Extract from article published in G2 20 Jan by Patrick Barkham concerning the development of Bicester, Britain’s only “Garden Town” entitled “Dog’s breakfast springs to mind”.
“In Bicester, as across the rest of England, high housing targets are driven by genuine need but also by the priorities set by unelected, unaccountable groups of businesspeople: Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
Bicester must take so many homes because the Oxfordshire Growth Board, a joint committee of the six councils of Oxfordshire, commissioned a strategic housing market assessment to determine the county’s housing needs.
This assessment is strongly influenced by the LEPs, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England. “Housing targets are very much informed by the LEPs’ growth aspirations and these growth aspirations aren’t informed by a county’s capacity to take that growth,” says Matt Thomson, head of planning at the CPRE. “LEPs do all their work on aspirations for economic growth without considering the environment or social impacts but also without any public input. There’s no consultation, there’s no accountability’.
The housing target for Oxfordshire is particularly ambitious: 100,000 new homes by 2030 – increasing the county’s population by a third. Thomson doesn’t think it will be possible to build homes at double the highest-ever previous rate.
If those targets are unrealistic, what’s the problem? “By setting very high targets you have to identify lots of sites. Once those sites are identified, builders will choose the ones that are cheapest to buy and most profitable to build on – greenfield sites,” says Thomson. Cherry-picking the best sites will create unnecessary sprawl, a lack of affordable homes and half-built estates badly served by infrastructure.
Also, if this ambitious target is not met, there is a very strong chance that the government will allow reversion to a developer free-for all.
Built-in failure for Local Plans – hmmm.