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The Harpenden in Question - being a series of editorial commentaries on important Harpenden issues  that should challenge thought and encourage inquiry and action.

14. Housing Wants

When speaking in March at The Society's AGM in reference to the Independent Assessment of Housing Needs and Strategic Housing Market Assessment: St Albans City and District Council (November 2013) Councillor Julian Daly, the District's planning portfolio holder, said rather patronisingly to the audience, 'you would not understand it.'

There is some truth in this conclusion, in that the report is designed to obfuscate or, at least, blind with science, with its barrage of coloured diagrams, numerical tables, cumbersome jargon and sheer wordage. It is 317 pages long and weighs in on the kitchen scales at 1 lb 12 oz – my hardback volume of the complete works of Shakespeare manages only a puny 1 lb 2 oz.













The report offered some nine scenarios and options for housing over the twenty years. 2012 to 2031. The District Council  appears to have chosen the one that arrives at a total of some 8452 housing units.

However, in practice that apparently means 436 new houses or flats every year. Where, then, is the need?

 There will be natural population growth and change over that time but the report argues that 'internal migration is the most significant single component of projected population change'. The figures are jumbled but the indication is that about a third of the required new houses would be for internal migration. Thus of those 436 houses, some 142 represent net inward migration, that is by how many the figure of prospective householders arriving in the District will outnumber those who leave; not replacements, mark, but extras.  

    

Autumn 2014 Newsletter

The plan predicts that each year 142 more house-seekers will come here than leave, so 142 houses must be built; the plan is adopted; the houses are  built; the people roll up to live in them; the plan is justified. It is a win-win call for the planner, but it turns cause and effect around. If the houses weren't built, the incomers would have to go somewhere else or remain where they are.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is largely based on the number of 'extras' who came here over the last few years – but that in itself is tantamount to the number of extra houses that were built!

I am indebted to the District Planning & Building Control office for its courtesy, promptness and efficiency in providing me with the startling information that the report cost, with VAT, something like £44,000, almost twice the current average individual annual earnings.  What a pity Councillor Daly didn't have a word with me. I could have put him in touch with Gipsy Petrulengo on the Golden Mile at Blackpool who would have offered an equally interesting piece of fortune telling for a couple of quid.

This is largely a housing 'wants' assessment. All those people would 'want' not 'need' to come to St Albans. And two critical elements are missing. One is infrastructure. The other is employment opportunities.

So. Subtract a third, say, 142 houses from the 436 total, then it would be just 294 'needed' a year. It would be more manageable, with little if any need of the Green Belt.

From a professional perspective, I have sufficient doubts about the somewhat outmoded bases the report uses in terms of the effects of older age and younger generation employment to suggest a few more houses could be shaved off that 294.

Hang on. Watch out. We'll soon be back to the modest 250 a year of the derided draft Core Strategy Plan...which we would be delighted to accept. Better to have turned for advice to my lighter weight Swan of Avon, as in Henry IV Part II:

     When we mean to build

     We first survey the plot, then draw the model;

     And when we see the figure of the house,

    Then we must rate the cost of the erection;

    Which if we find outweighs ability,

    What do we then but draw anew the model

    In fewer offices, or at last desist

    To build at all?

Eric Midwinter



Plans, Plans, Plans

By our roving correspondent

On Thursday 12th June The Society organised a public meeting about our District Council’s new Strategic Local Plan (SLP). It is a potentially vexing topic, as when the SLP is finalised it will control new building in our District for the next 20 years. The meeting was held in the conference hall at Rothamsted and every one of the 200 seats had been booked.













Julian Daly (above) newly elected leader of SADC and holder of its planning portfolio, laid out for the people of Harpenden why we need an SLP, how SADC gets one, what an SLP does and what constraints SADC faces.  Joanne Whitehead from the Harpenden Green Belt Association (HGBA) said where they think SADC is in danger of going wrong (see page 2) and our chief local builder Mike Peters of Jarvis spoke up for the builders.

It was the first public occasion where SADC has been able to describe how their SLP is taking shape. The Society has been trying to get the meeting organised for a year now, and it is good that SADC are closer to taking key decisions on the SLP. The HGBA attends all the meetings of SADC’s planning policy committee and has read the consultants’ reports prepared for the draft SLP.

Questions from the floor showed that residents are very bothered about the way that infrastructure constraints are affecting life in the town, and may get

worse. These include water, primary and secondary schools, roads, parking, seats on the train and waiting time to see the doctor. Others agreed with the HGBA speaker and expressed doubts about the process used by SADC in developing its SLP.

Our chairman Chris Marsden controlled the meeting with his usual flair and good humoured efficiency, and in order to get a steer for The Society put this resolution:

Firstly, The Society will press strongly that any green belt released for housing development should satisfy the 'exceptional circumstances' criterion in the National Policy Condition, and

Secondly, The Society will press SADC to ensure that its  'defensible position' includes full recognition of the infrastructure implications of any proposed development and a commitment to the provision of adequate resources to deal with those implications in a way that is acceptable to the community.

 This was passed unanimously, so watch this space! There are exciting times ahead.

Please add your voice to those who spoke up so resolutely at the public meeting in defence of the social perils facing the whole of the District should these ill-conceived plans go ahead. Put simply, houses that are unneeded are to be built on the wrong sites even if they were needed... Write to your District Councillor now. A full list is available on the Harpenden Town Council web site:

 http://www.harpenden.gov.uk/councillors