ranking. This makes it an attractive place to visit, shop and live. You have to ask however who can afford to work in these shops and cafes when rents and property prices are so high?

Due to land scarcity developers are developing up and houses will almost always have three floors meaning that you simply don’t come across 2-bedroom houses anymore. This is making it impossible for young people to move up the housing ladder. Even owners of existing older houses in the town are building up and converting basements to gain that extra space which is often significantly cheaper than moving.

With one bedroom flats selling for circa £325,000 – £350,000 how on earth does anyone honestly expect a young professional on an average salary (UK average £27,017) to be able to afford prices like these when we apply the five times salary rule? Even shared ownership options become a struggle.

Forgetting about costs, current development is being squeezed here there and everywhere. In the last few months there have been planning applications to demolish single houses in Tangier Road, Clandon Road, Lower Edgeborough Road, Aldersey Road, Cranley Road and Epsom Roads and replace them with schemes of flats all in excess of nine units.

Development of this nature is eroding the character of our town and is in effect vandalism. Demolition of two Victorian buildings at 78 and 80 Epsom Road are classic examples of what we are being forced to do. This can all be avoided if we sensibly release sites around and outside the town for sensitive development.

I am sorry to say but the answer cannot be no to development at the cathedral site, the university site, Gosden Hill, Wisley Airfield and Guildford Station. Something has to give.

If we hold off development any longer we will soon be faced with a serious crisis (if we are not at that point already) and this is being frustrated by people who are simply out of touch with reality and who clearly haven’t faced the daunting task of trying to buy their first home in the area.

So yes, who is looking after the public – the public who are being forced to accommodate inappropriate infill development (when its obvious there are better sites to develop) and the public who are simply trying to make progress in life, who aspire to buy their own homes and are being prevented from doing so by supply, demand and, sadly, NIMBYS?

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Responses to Letter: Who Is Looking After the Interests of Those Who Wish to Buy Their Own Homes?

  1. Esther Parry Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    To the people that say we need more housing, an application to build 160 new dewellings in Guildford Park Road car park has got the go ahead and the Solum development at the railway station has been proposing a further 438 dwellings. We local residents feel this is enough in this small area.

    We have always been fair and realistic with regard to the cathedral land being built on but it is the extent of the proposed development that is the biggest problem, along with the access road. If you look at the plans it is proposed that a 15 meter high blocks of flats and three-storey housing will be built on this steep hill. It will be too overpowering.

    On the eastern side alone there are 82 dwellings with a total of 15 balconies, 108 Juliet balconies and 30 terraces, severely invading privacy. This is no ordinary development proposition. This is extreme. All in the vain hope of “saving the cathedral”.

  2. Roscelyn Connor Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Contrary to Mr Smiths’ accusation of Nimbyism, The Stag Hill group are seeking for a better, more cohesive design within the proposal for cathedral development. We have endeavoured to seek the promised involvement with the surrounding community (to no avail) in order to achieve a sensible dialogue, from the beginning, without much success.

    Surely it is vital that these proposals represent the best possible option for all concerned? This can only be done by those who care and live in the area.

    Developers, on the whole, care little for the environment or the way developments impact communities. They need to be taught to open a dialogue with the people affected, so that Guildford gets good houses that add to the area rather than detract from it.

    It is possible to design sustainable developments with green corridors ending in a water source, with proper planting,for example. Of course this costs money and effort, neither of which developers will do unless others make them.

    I agree with Mr Smith, that the infilling within our town is often done without thought and we will lose good architecture needlessly.

    However, more importantly, it is vital that the extra infrastructure of drainage, water etc, is done first, so it can cope with these developments and not as an afterthought. This is almost always bypassed in these issues and it is becoming more critical as more of these developments and infills occur.

  3. Lisa Wright Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Three points.

    1. Let’s take any town within an hour of London. Do any of them have enough ‘affordable housing’ for young people on a generous £27,000 salary or key workers. No they don’t. So perhaps the issue is not going to be fixed by building more homes. The issue could possibly be fixed by sharing employment and regeneration across the country rather than keep promoting London as the only possible place to locate your business in the UK.

    2. Now let’s look at the Stag Hill development. If those houses eventually get planning approval, what is the likelihood of the majority of them being bought by investors, off plan, as buy-to-let investments for university students. I doubt very many will come to market for young people or families to buy, even if they could afford them. It may possibly attract tenants away from the west of Guildford for a short time but unlikely long term as the University of Surrey is still pushing for more growth and plenty more students.

    3. So, one might say, build on Blackwell Farm instead. Aside from the national protection of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Areas of Great Landscape Value, green belt, its historical importance, agricultural importance, ecological diversity, protection of wildlife and its ability to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. How many young people or keyworkers are likely to afford a home on land of that quality?

    In short, building a few thousand homes on Hyde Park will not make property in Mayfair any cheaper….and you won’t be able to breathe toxic air for long.

    My kids, who are just venturing into the world of employment know the costs are high. They either work really hard and buy a dump to do up, like I did, or they move to a cheaper town. I’m sure that’s what everyone does.

  4. Nick Norton Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Mr Smith sounds knowledgeable in property matters. In which case he will be aware that in the West Surrey Joint SHMA, the average value of a Guildford property is stated as approximately £500k and that the National Planning Policy Framework determines that “affordable” property is 80% of local market average price, so in Guildford terms, approximately £400k is “affordable”.

    There is plenty of evidence that indicates increase in supply will not lower price. The major housebuilders will not drop their prices for market property; they are in it for profit, not philanthropy.

    I drive past the two developments in Epsom Road every weekday and walk in the surrounding roads mentioned. There are large Victorian/Edwardian “piles” (5-7 bedrooms and more across three floors) already converted to multi-occupation and many plots previously occupied by such properties demolished in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s replaced by contemporary blocks of flats or small semi-detached houses.

    Demolishing such large “piles” to build modern high density apartments, has the appearance of better use of expensive residential land. Nobody forces such property/land owners to sell, nobody forces developers to build apartments on such plots and presumably any local residents’ objections to a change of character are quelled in the planning process.

    Perhaps a better solution for essential service workers accommodation would be for the government to remove the barrier placed on local authorities for them to raise capital to build social housing on ‘brownfield’ land, such a Woodbridge Meadows in Guildford’s case, or perhaps for University of Surrey to use the green belt land released to them by the council at Manor Farm to house more than the proposed 60% of students on campus, releasing housing in the town for non-student occupancy and reducing the pressure to expand onto the Green Belt.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    It is intellectually dishonest to cite the shortage of social housing as evidence of a general shortage of houses. It is not. It is evidence of a shortage of social housing. That shortage has been created by government policy. And the solution to that shortage is quite simple: build more social houses.

    For the logically challenged let’s spell it out: social houses are not the same as affordable houses. The problem in social housing is not solved by building more houses in general – any more than building more cars in general will solve a shortage of supply of mobility scooters.

    If you want to make the case that there’s a shortage of houses in general you have to use genuine statistics. ONS figures do not, in fact, show that there is a general shortage of houses.

    If you want to argue that houses are expensive – then most people will readily agree. But it is not honest to explain that by reference to new house supply. It is caused by printing money, bank lending, and buying houses as an investment class.

    It is also intellectually dishonest to try and make out that anyone who can see these flagrant flaws is against building houses in general. Most aren’t.

  6. Richard Vary Reply

    December 21, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Yes people need houses. But people don’t just need houses. Children need school places. Commuters need trains. Car owners need parking spaces, and road capacity. Residents need GPs.

    There is no reason why affordable housing needs to be blocks of flats that tower over the neighbours and look down into their bedrooms.

    The cathedral development is all high density, three or more stories. That’s just as bad as the demolition being complained of in the town centre. There’s very little provision for parking. Local schools are oversubscribed already, and the education report acknowledges that local children will be displaced into schools in Worplesdon or further.

    And the already stationary traffic will be made worse because the cathedral won’t allow access from the cathedral roundabout, but insists all traffic be fed into Onslow and up small residential streets to the site.

    So the objection isn’t Nimbyism. Development is one thing, but it has to be planned development of all needed services, not profiteering by building high density residential with no transport, schools or access.

  7. David Smith Reply

    December 22, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    I don’t believe I have been intellectually dishonest at all, I have merely stated what is well known. It is well documented that the South East has an acute housing shortage. This has been the case for years and is leading to the problems of affordability.

    When I bought my own house in Guildford in 2014, I lost out on the first couple of houses I viewed as there were in excess of 25 people viewing on open days. As soon as I walked through the door on both, I was immediately confronted with a sealed bid form in which I had to complete.

    Eventually I managed to secure a house (a “dump” as Lisa Wright suggests) in a town centre road which I have been refurbishing slowly ever since.

    My brother has just sold his place and is looking for a family home in Guildford currently. He has a good budget but there is just no availability of anything. I remember speaking to someone involved in the sale of some five bedroom homes in Burpham which were priced in the region of £1.1m. I remember commenting that this truly had broken the ceiling price of the area – the person who was involved in marketing replied by saying that there was just such a shortage of housing they could set the price at the level they had. If this is not a shortage of housing what is it?

    As for “logically challenged” perhaps this translates to “anyone who doesn’t agree with me”. I am fully aware that social houses are not the same as affordable. I had meant to make it clear in my letter that we need both.

    My letter was supposed to emphasise that we cannot say no, no, no all the time to any form of development. We have green belt campaigners telling us to build on brownfield sites and when we do, all hell breaks loose. The message from a few on this site appears to be not to build anything or worse, to suggest people move elsewhere.

    I am so thankful decision making is not in their hands.

  8. Jim Allen Reply

    December 22, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Simply building houses with no infrastructure will turn some areas into ghettos. Is that what people want?

  9. A Atkinson Reply

    December 23, 2016 at 12:21 am

    With reference to Mr Smith’s comment the price of a house is determined by the ability to pay. At the moment there is a limitless ability to pay either by foreign money seeing the UK property as a safe, guilt edged asset or domestically by printing sterling and offering various financial incentives to buy.

    There are places, for various reason, as there are various things, which are more expensive than others whilst we have people who are in desperate need of the basics. It does not mean that supplying lots of “stuff” will rectify the actual need among us.

    Yet again the debate gets cornered in to the binary excessive development or no development narrative. I ask Mr Smith to identify who is saying no development? I ask him to question why there is no budging on the excess development proposed in the draft local plan?

    The North is desperately in need of economic support, yet Mr Smith suggests that no one can suggest a more progressive regional economic strategy other than build in the South, as that is where people want to live.

    For Mr Smith’s info, the forecast excessive growth of Guildford Borough is not from those currently living in the borough, who he claims are being asked to “move elsewhere”, but from people not currently living in the borough or, in fact, not currently even living in this country.

  10. Ben Paton Reply

    December 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Belief and evidence are two different things. Some people will choose to believe things in spite of evidence.

    Mr Smith, in his comment, resorts to self-serving untested populist statements such as: “I have merely stated what is well known”; to generalisations, such as “…it is well documented that the South East has an acute housing shortage…”; and to accusations, for instance, that anyone who disagrees with him is “out of touch”.

    But will he tell us what this documentation is? Will he submit it for proper scrutiny? Mr Smith has cited only one fact – that the council’s waiting list for social housing has 4,000 people on it. And he continues to claim that that is evidence of a general housing shortage. It isn’t. It is a specific government created shortage that a general house building policy will do little or nothing to address.

    Whenever prices rise people deduce that the problem is supply. When the oil price went over $100 a barrel in 2007/8 the cry was that the stuff was running out. Given oil is a finite resource that interpretation had some plausibility. But within a few years there has been a glut of oil with all available storage facilities full, the price dropping to $30/barrel for a while, and OPEC finally agreeing to cut production.

    Why did the oil price peak? It had more to do with demand than with supply. And the main ingredient in demand was the credit cycle.

    Simplistic interpretations of prices may rouse a rabble but they don’t help solve the problem. Houses are capital assets which last for decades if not centuries. By contrast, oil is a commodity which is literally burnt. The price of houses is much more sensitive to financial conditions – such as investment demand and interest rates.

    A number of writers to The Dragon have given reasoned and evidenced argument to explain why the facts do not support the populist slogan promoted by the house building lobby that there is an ‘acute shortage’ of housing in the South East. See for example this letter from Mr McKinney: House Prices – It Is Not Simply Supply and Demand : In it he wrote: “To suggest that house prices are solely determined by the balance between supply and demand is wrong. In the years between 2008 and 2012, according to the ONS, nationally there was an increase of 30% in the total dwelling stock. Over the same period, the UK population increased by 7.08 million, or 12.5%.

    Across the UK, the number of households increased by 6.1 million, an increase of 29.5%. So there is no evidence in these ONS numbers for an undersupply of housing – yet over this period, house prices increased by a factor of 9 – house prices in 2013 were more than nine times the price they were in 1980.”

    More houses have been built in Ireland and Spain in the past few decades than their entire previous history. This too was justified with woolly reasoning that it was ‘well known’ that there was a housing shortage. It has left a legacy of massive over-supply.

    We have had plenty of generalisations and insults from councillors such as Mr Mansbridge. They don’t cut the mustard. What is needed is dispassionate, relevant facts and proper analysis. Please would Mr Smith reveal who has said, “…no,no no all to time to any development”? If he can’t then this is just a fake caricature, an Aunt Sally set up so that Mr Smith can knock it down. If he cannot support this cheap jibe with facts then he should withdraw the unwarranted slur.

    It is Mr Smith who is “out of touch”. Just because an argument is popular does not make it right.

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