It’s a story as old as time. The belief that just by building something, people will want to buy it. It was dramatized in a great film – The Field of Dreams.
Here in Basingstoke, pleas to build more houses, especially affordable ones, fail to acknowledgement the very unique situation that Basingstoke faces. In our borough, building too many homes not only suffocates the infrastructure and services that existing residents depend on, it also exacerbates the capacity problem by encouraging more inward migration.
We have built more homes per capita than any of our neighbours. 170% more homes than Hart, 50% more than Reading and 77% more than West Berkshire. This house building splurge has not solved the problem. It’s just opened the floodgates. Basingstoke’s forecasted population growth of 33% between 2001 and 2031 is twice that of Hart and West Berkshire, with 60% of that growth coming from inward migration. Basingstoke’s eyes have been bigger than its stomach for a while. The evidence proves two things. We never get the infrastructure and services we need to support more houses. And if we build them, they will come. So who are we building homes for? We know from The Council’s own research that 75% of residents believe we have built enough homes already and on past evidence it isn’t for local people. So the only people who benefit are the developers.
Basingstoke is a developers ‘field of dreams’. For those of us who already live here, too much more development will become our own nightmare.
At 10am this morning there were no daily parking spaces available at Basingstoke station.
Nor were there any suggested alternatives. Just a mass of empty ‘premium spaces’ to match the empty ‘First Class’ seats in trains offering sardine like accommodation to purchasers of ‘Standard Class’ seats. Oh, and a Ferrari parked in two spaces because the arrogant driver obviously feel they and their car are special.
This has been an issue for some time, yet there are no signs of any attempt to rectify the situation. Just a willingness to issue parking tickets for anyone not using marked parking spaces.
While our local Council point the finger at Network Rail, and Network Rail blame “planning issues”; at least our MP is trying to do something. In the House of Commons Maria Miller has raised the issue of lack of investment in the Waterloo line which hasn’t had any major renovation in 30 years. Closer to home our MP has got the Council, Network Rail and South West Trains to agree to set up a Transport Group to look at improvements in our transport network; as well as insisting that before any more significant housing developments are built, we have the infrastructure and services in place to support them.
If Network Rail and the Council stopped pointing fingers at each other and sat round a table to come up with some creative alternatives, they may come up with some temporary solutions while they delivered the obvious solution which is to build a double decker car park. That should take a few months, although judging by the speed of progress at The Black Dam roundabout that seems unlikely.
How about signs telling people that a 15 minute drive will take them to Hook where there are plenty of spaces and frequent trains to London and elsewhere? Or an overfill ‘Park & Ride’ car park on the waste land just a few 100 yards to the north west of the station? The former is an instant solution. The latter should take no more than a few weeks to implement.
If we try to cram even more housing and businesses into a communications corridor already bursting at the seams, the least we can do is use a little bit of ingenuity in solving the problems we are already experiencing.
The good news is that this over capacity issue is a direct result of the economic growth the area is benefitting from. What we need is some creative planning and investment to make sure that growth is manageable, sustainable and benefits everyone.
This week the Council will sit down with the Planning Inspector to answer a set of questions that the Inpsetor raised about our proposed local development plan. The headline summary is that the Planning Inspector would like to see Basingstoke build more homes. This despite the fact that Basingstoke has consistently built more homes that it was required to under previous plans, on average 17% more than required over the last 10 years. Compared with Hart we have built more than twice as many homes per person than they have, and it’s a similar story with Reading, Winchester and West Berkshire. The plan we have proposes 748 new homes a year, which is almost 50% higher than the initial figure presented. For Basingstoke to build more than this would be madness, and we must ensure that no building starts until the appropriate infrastructure (roads, schools, clinics, water & sewage etc.) is in place. Basingstoke has carried far more than its share of the housing burden over recent years. We need time to absorb that growth and to catch our breath. It’s all very well for the Inspector to have eye’s bigger than our stomach, but it’s the residents who will suffer from very unpleasant indigestion if he has his way. The Council must hold firm on its plans to build no more than 748 homes a year. Even that amount will leave us feeling bloated.
We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore”. Those famous lines spoken by Peter Finch in the 1976 film ‘Network’ sum up what a great many people believe about the current state of our political system.
I share some of that frustration, and rather than sit and shout at the newspaper, radio or TV I decided to try and funnel my frustration and energy into becoming a local Borough Councillor.
Councillors can’t have any impact over issues like the EU, immigration, income tax, fiscal and foreign policy and international aid. They can make a real difference to things like local health and social care, planning & housing and the health of our local economy and the communities we live in.
So over the course of my election campaign, and beyond if I am elected, I will use this forum to share my thinking on issues that matter to local people. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me.