Monday, 24 February 2014

Dartmoor Homies

From Sarah Woolaston in the Guardian

A seismic change may be about to rock our national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty; and it is concealed within the technicalities of a proposal to grant landowners permitted development rights, without the need for planning permission. This would allow for up to three dwellings to replace or convert existing farm buildings.

If this addressed the desperate shortage of affordable housing in our national parks it would be worth considering. Sadly it is set to make a dire situation worse while destroying the landscape and a fragile rural economy.(1)

The average house price within the Dartmoor national park is in excess of £270,000; nine times the median local income and over sixteen times incomes in the lowest quartile. The chance of finding affordable rented accommodation is also grim, and the situation is forcing out young people and families with serious consequences for rural communities.(2)

An increase in housing supply will do nothing to reduce prices if it caters for an entirely different demand. The proposals would allow for new developments to be almost twice the guideline size for affordable housing.(3)(4) Rather than meeting a genuine need they would unleash a second and luxury homes bonanza, creating yet more ghost villages and hamlets inhabited only at weekends or in season.(5)

The impact of a free-for-all will be huge – not only because developers are likely to prefer to convert remaining heritage outbuildings, but because of the chilling effect this prospect is already having on schemes to build homes for local people.

Since the reduction in capital grants, the best mechanism for creating affordable housing has been through granting planning permission on so-called exception sites. Where the landowner knows there is no possibility of selling to developers at open market housing rates, affordable housing is cross-subsidised by a small percentage of open market value properties.(6)

But with the prospect of a free run at open market development with few strings attached, values are set to rise sharply and we will kiss goodbye to the only realistic opportunity for development land at prices that can deliver housing for local people.

Suburbanisation(7) of our national parks might also deliver the final coup de grace to their fragile ecosystems, already under pressure from changing grazing patterns over recent decades. While cattle and sheep make way for pony paddocks in lower lying areas, loss of grazing livestock from the open moor will lead to a further degradation from heather to gorse.(8) Who can blame them if hill farmers, asset rich and cash flow near zero, opt to fragment or sell their holdings and livestock. They have long struggled to maintain their way of life with scant recognition of their service to conserve this precious landscape on our behalf.(9)

The planning minister, Nick Boles, has been bold in his effort to build more housing. He has walked towards the nimby gunfire on behalf of the people he believes should have the opportunity to own their own home. I hope he will look again at the unintended consequences of the proposed changes and place the need for affordable housing above pressure from developers.(10)

When Lewis Silkin introduced the national parks and access to the countryside bill to parliament in 1949 he described it as a "people's charter for the open air". The open countryside of our national parks deserves our protection but also the living, breathing communities who conserve them for the future. We can build more homes for local people by supporting community land trusts and incentivising investment in genuinely affordable housing projects. The proposed measures, by further inflating land values(11), will kill off any hope for village housing initiatives and puts at risk some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

1. From what I can tell, the proposal is to build houses in farm buildings. It is going to add housing. Even if all that housing goes to 2nd home owners, how does it make the situation worse than it is now?
2. If people in Dartmoor need people doing jobs in Dartmoor, they should be paying them a lot more, then. If they don't then people will leave. Seems the market will resolve itself.
3. All housing is affordable. Yes, I know what she means, but it's a daft expression.
4. Bigger housing? That sounds like a good thing to me.
5. How? This is converting former farm buildings. Even if every one of them simply uses it as a 2nd home, it will not remove any people.
6. Eh? What's she saying here, that some land is too cheap for landowners to sell? But I thought that houses were selling for £270K?
7. I thought these were all going to be 2nd homes? Now they're suburban?
8. Fine. That's what nature wants it to be, let it happen.
9. Conserving the landscape? How is deliberately changing it, conserving it?
10. Who the hell does Sarah Woolaston thinks builds "affordable homes"?
11. Firstly, it might inflate some land values on those farms - they can now build houses on farm buildings, but how is that going inflate overall land values?
12. How? Someone is going to take a derelict old farm building and put a nice new building in its place. Isn't that going to make it better?

Of course, everyone likes to play the poor people bogie in this situation, but almost no-one works in the main bit of Dartmoor. There's the prison and the army stuff, and a few village shops and pubs, but it's not like there's a major industry up there. If you're born somewhere in or near the park, chances are you'll be looking for work in Exeter or Plymouth. For those people who do need to live in the park, you can buy homes in Okehampton for about £135K, which is hardly a long drive into the park.

The reality is that homes in national parks are very expensive because of the historic protection afforded to them, that no-one can build more homes near them. And this is well-off homies kicking off about the fact that expensive houses that they own are going to become cheaper in price as more housing stock is added.


Kj said...

2. If people in Dartmoor need people doing jobs in Dartmoor, they should be paying them a lot more, then. If they don't then people will leave. Seems the market will resolve itself.

True that, but when it comes to council/state jobs, central wage-negotiations conflict with this, don´t you think?

JuliaM said...

"3. All housing is affordable. Yes, I know what she means, but it's a daft expression."

If she called it what she really meant - cheap housing - everyone'd know (or rather, be unable to pretend they didn't) what she was up to...

Mark Wadsworth said...

She's a rabid NIMBY, fair enough, that's how she got elected.

I'd also mark her down for saying "cross-subsidised". "Subsidised" always means across from something else, so that's a tautology.

Mistakes 6 and 7 are most excellent, it takes a true Homey to attain this level of DoubleThink.

Bayard said...

"And this is well-off homies kicking off about the fact that expensive houses that they own are going to become cheaper in price as more housing stock is added."

Slight correction: " this is well-off homies kicking off because they think that expensive houses that they own are going to become cheaper in price as more housing stock is added." Building more houses makes the existing stock more expensive, not cheaper. To me this looks like "Get off moi FBRI!. I want Dartmoor populated by authentic-looking struggling farmers, not rich ex-farmers with lots of second homes in their farmyard. We're trying to pretend we're gentry. We have to have some peasants and other poor people to lord it over." That and a big side-helping of envy.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, the "build more and prices go up" phenomenon certainly applies to urban areas because of agglomeration, however it does not apply so much to sparsely populated areas like National Parks, I doubt that it makes much difference up or down.

The Stigler said...

Yes, that's a broken system that LVT would fix. If people live in an expensive place, their LVT would cover the cost of employing more expensive policemen, nurses and teachers.

But this isn't a problem anyway - you can cross Dartmoor in 45 minutes which is less time than it takes to get across Reading in the morning.

It's not "cheap housing". It's local authority or housing association housing.

Indeed. There isn't going to be an increased agglomeration effect. It's exclusivity of properties.

It really depends on how many farms there are.

Lola said...

La Woolaston was on 'Today' this a.m. She has that smug, patronising way of speaking that really makes you want to smack her. Plus, as MW has pointed out all she said was entirely contradictory.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, this was TS's post (he spells it 'Homie' I spell it 'Homey').

TS, actually, if you squint at 6 in the right way, what she said does make sense.

She means, if it were possible to make more of a planning windfall gain in these areas, then as a quid pro quo, the council can make the developer provide some 'affordable' housing.

So when she says 'open market rates' she means 'what the open market rate would be in the absence of planning restrictions'.

Next problem - she's the NIMBY strongly supporting these restrictions...

So really she's saying "It's the fault of NIMBYs like me that there is no 'affordable' housing".

Lola said...

MW@12.09 ooops.
TS - Apologies

The Stigler said...

No need. I'll take it as a compliment if you think it's Mark's.

Ah, I see. Thing is, it's a classic move by homeys* to use the poor as human shields in this situation, because they know that's just far too long and complex and will never happen. In reality, homeys hate council houses even more than they hate extra housing.

Where are all the jobs in Dartmoor for these people? We no longer have tin mining. Farming requires less labour than it did and hill farming is in decline.

* your spelling is correct in this context. Someone who wants no more homes built in Compton, LA is a Homie Homey.

Bayard said...

"So really she's saying "It's the fault of NIMBYs like me that there is no 'affordable' housing"

She's not even right there. Somebody must be able to afford houses in Dartmoor, or they'd be a lot less expensive. If it's not the locals, it's someone else. Step forward, the FBRI brigade, the 2nd homers and the DFLs. I wonder where Ms Wollaston hails from? No need to wonder when you have Google - yes, she's from London.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, nope, 'affordable' is a defined term and means "no more than 80% of open market rent".

This might be mathematical nonsense, and still pretty unaffordable to many people in many areas, but there you go.

Bayard said...

Ah, there was I thinking that "affordable" houses were cheap tacky housing knocked up on expensive land. I didn't realise it actually had a official definition.
The point I was making though was that it was her bring extra buying power into the area by moving there down from London that has pushed up the prices, not her NIMBY activities, which, as she quite rightly, but unintentionally points out, merely restricts the ability of other DFLs to enjoy the FBRI. Which latter makes hers an extreme case of NIMBYism: most NIMBYs are at least defending their view, in this case there is so much Dartmoor and so few farms that nobody's view is going to be spoiled, quite apart from the fact that there are no additional buildings in the equation anyway. She's purely fighting to keep Dartmoor how she thinks it ought to be and bugger the locals who might actually make some money from all those extra holiday homes. She should sod off back to the South-East.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B: "most NIMBYs are at least defending their view"

That's what baffles me.

Things like the Lake District or the White Cliffs of Dover or Cornish coves etc etc are lovely to look at. Fields, forests, mountains and lakes are nice to look at, and I see why people value "the view" to the extent of being unreasonably selfish.

But Dartmoor is a grim and depressing place. Yuck.

Bayard said...

Oh, and quite apart from the fact that the ex-farms, with all their ugly modern tin and asbestos barns and sheds removed and the historic stone and tile barns converted into 2nd/holiday homes will look much better and be much closer to the FBRI ideal than they are now, at least from a distance.
Being from London, she obviously has no idea what sheer hard bloody work being a hill-farmer is. Why shouldn't they be able to realise the sort of windfall gain that her developer chums make all the time, give up the unequal struggle and retire on the proceeds? Oh, yes, she's very keen that someone is there to "to conserve this precious landscape on our behalf" so long as she doesn't have to do any of the heavy lifting. No, that's for the peasants. Patronising bloody Tory.

Mark Wadsworth said...

B, hang about here, the fact that being a hill farmer is hard work does not in and of itself mean that this is a socially or economically useful activity.

But looking at it from her point of view, point taken.

DBC Reed said...

Out of curiosity: why is hill-farming such hard work; the sheep just walk about and feed themselves don't they? I used to keep chickens if that is any use as a comparator.

Bayard said...

Mark, I wasn't implying that it was a useful activity. What got my goat was La Wollaston suggesting that the farmers should continue to slog away and not avail themselves of the option of getting out of it with some money to retire on so that Dartmoor could continue to be how she wanted it. Of course they only continue to farm because that's what they enjoy doing/have always done/can only do.

"But Dartmoor is a grim and depressing place."

I don't think so, but chacun a son gout. Some people like being in the middle of nowhere.

DBCR, hill farming is least amenable to mechanisation and, because there is so little money in it, the farms tend not to have many modern labour saving devices. Great for the FBRI, not so great for the farmers.