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Letter from Maria Miller supporting SOLVEs submissions regarding proposed Housing Numbers

Our MP Maria Miller wrote Cllr Reid as chair of the Planning and Infrastructure Overview & Scrutiny Committee asking that the committee members take into account the points that SOLVE and the Best for Basingstoke group had made on housing numbers.
SOLVE’s Kate Tuck read this letter to the committee at the June 16th P&IOSCom meeting.

Continue reading to see the letter:

Cllr Stephen Reid

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council
Civic Offices
London Road
Basingstoke RG21 4AH                                                                   16 June 2011
Dear Cllr Reid,

Re: Report to the Planning and Infrastructure Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Under the previous Government, levels of house building were determined by an unelected quango (the South East Regional Authority), directed by Ministers in central Government. As our residents know, the more than 1000 new houses a year built in Basingstoke in recent years was not determined by local needs but by the policies of central Government politicians.

The new coalition Government has rejected that process as the wrong way to shape the future of our communities and lacking in democratic accountability. New legislation means local Councillors are now the ones in the driving seat when it comes to determining appropriate levels of house building, ensuring the real needs of our communities are safeguarded by individuals who can be held accountable for those decisions made.

I applaud the work that Basingstoke has done in the past 12 months to reverse the trend of the past decade and to identify locally what is the right level of house building for our Borough. The report in front of the committee on 16 June is an important first step in that process.

There are three points I would like to make to the committee:

1. Infrastructure deficit

The Council already knows that levels of investment in local roads, schools, community facilities and other local services has not followed the high house building levels of recent years. The work done by the Council to identify the scale of the infrastructure gap should form an important part of the decision- making process for future house building levels. And that any future house building should only proceed when money has been identified to extend local services and that it is clear those new services will be in place at the same time as the houses are built.

2. Projecting future growth

Future rates of household formation are central to determining Basingstoke's actual housing need in the coming years. The high number of studio, one and two bedroom flats has been a distinct feature in Basingstoke in the past few years. This clearly has a significant impact on household size. Can I urge the committee to consider the approach taken by the Planning Inspector in his examination into Bristol City Council's Core Strategy (Report dated March 2011) when determining how to project future growth patterns. Bristol City Council argued that the two most recent household projections were not a useful guide to future household formation in Bristol because they were based on extrapolations from the preceding 5 year periods, which had a unique set of circumstances which were considered unlikely to be repeated. The Inspector accepted that it was impossible to draw any firm conclusions from the evidence on household projections and they were 'clearly only one factor to be taken into account'.

Furthermore I have written confirmation from the Minister responsible that it is not mandatory to use DCLG household projections for projecting future numbers of households; the key issue is that the evidence is robust and credible. This would mean ONS data should be considered too. You will be aware that this shows that the downward trend on household sizes has started to slow down.

Furthermore SHMA guidance clearly states that trend based household projections such as DCLG figure have technical limitations that constrain their accuracy. The current projections are the furthest possible from the previous Census, suggesting that they are at their least reliable.

3. Truly sustainable levels of development

There remain serious and unresolved problems with both our fresh water supply and waste water disposal. Previous reports clearly show that house building of the levels indicated in the report before committee will leave our waterways polluted and in breach of the EU Water Directive.

In conclusion, the most important evidence of all is from local residents. In your recent consultation 75 percent of residents clearly stated that they felt, based on their experiences of our local community, its services, infrastructure and environment that 'enough houses have already been built' in our Borough. This is an overwhelming message from residents.

Based on the above, could the committee consider reviewing the assumptions that 594 is the lowest house building figure that could be justified to a planning inspector?
Yours sincerely,
Maria Miller
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