Should housing be prioritized over local employment space?

Starting on September 7th 2015 Haslemere Vision will seek your opinion on the growing pressures on land use in the town and villages in its Stage 2 Consultation on Housing and Land Use, which will be circulated to all homes in the area.

There can be little doubt that trying to satisfy the growth in demand for housing is a key issue facing the community. The scale of the problem has been fuelled by the internally generated growth in population added to which has been the inflow of new residents attracted to live in Haslemere. In fact, since 1980, the population of the town has grown faster than at any previous time, even including the period when the town was transformed by the railway age. But it has not stopped there; local demographic factors alone will generate a high level of demand for housing through to 2031.

Housing, however, is not the only element exercising a claim on space. A large majority of respondents to Haslemere Vision’s Stage 1 Consultation in summer 2014 wanted to, at least, maintain the amount of land used for employment, rather designating it all for housing. The problem is that virtually the only major sites available for housing in the Town are brownfield sites currently or previously used by commerce or industry. Each of the sites will be included in the Housing and Land Use Consultation, including the Baron’s Garage site in Hindhead and the boarded up land at 5-21 Wey Hill. While some of these sites already have planning approval for housing or a mixed development, the September Consultation is eager to solicit residents’ views on the nature and mix of development which is being proposed.

The change in local land usage over time largely reflects what has happened elsewhere in the UK, with a general contraction of industry but, because of other pressures on space in Haslemere, the town now has less vacant space available for industry than the other towns in the area, according to a recent survey for Waverley Borough Council. However, while the area’s industrial core has been reduced, it is now, arguably, more vibrant as it is based on a broad selection of service sectors with retailing being dominant.

But there can be no room for complacency. Decline in local employment seems to be gaining traction particularly on the high street. Competition from the internet (particularly with the growth of on–line shopping) and the expansion of regional shopping centres will continue to change the shape of the high street over time. The recent announcement that a Haslemere bank is to close, as a result of the growth in on-line banking, is evidence of the competitive forces at work but it is not all one way traffic, as evidenced by the announcement that M & S will shortly open a new food store in the Town. In such a swift changing environment it is perhaps prudent that, while promoting broad planning guide lines that encourage the retention of employment land, some “flexibility” is allowed.

In this context, while we may want to insure against a further reduction of land used for employment purposes, the first floor space of some retail designated properties, which have little commercial value, could be converted into small flats. On the other hand, allowing the subdivision of some large units could provide a launch pad for new enterprises to expand. Why should we hope that this may happen?.… because the town has a possibly a greater reservoir of new businesses than many places in the UK. The 2011 Census recorded that 17% of the town’s work force worked from home, substantially higher than the national average. While some may be self-employed, older people coasting towards retirement, there are undoubtedly many creating their own enterprises, which, given the right incentive’s, may provide the seed corn for the future. In this context, it is good to see that the Chamber of Commerce is trying to launch a business hub for newly formed businesses.

The future for Haslemere is in our hands and despite uncertainties, it looks good.

Have your say by responding to the Haslemere Vision Consultation Document that you will receive in September. What you say will be taken into account when preparing the Neighbourhood Plan for Haslemere and the villages.

It’s our town and our villages and it’s up to us!