by Nick Eden-Green
There is a misconception that the government builds houses. It may announce that more homes are needed, but it does not build them. Nor, since the days of Margaret Thatcher, does Canterbury City Council.
Developers build houses. Furthermore, they build them to a timetable that suits themselves, not anybody else.
The council grants planning permission – or not – on land where houses may be built. Developers then apply for that planning permission and having obtained it they will build houses generally at the rate they choose.
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This is, of course, dictated by the market. What developers want to avoid, above all, is building houses they can’t sell or depressing prices so their profits are hit.
Developers also decide what sort of houses they will build. They can decide if it’s to be flats or five-bedroom mansions.
True, they are supposed to build 30% “affordable” homes but they frequently wriggle out of that.
In any case, with average house prices in our district around £315,000 and “affordable” defined as 80% of that then is a house costing a mere quarter of a million pounds really affordable?
I don’t blame developers for doing this. It’s capitalism. Their job is to maximise profits for their shareholders and themselves.
But I do blame successive governments for not imposing certain sanctions on them. Capitalism and the market is a good model provided that the government imposes certain checks and balances.
In the case of houses this should include a fair percentage of social housing, controls over the rate of build, adequate internal space standards, improved energy and insulation standards and so on.
- Government announcements don’t build houses.
- More houses don’t mean cheaper prices. The problem is not just a shortage of houses. It’s the fact that many people can’t afford them. That means we need genuinely affordable social houses to rent or buy and developers won’t build them.
- If we build more houses they must be built in the right place with the right infrastructure. That means roads, schools, doctors’ surgeries, local shops, open space and sports facilities, social facilities and so on.
It is on this last point that I think Canterbury has really failed.
The 16,000 houses we are currently targeted to build fail to address what we are going to do about the ensuing traffic and pollution.
We need to think big: to think about a genuine garden city or new town development which is self-sustaining.
In Ebbsfleet they are building a new garden city of 15,000 houses and the government is giving them £530m for new infrastructure improvements to do so.
Yet Ebbsfleet already has a high speed railway station and the M2 and M25 on the doorstep. We are building 16,000 or maybe 20,000 houses – even more than Ebbsfleet – yet we have got nothing.
Putting a series of faceless housing estates into the green belt around the fringes of Canterbury is not the answer. It will just ruin the city.
A new garden city community with the right infrastructure is the answer. The question is are we too late to achieve that vision?
Cllr Nick Eden-Green is a former Lord Mayor of Canterbury and has represented Wincheap ward for the Liberal Democrats since 1999