Ramped-up housing target threatens green belt around Bath, council warns

  Posted: 15.09.20 at 14:03 by By Local Democracy Reporter Stephen Sumner

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More than 27,000 homes will have to be built across Bath and North East Somerset over the next 20 years if changes to the planning system are pushed through – double the previous target.

Councillors say the figure is unachievable and will leave the green belt vulnerable to predatory development.

Announcing the most radical reforms to the planning system since the Second World War, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in June the country needs to “build, build, build” so the economy can recover from Covid-19.

But there are concerns about the impact on a World Heritage City surrounded by undeveloped green space.

B&NES councillor Tim Ball, the cabinet member for housing, told the full council meeting on September 10: “These figures are unachievable. If the Government brings them in we immediately lose our five-year housing land supply and could land up quite clearly in a lot of trouble.

“By not being able to deliver housing and we’d be open to predatory planning applications

“We do must make a very clear message to government that they’re not building over every piece of green land.”

Bath and North East Somerset currently needs to build around 650 homes a year, or 13,000 over 20 years. Under the new system that figure would be as high as 27,800.

The Government said it wants to make changes to the planning system by the end of the year. It has asked councils to comment.

Conservative group leader Paul Myers said with so much green belt it was inevitable the homes would fall disproportionately on areas where the infrastructure is unable to support them.

His colleague Cllr Paul May said there was “no logic” in how the numbers had been calculated and the only way they could be achieved would be by removing areas from the green belt.

Labour group leader Robin Moss said: “It’s not just Bath and North East Somerset that has got problems with these proposals – across the country people are up in arms about it because the underlying rationale is that we need more housing.

“Well in Bath and North East Somerset we have 3,500 existing housing consents, of which 1,700 have been built, so 1,800 outstanding planning consents.”

The Government is also promoting lower cost home ownership, and changing the rules on affordable housing so smaller developments do not need to provide any.

Cllr Moss added: “There’s nothing in this bill about the definition of affordability – affordability being around price and not about income – there’s nothing about building social housing, and there’s also taking away a lot of the ability of local communities to influence planning policy.”

Cllr Eleanor Jackson drew parallels with the “spectacular failure” of the Covid-19 test and trace system and the “anguish” caused to A-level and GCSE students by a “faulty” algorithm to calculate their results, and said the figures were too reliant on technology.

She warned that under the new system many people would be left unable to speak out against inappropriate developments, and said favouring first-time buyers would make it more and more difficult to find affordable homes to rent.

The council unanimously agreed to object to the new housing target, saying it failed to take account of the local context and its record on building homes.

In its response to the consultation, it will tell Government that the proposals will significantly undermine its ability to secure affordable housing and especially for social rent.

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