Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Why does Basildon want so many homes?

I just watched the Inside-Out East program about London growing into Essex. It is still available on iplayer. (last ten minutes of the show)

Some people have been asking why we are being asked to accept so many houses here. Basildon want 16000 new homes in the next 15 years, but some independent studies say that 8500 would suffice. That makes the difference between limiting new housing to brown field sites and having to extend new developments into the green belt. Why is this happening?

The council say it is for local jobs and local housing needs, but the Inside-Out report gives one part of the real answer. Simply put, it is for London. London needs more houses, especially affordable homes for low paid teachers and nurses, and all within reach of a commuter line. The housing density in London is low compared to other major cities of the world, but land prices are very high there, so it is just impossible to build affordable homes. One of the few places where you can hope to find cheap land within commuter reach of London is the Essex green belt. Houses and land around Basildon are very reasonably priced, so that is where they want to build more homes.

Of course to make the plan work the prices will have to stay reasonably low. That is not going to happen if the new developments are backed with nice new schools and hospitals. They would not want to make the area too attractive to people with more money otherwise the prices will just rise and the problem starts again. Much better to plant a huge traveller camp in the midst. That is about the only thing really guaranteed to keep the prices down.

Can that really be true or am I being too cynical? I think we have to ask the councillors and local MPs more about it. If they can show that these houses are really needed, that they will bring permanent jobs to the area, that the necessary infrastructure will be built, that it will become a place where people want to "live, work and relax", and if they can back that up with transparent facts and figures, then I am wrong. If on the other hand they fight back with talk of scaremongering and conspiracy theories, if they call us NIMBYs, or if they make their excuses and refuse to take part in the debate at all, then you will have some idea of where the truth must lie.

But that would not answer all the questions. London obviously wants more affordable homes nearby, but why would councils like Basildon and Brentwood agree to comply with London's wishes? No doubt the strong political allegiance between central government and the Basildon/Brentwood area plays its part, but that can't be all. Perhaps another incentive comes in the shape of the Affordable Homes Programme 2015 to 2018 which is offering 800 million pounds to encourage the building of cheap housing. It is one of several grant schemes designed to get councils in strategic locations building homes without the necessity of forcing them to do it. It means that places where it is not feasible to build affordable homes won't bother while less affluent areas will take all the burden, especially if they are facing budget difficulties and council taxes are conveniently capped.

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