Dear Dan Poulter,
I felt insulted this morning when I read of the comments made by Savid Javid on housing and planning. That is probably because while I am deeply opposed to Taylor Wimpey’s plan to build 640 houses in Debenham and I am no Nimby.
Why a secretary of state should choose to use this emotive acronym strikes me as populist, an attempt to set citizen against citizen. Yet his intention is clearly, and it was supported by the prime minister on the Andrew Marr show, to centralise government control, to further emasculate local government’s pretence of local democracy.
Of course, there are people who take the nimby view but the building taking place across our constituency suggests they are not very influential. At the southern end of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Ipswich Garden Suburb will provide 3,500 new homes. Mr Javid’s department is helping to pay for the needed infrastructure with a £10 million grant.
The Ipswich garden suburb, like the extensive developments in Stowmarket, are sustainable. Both have relatively good communications links, including regular train services to London, Norwich and Cambridge. Both towns also have strong local employment economies.
Yet here in Debenhamm, where 640 houses is hugely greater as an increase in settlement population, there is not a hint on any support for improved infrastructure.
Debenham was saved from almost terminal decline in the 1960s by new housing supported with investment in the village’s first secondary school and a leisure and community centre. At that time car ownership was growing and petrol was cheap: commuting was a life-style people wanted.
This century the village has accepted new housing although it has been poorly planned by both planners and developers. On the Meadows estate something over 20 houses remain unsold, not because they are bad houses but because they were the wrong houses for Debenham.
The result of not having the right houses is an abnormal demographic. Young people leave because they go to university or because they cannot afford a home of their own here. Let me illustrate this with a chart:
It show the population imbalance resulting, in part, from poor housing planning. The current application from Taylor Wimper would only exacerbate the problem.
We need houses for the young people who currently leave the village never to return.
It also raises the question of who will be available to provide care for an increasingly large elderly age group. It is an unsustainable demographic.
Debenham ,and our Parish Council, in its emerging Neighbourhood Plan, recognises the need for more housing. The plan has looked carefully at the needs of the community and allocated sites where a suitable mix of homes could be built with less strain on the existing infrastructure.
This is not the nimbyism suggested by Mr Javid. It is responsible planning.
Yet Mr Javid, unready to wait for the results of the inquiry he ordered into why so many housing developments which have planning permission are not built, threatens local planning departments with being taken-over by “independent” planners if they do not approve enough new housing.
Where is he going to get “independent” planners, when so many with that skill are already consultants in the pay of the giant house builders. Perhaps he means people from the Planning Inspectorate, but that is an executive arm of his own department, hardly independent
He recognises the strain on planning departments, whose finance has been halved by austerity since his party came to power, Why else would he be offering extra funding to speed up dealing with applications?
His department pays most of the budgets of councils and he is strong-arming them to follow central government dictates even more than they already do. One senior councillor bemoaned the state of affairs saying: “Our job now is to implement government policy.”
Our elected councillors have little option but to do as they are told. In short, they are being bullied and, as electors, we are being deprived of democracy.
I do hope you will understand the feelings of anger and despair, not only in Debenham but in many communities in your constituency, and take your opportunity to question Mr Javid when he next appears at the dispatch box,
I will be publishing this letter on my blog which you can see at www.debenhamfuture.com.