THE CHIEF executive of bdht has called on Bromsgrove to have a ‘proper conversation’ about housing provision in the district.
His plea came during an in-depth interview with The Standard and amidst Government vows to build 240,000 homes in the UK every year and Bromsgrove’s need to build 7,000 properties in the next 15 years.
Mike Brown, from Bromsgrove District Housing Trust, said: “It is generally accepted now that we don’t have enough housing and more properties need to be built.
“We cannot have anymore of this ‘no development near me’ attitude – let’s talk properly about where it is going.”
He said, very often, arguments against development were emotional ones rather than factual ones siting planning reasons and he highlighted a bdht scheme in Stoke Prior as an example of a good housing scheme which was beneficial to the community. That, he said, had enabled people who grew up in the village to stay there, mainly because of affordable properties and the trust’s shared ownership scheme.
He also spoke about the trust’s proposals to build on garage sites, which have been met with opposition from residents. Two of those turned down by Bromsgrove District Council’s planning committee were given the green light by the
Planning Inspectorate and another was agreed for Breakback Road in Rock Hill towards the end of last year.
Mr Brown said: “In reality, there are 1,500 garages on sites away from people’s properties and only 50 per cent of them are being used for their intended purpose.
“Many of the sites we put plans in for are run down and attracting anti-social behaviour.
“We are – in effect – rejuvenating a brownfield site and, a lot of the time, once the developments are completed, people tend to feel quite positive about them.
“All of our new homes have parking provision and those who lose garages are always offered alternative ones elsewhere.”
When asked about the Government’s New Homes Bonus scheme, he said he felt overall it had failed because of the austerity programme and local authorities, like Bromsgrove, had been forced to redirect the cash into general funds.
“I can understand why it is being done, but it is not ideal.
“I applaud Bromsgrove District Council for now using a portion of the funds for areas affected by new development and that needs to be done wherever possible.
“Anything to make communities feel more engaged with the planning process is good to give residents a greater understanding of what is needed.”
He also said the district council and county council had a duty to work closer together to ensure that the infrastructure, such as highways, education provision and other facilities, were planned or in place so the developments could be sustainable.
It is Bromsgrove District Council’s policy to, where possible, have 40 per cent of affordable housing on new developments.
Mr Brown criticised those developers which agreed to supply affordable housing but off-site from the area where the proposals were submitted for.
“That is always unhelpful – housing of all types should be integrated into the same schemes as it is the best way to integrate everyone into communities and doesn’t lead to elitist areas.
“We would always encourage them (developers) to have a good mix of housing on the same site.”
There is a big year ahead for the trust with more than 100 new affordable properties being built by bdht in the next 12 months.
Among them will be 28 two and three-bedroom properties at Jasmine Gardens, Wychbold, and a further 30 homes as part of phase two of the Perryfields Road development.
Another 16 have been built on New Road, Rubery – they consist of one and two-bedroom flats and houses, all for social rent.
Planning permission has also been granted for bdht to provide 11 one-bedroom social rental properties at Vicarage Close in Aston Fields.
The trust currently has 4,065 homes in its portfolio, having added 414 since 2006. It is planning to have another 400 by 2021.
In the past bdht has built on land it has bought but in the future, the homes will mostly be won through tender with major developers of new build schemes in the district.
Mr Brown added bdht was a not-for profit organisation and any surplus made after the trust’s overheads were covered, were pumped back into the business so it can provide more affordable housing.
Mr Brown said among the trust’s priorities were to supply homes for young people in Bromsgrove, older people and those on low incomes. He said low cost shared ownership homes were very important and would be a major feature of new schemes.
He said the stark reality was residents who lived in Bromsgrove and worked elsewhere, such as Birmingham or Worcester, had an average wage of £30,000, but many who worked in Bromsgrove were forced to live elsewhere because the average wage for those people was £20,000.
“We have to look after the people who work here, whether it be in bars, cafes, shops or wherever.
“We need to make sure there is enough housing for them because otherwise it is going to cause a breakdown in the community.”
He added the other priorities included increasing the trust’s customer satisfaction from 92 per cent – which he said it currently was – to 95 per cent.
“Hopefully the strategic Bromsgrove Local Plan will be agreed later in the year and that could bring more clarity about sites for development, where they are and how much housing would be suitable.”
But, he added, the world had changed and it should not be about district boundaries.
“When people buy homes – they don’t think ‘this is in Bromsgrove district’, ‘this is in Redditch borough’, ‘this is Birmingham’ or ‘this is Rubery’, they think: ‘this is where I want to live because it’s a nice area and convenient for work and schools.
“People are not as parochial or territorial anymore and the planning system needs to reflect that.
“As I said in the beginning – we need more housing of all types for all residents to live in – that is fact and has to be accepted.”
Visit www.bdht.co.uk for more information on Bromsgrove District Housing Trust.