Thursday, 5 November 2009

Planning Success For The Bath Road Reservior; For The Moment

What an interesting planning meeting last night at Reading Borough Council. I met campaigners, residents, and fellow Reading West PPCs Alok Sharma(Cons) and Naz Shakar(Lab).

Most of the public were there to support the Bath Rd Reservoir Campaign, where Thames Water are trying to sell of a reservoir and make money. They failed this time,the council approved a dozen reasons to turn down the application. But the Labour Cllrs said they have no intention of preserving the reservoir, they just didn't like this scheme. The campaigners may be forced to keep going, as Thames Water bring more schemes till they get one accepted. I suggested that while the best result would be to keep the reservoir as it is, the second best would be to use the reservoir structure as an underground ecohome, its big enough to contain several flats. This would at least keep the trees and the look of the place, while having some homes that are inspiring eco homes at the highest standards.

Another contentious local planning issue is 22 Alexandra Road, where developers want to turn a house into flats. The neighbours are campaigning against it, and had a protest at the meetings, wearing marked up T shirts. Perhaps they should get a website. Unfortunately this could be just one among many such developments.

While I applaud the people who object to these project, what about the underlying reasons that it happens? The utilities were privatised, so now maximising profits is all important, providing the service to customers comes second.

The other factor is the pressure to build houses; again its the government that is at fault here. Gordon Brown, when Chancellor, commissioned Kate Barker to investigate house price rises. She decided the answer is to build millions of houses; covering the landscape in them. Was there any thought to to the loss of the environment and the strain on resources? She did admit later that her influential review of Britain's housing supply for the Treasury should have acknowledged the environmental impact of increased house building. "I do have one regret about the review. I should have said more clearly that if you do increase the rate of housing, there are issues about energy and water usage and the use of materials."

Friends of the Earth attacked Barker's review, saying it was anti-democratic by suggesting local authority planning committees must increase housing supply. Also the house price rises at the time were largely caused by the demand-side of the housing market, for example concerning loan policies, rather than being a result of constraints on the supply of new houses. Also regional variations in the job market, causing people to leave houses empty in some areas while straining others. There is no plan to manage this imbalance, I have suggested before that the government could move some of its offices from London and the South East. The driving license authorities were moved to Wales some time ago, why not others?

The flawed Barker Review lead to the 2007 planning white paper. FoE say it sets out a series of reforms to make the planning system better for business. Local authorities have Development Plans. Find yours here.

In Reading we are told that for the period 2001-2006 1,350 housing units must be built every year. We have many empty homes and offices in Reading, the homes should be occupied. It may be worth converting some of the empty office blocks to flats rather than continue to build on ever more dodgy sites such as flood plains.

The Regional tier of Government has imposed their own target, which is 611 per year till 2026.

Consequences of the rise in building so many houses are many.

Ever wonder why the roads are constantly being dug up? Every utility has to keep upgrading their services to cope with the increased number of houses, among other reasons. And because they are all privatised they will not coordinate the work, there is no money in it for them so they won't do it.

On the subject of Roads, there are a few reasons why traffic gets worse every year. One of them, you guessed it, is that more people living in an area will mean more people with more cars.

So just opposing individual developments is not enough, with the agenda of ever more housing being thrust on us by the government, to stop one means more built elsewhere.

No comments: