Sandleford: how a Rigged Housing Market Despoils our Countryside

Developers are trying to build 1,350 houses at Sandleford just South of Newbury and their appeal to the Secretary of State finished on 28 May [1]. The area is open fields and ancient woodlands which are of national environmental importance. Richard Adam’s classic children’s story “Watership Down” begins there[2], and the countryside that has inspired so many readers is unspoilt (as yet).

We can’t be sure what the outcome will be, but two recent examples are discouraging. This Conservative government consistently favours development above all other considerations.

The first example is the historic town of Ledbury. Bloor Homes (the would-be developers of Sandleford) appealed to the housing minister to override the local council rejection of 625 homes. Whether the minister decided in the developer’s favour purely on the merits of their case, or was influenced by election donations of £962,000 to the Conservative party by tycoon John Bloor (owner of Bloor Homes) can only be guessed. [3]

In the second example the government ignores its own planning inspectors to suit powerful Conservative donors. The council of Sittingbourne in Kent, rejected a development application which included 595 houses[4]. The developers (again Tory party donors to the tune of at least £110,000 [5]) appealed but the planning inspector overruled the council while agreeing that the carbon reduction measures should stand. The minister dumped even these environmental restrictions.

For years, the government has rigged the property market in favour of an unholy alliance of developers, overseas property speculators, and second home owners, artificially inflating demand while restricting supply.

The Local Government Association estimates that developers are sitting on existing planning permissions for 1.1 million homes that have not yet been built[6], i.e. over 6 years housing supply (about 170,000 houses are built in a year) [7]. The rigged housing market makes this financially attractive, and the government does nothing to correct it.

A 2014 report from the Institute of Public Policy Resesearch [8] found that in England alone 635,000 are empty, many owned by overseas owners[9]. This is several years housing supply.

Second-home ownership exacerbates the problem . In 2018/19, the number of second homes in the UK reached a record 495,000 [10], which represents a three-year supply of new homes.

In short, the UK property market is rigged in favour of foreign speculators, it delays house building even when it is allowed, favours multiple home ownership and attracts the destructive and unnecessary building. Developers are rampaging through England destroying our countryside, aided and abetted by the government. The outlook for Sandleford is not rosy.

David Cooper is Treasurer of the campaign group SayNoToSandleford.org.uk. The views expressed are his own.

References

[1] https://www.newburytoday.co.uk/news/concern-over-tory-party-donors-link-to-sandleford-housing-development-9194493/

[2] Saynotosandleford.org.uk

[3] https://www.herefordtimes.com/news/19165268.go-ahead-plans-build-625-homes-herefordshire-town/

[4] https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1714496/jenrick-allows-675-home-appeal-removes-recommended-climate-emergency-conditions

[5] https://nation.com.pk/06-Jul-2020/uk-cash-for-favours-minister-implicated-in-a-new-scandal

[6] https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/over-1-million-homes-planning-permission-waiting-be-built-new-lga-analysis

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-of-new-homes-built-soars-to-an-11-year-high

[8] Back on the Market, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2014, https://www.ippr.org

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-of-new-homes-built-soars-to-an-11-year-high

[10] Property Report, 19 April 202, https://www.propertyreporter.co.uk/property/number-of-second-homes-sees-30-climb-in-five-years.html,

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale