Yes, maybe we do need 20,000 new homes, but…

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New homes being built at Puckle Lane in Canterbury

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.

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.

Land at Howe Barracks being prepared for development

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.

Nor am I necessarily against building 16,000 or even 20,000 more homes in the district. I recognise there is a housing shortage. But remember three things.
  1. Government announcements don’t build houses.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

3 COMMENTS

  1. Well said apart from no mention of the urgent need for anything built to be sustainable. They should be passive homes and also include electric charging points and permaculture landscaping.

  2. Lots of talk about building a new Garden City but nobody says where… except not near them. It should be sited near a railway station and so it is distinct from other towns. Ebbsfleet is really an extension of existing urban sprawl although it does use some despoiled land. Why, right next to its station do we have green mounds and masses of open space when surely that area should be densely built up? Look at the area round the London stations…..masses of different uses closely packed together, all convenient for rail transport, and yet full of character and having open space and a destination in themselves.

    We seem not to be able to build towns only suburbs focused onto roundabouts. Ebbsfleet station is so drab and as you enter you cannot see the track or trains…and like Stratford, it has dreadfully formed concrete which will get even more stained and grey over the years.

    So where should a Garden City go in Kent…if one accepts that overworked and incorrectly applied term?

    Staplehurst has a rail station and is quite separate from other towns….but it is surrounded by lovely countryside…..and it is a long way from where I live. So it meets all the criteria then?

  3. Interesting article: I agree entirely with the need for adequate infrastructure to improve the sustainability of this beautiful and historic city.

    “Solutions-based planning” is provoking local anger about air quality problems related to the Mountfield Park proposal, and the effects on Wincheap of any Thanington/Cockering Farm development.

    Putting “faceless housing estates into the green belt around the fringes of Canterbury” worries me too. There are hard-won statutory local, county and national landscape protections placed upon sensitive land surrounding the city such as that of the Stour valley and North Downs. They provide the rural setting that MP Rosie Duffield comments that 70% of Canterbury constituency residents value.

    But development applications are regularly being passed on protected land which undermines its sacrosanct nature. If only we had a green belt.

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