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Building houses with communities in mind

Housing-Street-Header.jpg“The housing crisis” is an issue that continues to raise its head in the national new, Home ownership is ingrained in the British psyche and we live in a region where house prices are rising far in excess of the national average.  

David Cameron’s Government has failed to deliver on promises to build homes on a national level, but in South Cambridgeshire, the local Conservative council are proud of the fact that they have enabled the development of several large scale housing projects. There are, however, issues with the kind of large scale building that has happened in and around Papworth, for example, on the watch of Conservative councillors. Fundamentally this kind of building should happen with the consent of local communities and serious concerns raised by local residents do not seem to have been taken in to account when considering planning applications both in the past and in the present.

As a Labour candidate I am in favour of building houses.  Without significant investment in our housing stock many young people will never get on the property ladder, and the shortage of both social housing and private rented accommodation contribute to unsustainable rental costs that are necessarily subsidised by welfare payments as a consequence.  The only way to break this cycle of landlords hiking rent prices and housing benefit being increased to prevent families from slipping in to poverty is to invest in a program of home building and South Cambridgeshire must play its part.

But, and there is a huge but, no development should be allowed to take place by any responsible council without proper consultation and community planning.  It is simply not Ok to allow developers to speculate on planning applications that allow them to deliver the minimum they can get away with while taking the maximum profit. As an elected councillor I would fight for planned development in collaboration with affected communities rather than imposing developments on them, ensuring that developers are invited to bid to provide the building expertise rather than speculating and riding roughshod over the wishes of local residents to turn a profit.

A planned development would take into account the following:

Local amenities: is the infrastructure in place for the number of houses being built, if not, the development must include provision for school places, access to healthcare, sporting and community facilities and essential local shops and businesses.

Village Character: a large new estate is a cost effective way of providing houses, but not at the expense of the character of the community it is linked to, green spaces, varied housing styles and building materials should all be considered.

Transport and parking: A decision must be made on the philosophy of the development. It could be a green, sustainable development, in which cycle ways and public transport routes are developed in tandem with the housing to allow residents to commute, and to access facilities in centres such as Cambridge, St Neots and Huntingdon. Alternatively, every house must have at least one off-street parking space, and larger residences should have more. If this option is taken then the local transport infrastructure must be developed to negate the effect that increasing the number of cars on the road will have on traffic in busy times.

Local expertise: the people who know their communities best are local residents, and any plan for development should involve residents and key stakeholders such as the head of the local school, representatives of local businesses, residents associations and sports clubs. The plans should be subject to a visible consultation that is displayed clearly in community buildings such as the local library and councillors should be prepared to defend plans in a public forum.

None of these options are cheap, and would certainly eat into both council funds and the profits of the developers, but a well designed new community would boost council tax receipts, provide opportunities for new businesses to support the local economy and provide local employment, and ultimately provide a net increase in the local economy in the long term.

South Cambridgeshire has a duty to build more homes, but it has a duty of care to the existing communities that will be affected.  If I am elected to the district council I will not shirk from exercising that duty of care.

Darren Macey, is the Labour candidate for Papworth and Elsworth in the district council elections on May 5.

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