My inbox keeps being bombarded with messages and photos from protest groups in Amber Valley concerned about proposals to build around 5,000 houses in the core strategy (though the number hasn’t yet been finalised).
Rather disturbingly there are placards calling for the heads of the council leader, the CE and the Head of Planning David Stafford.
There is no need to get personal, they are just doing there jobs and are victims of the a combination of circumstances.
“We need to build about 510 homes each year in Amber Valley. The reason we need that many is due to a number of factors.
“First is the growth in population. More people are being born than are dying and people are living longer.
“The second is migration. Amber Valley is a popular area for people to move into, perhaps later in life, moving here from a city centre. It is still a relatively cheap place to live and it is rural and attractive.
“The actual figure will be set later this year and it could be higher or lower than 510. But that is what we have at the moment.”
He said that by 2028, about 5,000 more homes needed to be built in Amber Valley – but, crucially, that figure was reached after subtracting all current sites with planning permission granted to them.
In reality, it will mean the total number of new houses people will see popping up in the borough will be higher than this.
Mr Stafford said: “There are many sites around the borough which we have given planning permission for but on which building work is yet to be started.
“And, unfortunately, we can’t force developers to start building.”
With the recession biting into the economy across the country, building rates have slowed. Developers are taking fewer chances on new projects and numbers of houses being built has dropped.
Despite the goal of 510 new houses per year in Amber Valley, between March 2010 and March 2011, only 258 properties were built, with a similar number predicted for this year.
Every year the council falls behind its target, the higher the total number still required rises.
Mr Stafford said: “We are losing ground each year.
“Only a few years ago, we were meeting the target quite easily, with 531 homes built in 2006 to 2007 and 548 the year afterwards.
“Then the recession took hold.”
He said that unmet housing targets would have effects throughout the borough.
“More people in our population would not be able to find a house and they move out of the borough.
“Housing prices will rise because of the difficulty in finding a home and people will live at home for longer.
“It would make things very difficult for young people who want to start families.”
So the homes are necessary. But, as Mr Stamp and many other residents have pointed out, why cannot they be built on brownfield sites? And what about those homes standing empty?
Mr Stafford said: “Even if we built houses on all our existing brownfield sites, we could only create about 600 homes before we ran out of space. And that’s not taking into account the amount of brownfield land we have to apportion for employment development. It’s just not enough.”
Council leader Stuart Bradford said that, in the past year, about 100 empty homes had been brought back into use but that the total figure stood at over 1,000.
Mr Stafford explained: “We have an empty-property officer at the council who is dedicated to trying to find new uses for these houses.
“But many times, a landlord has just disappeared and you can’t just stick somebody new in if this is the case.”
The inevitable, if unpalatable, conclusion is that to keep up with housing need in Amber Valley, greenfield land has to be built on. But where? And how much?
Mr Stafford said: “We have admitted before that we feel we will have to build on greenfield land but it is not something we take lightly.”
As a result, the council is in the early stages of looking at which sites could be built on to meet the requirement of 5,000 homes by 2028.
The authority has singled out 16 spots around the region and will work with the public, via consultation, to whittle those down to the ones it needs.
Mr Stafford said: “The first thing is to say these are very early plans. The second is that we do not need to build on all sites – that would give us about 25,000 homes, far more than we need.
“We have chosen this many sites – about five times more than we’ll need – to provide a choice. And we will be working with residents at each step of the way to include their views.”
But it is the revelation of these early plans – and the areas highlighted – which has prompted such reaction among locals. One of the most contentious areas is Swanwick.
People there have formed an action group to oppose the possibility of building near the village.
Swanwick parish councillor Peter Statham outlined the issues.
He said: “A housing development of hundreds of homes would lead to increased traffic and the current amenities are not enough. There is no doctor’s surgery in Swanwick, no opticians and very few shops. There would also be a loss of green fields.
“We have faced three developments in the past, had three public inquiries and won all three times but now the goalposts have moved.”
The issue of whether existing villages and towns could take a large influx of new housing has led the council to develop an alternative to go alongside the multi-site approach.
This is to create one large settlement, complete with shops, schools and services, taking care of a large chunk of the houses in one go.
Only a few days ago, the Derby Telegraph reported that an approach had been made by a developer to build such a settlement on land at Cinderhill, near Kilburn.
If a plan was formally submitted for the development, it would be the first application for the site since a controversial plan was quashed in 2008 due to a legal flaw.
Cinderhill Opposition Group was set up to battle the Banks Group plans by local residents, who said nearby toxic tar pits had contaminated the land too much for it to be developed.
But Mr Stafford said any new plan would have to address this issue fully.
He said: “Cinderhill is a mixture of brown and greenfield land. Any plans would be thoroughly examined by the council and subject to all planning requirements. But we think it is worth consideration.
“Like all options for Amber Valley, though, we are looking to engage the community in every stage.”
The truth is that Amber Valley illustrates how local authorities with what you might term intermediate housing demand are disproportionately affected by current and proposed (in the NPPF) planning policy). High demand areas are less threatened because housing compl;etions often remain high giving them 5 years supplies, and they are more likley to have Green Belt, AONB protection etc. and lower housing targets anyway as a result.
But in authorities under less pressure the non-implementation of consents mean that although they easily met housing targets in the good years before the recession now they technically have a shortfall in the 5 year supply. This is exploited by developers who see a chance to build up there landbanks on second rate long-shot sites on which they acquired cheap options. These developers need not even have any great intention to build, merely add to the book value of their holdings to set against the sites they bought for too much money which weigh down their balance sheets which they cant build out because it would show up as a loss. It enables them to say to their bankers – look we now have all these assets to secure against future lending. However given the large number of consents banked around some towns if all of these came on the market at once the price would drop like a stone. Such areas are victims of the curious accounting practices and business models of UK housebuilders so tellingly criticised in a recent report by the IPPR.
Ironically this policy situation doesn’t bite hardest on those authorities with the greatest shortage of housing sites and permissions but those with a healthy stock of permissions where developers are likely to be conspiring in drip feeding sites to the market, areas of intermediate demand. In these areas appeals can see more and more consents being granted and more and more statements from developers that they wont be implementing those consents because of issues of viability.
National Policy on the 5 year supply should be reformed so deliverability is judged over a business cycle and over the forthcoming 5 years to avoid such perverse outcomes.
Advice to the SoS group, you may seem overwhelmed with applications and options but they cant all go ahead, its a question of positively engaging with which and where, which will do the least harm and have the most benefits. It is likely that the final NPPF will give some breathing space to argue ‘prematurity’ whilst these discussions go on.