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Do we really need 22,000 new homes in Swindon?
POLITICAL leaders and housing experts say more than 20,000 new homes can still be built across Swindon over the next 13 years – despite the recent job losses at Honda and other firms.
Swindon Council’s public consultation ends this Thursday on the local plan 2026, which will come into force by April 2014 and sets out a number of proposed general planning policies, as well as specific locations for residential and employment uses.
The council says to maintain housing growth in line with economic forecasts and population increases, and to limit development on greenfield land, the document must earmark enough housing land for 22,000 new homes between 2011 and 2026 - with annual construction averages of 1,150 until 2016 and 1,625 until 2026.
The housing market, which crashed in 2007, relies on jobs and the local and national economy, as residents need cash and a steady income for a mortgage, and jobs must be created to attract people to relocate to the area and buy a property.
Swindon is thought to have lost more than 2,000 jobs so far in 2013, but Swindon Council is standing by its estimate for future house building, which has been upped to 22,000 after large employers branded the previous estimate “pessimistic”, resulting in plans to earmark fields near Blunsdon for 1,650 homes.
Council leaders point out that the long-term average for completed homes in Swindon over the last 20 years has been 1,043 per year.
Coun Rod Bluh, the council leader, said: “The evidence is before you. Swindon, even in the recession, was building more houses than most other places. These houses, when they’re built, aren’t empty and developers don’t build houses that they can’t sell.
“So yes, the housing market isn’t as strong as it used to be but Swindon still has the strength in its housing market. The fact that that’s the case suggests there’s reason for it: that reason is probably to do with the strength of the Swindon economy. We’re still in the top five of the most productive places in the UK.”
Coun Jim Grant, the Labour group leader, agreed with the 22,000 figure, adding: “If this recession goes on for some five, six, seven, 10 years, we will need to review these figures because they won’t be needed, but the expectation is in the mid-2000-teens things will pick up and we will return to some form of economic growth and we would be left behind unless we’ve planned to have that growth.”
Les Durrant, the managing director and chairman of planning consultant, DPDS Consulting, in Old Town, which has been involved in Wichelstowe and Ridgeway Farm, said there were signs of improvement, with developers seeking to buy more local land, and reporting increased viewings of show homes and reservations.
He said some developers thought Swindon’s economy could support more than 22,000 new homes, adding on the job losses: “I think most of the economists we tend to look to for guidance on how to address these sorts of issues will tell you you don’t plan fully around short-term economic issues like that.
“You do have to look at the underlying long-term trends, and with the economic forecasts I have seen from sources including the Regional Development Agency,when it was still around, they were all forecasting the long-term future is still looking quite good for Swindon.”
He said there was “huge pent-up demand” locally for housing, adding: “To be frank about it, builders simply don’t build if they aren’t selling, it really is a simple equation. They cannot afford to have bricks and mortar on the ground and have things stood empty.”
Official figures for Swindon show there were 504 properties unoccupied and unfurnished for six or more months in October 2012, a reduction from 1,178 in October 2005; but the number of properties empty and unfurnished for less than six months was 1,022 in October 2012, up from 847 in October 2010.
From April owners of long-term empty properties will pay 150 per cent council tax, which the council hopes will encourage owners to bring them back into use.
Julian Robinson, the sales manager at McFarlane Sales and Lettings, in Old Town, said for first time buyers, new homes were more attractive because developers could offer special deals to help obtain mortgages, although he said “second hand” stock would sell if priced correctly.
He said there would be demand for the 22,000 new homes, adding: “I think with the deals the new homes developers can offer, I think they will sell them. If say 10 years ago or maybe a bit more, somebody said ‘Gosh, they’re going to build all these houses in Oakhurst, Redhouse, Haydon End’ - well they’re all sold now, they’ve got somebody living in them, and that was during a recession.”
MPs approve of 22,000 homes plan
Swindon’s MPs are backing the move to earmark land for 22,000 homes.
Justin Tomlinson said the plan was based on past annual figures. “Over the years we had a number of recessions,” he said. “We’ve had a number of employers leave Swindon, we’ve had a number of employers move to Swindon, so it’s fair to say that will happen over the next 20 years.
“But if it doesn’t, the houses won’t get built, because housebuilders don’t build empty houses.”
Robert Buckland said on recent job cuts: “There’s a difference between the short-term and the long-term. There may be issues which are extremely unwelcome but does that mean the long-term picture is going to change? I don’t think it does. We need a different outlook when dealing in the long-term.”
Sales going well at Wichel
Taylor Wimpey, the developer behind East Wichel, says sales are steadily increasing.
A total of 565 homes in the 838-homes first phase have so far been built since 2008 – and 563 are occupied of which 235 are affordable homes, being a mix of rented and shared ownership, with 328 privately owned. There are about 40 homes being constructed on site currently.
Darren McCormack, regional sales and marketing director for Taylor Wimpey, said: “We have seen a steady increase in sales at our Swindon developments since January.
“We released our new Heyworth Heights development in Highworth early from Allen and Harris Estate Agents due to popular demand and have already sold two properties since the development officially opened last week.
“An independent study carried out for us revealed that nearly 70 per cent of people still aspire to own their own home, with one in three ranking it more important than getting married, having children or building a career.
“These results reflect the sales we have been experiencing at our Wichelstowe development, which has been selling one property a week on average for the past five weeks.”