We objected to the Barton Farm development. This was not because we think housing is not a problem, nor was it for NIMBY reasons. It was because it addressed the wrong problem. The planners seem entirely unable to distinguish housing need from housing demand. Housing need relates to that of the people who already live or work in the area. Housing demand is a market concept – it means how many houses developers could sell if they were allowed free rein to build them. At the Core Strategy inquiry in 2012 the estimates of housing demand (that they called ‘need’) included a specific aim of the District Council to import population from the rest of the UK. Without that element, none of the Barton Farm development or any of the other major developments in the District were needed because the age distribution of the population of the region was such that natural growth did not outstrip the natural decline.
Of course there were all sorts of weasel words used by the planners to justify local housing need, but one only has to see what the developers actually do. Once they had got the numbers they wanted, they then set about arguing to reduce the contribution towards satisfying any social housing need. The ‘affordable’ housing element in Barton Farm clearly does not fit any definition of social need – ‘affordable’ is taken to mean housing at 80% of market rent – at Winchester rents hardly affordable by those in real need. The developers also began to argue that they should reduce the burden of environmental standard on their new housing developments so they could make even bigger profits. It is instructive to consider what happens when the District Council gets into the position of being partner to development, as at Silver Hill – they simply drop the ‘affordable’ housing altogether because they think they can make more money by just building for the commercial housing market.
We believe that local planning should look at local need and then plan for meeting it. That means Council house building and it means spending rates to do it. It is way past time that we continue to think in terms of social needs being met by Mrs Thatcher’s ‘leaky buckets’ – make the rich richer and more drops of money will naturally drip down to the lower orders.