Taking Local Control

Houses, houses everywhere! But can you afford to buy? I went back to see my first house the other day. A pretty modern two bedroom terrace on a quiet estate, it cost me all of £25k in the mid-1980s.

According to the property website Zoopla, the next generation of house-buyers are paying £125-150k for a similar house in Coalville. Incomes haven’t risen 5-600% in the last few decades. Young people are finding themselves trapped in rented housing, pouring money into the pockets of buy-to-let landlords. The lucky ones are borrowing a hefty deposit from the bank of Mum and Dad.

Last October Professor Danny Dorling, an Oxford geographer, told a Nottingham audience there are enough bedrooms for everyone to have one each. The problem is inequality. Some people have more than one house. Holiday homes in out-of-the-way places drive up prices beyond the reach of rural young people who are forced to seek cheaper houses in the congested conurbations of the Midlands and South East.

Under pressure from a failing economic model based on inequality and greed, the current Government is hoping the private sector will build enough houses for everyone’s need. The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes it difficult for local Councils to say no. There is no longer any subsidy to develop derelict land. Developers are free to build on every pretty green field, blurring the boundaries of our villages and encroaching on ancient forests.

What can local people do in the face of such powerful capitalist forces? There is one tool that is worth a try. The NPPF encourages communities to write a ‘Neighbourhood Plan’. Parish and Town Councils can work with professional planners to decide where they want to put the houses and which green spaces and footpaths need to be preserved from obliteration by urban sprawl.

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