Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home...

I remember how difficult it was to secure a mortgage back when I purchased my first home a few decades ago. I admit we had to tap into an ‘old boy’s network’ that my dad was on the edge of to even open the door of the building society. Nowadays it seems to be the opposite extreme where borrowing has become the easy part of the process.

And as a result of this there is now an uncomfortable truth in that the perception has changed. Often ‘Houses’ are talked about rather than ‘Homes’ and where the purchase is seen more of  as an investment. It is said you can tell how well a country is doing economically by seeing how many houses are being built. However, surely reducing a multilayered, complex issue to such a simplistic formula is misleading?

Running alongside the critical need for accommodation is a larger investment model, one where often overseas finance enables a property developer to build prestige flats in a prime location that often remain empty, sometimes decaying, whilst the investor reaps their reward remotely.

The current government is effectively imposing new housing quotas onto local authorities which then attempt to fulfil these by expecting local communities to shoulder a proportion of that burden. The principles behind this process are contained within a government white paper called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a document I am now all too familiar with!

This is how Neighbourhood Plans (NP) came about. Each parish or town council can encourage a local committee to voluntarily produce a document (NP) to moderate their local authorities requirements laid out in the Local Plan (LP) by, in our case, Colchester Borough Council (CBC).

Without the Local Plan and, to a lesser extent, a Neighbourhood Plan the problem arises in that it plays into the hands of the larger developers to build larger, therefore more profitable houses, rather than determining what the actual housing needs are and then building homes that match those needs.

It is an irony that often the so called ‘affordable homes’ in new developments are not bought by local folk, they simply cannot afford them, and that can lead to just the arrival of the wealthy retired and then departure of the younger locals . How much better would it be to concentrate on smaller, energy efficient homes targeted mainly for the younger couples and families. With homes built to a Passivhaus standard or similar eco-home model running costs would be manageable and the load on the utilities would be reduced. This is what I am encouraging in West Mersea’s Neighbourhood Plan.

I have attended the CBC Local Plan meetings (I know how to party!) and seen firsthand how it has been moderated as a result of both public response and local  council’s input. So despite the concerns I have I am optimistic that our Neighbourhood Plan will be the method to navigate a positive way forward for our local community.


Promoted by Robbie Spence on behalf of Peter Banks, both of 124 Morant Road, Colchester CO1 2JD

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