A six-week consultation on Stroud District Council’s preferred housing strategy provoked a great deal of debate when it was run earlier this
year, with campaign group Don’t Strangle Stroud (DSS) presenting the most conspicuous opposition to SDC’s plans. Although a new report from an independent consultant appears to back-up the
authority’s proposals, even going so far as to suggest that an additional 2,150 homes could be needed, Don’t Strangle Stroud still maintain that the council is significantly overestimating the
district’s housing requirement.
AN INDEPENDENT report has concluded that between 6,881 and 9,121 new houses will have to be built in the Stroud district over the next 19 years.
In its housing strategy – otherwise known as its Local Plan – Stroud District Council originally envisaged having to find space for another 6,971 new homes by 2026.
However, SDC’s leadership is now urging the council to adopt the recommendations contained within Dr Keith Woodhead’s report, which would see the authority commit to building a minimum of 6,881 extra dwellings by 2031, with provision made to supply a further 2,240 if required.
Since April 2006, 2,379 new dwellings have been erected in the district but SDC believes thousands more need to be built over the next two decades to satisfy demand.
The numbers have been sharply criticised by campaign group Don’t Strangle Stroud (DSS), which is opposing plans to build 1,500 homes west of Stonehouse in Nupend and Nastend.
DSS believe that mistakes have been made in calculating the final figures and that Dr Woodhead’s report vastly overestimates the number of new houses needed in the district.
Dr Woodhead, a former regional policy manager and head of planning for the south west regional assembly, was drafted in as an independent consultant to review SDC’s housing strategy, in part due to pressure from the Don’t Strangle Stroud group.
His findings, which to some extent would appear to vindicate SDC’s initial housing projections, have nevertheless come under fire from DSS for relying on average household size figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
According to DSS, the DCLG’s predictions on average household size have consistently proven inaccurate, yet they are still being used to determine how much new housing is needed in England.
DSS maintain that if Census data was instead used to inform the housing requirement 2,000 fewer homes would be needed in the Stroud district, rendering the development west of Stonehouse surplus to requirements.
Speaking after a meeting of SDC’s planning advisory panel last Tuesday, September 4, DSS member Michael Evans suggested that the DCLG figures had been massaged for political purposes, allowing the government to justify higher, but potentially unnecessary, levels of housebuilding.
"The DCLG is a government body and the number that comes out will be politically charged," said Mr Evans.
"SDC is relying on the DCLG figures which say that the average household size is declining but in actual fact it has not been declining since 1991.
"If you look at Gloucester, for example, the average household size has actually increased in the last 20 years according to Census figures."
At the meeting on Tuesday night, a number of councillors including Keith Pearson (Con, Upton St Leonards), Ken Stephens (Lab, Eastington & Standish), Rhiannon Wigzell (Con, Amberley and Woodchester) and Andy Read (Ind, Central) expressed concerns about the figures and questioned whether the district would really need between 6,881 and 9,121 extra homes by 2031.
However, Barry Wyatt, SDC’s strategic head of development services, said that Don’t Strangle Stroud’s calculations were ‘flawed’.
Mr Wyatt said the mathematical models used to figure out the number of houses needed were highly complex and had to take into account projected birth rates and death rates, as well as the impact of migration and an ageing population.
During the debate on Tuesday, Cllr Read said he thought the ailing economy would be better served by creating new jobs rather than just simply building houses.
In response, the executive member for planning Cllr Dennis Anrewartha (Lib Dem), who chaired the meeting, said SDC was looking at ways to increase employment and stimulate economic growth, and that those efforts could be aided if agreement could be reached on a housing strategy.
Cllr Dennis Andrewartha said it was vital to put a housing plan in place to prevent private developers from taking advantage of the uncertainty.
"We do not want to get in the position where developers are arguing on appeal that we are not meeting our land supply," he said.
"We have to have some sort of solid defendable plan that can go up before a planning inspector."
He added that it would be just as dangerous to underestimate as to overestimate the number of houses needed by the district.
SDC’s executive will take into account the views expressed at the panel meeting when they convene on Thursday, September 13, to discuss the housing strategy, with a vote on the plan likely to be held at full council on Thursday, October 3.
Both meetings will take place at the council offices at Ebley Mill and are open to the public.
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EVERY single house built in the district over the next 19 years should be an affordable one, according to Stroud District Council’s strategic head of development services.
During a presentation to councillors at an advisory panel meeting on Tuesday, September 4, Barry Wyatt said that an average of 393 affordable homes would need to be built each year on current trends to compensate for the present shortfall.
Stroud District Council’s executive members are recommending that councillors approve a new housing strategy, which would see somewhere between 6,881 and 9,121 new homes built in the district by 2031.
If it gets the go-ahead, the strategy would therefore result in new houses being built at a minimum rate of 362 per year and a maximum rate of 480 annually.
“Really all of the homes that should be built should be affordable homes,” said Mr Wyatt.
However, he said in his opinion developers were on the whole unwilling to build just affordable homes as they would not make large enough profits.
Reflecting on the current shortfall of affordable housing, councillor Ken Stephens (Lab, Eastington and Standish) said the market had not ‘provided’.
Last Thursday, central government appeared to acknowledge as much when it announced that £300m of new funding would be made available to provide up to 15,000 affordable homes and bring 5,000 empty homes back into use.
The government also announced plans to relax planning regulations in a bid to boost housebuilding and revive the faltering economy.
David Cameron said the policy would ‘cut through the bureaucracy’ holding developers back and allow them to get on with building new homes.
Speaking on ITV’s Daybreak, he said developers were being inhibited by the obligations placed upon them to build affordable housing.
The Local Government Association, however, said that it was a ‘myth’ that planning rules were hampering efforts to build more houses.
The organisation, which represents various types of local authorities, released figures showing a backlog of 400,000 proposed homes that have planning permission but have not yet been built.
It said the numbers ‘conclusively prove’ that the planning system is not getting in the way of housebuilding projects.