York green belt housing plan ‘is deplorable and will not deliver’

New homes in Lilbourne Drive, York. Photograph: Google
13 May 2013 @ 4.38 pm
| Opinion, Property
New homes in Lilbourne Drive, York. Photograph: Google
New homes in Lilbourne Drive, York. Photograph: Google

York council’s proposal to allow house building on the green belt is part of a “defective” new Local Plan that will not deliver the new homes we need, argues entrepreneur and former house builder Matthew Laverack

The sacrifice of protected countryside land for housebuilding is a manifestation of failure – and a betrayal of the fundamental core planning principle that existing vacant sites within the city should be built out before considering any further urban expansion.

It is precisely because of unrealistic demands in respect of affordable housing, infra-structure and other obligations that developers have shunned the available sites in York.

The Labour-controlled council hope that by allocating countryside for housing, owners of farmland will sell for slightly more than agricultural value (rather than the true value of building land) in order that the council’s “sacred-cow” affordable housing policies will be shown to be workable.

This is deplorable. Quite apart from anything else it will effectively condemn York Central, British Sugar, Nestlé and other difficult sites to indefinite stagnation. Who would choose to build here if there is a nice easy open green field to build on at a knock-down price?

The vast bulk of this proposed housebuilding depends on private enterprise and (apart from a couple of extraordinary examples where local firms have got into bed with the council on questionable projects) the private sector does not have the appetite for a major programme of construction because the effort and risks far outweigh the rewards.

The allocation of cheap countryside land to entice the private sector will not work in any event because at the same time further burdens are to be imposed in the form of a new infra-structure levy and absurdly expensive sustainability codes that will lead to a termination of most speculative housebuilding after 2016.

City of York Council leader James Alexander could surrender half the farmland in the York green belt and announce a million new homes if he wished it will amount to nothing. It is all words and coloured maps. What he can’t do is build anything himself or force an unwilling private sector to do his bidding.

The new Local Plan is defective and will not deliver.

York council cabinet member for housing, Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, leader James Alexander and Local Plan working group chair Dave Merrett promoted the new scheme. Photograph: City of York Council
York council cabinet member for housing, Coun Tracey Simpson-Laing, leader James Alexander and Local Plan working group chair Dave Merrett promoted the new scheme. Photograph: City of York Council

The wider public have no idea of the difficulties facing housebuilders or the disaster that we face. Politicians have screwed up big time. They all presumed that the private sector was a cow to be milked ad-infinitum. They thought they could keep on heaping more and more demands on the industry and that the product would still be forthcoming.

None of them thought for one minute that firms would actually say “No! I’ve had enough. I am not going to continue. I am closing down.” But that is where we are right now.

Unless the burdens that have been imposed over the last 10 to 15 years are removed you can kiss goodbye to housebuilding and similarly kiss goodbye to a national economic recovery. The allocation of easy green belt land will make no difference in the end.

There are those like John Hocking of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust who insist that the lack of housebuilding is nothing to do with onerous planning policies but all the result of a lack of finance and lack of cheap land. This is foolish. Finance is not available because the lenders will not lend when the onerous policies make ventures too risky! Landowners will not sell at a knock down price because – why should they?

John Hocking went on Radio York to say that developers should “build for the benefit of the wider community”. No they shouldn’t. That is not their job. They are private firms.

Their obligation is to act in the best interests of that firm. It is charitable organisations like JRHT that exist to act in the interests of the community. That is their job. That is why some receive massive public funds (largely from the taxes paid by successful private firms) to enable them to do what they do – including paying very generous salaries and benefits to the likes of Housing Association bosses.

Out here in the real world we earn every penny of our income. And if we don’t perform we don’t eat. If we fail we lose everything – our savings, our homes, the lot.

And they wonder why no one is building any more.

2 thoughts on “York green belt housing plan ‘is deplorable and will not deliver’

  1. James alexander and his cronies were a job built houses opposite me and said they would not use our residential parking and already there tenants are disrespecting where we have to live also home residents pay for a caretaker and I now feel I am paying to clean up after there tenant works on his van in our courtyard to save getting chemicals and mud outside his property which has led to me refusing to pay this till our residential parking is cleaned properly and the bill given to the tenant.

    I contacted james alexander on more than one occasion with the details to the problem he was about as much use as a chocolate fire guard..!

  2. The shrinking of the housebuilding sector, and it’s inability to grow back to the levels of output that the country requires, is not solely down to the effects of the recession and global economic problems.

    The sector has been overloaded with costly regulatory burden by blinkered politicians, and it is this, as Matthew asserts, that has killed off the grass roots of the sector.

    York Council have added to the problem, and made things worse in York. They have done this by imposing and retaining their greedy 50% affordable housing policy for almost six years from April 2005 to December 2010, which almost paralysed housebuilding in the city. The Local Plan is an attempt to cover up their failure with the LDF, and the flooding of York with green belt land is a cynical attempt to increase the affordable housing grab. If they had managed their policies with more intelligence, York could have had far more houses using far less green belt land. Politics of the left is guilty for the mess that York has with housebuilding, don’t let them kid you otherwise.

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