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Column 8th August 2018

Housing policy may yet come back to bite our politicians

Last week the front page of the Oxford Times warned that Oxfordshire cannot rely on large single-developer estates to deliver housing quickly.

A draft report by Sir Oliver Letwin MP presented to the Oxfordshire Growth Board suggests that local authorities should be encouraging small and medium sized developments.

This presents a conundrum. All political parties want us to build thousands of new homes and the target for Oxfordshire is 100,000 homes between 2011 and 2031.

According to Government statistics less than 15,000 have been completed so far which means that over 85,000 homes must be built in the next 13 years.

18,500 of these homes will be built in the Vale of the White Horse and under the new National Planning Policy Framework released in July, the District Council is responsible for ensuring that at least this number are built and if they aren’t they will have to release even more land for development.

The draft report referred to in the Oxford Times suggests that large developments won’t build quickly enough because they want to maintain demand and hence profitability and that smaller developments may deliver more quickly.

But given the density of the developments in the Vale, we’re not sure that this will make any difference, two smaller developments won’t be any further apart than the two sides of Crab Hill.

Large developments being built at Didcot, Milton Heights, Harwell, Crab Hill, Grove Airfield, Monks Farm, Kingston Bagpuize and Faringdon, to name but a few.

The gaps between these developments are filled by small villages and many of these villages such as East Hendred, East Challow and East Hanney have already had hundreds of new homes built.

Many more could be approved to try to meet the target, but large developers won’t build at a rate which reduces their profit margins and smaller builders don’t have the economies of scale and won’t stay in business if they have to reduce their prices.

It doesn’t matter how much government policy says we have to increase house building if there isn’t the appetite from builders and developers to do it.

Local authorities can only do so much. If they approve too many developments in the Vale the councillors won’t be re-elected and perhaps even the majority of our MPs will be reduced.

The policies of all political parties to increase house building to what appears to be unacceptable levels in Oxfordshire may come back to bite them.


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