Houses - Where do they go ?

It was in November 1994 that I wrote in the Newsletter "It takes a brave person to address a small society such as ours on such an ethereal subject as the Secretary of State's Draft Guidance for the West Midlands. This is what John Colburn, the District Council's Director of Planning did on the evening of 20th October". On the 21st January 1997 John Colburn talked to us in the same subject, although he has said to me that next year, if he is invited - as he will be - to address the Society, he would like to talk about a much lighter subject.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, has said there will be a need to provide 4.4 million homes nationally over the period 1991 - 2011. This figure is based on new household projections prepared by the Department of Environment. They reflect the fact that there is an increasing demand for accommodation for single person households - students, divorcees and the aged. As John explained 87% of the demand will be for single person households of which 35% will be for the elderly. One must always look at such figures with a certain hesitation - they are invariably wrong.

What will this mean for Staffordshire? Who knows? The prediction is that the County in the 20 year period will have to find land for 70,400 houses, 4,400 more than predicted when John Colburn spoke to us before. This means that 3,500 houses will have to be build each year and the greatest pressure will be on the south of the County. The Secretary of State has stated that at least 50% of the dwellings which are required to be built will be on brownfield sites in the existing built up areas. Even if he achieves this target - and I doubt it - there will be a need to put houses on greenfield sites. The in-word these days is 'sustainability', however you may define it. In this context it means that development is directed towards cities and towns where the infrastructure - roads, public transport, shops, schools, health services etc. - already exists. New towns, new villages are not ruled out but the expansion of existing settlements will be looked at first. This has considerable implications for places like Lichfield and we should all be alert to the proposals that are put forward with the next few months in the draft Structure Plan review.

John Colburn's talk was an extremely interesting and stimulating one. Indeed, some members have expressed to me their disappointment that question time did not extend over a longer period. I would like to think that John enjoys the relaxed atmosphere of a Civic Society meeting. He was a forthright as ever but he smiled.

Mike Tole
January 1997