A different approach to housing

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With the local elections coming up, housing is usually a vote winner so here’s an idea to increase the housing stock which I offer freely to all the candidates for the city council elections, and I offer it with the benefit of knowing what I am talking about as an ex-local government officer and an ex-councillor.

In common with many councils, Canterbury has a Local Plan which dictates where housing can and cannot be built – this discriminates against small builders and favours big developers who bolt on hundreds of homes to the outskirts of existing towns.

The name of the game is “sustainability” defined narrowly as “do you need a car to live here?”

If you do it’s not “sustainable”. So, add to an existing town and people will walk to the shops and schools, or cycle, or get the bus. But will they really? Or will they find that living on the outskirts of town requires use of a car because the town centre is too far away to walk, and the buses don’t run through the estate!

This is a real-world view, but planning long ago gave up such viewpoint, it was seduced by the “go green” movement where public transport equals good and the private car is demonised. You’ll probably know my view on that already.

As long ago as 2012 the government recognised that there was more to “sustainable development” than just whether you needed a car and it rewrote government guidance to build flexibility into the planning system.

It hasn’t worked. Canterbury along with most other local councils largely ignores it, focussing on their restrictive Local Plans and turning a blind eye to government injunctions to be more flexible.

So, the computers say no!

But what if we could persuade the computers to say yes?  We could build hundreds more homes across the district, thousands across Kent and hundreds of thousands across the country.

And here’s how we do it, infill plots for one or two new homes can be found in almost all small villages, hamlets or settlements and even along main roads where we get a string of houses with a gap in it. 

Instead of saying “you can’t build there, it’s outside the urban area and thus unsustainable”, we say, ok you need a car, but balance that against providing someone with a home, in a location which causes no harm to the countryside.

If the answer is that it causes no harm, then we grant permission, and for the purist it would be compliant with government guidance!

The beauty of this idea is that nowhere gets swamped with new housing, nowhere gets a housing estate grafted on to the edge of a village, change is gradual, incremental, just the way villages developed historically, one or two houses at a time so that local people can adjust to the change.

And, small developers get a look in, which is good as they can usually get homes built out much quicker than big developers who have to put in roads, sewers and so on before they even start on housing.

It’s a win – win, more homes, more quickly, good for the local economy and employment and causing little harm to the environment.

All we need to do is go for it, use government guidance, don’t be too hidebound by the Local Plan, abandon the default setting of ‘computer says no’, and when Canterbury has proved it works we sell the idea to our neighbours, then the rest of Kent, followed by the south-east and so on, you get the picture.

All we need are councillors who are prepared to grasp the nettle, prepared to think outside the box in which sits the Local Plan. We don’t abandon it, we just use it alongside government guidance in the way the government intends planning to be done.

Over to you all you prospective Councillors, it’s your call whether you want to be bold an innovative and make a difference.

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