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In the PIPA Member Bulletin of 25th May 2011 PIPA Member Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones commented:
Unfortunately, deficit reduction and then . offering cash back for increased house building, was effectively the kiss of death to any really meaningful community planning management. The only thing that is holding most council leaders back from charging in to the planning department with a demand to start dishing out planning permissions for new housing like confetti, is the underlying NIMBYism of local politics and a fear that it will come back to haunt them at the next election. Few if any council leaders have any genuine interest in the spatial planning and sustainability issues the planners are so passionate about and this is also reflected by the attitude of Government Ministers and their generally negative comments on the planning system. Once thing is certain, it will be local politicians who get the blame for either runaway development, or a lack of local growth and affordable housing, not Whitehall.
In response Cllr Horace Mitchell wrote that what Roger noted may be true in some places but is definitely not true for the current administration at Basingstoke & Deane. We are committed to getting the policies right and to understanding what right means rather than knee jerking in response to the latest word from Whitehall and Westminster. We were on record as not being prepared to be bullied by top down house building targets from Whitehall under the SE Plan and we remain committed to not being bribed by Whitehall to build more than the right numbers and types of housing in the right places, which has been our long-standing position.
The issue of course is understanding what is right, in the face of a number of factors that are extremely difficult to pin down. In particular weve done a lot of work on future housing demographics, and how the deeply suspect extrapolations from various sources (including national stats) should be interpreted in the light of a 2-4% annual migration in (and 2-4% out) across our district boundaries statistically a 50% population churn over the 20 year planning timeframe. One obvious impact of this churn (though it comes as a surprise to some) is that our local average occupancy levels will not conform to national or regional patterns, they will depend on what gets built. If we get more family homes then well get more families among the inward migrants; if we build small flats well get more singles and young couples. If migration was at a marginal level the effect would be slight. But at 50% over 20 years the impact is considerable.
As to numbers of dwellings, our immediately neighbouring districts continue to plan for development on a large scale, as per the SE Plan targets, and with a high admixture of smaller dwellings. Should we follow the fashion or should we say, thanks for taking care of that type of housing for young singles and couples, well focus on fewer but larger dwellings for families. We have to ask ourselves, do we want to attract more young singles or do we want to attract more people with families what approach will best optimise the social welfare of the borough, our need to raise the per capita GDP / GVA, and our need to attract and retain industries of the future?
There are of course many other factors to take into account. Whats disappointing is how few authorities appear to be thinking through these issues as opposed to following either the direction last given (SE and other regional plans) or seeking to understand and respond to wherever the government will lead them next. I guess as soon as you start to really think locally it all gets a bit too complicated!
Roger Gambba-Jones added further comments:
A very interesting and timely response from Cllr Horace Mitchell at Basingstoke & Deane, particularly given that the government has [just] announced that the remaining public land that was once the Park Prewett Hospital, is to be 'made available' to any willing developer under the build now pay later scheme, in order to deliver more affordable housing. I would be extremely interested to hear the LPAs views on this particular top down approach to 'local planning'.
I also question Cllr Mitchell's statement, 'We are committed to getting the policies right'. When he says 'we', does he mean the local council, or does he mean the local community? The Localism Bill seems to suggest that the two are no longer the same and that the former will be expected to support the latter in achieving its ambitions, not dictating to them.
In brief response to Rogers question Cllr Horace Mitchell added:
We means the present administration, since we have the responsibility for formulating the policies. However we also have a very strong commitment indeed to understanding the views of residents as part of this process. We routinely consult with parish councils and other community organisationson anything and everything. We started thinking in terms of neighbourhoods for non-parished areas long before localism became fashionable. On the challenging question of house building numbers, types and locations weve undertaken both widely-based (self-selected questionnaire to every household) and more formal consultation (statistically representative market research), with interesting results.
By the way, in our case as, I suspect in most cases we dont have a community with which to discuss anything. We have a multiplicity of communities town centres, suburbs, villages, rural hamlets to cite only the spatial ones! Local community can mean a street, or it can mean the minority of over-55s who are on the mailing list of the over-55s forum.
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