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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

How can we preserve our wealth of ancient woodland? copyright Nigel Chadwick

Not in my back yard!

You may denounce UKIP as racist and shun their policies, but sooner or later we must address the agenda of how we provide the jobs, homes and other infrastructure as population growth presses against available resources. HOT’s Chris Cormack, in the first part of a series, argues that it is not good enough to oppose every new infrastructure project without offering an alternative for delivering on targets for Hastings and Rother.

I was born at the beginning of the baby-boomer generation. In my youth, although Europe’s  population had been decimated in the War, it was axiomatic that poverty and hunger was a function of an expanding population pressing on finite resources, which depressed wages at the margin to a bare minimum to sustain life. These were established in seemingly immutable economic laws expounded by Malthus and Ricardo.

An innovative contemporary eco-house for St Leonards but where?

It was since increasingly evident that the worst famines had an extra man-made component, for example in the Soviet Union and China, but that a scientific ‘green revolution’ could expand food production faster than the population it needed to feed. Environmentalists are still counting the cost of the green revolution, but the dangers of rapid population growth seem to be increasingly ignored; indeed today’s prevailing sentiment is that we need an ever expanding younger population to look after the economic needs of an expanding older generation, needy of care and too old to contribute to the nation’s economy. Is this sustainable over time? In my day we thought that technological advance would reduce the labour inputs and the problem would be more how to cope with increasing enforced leisure!

Houses on Chapel Park Road scheduled for demolition

Current houses on Chapel Park Road scheduled for demolition - build upwards on brownfield sites?

When population in the UK began to stabilise as birth rates from our average 2.4 children per family matched death rates, for a time we could believe that education, birth control and modern technology could offer a stable economic model where sustainability was key to happiness and prosperity. We did not reckon with the effect of the rapid extension  of life expectancy accompanied by increasing disability in old age. Nor did we reckon with the persistent clamour to expand the population of young workers for a ‘sustainable’ economy.

What has all this to do with Hastings and Rother? It has been known for a long time that the UK, especially in the South East, is suffering a serious housing shortage  with devastating effects on the reasonable aspirations of our young to become part of the home-owning generation. The latest central government strategy  says little about how and where land will be available for building new houses or how local government can meet challenging housing targets imposed on them. The strategy states that households in England should grow to 27.5 million in 2033, an increase of 5.8 million (27%) over 2008, or 232,000 households per year.

In response to the central government, Hastings Borough Council succeeded in proposing a housing target that was only half of its ‘objectively assessed housing need’. The Planning Inspectorate endorsed this on the basis that Hastings has a very tight boundary where, on its land side, it is all AONB. In an HBC Report dated 21 October 2013 it stated (Paras 55/56) land is:

exceedingly pleasant in character and appearance, complementing the specially designated areas and providing an integral part of an attractive rural setting for a Borough where often high densities predominate. More generally within the main built up area these environmental assets include 2 Historic Parks and Gardens (Alexandra and St Leonard’s Parks), Local Nature Reserves, Wildlife Corridors, Playing Fields, Allotments and Nature Conservation Areas… valuable assets which give the Borough its unique charm, character and appeal.  In general, they should be protected.  This implies significant limitations on the capacity of the Borough to accommodate growth… a housing supply of 3,647 dwellings, about 214 dwellings annually… is about as much as the Borough can reasonably take in present circumstances.”

Hurrah, you might say! We now only need aim to produce 214 homes a year to meet Hastings’ target. However as result of a central government policy, the so-called ‘duty to cooperate’ (DTC), Rother is asked to triple its housing targets to accommodate overspill from Hastings. Rother now needs an additional 9,000 homes compared to Hastings’ target of 3647. Rother is 80% AONB.

Naturally Rother is appealing, as yet unsuccessfully, against the new target, but if the country needs the houses to accommodate its expanding population what is to be done? Use the DTC principle to pass the parcel to Tunbridge Wells and Ashford, who no doubt already have their own demanding housing targets? Where does ‘not in my backyard’ end?

In the next of the series, I shall look at the provision of jobs in Hastings and Rother as a necessary adjunct to expanding home-building and population. I shall investigate Sea Change as an organisation, and explain why the economic development  of  the Hastings/Bexhill corridor, now embodied in the Bexhill Hastings Link Road developments is not, as Combe Haven Defenders contend, ‘Osborne’s Road to Nowhere’ but  the partial fulfilment of an economic plan which originated in November 2003 as a result of a Labour government initiative to regenerate Hastings. It was then called quaintly ‘The Country Avenue Project ‘.

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Posted 15:47 Monday, Jan 12, 2015 In: Home Ground

13 Comments

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  1. ken davis

    So easy to be misunderstood on these comments. Regarding Land Tax, I think it is an excellent idea in theory but the practice is tricky. Firstly none of the main parties would ever risk the loss of votes they would suffer from bringing it in. Secondly, people do not always hold land for speculative gain; a big assumption. Sometimes it is held for familial reasons, sometimes because it is subject to long term litigious dispute, and sometimes because the owner is working hard in the background to save enough capital to work on the property.The fact is that public bodies themselves hold vast amounts of wasted/under used land and can do so because they do not have to produce balance sheets and yet on the other hand they can pursue compulsory purchase orders against individuals who under use assets. There is actually more than enough public land in Hastings to provide housing sites for all of the towns homeless but it is often where the owners do not see the potential or the planning system restricts its use for example because it is not possible for a public road to reach it.

    Comment by ken davis — Tuesday, Feb 3, 2015 @ 15:40

  2. Karl Horton

    Thanks for the link in reply #9 Chris, will read it when I get the chance. I think that you are spot on with regard to land tax to make it more expensive for people to speculatively hold on to land. This would then make it cheaper for the (local) people to develop projects that benefit the community rather than become part of a party political broadcast.

    Local bureaucracy may well be increased, however I think better planning decisions would result from it, and so be worth the increase in cost. Local people know where the flood plains are and which sites should be developed first better than some random number generator in Westminster.

    SeaChange/Space have definitely done some good projects for the town – especially revamping the college and bringing the university to Hastings. However I’m not convinced that top-down regeneration is a great thing. As this is essentially an unaccountable company not subject to Freedom of Information/transparency with little or no monitoring of how the projects do (such as Enviro 21). How can we learn from our mistakes – surely the most valuable lesson of all? For regeneration to properly work the population has to be engaged. Looking at some of the ‘consultations’ produced they appear to direct the participant into supporting their pet projects.

    Comment by Karl Horton — Thursday, Jan 29, 2015 @ 21:49

  3. Chris Cormack

    It disappoints me that Ken can write that ‘taxing land is a complete political no go area’.

    It was a democratically elected Liberal government with David Lloyd- George and Winston Churchill as ministers that passed a budget to tax land successfully through the House of Commons in 1909, only for it to be thrown out by the House of Lords. That Liberal government cared about this enough to change the constitution, such that the House of Lords no longer has the right to obstruct budget legislation beyond certain limits.

    At the time Winston Churchill said:

    “Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric
    light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred
    miles off in the mountains — and all the while the landlord sits still.
    Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of
    other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements
    does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet
    by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders
    no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general
    welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own
    enrichment is derived.”

    Winston Churchill finished this speech of May 4, 1909 in the House of Commons by saying: “We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law.”

    For the full speech see:

    http://www.grundskyld.dk/pdf/Winston-Churchill-Land-Monopoly.pdf

    For more information on Land Value Taxation, see:

    http://www.landvaluetax.org/the-campaign/introduction-to-land-value-tax-campaign.html

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Thursday, Jan 29, 2015 @ 12:19

  4. ken davis

    Hmm! Complex issue this planning thing. Firstly I should have prefaced my previous statement with the macro solution of moving government north to a more geographic centre which would move lots of money and jobs to where there is plenty of under utilised land. Secondly there are many thousands of unused sites in existing urban areas which, if identified in the Local Plan for self self-builders, could housing cheaper. Thirdly, one of the most absurd aspects of planning legislation is to identify sites for development which the planners have to then put some numbers to, that immediately puts a value on the site even before anyone has done a design feasibility study. Fourthly, it is one of those paradoxes of urban living that high density areas are often the most popular to live and work in. Maybe because people density tends to lead to economic vitality which becomes a virtuous circle.Where we have gone wrong is to accept low/poor quality (performance and appearance) buildings. This is largely because the planning system can only effectively measure numbers and has no agreed method of assessing quality.
    By the way, taxing land is a complete political no go area because it goes to the very heart of a free society (an Englishman’s home is his castle etc).This is also why we have so many ‘nimbys’though a good deal of that is also down to jealousy!

    Comment by ken davis — Monday, Jan 26, 2015 @ 20:09

  5. Chris Cormack

    Response to Karl Horton:
    Rather than discuss whether there is really a serious housing shortage, I think it is more worth-while to examine what the government means by ‘objectively assessed housing need’, and the fact that local authorities have continually failed to meet their targets which are based on this. This ‘objectively assessed housing need’ is described here:

    http://www.pas.gov.uk/documents/332612/6363137/Objectively+Assessed+Need+and+Housing+Targets/f22edcc2-32cf-47f1-8e4a-daf50e4412f7

    We employ civil servants to make these future assessments of housing need; to let local people decide on housing need would almost inevitably lead to much greater local bureaucracy and cost and not necessarily lead to a more correct ‘objective’ assessment. One could argue that local people are the least likely to be objective.

    To use regeneration money to buy up brownfield sites would play into the hands of land speculators by inflating prices of under-utilised sites in or near town-centres, which are more often than not owned by investors with speculation in mind. Surely it is better to penalise owners of under-utilised sites in prime locations by introducing a tax on land values. This incentivises owners of inner city sites to optimise the use of their sites and is likely to reduce the need to resort to greenfield sites.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Sunday, Jan 25, 2015 @ 16:14

  6. Karl Horton

    The real issue here is centralised government housing targets. The government know that house building near existing houses is unpopular (nimbyism). So they starve local councils of money/stop them from raising revenue, and offer financial incentives to build houses. So cash-starved local councils get all of the flak for building housing whilst trying to make ends meet. Local people via local councils should be in charge of how many houses they want to build. They will always know more accurately the level of supply and demand.

    The real crisis in housing is that the economic system as it currently stands allows rich multinational investors to buy up property here, and distort the prices for local people (increase them). These houses as investments are either lived in for a couple of weeks a year, or deliberately left empty as they are less valuable with tenants in them. So there are (deliberately) empty houses at the same time as people who need them. Building more houses is futile unless people can afford to buy them. It would be good if you could provide links to the reports that talk about the ‘serious housing shortage’.

    An older population does not need to be a bad thing, however we will have to adjust our expectations and lifestyles. It is of course very important to look after our bodies, and encourage exercise over inactivity. This is why we have to be very careful how we design our urban planning to make sure that developments are transport neutral – well served so that people can choose to walk, cycle, drive or take public transport to their workplace/shops. We must reduce our dependency on cars to reduce future (expensive) health problems.

    In summary the targets that require the infrastructure to be built are artificial, and lead to ‘artificial’ requirements of new infrastructure. They lead to inefficient use of land as properties that are run down are not developed before green field sites.

    Here is the alternative – use regeneration money to buy empty houses and empty industrial units. Employ local people to demolish or redevelop them. When 95% of industrial/houses are occupied, then build new capacity with local people in command of their own destinies. Not in control of unaccountable companies such as Seachange.

    Comment by Karl Horton — Saturday, Jan 24, 2015 @ 22:50

  7. DAR

    Sympathise with Paddy Stephenson, but think that Ken Davis’ vision sounds like one of Dante’s Circles of Hell. As I said previously, too many people are concentrating on SUPPLY solutions while ignoring the real problem: DEMAND.

    Comment by DAR — Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015 @ 15:15

  8. paddy stephenson

    There will come a time when there is no more land available for building anything in Hastings or St. Leonards UNLESS it is the intention to build over all our parks, woodlands and local nature reserves, wildlife sites and SSSI’S….in fact according to The Local Plan 2014 this town needs over 7000 houses up to 2028 but can only agree to build half of this….what happens when the next Local Plan comes up for discussion and examination? Perhaps the solution will be to build water bungalows in the ocean aka the Maldives.

    Joking aside, there surely must come a time when the council has to tell whatever government is in power ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – WE HAVE NO MORE LAND FOR BUILDING…. and BTW – how many know that from all the thousands of houses which will be built once the Bexhill By Pass is completed…none are allocated to Hastings…but we will experience all the extra traffic these new homes will visit upon us. Wow! Now that’s not fair is it? And no doubt the occupants of these projected homes will also use the facilities of the Conquest hospital too…poor old Hastings….what is in it for us?

    Comment by paddy stephenson — Sunday, Jan 18, 2015 @ 16:50

  9. ken davis

    It is an inevitable consequence of a growing population that we need more homes but we need not go on planning them or building them in the same old ways; we need new paradigms. Firstly on a town planning basis we need to accept/understand that high density urban development is what works best environmentally, socially and economically provided (big criteria) that the design quality (practical and aesthetic) is high. But to do this we do not need to go on spreading out from an existing town centre i.e concentrating that centre, we could have a series of interconnected small centres in an archipelago arrangement. What that means locally is to include Bexhill, Battle, Sedlescombe etc in a dispersed new ‘city’ (of a projected more economic size population of 250,000) with protected green spaces between, and a virtual city centre at Wilting (right near the failed Innovation Park….the new city council, but not much else, could move there.
    Then we need to facilitate more self-build on eyesore/wasted sites (there are hundreds of them)in urban areas including those with no vehicular access provided they are restricted by covenant only to be of zero carbon design and to use only zero carbon vehicles.
    This will do for now…..if anyone would like to reply I can expand. And the circular very green house in St.Leonards is my design on a site St.Johns Road. Others in the pipeline.

    Comment by ken davis — Thursday, Jan 15, 2015 @ 18:28

  10. Chris Cormack

    I have just tried this link and it has worked all right for me again. What I find strange about this website is why it should carry this SeaSpace document at all, and I am unable access the homepage to determine what kind of a website it is.

    The document is entitled THE BUSINESS PLAN FOR COASTAL REGENERATION
    IN HASTINGS AND BEXHILL Prepared for Hastings and Bexhill Renaissance Limited Trading as “Sea Space” November 2003. Please note it was prepared FOR not BY Sea Space. The authors were The Hastings and Bexhill Task Force with contributions by DTZ Peida Consulting.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015 @ 20:09

  11. Anton Hack

    According to the 2011 census, the population density of Hastings is about 16 times that of Rother – perhaps that is why Rother is being asked to build more homes?

    Comment by Anton Hack — Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015 @ 19:45

  12. Anton Hack

    Chris, I am not sure the ‘economic plan’ link to http://www.persona.uk.com/bexhill/Core_docs/CD-07/CD-07-07.pdf is working, could you confirm either way please?

    Comment by Anton Hack — Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015 @ 18:57

  13. DAR

    Hmmm…some common sense in that this is a hot issue (NPI) which has been problematic for years. However, we have to acknowledge that DEMAND is the problem rather than SUPPLY, and maybe this will be explored in future articles. An annual population increase of over a quarter of a million people through net migration – that’s around half the population of East Sussex, btw – is a large part of the problem. It pains me to say that the Greens seem unable to “join up the dots” on this one – probably because they follow the line that anyone who is opposed to current levels of net migration must be xenophobic blah blah blah… But England (where the majority of immigrants settle) is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet already, and I don’t see how we can sustain current quality of life levels if this continues…what with increasing demands on land, resources, energy, water, public services etc. If that sounds “Nimby”, well, so be it. But I would ask those who believe in “open door” borders what level of annual net migration would they deem acceptable. When would they call “Enough”? Half a million? One million? Five million…well, you get the point. Would anyone like to answer that one?

    Comment by DAR — Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015 @ 18:37

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