With the elections coming up there is an opportunity to ask political candidates some difficult questions. We know that housing will be a key election issue, there are already a number of hustings on the topic. To be honest I don’t envy the politicians who will be in the firing line. Housing is without a doubt a difficult topic, we at PD are still getting our heads around it. What is clear is that the problem of housing frequently creates conflict, not just between developers, planners and communities, but even within communities. It can be highly divisive.
A key question to those budding politicians is: Who is benefitting and who is losing out from the way Scotland is trying to address its housing problem?
Is the current system, so heavily reliant on the market and large scale private developers, the best way to provide the housing we need? We don’t think it is. And we are worried that it ignores the roots of conflicts and abandons those who lose out in the process.
We have written about Government housing and planning policy in previous posts. The latest situation following our December update is that two developers (Graham’s ‘Family’ Dairy (Property) Ltd (with McTaggart and Mickell) and Elan Homes) have challenged the Government’s revised interim housing policy in the courts. There will be a hearing on the 14th and 15th April, where we will learn more about the nature of the challenge. If successful it is possible that the Government’s (rather watered down) attempts to close a loophole that gives developers an even stronger hand to build wherever they wish, could be thwarted. Once again, communities affected by housing proposals being pushed through by volume house builders, are forced to watch and wait for events beyond their control that will impact their lives irrevocably.
The range of people in touch with us, and indeed the large numbers of questions asked at our online event, (where Government Reporter Dan Jackman explained the role of the DPEA, Local Development Plans and Appeals), shows that concerns are widespread, particularly in relation to planning appeals and the weighting of the system in favour of developers.
Take for example the communities of Stepps and Cardowan in North Lanarkshire. The residents of these adjacent areas are ‘under siege’ from 5 large scale speculative housing proposals on greenfield and agricultural sites including one by Barratt and Cala that has just gained approval.
Here is a map of the various proposals pending and recently approved in the area.
Although none of these sites were identified for housing in the Local Development Plan, applications have been made by the big house builders knowing that they will likely be granted permission to support the Scottish Government’s drive to meet their housing targets. Even if they’re refused by the local authority, they will still have a 58% chance of succeeding at appeal, which are very good odds for any developer wanting to chance their arm. For years, residents and the community council in Stepps and Cardown have taken part in consultations on their development plan and numerous applications and appeals.
Despite their efforts there is a distinct possibility that by the end of the decade, Stepps and Cardowan will have increased in size, perhaps by 1000+ new houses. Locals fear that the existing settlements will likely coalesce with Glasgow.
Save Stepps Greenbelt Campaign have this message to give election candidates. “It is not surprising that the mood of Stepps is one of abandonment and serious discontent. Despite engaging with the planning system at every opportunity, the community has found itself prevented from shaping its own place. We can only conclude that the needs of the people of Stepps and their health and well-being are of scant importance to the Scottish Government. All democratic routes seem closed to us, our legitimate concerns are registered, even agreed with, but ultimately ignored. Will any new politicians be better at responding to our needs rather than the developers?”
A member of Cardowan Community Meadow told me that their community feel their way of life and culture is being attacked by developers. An application by Miller Homes for around 250 houses threatens the last piece of directly accessible land for the ex-mining community living in this area with a high incidence of deprivation. The community have set up a charity to try and take ownership of The Last Field to “stop housing companies from stealing the space to build more houses.” Is it acceptable that the community are being forced to take such measures with all the “sheer volume of work involved” to protect precious greenspaces so necessary for their mental health and well being? Especially during a time when many are having to step up to fill in for reduced care services during the covid outbreak.
Having access to affordable housing that is appropriate to the needs of their ageing population is a key concern for many residents of both communities, who have found that the variety of housing options in the area is limited by dependence on private sector developers to deliver their housing targets.
Local small scale developer Paul told me “I continually see houses being built by big companies, yet not a single house is built with single level, senior living in mind. This is at best an oversight…at worst negligent. The reality is we are presently seeing new developments spring up everywhere. Most are soulless and all look the same and the “affordable housing”, element is anything but affordable.
He raises another increasingly common concern about the quality of the housing being built. “A number of residents have spoken up about the poor quality of workmanship on the houses, with a neighbour recently having their garden replaced due to flooding and their front room replastered due their balcony coming off the wall”
He goes on to stress that it is not about being anti-development, but it is about “working together in a democratic fashion and really involving communities and looking at housing across our whole lifespans”. Prior to being a house builder Paul worked as a social worker for many years and is acutely aware of Scotland’s housing problems for its ageing population. He says building care homes is not the answer. People have a fundamental right to stay at home, but who is providing these homes? What is the Government doing to enable a wide range of developers to build good quality, affordable houses for everyone?
The situation feels pretty dire for the community, who say they are simply exhausted and alarmed at the level of change they feel is being forced upon them. Little wonder they are now so disenchanted and cynical, the system has shown a distinct lack of concern about the impact on them. Despite banging on about the art of placemaking, the importance of a plan led system, empowering communities and valuing equality, it fails to deliver any of these. Meanwhile the developers are laughing all the way to the bank.
We need to make sure our politicians are prepared to be brave and stand up to the house building industry. Candidates need to understand how many people want substantive change.
Helpful guides: The DPEA have produced a very helpful guide to appeals aimed at communities. It can be found here.
We are producing our own guide to appeals and housing land supply very soon, please watch this space.