Monday, 22 June 2009
Homes and Gardens
Among the big houses along Wells Road, at the edge of Stockwood ward, there are a string of ten houses with comfortably sized front gardens fronting the A37 and huge rear gardens.
All ten owners have paved over their front gardens to provide parking for those of their cars that won't fit in the garages.
Finding they were spending more time in their cars, and less time in their gardens, nine of the ten householders went on to sell chunks of their back gardens to developers. Linden Homes had spotted that the land would be just right for a small estate, with access from a side road, David's Road. A few protests from neighbours went unheeded, and at the second attempt, Linden Homes won planning permission in April of last year.
The approved development had a footprint of 1.1 hectares, and they found space in it for 56 units, giving a density of 50 dph. The maximum height would be three storeys, 14 units would be "affordable" (whatever that means) and 9 of those would be rented. The price of the planning permission was a Section 106 payment to the council of £26K for 'sustainable travel options' related to the site, plus £14K for library purposes.
Then the recession hit. Linden homes decided not to build, not yet anyway. Instead they went back to the drawing board and came up with an alternative recession-proof scheme.
The new version has just the same footprint, just the same number of dwellings, but the garages are turned into parking spaces, and the maximum dwelling height is now down to two stories. The big difference is that it's ALL now social housing. Most will be at an 'affordable' rent, some will be at a 'sub-market' rent, with a view to shared ownership.
Cue a belated letter to the Evening Post from Stockwood's two conservative councillors. They say:
"It is sad that under the Labour Government's current planning guidelines, properties with large gardens continue to be seen as fair game for intensive over-development.
Sadly, these types of houses will remain out of the reach of ordinary people – as it is no longer fashionable or profitable to build new homes which utilise such space and the existing stock is rapidly being diminished."
There is no mention that the new proposals actually cater rather better for 'ordinary people' than the original scheme, with planning permission, that was intended for the open market. Instead, the argument seems to be that we need more houses with enormous gardens for 'ordinary people'.
If that really is their plea, then it does beg the question of where the land is to be found to accommodate them. The Tories are already (and rightly) incensed at the prospect of losing the Green Belt. We're already getting the usual inexplicable rejoicing that the property market is 'picking up' - i.e. prices are rising. So where are new affordable homes to be built - especially if they're to have the option of large gardens?
I think we should be told. Or we might even suspect that this isn't about protecting gardens... it's about keeping the undeserving poor out of the neighbourhood.
Anyway, the latest plans from Linden Homes have now been granted planning permission under delegated powers; it didn't even need to go through committee because the precedent had already been set.
That's a pity. There were very good grounds for challenging the developers' claims for this being a 'sustainable' development. It isn't.
The houses will be built only to Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. This is a minimum requirement for Housing Corporation (now Homes and Communities Agency) ventures.
There's no real attempt to discourage the ownership and use of private cars, the bus services are not good enough, and access to the nearby Whitchurch Railway Path and to Stockwood remains difficult for anyone on wheels. It's another missed opportunity.