Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd October 2014

For decades governments have failed to tackle the UK’s housing shortage. While longer life spans, reductions household sizes and employment shifts have resulted in increasing demand for housing, housebuilding is at its lowest level since the 1920s.

It was against this background that Whitehall decided to grant automatic planning permission for buildings designated for employment-use to be converted into housing, in practice that means densely-packed flats in business areas.

There was no reason why owners could not have applied for a change of use in the past, it was just unlikely to be grated if such a change would harm the surrounding area. Logically the only reason for changing the rules was that the Government no longer felt such concerns needed to be taken into account.

Putting aside whether such hastily constructed flats provide decent housing for residents, two new problems have developed. Firstly, since most of this new housing is based in the Town Centre or Manor Royal and no longer has to take council planning policies into account, little provision has been made to limit the direct impact of new properties on their surroundings. For instance, domestic rubbish is now deposited in major shopping areas as there is nowhere else for it to go.

More damaging is the local economic impact. Manor Royal is a huge source of employment and the demand for space is at a premium, yet many offices are now being lost to residential usage. This not only reduces the amount of employment land but alters the dynamic of an area designed for business needs. Once residents are based on Manor Royal issues such as noise start to become more of a problem, which has a knock-on effect to both existing businesses and future employment opportunities for Crawley.

As part of the party’s policy review, Labour asked Sir Michael Lyons to produce an independent report outlining how the county can meet its housing needs and which was published last week. If the UK is to meet its needs it needs to get serious on housing, piecemeal changes to planning law just don’t cut it anymore.

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