Friday, 06 March 2015

Pickles approves homes at heart of planning row

A 2,000-home development at the centre of a planning row that temporarily derailed the government’s attempts to ban regional house building targets has finally been approved.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has given the green light to Cala Group’s plans to build 2,000 homes – 40 per cent of which will be affordable – at the Barton Farm site north of Winchester.

The scheme has been in planning for 14 years, and prompted Cala Group’s successful legal challenge of the government’s decision to revoke regional spatial strategies in 2010.

Mr Pickles originally turned down the latest application in September last year but reviewed the decision after Cala lodged a judicial review. He pulled out of fighting the court case in February.

Local politicians have opposed the plans. Council leader Keith Wood said: ‘Personally I am disappointed that the time has come to release this site for housing but the secretary of state has applied his own rules and we have no choice but to follow them.’

Winchester Council rejected the planning application in 2010 saying there was little evidence housing need and lack of development had reached such a level that it was necessary for Barton Farm to be built on.

The Planning Inspectorate disagreed with this decision, but Mr Pickles backed the council, overturning the inspector’s recommendation. This led to Cala Homes launching its judicial review of the decision to abolish regional spatial strategies.

Steve Brine, MP for Winchester & Chandler’s Ford, said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the government’s decision.

He said: ‘Cala homes have very deep pockets and have relentlessly pursued Winchester over many years until they got what they wanted. Because of the appeal system it was always possible they’d win one day and today it looks like they have.’

Robert Millar, group land director of Cala, said: ‘Local people will benefit greatly from this decision. It will be a major contributor to stimulating the local economy and creating long term jobs. Furthermore, it will make a significant contribution to the chronic shortage of affordable housing enabling key workers and other local people to live in their own city.’

Readers' comments (26)

  • Chris

    So the man who accused planners of delaying house building was in fact the man who delayed the building of these houses and had to be forced (prior to being dragged kicking and screaming through the courts (all at our expense) so perhaps he is learning) to allow the private developer to over-rule local political decision making.

    I'm sure all will be happy with the new rules Mr Pickles established and has now had to follow, against his will and against localism!

    Perhaps the real answer is to remove politicians from the planning process as first the local then the national Tories have been the blockers of these homes being built.

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  • Gavin Rider

    "Winchester Council rejected the planning application in 2010 saying there was little evidence housing need and lack of development had reached such a level that it was necessary for Barton Farm to be built on."

    On the subject of the assessment of housing need, I have studied this in great depth over the last three years. I have inspected over 100 housing needs assessments taken from all over the country. I have looked in depth at the Strategic Housing Needs Assessments that local authorities use to plan future developments such as this.

    I have found that every example of housing needs assessment I have studied, from the smallest village housing survey to the largest Strategic Housing Needs Assessment is total, concocted bovine excreta.

    For example, Sedgemoor District Council's SHMA proclaims an annual need to build 891 Affordable Homes. Note the precision of this figure and the "authority" this implies. The document that led to the production of this figure ran to dozens of meticulously crafted pages of data charting and highly complex "analysis" that most readers of the document will not be able to understand.

    BUT - on detailed analysis of the Housing Needs Survey that was the source for this analysis and how its responses were processed, it transpired that the figure of 636 given as the backlog of present housing need in the region was derived from no more than 21 surveyed households. The definition of their "need" was not in accordance with the DCLG's own definition, hence was overstated.

    The remaining 255 cases of "housing need" that the SHMA concocted to produce the 891 figure were a prediction of the number of households who would move within the area each year but who would not be able to afford their new accommodation, hence they would be newly arising cases of "housing need" supposedly justifying the construction of a new affordable home just for them.

    This is ridiculous. The best assessments of housing need that are being used to promote housing construction and to justify putting that housing in rural areas where the local people do not want it or need it are a CONTRIVED FRAUD.

    I have alerted Eric Pickles and his minions in the DCLG to this, and they have ignored it, so that makes them culpable in this fraud on the British public.

    This is being done for economic motive and no other. It has nothing to do with helping to sustain and enhance local communities, and the housing need that is claimed to justify it does not actually exist where they say it does.

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  • Gavin, you may not have heard, but there is a major housing shortage in this country - unlike in Ireland. Private developers don't build housing they can't sell - that's half the problem as has been extensively discussed here and elsewhere. Of course house-building contributes to the economy when the homes are needed.

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  • The NIMBYs will only be proved right if and when the developers have more houses than they can sell.

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  • Gavin. If what you say is true, this is a very good story. Suggest you contact the environment or property correspondents of the national papers.

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  • Housebuilders don't build homes they can't sell, but because there's a housing shortage people will buy what is available, even if it's not necessarily what they want nor where they want it. So it's self fulfilling.

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  • Localism was and always will be ‘hot air’ – you don’t think central government would actually give powers back to local people? Fools if you thought so! Gavin you are correct – government policy is now build and don’t care where. As for housing needs assessment, I conduct them, and in the end they are a piece of work that gives an LA’s they can work with even if it’s not 100% scientific.

    21 surveyed households maybe those who responded in need. Typically you will get a 20/30% response on a survey. It is assumed that the 80/70% of non-respondents are not in need and are happy with there current living arrangements.

    Saying this however, houses need to be built where there is need not where there is a space to fill.

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  • Chris

    Oddly, it was not so long ago that some posters were supporting the government's scrapping of the 'restrictive local plans' on the grounds that they were forcing unrequired new development into areas against the local will. Even when it was argued that the Tory policy would make things worse those posters persisted in their contempt of things past and welcoming of all things blue. Now we have the dawning realisation that localism is just another Tory semantic game, and the whole planning game has simply been made even more in the lap of private interest and developer profit, and even less in the national interest or local gain.

    Will posters remember before embracing the next latest spun blue tape cutting, deregulating, locally empowering, affordable, deficit reducing, green policy or will they continue to follow the media bandwagon because it is simpler than thinking?

    I suppose on the bright side, if it is correct that there is no housing need in the Winchester area, and everyone is suitably housed, including the under 35's, then there will be 800 RSL homes to recieve unemployed refugees from London and a further 1200 privately rented homes to recieve working exiles from London, all of whom will need local employment as they will not be able to afford the rail fares back into the city to perform the roles they once did.

    At last - joined up Tory policy at work!

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  • As stated by AJM local housing needs assessments vary substantially in quality, and cannot, nor are they intended to, produce an accurate figure of local housing demand. In the cases of large authorities they have often spent tens of thousands of pounds to get the best assessment possible of housing needs (which is much wider than the need for affordable housing).

    The problem is that these assessments can never take into account migration, and the self-evident fact that people will move to where they can find somewhere acceptable to live. Many people may be in need in towns but very much want to live in more rural areas. This is why there will be little difficulty selling houses in Winchester regardless of whether there is any housing need in Winchester, and why housing supply cannot be left to purely local decisions. If land is cheaper, and building costs are cheaper in Winchester than in Southampton, and people want to live in Winchester, then it is in the public interest to build housing in Winchester.

    Why force them to rent privately at half their take home pay in Southampton? (this is the traditional benchmark, not one-third of pre tax pay, and is what I pay for my 1 bedroom flat).

    On a national and regional scale you can make much more reliable assessments of housing need - and plenty have been done. This was the logic behind regional housing targets, while individual local authorities using their local knowledge identified suitable sites.

    The key issue is the total number of homes, rather than their tenure or their location.

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  • Forget all the noise merchants above, including Chris who is now a "One Nationalist Socialist" since 12pm yesterday, and read what Gavin Millar says.

    The figures are cooked. The cooked figures serve the interests of vested interests. Bugger builders.

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