Housing Crisis

Date From

Monday 10 January 2022

Date To

Monday 28 February 2022

Description

Note: It is important that the people of Torbay let the council know exactly what we think. This article aims to be ever-so-slightly provocative in order to stimulate those responsive juices.

The Torbay Local Plan 2012/2030 has to updated every five years. This time around, the Council has decided to only look at the housing crisis (its word). Presumably eveything else is hunky-dory. 

After the debacle of Inglewood, the council has found itself stuck in a position where: Torbay is way short of the number of houses that central government says have to be built and the number that have been actually built. This has meant that planning applications that may not have been approved, have nevertheless been approved. What the local plan says, and more importantly, what the neighbourhood plans say, have "carried less weight". Some may say "been ignored".

It's important to grasp that local plans and neighbourhood plans are nothing of the sort. From the housing perspective, they are simply invitations to private developers to build in Torbay (if they would like to - and that's driven entirely by their profit motive). The council itself builds, to all intents and purposes, (virtually) nothing.

We mention that fact now because it is important when we hear talk of brownfield versus greenfield.

Due to the dire state of housing (with over a thousand families on the waiting list, developers not building where they said they would build, the council building nothing, hundreds of empty houses, and green fields disappearing faster than you can say  'Inglewood') the council has spent the last year compiling a "no stone unturned" list of sites that in theory could be built on. In theory.

Before the local plan can be modified with a new overarching policy on housing, the law says that the public must be consulted. So, we're in the middle of a "consultation" period where you (yes, you) may have your say.  It's easiest for the council if we tick a few boxes on its website. There isn't much work then in adding up the ticks and saying things like "42% of people prefer option 3". (You may send an email as well if the mood takes you).

Unfortunately therein lies the failure of so-called consultations. You get pre-packaged 'questions' that rely on in-depth knowledge of the background behind them. It is, therefore, imperative that people discuss and debate that background in order for the council to understand the thoughts of the people for whom it works and represents. 

To help that debate, let's consider each of the items (as listed on its 'survey' - AKA 'consultation'):

Minimises the impact on the environment

We all want to do that.. don't we?

Minimises the impact on Torbay’s infrastructure

What infrastructure (roads, health services, schools, ...)?

Provides some employment development

How? Simply saying "here's a site that a company could put an office or factory building on" means what? 

Minimises the impact on town centre heritage assets

So, there will be an impact?

Less impact on Conservation Areas

So, there will be an impact?

Avoids the most sensitive greenfield areas

"Most sensitive" meaning what?

Housing supply would get closer to meeting Torbay’s needs

What are Torbay's needs?

Housing supply would meet Torbay’s needs, in theory

What are Torbay's needs (in theory or otherwise)? And why does the question hedge its bets by saying "in theory"?

Provides affordable housing

How is so-called affordable housing going to be provided? The council has no effective house-building programme for it, and developers don't want to provide anything that cuts into their profits.

There would be a positive impact on tourism

How? 

Increases social equality

How?

Development is likely to be in urban areas and brownfield sites

Given that developers are not breaking down the doors to build on brownfield sites, why is it 'likely'?

Infrastructure would be in concentrated areas

Meaning that people need to "concentrate together" in order to get services?

There would be at least some landscape and ecological harm

What does 'at least some" mean?

There would be serious landscape and ecological harm

Would there? Where's the evidence?

There would be significant landscape and ecological harm

Is 'significant' worse than 'serious'?

Limited opportunities for employment development

Is availablility of land the reason behind the lack of decent employment?

Housing supply would not meet Torbay’s need

What is Torbay's need?

Housing need is incorrect and should be lower

How to answer without seeing the evidence?

Over-reliance on apartments

Really? Who says, and where?

There would be a negative impact on tourism

How? Where's the evidence?

There would be a devastating impact on tourism

'Devastating' is worse than 'negative'one assumes.

The council is stuck between the oft-quoted rock and hard place. It appears to have no real understanding of the feelings of real people. Yet provides a 'consultation' survey with vague leading questions. In order to squeeze out from the rock, the survey provides a further leading question:

Would you support a hybrid (i.e. a mixed) approach with a lower "baseline" fixed figure but a higher potential figure that could only be met through urban brownfield sites?

This is (probably) what most people would support but, and it's a massive but, central government is highly unlikely to support Torbay (theoretically) building less houses (that would lower the 300,000 houses that it has stated in its general election manifesto). Even if it did, which private developers are going to want to build on brownfield sites (at higher cost, and hence lower profit)?

Last provocative bit: The current norm of 40-storey tower blocks might be the way forward. If the builder doesn't run into "financial difficulties", of course.

 

Chris Harvey

Last Updated: Tuesday 15 February 2022