That Haslemere and surrounding villages are on the sharp end of the national housing crisis takes a while to sink in. Our leafy lanes cannot be the scene of a crisis, saving some pretty tense scuffles over parent and child parking bays. Yet evidence of younger age groups leaving the area is clear. 15% declines in the 30-35 year old group alone are in the main attributed to difficulties finding family homes at reasonable cost. In reality the figures are likely to be higher: with almost 50% of property purchases historically made by London buyers (many of the same age with young families of their own) the real figures of local young are leaving are probably hidden by commuter replacements.
It is difficult for those in local jobs to compete with commuter salaries, so it is our dental nurses, carers, hairdressers, retail workers and the like who are faced with tough choices on whether to move out of the area in which they grew up. 71% of respondents to a Waverley survey of local employers highlighted a lack of housing that people can afford in the local area as having a great deal of negative impact on their ability to recruit or retain staff.
Affordable housing is the phrase oft bandied about as the solution, but many view the phrase with suspicion – does it really mean council estates or ugly/flimsy construction? Well no, it doesn’t. It simply means any housing that receives funding that in some way enables it to be supplied at 80% or less than market rates. This includes homes for those on the register for social housing as well as a variety of schemes to provide homes rented at below market rates or sold under a variety of subsidised and joint ownership schemes e.g. part rent-part buy.
Builds of affordable homes are usually funded via profits from larger open market developments e.g. the proposed Sturt Farm development south of Haslemere station has promised approximately 54 affordable homes within walking distance of local amenities and public transport (so people on lower incomes don’t have to budget for a car as well). This approach makes use of economies of scale to lower build costs and integrates different types of housing together, but sites in this area are rarely big enough to accommodate additional homes, especially not in central areas.
Developing brownfield sites within settlement boundaries will provide funding for a few more affordable homes but allowing big developments that would provide significantly more are likely to expand settlement boundaries into countryside and this is unlikely to win community support (understatement of the year). When land is as scarce as it is in this area, surrounded as it is by steep hillsides and beautiful countryside, the community may need to think beyond what is usually done. So what other options are there? Matthew Bowcock of Haslemere Vision says “residents could combine to form a Community Land Trust (CLT) to develop and manage homes, ensuring they are truly affordable based on what people earn in the area, not just for today but in perpetuity”.
This is cutting edge stuff (50% of the 170 CLTs nationwide have formed in the last 2 years) but also a practical umbrella under which communities can club together to fund, design and manage builds such as affordable housing, new community facilities or even a pub or other business premises. CLTs can be used to purchase and develop self-build plots as per the Ashley Vale development in Bristol (www.wildgoosespace.org.uk/avag) featured on Channel Four’s Grand Designs program (current series).
Taking control of projects as ‘amateurs’ rather than professionals experienced in maximizing use of space may be daunting to some, exciting to others. The change in focus away from profit means developments can be affordable even without the benefits of experience and scale. If residents are interested in investing their time, a CLT solution may be very relevant to our situation. In addition, the community and local land owners may be more interested in supporting development led by a CLT, which is more likely to explore innovation, variety and to have a distinct local character.
The questions of affordable housing and CLTs are asked in the Housing Consultation landing on your doorstep on 7th September. The Consultation is a huge opportunity to influence the future of the area and we hope every resident takes the time to express their views.
Download or fill it in now at www.haslemerevision.org.uk