Thursday, July 8, 2010

Housing Targets Scrapped

Housing targets are now officially dead. Councillors have been written to:

"As you may be aware, the Secretary of State announced the revocation of Regional Strategies with immediate effect on 6th July. Essentially this means that the East of England Plan (Regional Spatial Strategy) no longer forms part of the Development Plan for Cambridge and therefore should no longer be referred to in the determination of planning applications."

This is fantastic news, Labour's target driven agenda has gone, and there will no longer be pressure put on local authorities to build arbitrary numbers of houses - local Councils will now have to work with residents to get their consent to build more housing. This is an opportunity that should be embraced - the Cambridge sub-region desperately needs more housing (the CEN reported yesterday that last year prices increased by 26%, to £290k on average in the City, well out of reach of many families working in typical jobs in the City). We need our Councillors and Councils to change their mindset from compulsion regardless of local opinion to actively making the positive case for more housing - and it is inevitable that how we develop new housing will need to change. 

New developments must bring transport improvements of all types to everyone (and not just more traffic and congestion charging, which was all that was on offer to Coleridge residents from the previous plans for development on the airport) - the mindset all too apparant at both the City and County Council that says all local transport problems can be solved by 'demand management' must be replaced by demands for more transport capacity. New housing must be much higher quality, and bring new high quality public open spaces and other facilities, such as post offices and pubs in communities that don't currently have them, and facilities such as an ice rink for the sub-region. Finally, existing residents need to benefit rather than be penalised by the increased council tax base. Some commentators have claimed the abolition of targets will stop house building in its tracks. This is nonsense - the targets of the last decade saw reductions in new house building at a time of booming house prices and availability of financing for residential housing that was lax beyond the point of recklessness for many of the financial institutions involved. This defies all economic logic, and can only be explained by the catastrophically unfit for purpose regulatory environment that was Labour's planning system. Put simply, the failure of planners and government to make sure new developments benefited local residents, meant there was always massive opposition to them, and quality family housing wasn't delivered.

I fear the planners have not yet understood this. With the regrettable postponement of the A14 upgrade, the current planning policies prohibit significant growth at Northstowe and the NIAB site in North West Cambridge. Even now, planners want to change the planning policies to allow these developments to go ahead even if the A14 isn't upgraded. That would be a major mistake - the urgent task is to get the A14 and other transport improvements back on the agenda as soon as possible, and only when these are being built, to consider building the houses. When we need to convince people that new developments will bring real benefits in areas like transport, the last thing we need is new developments that demonstrably fail this test.