Friday, 18 February 2011

A house divided is a house to be united

The demands on housing in Berkshire continues to cause pressure for families, but it also threatens to open up a major divide between members of the Conservative and LibDem coalition partnership.

In a pair of personal posts Bracknell's Darren Bridgeman writes to explain the challenge of starting a new family in a one-bedroom flat.

He expresses his frustration that, despite having a household income which far outstrips the national average even after the loss of one income, he finds himself in the so-called 'squeezed-middle' where the triple-impact of reduced state support, higher costs and no equity means he must question his support for the policies his party is committed to nationally.

Darren then takes a step back to explain a defensive reaction against the coalition is understandable, but that it's also important to bear in mind the wider context.

And this debate is also playing out in the corridors of power.

In West Berkshire discussions over changes to the Local Development Framework between ruling Conservatives and opposition LibDems has spilled over into open warfare as major plans to develop several prominent sites came into focus.

Over 10,000 new houses are hoped to be built in the Newbury area by 2026. This will include 1,000 at Sandleford Park, where there is potential for that number to double in the following decade.

But the identification of this as a 'strategic site' where new housing in the borough will be concentrated has aroused widespread opposition due to the manner of selection.

Conservatives were forced to put on hold their motion for approval by council officers, as the framework requires all strategic sites to be included together unanimously.

Basildon's executive member for housing, Cllr Alan Law, said LibDems had made "a 180-degree about turn over a decision they supported last year," and accused the opposition of blatant populism and electioneering. LibDems rejected these 'false' claims that they were attempting to 'rewrite history', with Burghfield's Cllr Royce Longton pointing out a consistent record of opposition to development of this site since 2009.

In an earlier move which surprised many, the executive director of proposed Sandleford Park developer Beyond Green, Jonathan Smales, intervened to raise questions about the processes involved behind the decision:
"The mysterious elevation of Sandleford Park as a strategic site is inappropriate, unfair and another example of the politicisation of the planning process."
He added that the site had been 'clandestinely promoted' by the Conservative-dominated council 'acting against all of its own advice' at the last possible moment from bottom of a list of 12, in what he described as a 'political stitch-up'.

And in Wokingham similar issues are causing equal anxiety as six villages comprising the borough's Southern Parishes Planning Group have launched a legal challenge against the Conservative council's support for 10,000 new homes by seeking a judicial review against the development of on green-belt land to the immediate south and south-east of Reading.

David Savage, speaking on behalf of University of Reading (which is the major landowner at the Shinfield portion of the LDF plan), said redevelopment would offer 'an improved outlook' for neighbours and 'provide much needed high-quality housing' to allow reinvestment into the institution's higher education research facilities.

During the forestry consultation debate John Redwood MP recently declared himself a 'tree-hugger' in defiance of his reputation as an 'economic realist', although he immediately tempered this by adding "there are occasions when Planning authorities need to grant development permissions... to make space for new homes or factories."

But the LibDem Leader of Wokingham's opposition, Winnersh's Cllr Prue Bray expresses some concern that public comments on individual portions of the 'complicated scheme' are likely to be discouraged by the 200 pages of accompanying documents, despite remaining open for submissions until March 6th.

Continuing the spread of suburbia may still be an option for the ruling administrations in Berkshire's rural districts, but in already heavily-urbanised Reading and Slough the demand on land is that much greater and policy-makers face a different set of challenges.

In Labour-controlled Slough the problem of housing shortages has uncovered different consequences - particularly when locals discovered a group of squatters cramped into derelict property.

Residents were outraged at the new arrivals who were causing disturbances, living in unsanitary conditions and illegally reconnecting utilities in the makeshift shelters. They soon organised a petition to ensure they were evicted by Police (source photo).

Meanwhile in Reading, Conservative Alok Sharma MP recently praised the successful efforts of local campaigners in fighting against the unpopular redevelopment of the Bath Rd Reservoir which would have seen the loss of a rare green space described as a vital 'green lung' in a built-up area.

But lead councillor for housing in Reading's ruling coalition, LibDem Cllr Daisy Benson, has obviously been working overtime to bring about more detailed and creative solutions to residential problems.

For her the challenge is in combining social, economic and environmental factors to help improve the quality of life, especially those who need greater support - and this means creating decent neighourhoods for all local residents.
She notes the problem of overcrowding and the shortage of affordable housing suitable for families and older people as market forces resulted in a shift of emphasis towards younger, single professionals.

But awareness-raising and analysis is matched by action too - as she also admits being 'obsessed' about tackling empty properties and ensuring council-owned homes in the Reading meet national standards of decency.

Oranjepan says:
Maybe the Bracknell blogger could find a happier home for him and his family in Reading!


More housing matters


  1. Maybe I could, but then I would have to be the Reading blogger 80)

  2. Maybe I could, but then I would have to be the Reading blogger 80)


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