Objection – Number and Types of Homes
Submitted to Wealden District Council by Mike Corkhill on behalf of the Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG)
24 November 2022
The Castlefort Homes planning application for 400 homes at Horstedpond Farm, which went live on the Wealden website on 8 September 2022, was a rush job. The recent submission of several other planning applications for housing projects in the Uckfield area forced Castlefort’s hand. Thinking that its Horstedpond Farm scheme would encounter fewer objections than these other ‘rival’ projects, Castlefort submitted its planning application, with all its attendant documentation, much earlier than originally intended.
An indication of how rushed the Castlefort application was is given by the extent to which its plan falls short in many vital areas. A case in point is the consultee response that East Sussex County Council’s Communities Economy and Transport (Highway) section submitted to Wealden on 15 November 2022. The report states that the proposed Horstedpond Farm site is too far away from the Uckfield town centre for pedestrians to consider it a suitable journey; presents challenges for all but the fittest and most experienced cyclists; and underestimates the extent to which people will rely on private cars to make that trip.
The ESCC Highways submission goes on to point out that inadequate notice has been taken in the Horstedpond Farm scheme of the topography of the land around the proposed access roundabout to the site and no details have been given of the construction work that would be required to make that access workable. Furthermore, little thought has been given to the bus service proposed for the site and the suggested bus stop within the site is simply located in the wrong place. The diversion of buses on the existing Brighton to Tunbridge Wells run to serve the site would be untenable while the alternative of introducing a dedicated Horstedpond Farm shuttle bus would entail unsustainable costs. Another point raised in the ESCC Highways report is that the modelling of the traffic impact in the Castlefort Homes planning application is incomplete. The proposal has not considered the town centre highway network, which is already at capacity and not just during peak periods.
The shortcomings and incompleteness of the Castlefort Homes proposal in the traffic sphere are replicated in the planning application’s coverage of other issues. On the question of the number and types of homes proposed, HFAG questions the need for the project in the first place.
Wealden is building more than its fair share of the new homes in East Sussex and Uckfield is building more than its fair share of the new homes in Wealden. In the three-year period 2018-20 Wealden accounted for 54 per cent of all the new homes built across East Sussex.
In its latest study, based on the most recent UK census and trend analyses, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) predicts that Wealden’s population will increase by 9,600 people in the decade to 2028. At the generally accepted ratio of 2.28 people per residence, that works out at 4,200 homes. Wealden’s most recent applicable Local Plan, which is based on old 2014 forecasts and is now outdated and withdrawn, is targeting the construction of 12,300 new homes over the same period, or three times the number required under the ONS predictions. At the same time Wealden has 8,000 unbuilt permissions on its books, theoretically enough, again according to the ONS predictions, to meet the district’s housing needs for the next 20 years.
If the number of required new homes specified in the old and withdrawn Local Plan was adhered to, Wealden would be called upon to provide 5% of South East England’s required new homes even though the district accounts for only 1.7% of the region’s population.
Uckfield currently has approximately 6,000 existing homes while permission has been granted for a further 1,000 new homes at Ridgewood Place, across Lewes Road from Horstedpond Farm. If all the additional housing developments that have been recently proposed for Uckfield, including Horstedpond Farm, Downlands Farm and Bird in Eye, were to go ahead, that would add another 1,000 homes, at the very least, to the town’s complement. Uckfield’s transport and services infrastructures are struggling to cope with its current population. Given the inherent nature of the town’s physical highway constraints, there is no way this infrastructure could be adjusted to accommodate a 33% increase in population/number of homes.
Castlefort Homes states that 35% of the 400 homes it proposes to build at Horstedpond Farm would be affordable residences, according to the mandated District Council policy for developments of more than 10 new homes. Unfortunately, once permissions for housing projects have been granted, developers are free to renegotiate the percentage of affordable homes and, in the drive to optimise profit levels, often refuse to proceed with house construction unless that percentage can be reduced. It is estimated that of the 1,000 Ridgewood Place homes that have been permitted, only about 15% per cent of the final number will be affordable.
House prices in England have increased by 76% since 2012. ONS estimates that full-time employees can now typically expect to spend around 9.1 times their workplace-based annual earnings on purchasing a home in England, compared to 3.5 times in 1997. For the average wage earner in Wealden, they would have to borrow 11.5 times their pay to buy an averagely priced new home in the district. Our ageing population is also a key factor – it is estimated that one in four people will be over 65 by 2050 – and they will need to catered for in any future housing equation.
The energy and cost of living crises and the inflation and interest rate hikes that have manifested themselves during the course of 2022, and promise to endure during the best part of the coming decade, have accentuated the current difficulties in the UK housing market.
The number of people who believe that our current housing market is not fit for purpose has increased dramatically in recent years. They point out that most houses being built are unaffordable except to those on above average earnings; that young people find it impossible to get on to the housing ladder; that we have a growing elderly population in homes not adapted to suit their needs; and that more and more people are being forced into the private rented sector.
Calls are intensifying for a joined-up, long-term, outcomes-based strategy for housing people on lower incomes in the UK and more and more people recognise that the provision of affordable housing is a key driver of economic growth. Unfortunately, reform in the sector is often piecemeal and disjointed and doesn’t reflect the need for more affordable housing. The country has had five different Housing Ministers in the past year and 14 different Ministers since 2010. Also, 61% of district councils in Britain currently do not have an up-to-date Local Plan, and Wealden is one of these. The gap created by the lack of an applicable Local Plan has encouraged a plethora of opportunistic planning applications and has left communities exposed to developments on which they do not have a meaningful say.
The current business model of housing developers and the large construction companies is to build the maximum number of properties they can squeeze on to a site, with the least green infrastructure, the fewest amenities and the minimum number of affordable homes. They also seek to build new homes at a speed that ensures a continuing scarcity which, in turn, drives up prices.
One outcome of the lack of affordable homes is the fact that dramatically fewer people have been able to get on the housing ladder, with owner-occupation for those aged under 30, for example, falling from 47% 20 years ago to under 25% today. And, as mentioned, those wanting to buy now face even greater problems due to the nosedive taken by the British economy in 2022.
In conclusion, we need to build an appropriate number and types of new homes as part of planned communities, not just random blocks of mostly expensive houses in disparate, ill-suited locations.
The Horstedpond Farm Action Group (HFAG) objects to the Castlefort Homes planning application for the Horstedpond Farm development on the grounds that it is ill-conceived, poorly prepared and incomplete and, furthermore, that the proposed homes are totally unnecessary.