A leading Friends of the Earth campaigner urges: Protect our open spaces

Up to 20 homes are regarded as possible on land south of Hollingbury Golf Course and east of Ditchling Road. But for whom? And how much would they cost to buy?
Up to 20 homes are regarded as possible on land south of Hollingbury Golf Course and east of Ditchling Road. But for whom? And how much would they cost to buy?

Brighton and Hove is facing a critical challenge: How can it develop, without destroying what so many people love about the place?

Brighton and Hove is facing a critical challenge: How can it develop, without destroying what so many people love about the place?

Our city is popular and lively, attracts people from home and abroad, and some of the pressure for more housing is of its own making. There is, however, far more that is not.

Nationally, we are all living longer and - with more births than deaths - the population grows and requires more housing. Then there are people who been drawn to the United Kingdom from abroad. Many of them head for London. But that, in many respects, is where the problem starts.

London is a world city, attracting foreign money with people buying second - and third - homes and property for investment.

At the same time, London is not building the housing that it requires. Consequently, this is placing a huge pressure, not just on London prices, but also on all the local authorities around it.

With London prices so high, this pressure is not going away any time soon.

It also begs the question: Can we ever build enough homes down here, until London sorts its own housing market out?

That, however, is not to say we cannot do some things.

We are in the process of seeking approval for the City Plan, which will outline development over the next 15 years or so. This will set what amount of development can be developed - and where it can go.

The problem is that the city council is being told the housing need for the city is 16,000 to 20,000 new homes, up to 2030.

Some developers have argued it should be even higher, to deliver the number of “affordable” homes that are needed.  Another symptom of our broken system is that developers will build “affordable” homes only if they can build lots of “unaffordable” ones that we do not need.

The problem is that, with the sea on one side and the South Downs, England’s newest national park on the other, we do not have a lot of land to play with for housing.

That is why the council has been forced to commission a study to see what opportunities there could be for developing the urban fringe.

Unfortunately, the council is proposing to make a bad situation worse - by amending the City Plan policy to allow any sites listed in the study to be developed.

This is prejudicing the proper scrutiny of these sites before they are allocated. There are at least two sites where errors appear to have been made and, therefore, these sites should probably not be listed.  Yet the council’s proposals would allow them to be developed.  How many more are like that?

Once the consultation about the City Plan modifications takes place, the council will lose control of the process - because it will be the inspector who determines what happens next.

At this stage, however, the council could still consult on the study’s findings before it proposes changes to the City Plan.

Another concern about the latest proposals is that the amount of housing in the city’s main development areas, which are generally well placed for good access to transport and services, is set to fall slightly.

This is madness.

At a time when we need to find as much housing as possible, lowering the amount of housing on brownfield sites and shoving it out to the urban fringe is plainly wrong. We need to be trying much harder to get more housing into these areas. Not that we can necessarily get everything we need, but I am sure we could get more. That would help reduce the pressure and give us a greater chance of getting the plan signed off.

It is not, however, all down to the council. There are other players in the city who impact on our housing stock and who have a role to play in relieving some of that pressure. They are, of course, the two universities. Both play an important part in the local economy as well as expanding knowledge and creating international ties for the future. They both have ambitions to expand and increase the number of students.

This, though, creates a problem for the city, in that these students all need to be housed. Most recently, the majority of this has taken place in areas where traditionally there was family housing. It has created a number of tensions around noise, litter, and parking - and a certain amount of resentment. It has also, of course, added to the pressure for housing in the city and driven up costs.

So, while I believe the expansion of the universities should be welcomed, it cannot be open-ended. It also needs to take place in a way that relieves pressure on local community housing.

This could be done, for example, by ensuring that a university builds more student accommodation, preferably on campus, than it takes on new students.

Now, there is nothing to make the universities behave this way. But it is in both their and our long-term interests for them to act as good neighbours.  For, if they fail, we would all be the poorer for it.

Chris Todd is a planning and transport campaigner with Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth (www.bhfoe.org); he is also chair of the Brighton and Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership.