Sunday, January 25, 2015

Under-occupation again

I don't think that the problem with the various forms of under-occupation can be over-stated.  While the talk is about the need to build 250,000 new dwellings per year (while carbon from housing has to be reduced by between 6% and 10% per year?!) there is very little said about the scale of under-occupation.  I would qualify that with the publicity being given to the empty/second home issue in London where a significant number of dwellings are owned by people who live in London for the weather! warmer for Russians in Winter and cooler for those from the Middle East in summer and for its culture and relative safety.  But is it true that shops and schools are closing for lack of custom due to the lack of permanent residents  - as is the case in other parts of the UK where second/holiday homes are vacant for large parts of the year.

"Notwithstanding estimates of over 700,000 empty homes ie about 3 years supply of new housing, the greatest potential is to balance the size of households and housing in the existing stock of about 26 million dwellings.  Provoked by a planning application for 70 houses on my doorstep where less than a third would be 2 bedroomed (and all for social rent or equity shared) the following letter was sent to the paper. There was no reaction in the following week's paper.

Should we be concerned that five of the applications for residential development reported in the Abingdon Herald (7 January) and Oxford Times (8 January) propose a preponderance of larger houses? Consultants for the Vale of White Horse District Council advised that 97% of new dwellings would need to be one or two bedroomed to rebalance the size of households and housing.  The average household size is around 2.3 people, and decreasing.  Over75% of dwellings in Oxfordshire have one, and more often two or more spare bedrooms.  And nationally, the spare capacity in the existing housing stock of about 26m dwellings is the equivalent of building 250,000 new 2 bedroomed homes for the next 80 years.

For many reasons, we are not all going to immediately “right-size” into a house to fit our family circumstances. However, these current planning applications show the intention of housebuilders to provide a majority (ie about 60%) of three and more often four bedroomed houses (and 3 parking spaces/dwelling!).  That the smaller dwellings are mostly for rent suggests that larger houses are being provided for reasons other than meeting ‘objectively assessed housing need’, as is intended by Government.   If, however, a large number of attractive smaller dwellings (some with generous gardens) were provided, a significant number of large dwellings vacated by downsizers would become available.

The recent Parliamentary Select Committee enquiry into the working of the National Planning Policy Framework  found that interpretations of ‘sustainable development’ had been inconsistent and  unsatisfactory.   Making efficient use of the housing stock will become more urgent as other sectors; power generation, industry, transport and agriculture, fail to meet statutory carbon reduction targets.  Planners must insist that new housing contributes to the achievement of sustainable development (inc 6% carbon reductions/annum) while residential development and employment in the County is planned to grow at 2.5%."

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