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Column 21st October 2020

Are we getting what we want from this 'New Homes' policy

House prices are on the rise around here again and I hear a rumour that the next version of the local plan for the Vale of the White Horse could include another 2,000 new homes on top of those already planned. Landowners and developers must be rubbing their hands with glee. The rest of us who have to suffer the earth moving lorries thundering along our country roads, the incessant beeping of reversing construction vehicles, the hum of generators, mud in the winter and dust in the summer are less happy. The new proposals in the planning laws want to allow developers not to pay any contributions for infrastructure until the development is complete. This means all those new residents will be here before any new roads, buses, schools, leisure facilities or health facilities are even planned never mind built. If the infrastructure payments are even made – some of us with long memories will remember developers in Grove who went bust before the promised infrastructure was built. I’m sure all of those political donations and lobbying from developers as well as the number of happy politicians with interests in the property industry make the new planning proposals all worthwhile. So why are house prices continuing to rise? The usual reason is because developers are restricting supply to keep prices high so that they maintain their profit margins. But now it’s also because the pandemic has made more people realise that they can work from home and feel that this means they don’t need to live so close to the office. Of course most of these people are the higher paid office workers who want larger homes in the countryside. Meanwhile, essential workers – those holding society together through the graft of caring, serving, teaching, cleaning, transporting, constructing, filling supermarket shelves and policing our streets – still can’t afford to live in Oxfordshire. Our local MP has been assured that the new proposals mean that key workers, local people and first-time buyers will be front and centre in the First Homes scheme, which will provide a 30 per cent discount on the purchase of a home. This assumes that they can afford the deposit and want to pay a mortgage. Part of the infrastructure contribution from developers should go into the provision of social housing but if this means the First Homes Scheme, there still won’t be the social rental properties which we need.

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