Where we live – Option B if we really must


photo courtesy freefoto.com http://www.freefoto.com

With 400 new houses to be built, my thoughts turn to where in Ashbourne I would like them to be.

I find the thought of the need for 400 new houses difficult in the first place. Why do we need them. This isn’t about a population increase of 20% over the next 15 years (or oughtn’t to be) at the same time we know that families that used to live together now break up with children moving off to live on their own. We should possibly think about whether we want to encourage the bad side of new houses – debt, isolation, lack of support for families with young children, lack of support for the elderly. Surely at some point Government’s role, rather than just calculate how many new homes will be needed if the inevitable Malthusian curve continues, is to think about we want as a society.

A second challenge is that the consequence of what we have seen over the last few years is a serious mismatch between what we need from housing and what we actually have. We have many underoccupied properties. This brings me back to the question of green- and brownfield development. The purpose of the Settlement boundary in Ashbourne is to indicate the area within which the town exists and to discourage development outside that boundary. The first act in the Options listed by DDDC is to push back the boundary it seems rather than be creative in trying to redevelop existing housing stock. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of some of the really good examples of recycling (for example at the bottom of Old Derby Hill and at the traffic lights on Belper Road). With good architecture and innovation there are many more houses of the right size which could be created within the existing boundaries. With right incentives for developers we could end up with some really interesting architecture and another reason to put Ashbourne on the map. For example:

  • The land on either side of Old Derby Hill has been for sale previously and has been a challenge to find a meaningful use for. At the bottom of the hill developers have over the years cut into the banks to create housing space and presumably the same is possible further up.
  • There is still significant manufacturing within the town centre itself – up towards Belle Vue and in Compton. Offering these sites assisted relocation to new premises up on the airfield could clear new areas for housing.
  • An aerial view of Ashbourne shows many little yards that no-one would know existed. New developments could be built on the same principles. The exterior view is of a normal housing front with a small alley and the development weaves around a number of smaller properties without parking space adjacent to it but with communal parking perhaps outside the Settlement Boundary
  • Parking in Ashbourne is already a hot potato but tackling the issue head on and deciding to have no parking at all in the heart of the town (to clear space for housing development) may be an answer. A well-funded and efficient park and ride scheme using some of the old Nestle land could solve the problem at a stroke and make the town centre a more thriving and active place.

I do think it is a shame that, because we don’t have a clear vision of where the Town is heading, most people in the Town will see the arrival of 400 new homes as a threat to the environment we enjoy. I really wish we had a plan that meant something to all the residents of the town which embraced inevitable and desirable growth. With the right leadership this could be viewed as a success for Ashbourne in attracting 400 new “members” of the team.

Of course none of these ideas will be considered as part of the current round of discussions and so it comes down to choosing between the options. For me it is simple – always use brownfield land and protect our countryside and so the airfield is the right location as far as I am concerned. The builders will need to overcome the issues of distance from the town centre but none of this is insurmountable. There are already some parts of Ashbourne within the Settlement Boundary where this is an issue.

At the same time however I would hate to see the new housing snapped up straight away by landlords to rent or offer as holiday homes and I would also want to see some real incentives for people to convert their home into more than one dwelling to free up some of the redundant excess capacity we already have within existing dwellings.

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About justaukcook

/kʊk/ Not a chef, not an epicure, not a foodie. Just one who likes to prepare food – What really happens in the kitchen and on the high street is what I write about. Follow me on Twitter @Justaukcook and on https://www.facebook.com/justaukcook
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9 Responses to Where we live – Option B if we really must

  1. Fiona Dawson says:

    Where on earth are these people coming from to fill 400 houses in Ashbourne I wonder?

    Like you I think this is an ‘if we must’ decision. I’d much rather not – however in terms of choices I would have a different opinion. The sites to the south of the town centre are all on land that has been earmarked for development for years and been part of the long term planning of where to build next for the town – I can’t remember exactly where I read this but I looked it up when Hillside Farm was sold a few years back. E.g. Hillside Farm’s land is right next to the estate at the top of old Derby Hill and surrounded by houses, likewise Leys Farm. I know people who live in Premier Avenue whose gardens back on to the land at Leys Farm who were told when they bought their house that it would be built on in due course. Both of them would just be logical extensions of existing estates.

    Whilst building on the airfield has the least impact for me personally – i.e. stuck out of town so we don’t have to look at the extra houses – I think it would be a pretty miserable place to live and very much agree with your comments about community rather than just ticking boxes on the numbers.

    I can’t quite figure out where Option C is, so I think it’s Option A I favour. Not that I really favour any of them…

  2. will says:

    I found the information provided by the council to be lacking. They use population growth as a reason for the need of new housing but if you dig deeper the reasons are there. The following report: “Ashbourne Economic Assessment – Final Report” written back in Sept 2007, points out that Ashbourne is in need of a larger working age population. We can gather this from the information pointed out in the council’s leaflets, and in order to make this happen, the house prices in Ashbourne need to drop. Flooding the market with cheaper housing is the report’s recommended solution.

    I accept that there is a need for cheaper housing. In order to improve the local economy, we need people to be able to afford to live in the area. The report says:

    “Our own consultations confirm that Ashbourne’s desirability and resulting high house
    prices are having a direct impact on the local economy. The high cost of housing
    prevents lower paid workers from living in the area and thus contributes to the decline
    in manufacturing employment in the area. The pricing out of low-income earners by
    the housing market makes it difficult to recruit low-wage workers locally. This is a
    recognised problem, for example for the Airfield Industrial Estate.”

    I believe there is a need for cheaper housing but Ashbourne’s economy is quite fragile and to shock it with a large step build of new housing could have a negative impact. Issues such as traffic have already been highlighted as a problem and until this can be solved, increasing the population numbers will not help. Visitors are already put off by the current traffic levels.

    I agree with Paul that building on the Airfield site is the best option. It means we retain our green open spaces (which has been identified as a key character of the town) and it provides good access links to the areas which the town’s employment sector that needs developing. Access to town is still easy.

    Greenfield sites have been earmarked for preservation for a reason. Once they are developed, we can never get them back. It’s a permanent loss. Ashbourne, not only needs more working aged people, but it cannot sacrifice its biggest asset, character; otherwise we could lose the towns biggest employment sector: tourism.

    • Thanks for your comments Will. We really should consider all aspects at the same time. It is hard to balance the fear of NIMBYism with best interests for everyone – new people to the town included.

  3. TownPlanner says:

    “This isn’t about a population increase of 20% over the next 15 years (or oughtn’t to be)”

    I’m curious as to how you came to this calculation?

    As a young person struggling to get on the housing ladder, I’m all for the new development.
    Housebuilding acts as a catalyst for jobs, boosts economy and lowers average house prices (affordability). This is not my opinion, this is a fact. Refer to any economic study over the last century.

    • Thanks for your comments. My calculation of the increase was actually a quotation from the DDDCs leaflet for the Ashbourne area http://www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/images/documents/H/Housing_options_leaflet_-_ashbourne.pdf and reflects the demand for new households. Given that the UK population is not forecast to increase by 20% my argument is about what drives the need for new households – it isn’t driven by population but rather than by social factors. I can’t argue with anything you say about the merits of housebuilding – I am merely pointing out there are also negatives: it leads to indebtedness and break up of families – also well-documented fact and not opinion. In my opinion it SHOULD be a struggle for young people to get on the housing ladder and historically it always has been. We need more rental options for those who need their own accommodation and more incentives for family units to stay together.

  4. TownPlanner says:

    Thanks for your reply.

    Though I disagree with the ‘breaking up families’ sentiment. Perhaps in an ideal world different generations of families would live together in blissful happiness under one roof – babies, grandmas, aunties and uncles alike. However this is impractical and living with the in-laws and drive a man to drink (speaking from experience). If anything, new housing (and lower prices) allows families to remain closer together rather than leaving the town and moving to more affordable areas.
    I have many friends in Ashbourne in their 20’s who are unable to afford a house. Personally I’ve spent almost £20,000 over the last 5/6 years on rent so I can see why the notion of renting doesn’t appeal to some people. Financial factors aside, those renting in the UK have far fewer tenant rights than our European counter-parts. Rental prices in this country are also no longer regulated which can lead to those in need of ‘affordable accommodation’ being pushed out of the market altogether.
    This leads me to the next point, your post assumes that these 400 houses will be solely available to local people. When determining housing figures, migration is a huge factor, over the next 20 years people will move TO Ashbourne as well as OUT of the town. Unfortunately we can’t ring-fence our pretty little market town off from those nasty ‘foreigners’ coming in from outside of the Dales.
    I truly agree that owning a house isn’t a right, and those that can’t manage their own finances shouldn’t go and take out a 200k mortgage. However this had led to many young families being penalised, unable to obtain a mortgage without the help from the bank of mum and dad. For many it’s a vicious circle of paying inflated rental prices, struggling to save a couple hundred quid each month while in most case, the mortgage repayments on a similar house would actually leave them £150+ better off each month (again, personal experience).
    Ashbourne ‘benefits’ from a reasonably high average house price, meaning first time buyers are having to look outside of the Shire. The same locals who will cry out about a lack of choice or affordability of housing for their son/daughter who is having to move out of the town, will usually be the same who protests about the prospect of new housing.

    With regard to the brownfield/greenfield argument. In most cases developing brownfield land isn’t financially viable. Land ownership/contamination/remediation all come into it and can provide a stumbling block to any successful development.

    Developer’s aren’t stupid (well, most aren’t) if there’s money to be made, they’ll be there. Likewise when people say “who’s going to buy these homes?”. Developers don’t build what they can’t sell (with the exception of town centre flats – but they’ve learnt their lesson now hopefully!).
    However such development also comes with benefits to the Local Authority. Each development will incur financial obligations (running in the £100,000’s or even £millions). This money is used to improve highways, utility infrastructure, school funding, leisure facilities, all benefiting the local community.

  5. Thanks again for your well-informed input – I like to hear different points of view. My only comments are to put your mind at rest – I have no axe to grind, I am an “incomer” myself and have lived in market towns, cities and villages very happily. I wouldn’t dream of commenting on your personal circumstances but also I wouldn’t want to take them as representative of the population as a whole. I am fully aware of what happens in the “real” world these days but I hope you would agree with me that sometimes the right answer is to solve the problem and not to exacerbate it at the expense of some of our values.

    I really believe that the future of Ashbourne and any other town in this country is made up of lots of little decisions like this one about new housing development. If you don’t have a strategy and examine each small decision in the light of it things can be irretrievably damaged. I would hate that the decision was made on my behalf through apathy, lack of information or misinformation and that we took the easy route rather than the right route because of it. All comments are welcome and I love that people from all backgrounds and ages are showing an interest.

  6. TownPlanner says:

    Apologies if I produced a rather generalist view of the first-time buyer predicament.

    I was also an ‘incomer’ in my mid-teens as my father married a local lady. Whilst I’m in danger of becoming rooted to my soap box, I do genuinely believe that the benefits of what DDDC propose do outweigh the negatives. I spend alot of time scrutinising house targets set by local authorities across the country, how they consult the public, when and in what manner. From my experience, Derbyshire Dales are definately one of the more transparent and organised Local Authorities (I’m not a council employee by the way!) and would appear to do everything by the book – so that is something to be thankful for. There are alot of councils up and down the country in a far worse position that are being subjected to poor development schemes due to the authority being in Planning disarray. In such instances the public have no say whatsoever on where they would like housing to be directed.

    Lastly, it is worth remembering that these 400 homes are to built upto the year 2028. 400 over 16 years equates to just 25 houses a year in Ashbourne. The average build out rate currently stands at somewhere between 25-30 homes per annum anyway so there is no danger of these houses appearing overnight.
    If memory serves me correct, DDDC have also adopted an affordable requirement of 45% (which in comparison is quite high). Local Ashbournians could therefore expect that of these 400 homes, 180 will be made available as social rent; intermediate rent; discounted sales or one of the many Homebuy/Newbuy/Shared ownership schemes available.

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