Are you in need of an affordable home?
According to the borough council’s proposals, over the next 15 years the Ribble Valley will see the construction of nearly 3,000 new homes. That is two villages the size of Whalley or Langho, or an increase of approximately 14% in the borough’s population. Only last week a letter arrived inviting me “to have my say” on a development of 500 houses in Barrow, more than doubling its size. At this rate we will reach 3,000 houses before the council’s plan is even approved.
Far from protecting the borough from over-development, so far the Core Strategy has effectively planted “Please Build Here” signs in many of our green fields.
While we are invited to comment on the location of new housing it seems the total is not up for negotiation. The reason, we are told, is that there is a desperate need for affordable housing – indeed this need exceeds even the 3,000 houses planned. Developers of course have been quick to jump on the bandwagon.
But what is need? Recently a housing needs survey was sent to all 1,500 households in Whalley. Twenty-six respondents said a family member had moved away from the parish in the past 10 years because of difficulties in finding a suitable home that was affordable. Twenty-six respondents also declared they need affordable accommodation within the next two years.
Yet the village is being asked to accommodate between 300 and 800 houses over the next 15 years. Is the need 26? Or is it 800? And how did we get from one to the other?
Of course there is no simple answer. There are many different definitions which will give wildly different answers. But it matters. A subjective judgement is being made and used to justify huge levels of house-building, despite 70% of new houses being sold on the open market, normally to wealthy buyers from outside the borough.
Local people know there is a need for affordable houses, and believe those in genuine need should be helped. But they also understand the difference between need and desire, and are sceptical of the housing need numbers.
We need a clear definition of what constitutes need – as opposed to aspiration – and how and to what extent it will be met. After all, in a time of austerity there are many “needs” that will remain unfulfilled. We must insist on much higher proportions of affordable housing in new developments – it is scarcely credible that in an area where property is so expensive 30% is the best that can be achieved. Above all it should be transparent to all how need is converted into new housing.
Such a policy would lead to a significant fall in the amount of building, and would be much more likely to secure public support. After all, what is the alternative?
In my lifetime development in the borough has accelerated enormously, and there is no indication of the pace slackening – quite the opposite. The planning system is deaf to such arguments and cares only about the short term. But historic landmarks such as Clitheroe Castle remind us that our towns and villages have existed for a thousand years. It is surely our responsibility – and privilege – to take a longer view.