In early January it was impossible to escape images of waterlogged homes and the devastation inflicted on numerous communities in Scotland and North West England.
In some areas this has happened for centuries, but in others questions are being asked about why houses were built on flood plains at all. The clue is in the name, yet we still seem surprised when new properties near rivers get inundated because there’s been little or no attention paid to mitigate the obvious risks.
It’s made me think about where we should be looking to construct new houses, especially later this year when local authorities will be obliged to identify serviced plots to meet the demands of Right to Build registers. The government wants to see a million new dwellings erected before 2020.
However, despite the clamour to create more homes, there’s loud opposition from those who might want to see the development of new properties – but nowhere near them. You’ve probably heard of NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard), but there are other groups just as passionate and equally as hard to deal with.
According to a report in The Guardian, the largest nine developers in the UK have 615,152 plots ready, but there are suspicions the supply of new homes is being rationed to keep prices (and therefore profits) artificially high. All sorts of reasons are given for not starting work on these sites: limited demand; shortages of labour and materials; and unworkable planning conditions, to name a few.
How many of these plots are situated on flood plains I don’t know, but to find the balance and create one million dwellings we’re going to have to rethink how we allocate land for housing. Areas at risk of flooding should be out of the question, and brownfield sites should be the first choice – but not all of these are suitable for domestic developments.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) is making noise about how the countryside is apparently being concreted over. I read a letter in a national paper from someone who was seriously suggesting there would be no countryside left by 2050, should current housing targets be achieved.
It’s nonsense: 7% of the UK is developed, and increasing this to just 8% meets all our requirements. I suspect many campaigners have a romantic vision of an unspoilt rural Britain. Actually, bits of what we call countryside are nothing short of eyesores and are ripe for sensitive development, especially by individual self and custom builders looking to create high quality, unique designs.
I say drop this knee-jerk objection to permitting development on greenfield sites, and stop the rampant conflation of greenfield and Green Belt land designations in the press, because the two are completely different things. The latter is legally protected and rightly so. Greenfield simply means nothing has been built there – at least not yet. In some cases, we might just have to.