Crowd In or Crowd Out?

Of all the issues confronting Haslemere Vision it is housing which generates the most heat. In the last quarter century the built appearance of the area has changed significantly as its unique qualities of substantially unspoilt countryside and varied and appealing architecture have made it a highly desirable place to live for those fortunate enough to be able to aspire to buy a house here. Houses have been built in many gardens and odd corners and re-development has provided more housing units so the overall density has risen significantly.

It is ‘quality of life’ in the work/life balance that has led to this. Ready access to London for work and recreation has provided the stimulus. A healthy environment, good schools and the greatest concentration of National Trust owned (and thus inalienable) land in the country adds to the attraction.

Many of our local employment sites have been redeveloped in the pursuit of ‘highest economic value’ housing to meet demand. However the natural constraints of the place suggest the limits of ‘Town cramming’ have almost been reached. The narrow lanes, the dense woodland and the fresh-water springs which gave rise to the settlement in the first place provide significant obstacles to more development.

Demand for housing continues however. Haslemere Vision’s population projections suggest we need between 700-1200+ homes (between 2013 and 2031) to house all those growing up in the area. The lower figure is based on conservative population projections (slower growth than current levels) and a higher number of people per household – the higher figure vice versa. There will be some reduction in the figures to consider as not all our young people will want to live here, however real market demand is likely to be significantly higher as buyers from the London area historically account for almost 50% of purchases.

There are currently 6879 homes in the area, of which 4407 (64%) have 3+ bedrooms: ‘family’ homes. There are high single occupancy rates (mostly elderly) in these homes and only 87 of them are considered affordable. An affordable property should be available to rent or buy at 70-80% of the open market price based on local salaries versus costs of rent or mortgage. In this area, affordability is low and local workers and the young are priced out, finding it difficult to find a place to live.

Of the 1575 two bed homes, 123 are considered affordable and lastly, there are 917 one beds, with 238 being affordable. There are at least 200 more affordable homes needed before 2031 and getting these homes built presents one of the biggest challenges.

Not unreasonably Waverley Borough Council will look to the area to help meet current demands for housing and with limited options some difficult decisions will be made. The recently decided case of Sturt Farm presented several planning challenges. The strip of land in question (running alongside Sun Brow and the Sickle Mill Estate) is not ‘Greenbelt’ but it was designated an ‘area of natural beauty’ and an ‘area of landscape value’ – in part due to its elevation and subsequent effect on the silhouette of the town. These protections have been set aside (the first time this has ever happened in Waverley) to allow 135 new homes to be built, with the proviso that the green silhouette is preserved and the rest of the greenspace is allocated for leisure and dog walking.

The success of the application was probably due to two main factors: the application promised 40% (54) of the houses would be ‘affordable’ and the central location of the land makes the site ‘sustainable’ in that it is within walking distance of public transport, shops and amenities.

The ‘case against’ depended in part upon the likely flooding consequences for existing housing and the need to safeguard pure water supplies which meet the local needs. Additional considerations included the traffic load and access via the minor road which is to serve the site.

It is this tension arising from conflicting interests and concerns which increasingly features in planning decisions. Proximity to the rail network is key and the cry of sustainability may justify a re-appraisal of hitherto sacrosanct areas. How long can the special low density areas be defended against the clamour for more housing in central areas? At what point is the unique character of the town considered to be worth sacrificing in the interests of meeting housing need?

While this debate may be uncomfortable for many it is unarguable that increases in population have to be housed somewhere. Downsizers and young people need new places to settle – preferably centrally if we are to alleviate pressure on our roads and encourage foot traffic in retail areas.

It may be tempting to some to cram housing into as little space as possible to avoid taking any more of our precious green spaces, but we must also consider quality of life for those who will live in them. A review on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects found the average size of new one bedroom homes was 46sqm: 4sqm short of the recommended minimum for a one bedroom home for two residents. It doesn’t sound much, but 4sqm is the equivalent of a single bed, a bedside table and a dressing table with a stool. It is the space that allows you to work at home at the computer in the day and also have an extra sofa when you’ve got friends round in the evening.

There is little attraction in flats with tiny rooms, lots of people and inadequate parking provision. If we are to provide housing to meet demand without detriment to the area, new ideas should be considered. Mandatory underground parking and/or community consultations on larger developments, higher build standards and Community Land Trusts are just some of things that the community can look at.

These are the questions asked in the Housing Consultation landing on your doorstep on 7th September. The Consultation is a huge opportunity to influence the future of the area and we hope every resident takes the time to express their views.

Download or fill it in now at